Ranking Tactics for Local Search Session at SMX East 2009

Yesterday I sat in on a panel at SMX East about how to optimize for local search. In fact, it was called Ranking Tactics for Local Search. It was moderated by Greg Sterling, and panelists included Mike Blumenthal, Mary Bowling, David Mihm, Will Scott, and Andrew Shotland.

Although there was considerable overlap between what each of the panelist had to say, each of them contributed something unique. Here’s a breakdown of what each of the panelist had to say about local search optimization.

David Mihm
Often local search “The 10 Pack” (the top results that consists in a map and up to ten business listings) is driven by Google maps, Bing Local, and Yahoo local.

Althoug the 3 major search engines maintain their own business indexes, local search optimization is more complex than optimizing for the top 3. The top 3 also get data from sites such as Acxiom, infoUSA, and Localeze. What this means is that local business have to get their info out to those sites as well.

Local search also has its own ranking factors that are independent of normal algorithms. What the algorithm looks for is:

  • Verified local business listings
  • Citations & Off-site references
  • Categories (on sites such as YellowPages)
  • Customer Reviews
  • and Traditional On-Page factors

In a nutshell, local SEO is more about optimizing for locations. Your location info needs to “match up” all across the web, backlinks need to have a strong geographic scent.

For this reason, consistency is paramount in local search optimization. And for that reason, business:

  • Shouldn’t use tracking phone numbers (because they’ll each be different).
  • Shouldn’t keyword stuff.
  • Need to be consistent with heir name, address, and phone number.

In a nutshell, local search optimization requires a mindset that is actually closer to PPC than traditional SEO, in that:

  • it requires a specialist
  • can yield results in 24 hours
  • and has a highly trackable CTR

Mike Blumenthal
The web has changed from local users getting worldwide answers to worldwide users get local answers.

Local search ranking factors include your:

  • Web page titles in Maps
  • Business title
  • Reviews
  • Categories

Things that have no influence are:

  • PR of domain
  • Number of links
  • Score of those links

Location Prominence Score is more important than Page Rank. Search engines rank your locaiton rather than your website .Here’s are factors that contribute to location prominence score:

  • In bound links from documents that mention the business with full or partial name and/or address.
  • Inbound links with your business name as anchor text.
  • Business name in title tags.
  • All or part of your business name in domain name.

Takeaways

  • Choose a business name and domain carefully.
  • Think about links with you business name as the anchor text.
  • Ensure that your title tags reflect your business name.
  • And then try to strike a balance between local and trdtl SEO.

Mary Bowling
Mary focused on how to rank better in the Google 10 Pack. Of course, sometimes the 10 pack is just a 3 pack, but that’s actually better because there’s less competition.

You can’t be in the 10 pack if you don’t have a Google Maps Local Business Listing. This is info that anyone can add, so if someone else has already added in your info, you need to revise and optimize it for to include the terms you want to rank for locally.

You can optimize your maps listing by:

  • Using your main keyword phrase and complementary terms in your Google Maps Local Business profile description.
  • Grabbing the longtail by including keywords that relate to your products/services, the brands that you carry, the locations you serve, and anything else that’s particularly relevant to your product offer.
  • Choosing/creatin the right categories on site such as YellowPages.com. You can choose up to 5 categories, but you should shoose at least 1-2 of the pre-established categories before creating/adding new categories that are relevant to your business.
  • Creating Attributes: this is additoinal info Google lets you add to your profile.
  • And creating citations on local business listing sites. You do so effectively by looking at your competitors, seeing where they are cited, and trying to get similar citations. Finally, also look at what info is in any pre-existing citations of your business an makes sure that it’s correct.

Also, bear in mind that reviews are what people are looking for when they’re looking for local businesses. Google pulls these reveiw from all over the web, so it doesn’t matter where they come from, so long as they are there. Furthermore, Yahoo has a threshold at which they try to determine good from bad reviews, so if there are many reviews of your business, you might want to start looking at how many are positive. Google, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to currently care about whether a review is good or bad — so long as there are reviews of your business, it will help toward your local search ranking.

Because of the importance of reviews in local search optimization, you should use your site to build trust. First, devise a way to encourage happy customers to generated positive reviews. Second, link to your map listings so that Google has some indication that that listing is relevant to your business. And then, get links from local trust sites, such as the Better Business Bureau and any local chambers of commerce.

In essence, you need to build relevance and trust in your location and around your localized keywords.

As for making your site more relevant for local search, some things you should consider are:

    • Placing your full address and number on all/many of your pages (perhaps in the sidebar).
    • Optimizing your contact and about pages for your business name and location.
    • Using the hcard microformat on your contact page.
    • Using the same address and number everywhere online.
    • Using a local DB directory such as UniversalBusinessListing.org to help promulgate that standardized format.

Will Scott
Will talked about Barnacle SEO, which is attaching yourself to a large, fixed web property, and waiting for search engine spiders (and customers) to float by. The idea is that you don’t need a website to rank locally. What you need, rather, is a phone call from potential customers, and sites like YellowPages.com can help you get that. After all, many local businesses are not ecommerce compatible. After all, you can’t ship a lube job.

Andrew Shotland
Andrew started off with a comment about how the dog ate his powerpoint — there wasn’t that much to it. But he did offer this list of the Top SEO’d online business listings that business could leverage to optimize for local search:

    • SuperPages
    • CitySearch
    • Yelp
    • Yahoo Local
    • InsiderPages
    • YellowPages
    • BizJournals
    • AreaConnect
    • MagicYellow
    • SwitchBoard

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