Building your local brand
Utilizing local listings and reviews to power your agency
By John Boudreau
The number of digital marketing opportunities with which a small business owner comes face to face can seem overwhelming—especially when that business is trying to decipher which ones will provide the most fruitful results. However, it's been yet another significant year for Local Search Engine Optimization (Local SEO); and if there is one major takeaway, it's that in order to remain at the forefront of your customer's mind, you must improve your ranking in Google Places.
What is a local search?
Local search is the highly specialized use of search engines that allows "searchers" or users to submit geographically specific search queries, which are then processed within a controlled database of local business listings.
Most often, local search queries will include information about the product, place, or thing the user is looking for as well as the unique "where" information, such as a local address, city name, postal code, and so on. Examples of typical local searches include: "New York City restaurants," "Boston hotels," or "Los Angeles insurance agency."
Local search queries are meant to reveal very clear-cut results; however, as Google evolves, the search engine itself has begun to think like us—now generating more implicit, unspoken results—almost mimicking what it believes we are searching for.
All in all, local search sites are predominantly supported by the advertising capital from businesses that want to be highly featured when users search for particular products and services in specific locations.
Google's Local Search Ranking Factors
Highly regarded local SEO expert David Mihm released his first-ever list of Local Search Ranking Factors (LSRF) in 2008. These factors take into consideration any significant changes made to Google's Local Search Ranking as well as feedback from other SEO experts. Each year Mihm typically surveys countless industry professionals, who provide a number between -5 and +5 for each Local Search Ranking Factor. Some of the basics, or what Mihm and his colleagues believe matter, include:
• Your physical address, also listing the city where you're located
• Manually verifying your ownership of your company's Google Places page
• Having proper category associations for your page and citations
• Having a large number of "traditional structured citations" for your business (e.g., Internet Yellow Pages)
• Having your address listed on your company Web site, and making sure that address is "crawlable" by the search engines
• Having a well-ranked company Web site
• Having high-quality inbound links to your company Web site
• Having your phone number listed on your company Web site, and making sure that it is also "crawlable" by the search engines
• Having an accurate local area code listed on your Google Places page
• Having your city and state listed in the page title for your Google Places landing page
In October 2010, Google launched what it called its "Blended Place Search." This specific feature results in a fusion of both place-related and Web site-related content on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). According to Mihm, the "blended" results differ significantly from those of the more traditional local search results. What the "blended" results tend to take into consideration are the social and personalized indications they may have picked up on in their organic search results, meaning the search engines are paying more attention to your search history as a way to predict and customize your results.
How can your agency tackle local search?
Not every action item may be something that your agency is ready to take on immediately, but it's crucial to have a local search game plan. Local isn't going away anytime soon—if ever—so setting your agency up with a solid local foundation will be instrumental to extended SEO success. A few major local search best practices include:
Be thorough, accurate and complete on your local listings. Always include your full address, ZIP code, phone number, relevant business categories, relevant service, and specific product keywords in your Places page description.
Include your service or product name in your business name listing. Whenever possible include relevant keywords in your business listing title as well.
Build a presence on local listing sites. Actually claim your listing on Google Places by manually verifying your page. It's also a common best practice to network and publish content within blogs, articles, and on other Web properties, allowing you to build up the additional citations.
Get reviews. Don't stress over the positive vs. negative. It's important to note that a high volume of reviews helps a lot more than a lower volume of strictly stellar reviews. Whenever you can encourage positive review content from clients, strive to have those reviews include category and location keywords.
Securing local reviews to power a successful future
Now the next logical question is: "How can I grab hold of those positive local reviews?" There's really no right or wrong answer, just mere guidelines. It is important to point out that truly genuine local reviews need no coaching or solicitation. However, there are a few tips you can use at your agency to help you gather those golden compliments and keyword-rich write-ups:
1. Just ask your client. Many who have had a positive experience at your agency will be glad to share their thoughts and acclaim. Begin by asking those clients who have been with you for years, or the new client that you just saved hundreds of dollars in premium. Look to those who already love and support you, and their reviews are bound to be full of praise. Coach them to use those highly-sensitive local and product keywords as well.
2. Include links. If you send out a mass e-mail to your client base, make it easy for them to access the review sites by including the hyperlink. More often than not, if they are presented with the link, and all they have to do is click, they will!
3. Try offering an incentive. It can be as easy as offering to enter them into a drawing hosted by your agency or by donating to a local charity for each review you receive. People love knowing that their time and efforts are paying off.
All in all, local search has become a staple for Internet users and gives your agency yet another way to promote itself. Especially in a time where consumers are willing and ready to support local businesses, make it your mission this new year to beef up your local listings and acquire local reviews. Google certainly is paying attention—and so are your prospects.
John Boudreau is COO and co-founder of Astonish Results, a digital marketing and consulting firm based in Rhode Island. He oversees the CRM, SEO/SEM, social media, and e-mail marketing strategies for the Astonish system.