Not only are local listings gaining valuable real estate on the search results pages, locally focused websites are appearing with more frequency for nonspecific search phrases as well, thanks in part to Google Instant and the real-time nature of today’s Web. So what can you do to leverage this growth?
Hopefully you have already
1) claimed your business listing and/or submitted your website to online services like Google Places and Yelp, among the many others,
2) promoted your website and brand on social destinations like Facebook and Twitter, and
3) become involved with location-aware applications like Foursquare and Gowalla.
All of these channels present excellent ways of getting local search traffic to your website. But often overlooked are the factors that influence how profile pages from these Web services are returned to users. Actively optimizing local search profiles improves search engine rankings and the chances that your website will appear in the first few positions on local query results.
About Profile Optimization
While not technically a page on your website, claiming and validating local listings on Google, Bing and Yahoo! can drive high-quality, targeted traffic and help your site rank higher within local search results. While unclaimed local listings can sometimes outrank claimed local listings, it is still vital to claim your profiles as it gives you complete control of what is displayed to users and prevents someone else from claiming your listings (and reputation).
Here are the major ranking factors to consider when building your local search engine pages:
Location (Address): Does your business address need to be in the actual city of the search query to rank? For the most part, yes, particularly if you are located in a large city. There are some exceptions for smaller towns — if there are not enough matches then the search engine may take results from neighboring towns. But your business’ physical location is a major ranking factor when it comes to local search. Make sure to include as much information as possible, including longitudinal and latitudinal data.
Business Category: Make sure your business is categorized correctly — if secondary category choices are available, select a few over time to see which ones positively influence your position and traffic.
Business Name: Consider your business name the "title" Tag of your local profile listing. When you have a keyword(s) in your business name it will help improve ranking, but it is not necessary (or advised) to saturate the listings with keywords. For example, if you own a hamburger restaurant named Chuck’s and your local listing displays only “Chuck’s”, consider changing the listing to “Chuck’s Hamburger Restaurant”. Many people will use the keywords “hamburger restaurant” to search for your business.
Citations: Citations are when your business is mentioned (but not necessarily linked to) elsewhere on the Web. Citations are like links, in that the more you have the better. Citations build trust with the search engines and give you a boost when it comes to ranking, especially with Google Maps. You can see your citations on your Google Places page under “What people are saying about”. Check out the competition and make sure you make an attempt to get citations from the same or related sources.
Reviews and Ratings: Not only will good reviews and ratings have a positive effect on your local listing ranking, it will also help the click-through rate of your listing. Encourage existing clientele to submit reviews and ratings and reward them when they do.
Complete Profiles: Take time to fill out your local business profile pages completely. Add business hours, payment options and craft a well-written description of your business. Even add pictures and videos if you have them. Also, be sure that the information on your local listing pages is consistent across all directories.
Remember to claim and submit your website to the primary local providers and test different profile information combinations to see what influences return list position and website traffic. While often tedious to complete and validate (and for some, to create unique landing pages for each business location), these efforts will more than pay for themselves in the form of quality local traffic.
Dante A. Monteverde