How to start thinking locally…

Your prospects are looking for you on the Internet.

They’re searching using terms that make sense to them (based on the problem they’re having or a common solution to their problem).

For a lot of products or services, they are only interested in a local service provider – they’re doing a local search.

They’re probably using Google, although they may be using Yahoo, Ask.com, MSN or even AOL.

Although traditional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important – if you’ve got a local business, setting yourself up for Local Search is even more important!  Can you be found locally?

What is local search?

Local Search is simply the idea that your prospects are using location as part of their search criteria.  As an example, the search Kansas City Business Coach on google returns a listing that is more specific to the Kansas City market place than a more generic search would do (and who’s that in the 2nd spot….?)  😉

The reason local search is important is that any business that isn’t virtual and involves some sort of face to face contact needs to be associated to an area.  This is even more true for those businesses that define their market niche by geography – (i.e. Math Enrichment Services for southern Johnson County, Quality Kitchen and Bath Remodeling for Brookside, Prairie Village and Leawood)

Because searching the World Wide Web is becoming more and more of a challenge everyday – the strong trend is to immediately start narrowing down your search as much as possible, and if I’m looking for a company to help me with Water Damage, I’m going to type in Overland Park Water Damage and find Puroclean Disaster Recovery in the local business results at the top of the page.

How do you optimize for Local Search?

As you can tell from this recent article on Local Search from David Mihm – Local Search Ranking Factors, the process for optimizing is probably still more of an art than a science, but there are a few simple things you can do to really improve your results.

Claim your Local Business Listings

Even though they continue to print and deliver them several times a year, the phone book (you know the one actually printed on paper…) is dying and it’s being replaced by a swarm of online directories.  Most of these will allow you to set up a basic entry for free – it may take a while to hit several of them, but it’s easy to do and doesn’t require any real skill.

Here are a few of the sites that you should make sure you are set up in:

Google Local Business CenterYahoo Local Listings, Yellowpages, Superpages, Local.com, MSN Live Local Search and one that I’ve found very easy to use and set up that seems to be very effective is Merchant Circle.

A couple of points on these entries:

  1. Make sure your entries are consistent across the different listings.  Google and Yahoo like consistency (i.e. name, address, description should always be the same).
  2. Use the correct categories for your business listing.
  3. Make sure you are describing your business using keywords that people are likely to search with – and use those keywords consistently (hint they should be used on your site as well).

Optimize your Web Site for Local Search terms

There was an SEO conference recently that featured Matt Cutts, one of the Google thought leaders as a speaker.  One of the attendees wanted to improve his search rankings for San Diego Chiropractic.

He was asked if he had the words San Diego Chiropractic anywhere on his page – and he didn’t.

So a simple tip is to put the city or location name and the most obvious search term on your page – or better yet use it several times – in headers, maybe in the title, be creative but make sure it still makes sense in the overall context.

An additional tip is to put your Address and Phone number on every page of your website (something I still need to do).

Get people to Link to your site

The other big driver for Google to recognize your site is to look at it’s overall popularity (think of it as how many friends you have measured by the number of sites that reference you).  The bigger sites count for more, but even any friends or business partners you might have will make a difference.

Start networking for links – get a blog and post about other people, a lot of them will return the favor.

Join local groups and associations – I’m in both the Leawood and Overland Park chambers and they both do a nice job of helping to drive traffic.

Create profiles on sites like Linked In, the KC Online Community or even a Facebook or Myspace.

The bottom line is that you know your potential customers are likely online looking for you – help them by making your site a target that’s easy to find!

What Search strategies do you use that I didn’t touch on here – share them in the comments.

Shawn Kinkade  www.aspirekc.com

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