(the following is a guest post from Jeremy Rivera)
Locality is something that for generations has defined how effective a business can be, and has played into decisions by businesses and companies on where they place their brick and mortar locations. With the evolution of the internet, and the growing use of mobile devices, you might think off the cuff that this would decrease the importance of a business's actual location. However, location still plays a vital role even though we're entering an online age where customers could just as easily be from next door as in the next state.
Define your Location by finding your Niche
Each category of business has started to see more and more specialization, more and more websites that focus on a particular topic. This leads to more and more opportunity for the small business owner to get even more free advertising space as these niche verticals need community and business owner participation in order to become more successful. A couple of examples would be Urban Spoon, Menu Pages or Restaurants.com. These represent the new online branding through user feed-back that is becoming more and more important
Reach Out and Touch Someone...Online
Before the internet, if you wanted to locate a business, you would pull out that gigantic pile of yellow colored pages and look through the local listings. This became a social norm, and nearly everyone, at least in the United States, still associates yellow pages directories with locating businesses. These companies have actually gone to great lengths to move their business models online.
Todd Butcher of Pepperjam was kind enough to sound off on the importance of getting yourself listed on online yellowpage type directories. He says...
"If a searcher is sophisticated enough to actually search with a geotargeted term, the local results are the first thing you see on the SERPS. In addition, for many local listings there are sub categories linking off to sites that Google feels provide valuable information about that business. This means that sites which are acting as local aggregators of business information are going to motivated to provide thorough and accurate information to be listed there. This will greatly improve the overall search experience."
Second, it seems many people simply search a term like "pizza" or "car dealer". Search on these terms and Google will ask you to enter a zip code to better refine your search locally. This is just another example of the importance that is being placed on local results.Also, I think Google is trying to take the emphasis away from other aggregators like Superpages and try to keep it all "in house" so to speak. For that reason, I think it's important now more than ever for the 100% local business to position themselves to take advantage of these local results.
The bottom line is, if you are a local business, it doesn't make sense to go after broad keywords. Geotarget. Do everything you can to get listed in these results.
SPECIAL FEATURES AND/OR SECURITY - Credit Cards and payment options, Hours of operation, Special Services
COMPLETENESS OF SERVICE - Product Types, Pickup and Delivery, Buy, Rent and Lease
ILLUSTRATION - High Impact Pictures and Headline
LOCATION - Location or Locations, Areas Served
To ensure that your business is seen as authoritative, it is absolutely vital for you to go to these directories and get yourself listed. The majority of these sites are free for basic listings, but some do charge to allow you to enter your URL to refer to your site.
I highly recommend this reference guide to get yourself started, because it outlines a huge chunk of online geo-specific directories, and also lets you know which sites get their data from vendor sources. Knowing those data sources multiplies your efforts because just adding to one site can post your data to 5 to 7 other websites.
Define your Geographic Location
Brick and Mortar businesses have an edge that they can exploit, in that their location gives them a legitimacy that services and agents without a shop don't have. There are even geopgraphic specific search engines, that are defined by you physical location. Like Los Angeles or Palm Springs. If you live in a city of any size, it's very probable that an entrepreneur has created an online directory for your specific community.
Publicize your Online Location
If you are a local business, taking the time to reserve a domain name and create a website is worth the time and effort. When you are writing the content for your website, always steer away from the stuffy, corporate speak and don't just repeat your business related keywords over and over again.
Take some time over the weekends to read a couple of articles about starting a small business website, there is a big advantage, because local search, local directories, review websites and coupons will most often have an opportunity to link to your site. Even if it's just your URL, it's still a good indicator of your relevance to an area, or to a particular trade/topic/service.
Coupon? Yes, Please!When you add your business to local directories, and search engines you can quite often expand your listing simply by offering a coupon. There's no reason why you shouldn't take advantage of these bonus opportunities. Even Local search engines, including Google, will post your coupons based off of specific queries. Once you add your site to Google Local, make sure that you add any coupon promotions you currently are running, and take the time to create one if you hadn't used them before.
Useful Local Search Tools
Get Listed.org - This site just launched Jan 20th with the goal of providing a quick stop location for business owners to check and see if their listings have been claimed in the big local search areas. Based off your company name, and your address it checks Google, Yahoo, BOTW and MSN for your verified business listing. It does a good job of combining the data into a dashboard so you don't have to search for your profiles.
There is a similar service embeded into Merchant Circle, where you can check what local search directories you are listed in, and has a more exhaustive list. To access that part of their platform, once you've signed up your business, go to view website performance, then "where am I listed", and it will give you a list of sites it has recognized yellow page entries for your business. Perhaps one getlisted.org has more time to mature it will add more local search portals.
About Jeremy Rivera; Jeremy is an in-house SEO and new friend of the FireHorse who is an active socialite and search geek (proudly displaying his SOSG badge even). You can find more of his writings on his blog Foot in Mouth Disease (something I'm known for lol...). You can also follow his ramblings on Twitter via @footinmouth - A great big THANKS to Jeremy for riding along with us and we hope to have him back again real soon... WORD!