In the interest of providing the most relevant search results, Google has put an even heavier focus on local search. Google believes that when they list businesses that are physically within easy reach, they are providing the most useful information to the searcher.
Google Maps and Google Places for Business, with Google Verification demonstrate Google's commitment to showing the businesses closest to the searcher at the time of search. For a small business owner, this creates opportunities for companies that are savvy enough to adapt their marketing strategy to keep pace with Google.
1. Are you using a local phone number (and fax number) on your website and in all online profiles? 800 numbers provide convenience for your customers but they do not confirm your location.
2. Have you registered with Google Places for Business?
3. Does your Contact Us page clearly list your full street address and include an embedded Google Map? Box numbers or UPS destinations do not establish location. Listing your ‘service area' and hours of business also establishes you for your area. Has your website's CMS (ie: WordPress or Joomla!) been set for your time zone?
4. Are you listed in the local chamber or commerce online directory?
5. Are you listed in your local Yellow Pages and/or 411 online directory?
6. Are you providing full descriptions in all your social and online profiles, more or less using all of the space provided in both the basic and enhanced panels? Be sure to include the keywords that searchers will actually use to find you. This is no place to be cute. For example, if your business provides pest control, your description should say “pest control”, not “We remove unwelcome guests.”
7. List your domain-based email accounts ([email protected]) instead of Gmail, Yahoo, MSN/Outlook, etc. Consider moving your website hosting to within 50km of your office to reinforce your locale by IP address.
8. Create complete business pages on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Publish your full address, local phone number, local fax number and domain-based email address. Be sure to compete the business verification process for Google+.
9. Make references to your location when posting photos on your site, Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram.
10. Connect with local business owners and include natural contextual links within your content. Don't just exchange links on a ‘links' page or in your ‘blogroll'. Here's how you do it right. If you own a motel, for example, and you have been sending business to the local flyfishing outfitter, why not call up the owners and let them know that you have created a page on your site in the ‘local attractions' section, featuring their business. Let them know the URL of the page and ask them if there is anything they'd like to change. Ask them if there's a specific page they'd like you to deep link to. Then asks them to create a page or blog post with contextual deep links to a welcome/landing page on your site.
11. Testimonial and case study pages provide wonderful opportunities for including photos with local references in the file names, titles and Alt tags. You can also include a text reference to the customer's address. Don't repeat yourself to the point of being ‘spammy'. When you're done, let your customer know that you've added the testimonial or case study, with a contextual backlink to their website. Hopefully they will reciprocate with a blog mention with a local deep link to the page.
What if our office address is not in the area we're targeting?
Local search can sometimes work against small businesses that have an address in the suburbs or in a community neighboring their target market.
Please check back to this post for the follow-up post, in which I will address ways around this problem. Subscribe to our RSS feed or email updates to be notified automatically when the post is released.
UPDATE: August 30, 2013 the follow-up past, Recovering from Ranking Losses associated with Local Search, was added.