How To Use Local Search To Drive TrafficWith Google, Bing and Yahoo placing increasing importance on local search, small businesses now have more opportunities than ever before to dominate the search results for their targeted keywords.  Unfortunately, many have not taken advantage of the new features, or optimized their web sites for local search.

Here are some simple ways to improve your company’s online visibility in local search results.

Local Business Listing

Google is the proverbial “800-pound gorilla” of search, and Google Places is the dominant local business directory on the Web.

Every local business should have a well-optimized Places page. These pages function as mini web sites for businesses and allow them to provide a wealth of information, including images, products and services offered, hours of operation, videos, reviews and, of course, maps of their locations.

In addition to reviews posted directly to the Places page, Google also displays customer reviews from third-party sites and considers the number and quality of these reviews when determining the rankings of local businesses. You should encourage your customers to post reviews but don’t coach them. It’s best to have a mix of 3-, 4- and 5-star reviews that appear genuine than all 5-star reviews which can appear spammy to the search engines and customers alike.

Yahoo and Bing also provide their own versions of the Places page and it’s a good idea to have a well-optimized presence in them as well.

Claim and Verify Your Local Listing

There’s a good chance that your local Google, Yahoo and Bing listing already exists and is waiting for you to claim, verify and optimize it.  To find out, simply go to the map and enter your company name or address in the search bar. If your business is listed, claim it and verify that the information is correct or make changes to any inaccurate information that appears.

Generate Citations

Citations are essentially references to your local business listing that appear in other online directories and customer review sites and lend credibility and legitimacy to your local listing, for search engines and for customers.

Keyword Optimize Your Listing

Be sure to include targeted keywords in your business description. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know how customers search for your business online. Instead, spend some time with one of the many free or paid keyword tools available online, and optimize your local listing accordingly. And, as with reviews, don’t go overboard or “keyword stuff” your description.

Encourage Mentions, Reviews and Check Ins

Use social media, including Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Twitter and others to generate reviews, “likes”, mentions and “check ins.”  Enhancing your online presence across a variety of platforms will translate into improved visibility in both organic and local search results.

Localize Your Web Site

Don’t forget to optimize your web site for local search by including your business address, local phone number and names of cities within your local market. Links from other business web sites, online yellow pages and sites of local business organizations, like the Better Business Bureau and chambers of commerce also help to identify your business with your local market.

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