Local Search Engine Optimization

Local search is a huge, multibillion dollar market. The yellow pages have dominated local in the past, but search engines are constantly biting off their market share. Chris Smith from Search Engine Land predicts that yellow pages will see a further decline in the next four years due to the aggressive push into local by search engines. That’s good news, unless of course you own a yellow pages business.

Local Search Services

Google Maps is the second most popular product from Google after “search.” To get listed on Google Maps, submit your business through Google Local. Big G is the most aggressive of all the search engines when it comes to local queries. Their top 10 local results with phone numbers are usually all users need to find the right business, without ever leaving the search results page. It’s crucial to be there.

Yahoo Local will let you list your site for free. Once you list the site on Yahoo Local, your data will be syndicated with Yahoo Maps.

Live Maps boasts a Local Listing Center, to which you submit your information if you want to see your business featured on the Live Maps service.

There are many more sites that specialize in local search. Some of them are CitySearch, Local.com, SuperPages and much more.

When it comes to maps, I find Google is the most accurate at pinpointing business locations. I believe it’s better than MapQuest in terms of technology. Google is trying to add reviews and a social element to the maps, but CitySearch, SuperPages and other niche local sites are still leaders in this field, so be sure to get local listings there as well.

Include your address on many pages and make sure it is consistent. Here’s a good format to follow (by no means the rule):

Company Name

Street Address

City, State, Zip

Phone

Fax

You can plug this into a footer, which is a clear indication to all sorts of bots that this is your address. A good guess is that bots are programmed to specifically put weight on pages with filenames such as “contact,” “contact-us,”"about,” etc, so be sure to drop addresses there as well.

Be sure to include local variations of keywords on your local pages. For example, if you’re a real estate guy in CA, make sure to vary CA and California within your content, because searches use both. Google is smarter at detecting and serving listings with only one occurrence (for example CA only is considered California by Google, assuming other indicators match), but other bots are dumber.

Get listings on local directories, Yellow Pages and local consumer sites. If you’re after several cities, get links with local anchor text pointing to your local pages in order to pass page rank flow. Put up links from your high PR pages to the local pages with targeted anchor text, and several links to the most important local pages from the home page. This will cause high PR pages to pass PR and help local pages rank for their terms.

Google puts less weight on footer links, since those are usually used for SEO.

Target one city or per page. It’s okay to target city municipalities on one page, since they merge the city together, but targeting Chicago and New York on one page isn’t effective for both SEO and the user’s experience.

Use targeted filenames, titles and H tags. Vary them from one another to decrease SEO footprints. For example, a real estate agent in Chicago:

<Title> Chicago Illinois Real Estate Agent Buy and Sell Homes in Chicago Area

(title may change as you target more keywords per page)

Filename: “chicago-real-estate-agent”

<H1> Sell and Buy Your Real Estate With a Professional Agent in Chicago IL

<H2> Over $400,000,000 real estate sales in Chicago

Etc…

Keep in mind that Google weighs on-page SEO much less than off-page SEO. Search engines use outside indicators to scour information, thus matching the address, phone and company name in directory listings is crucial. Ideally everything should be identical throughout all of your appearances on the web.

Optimizing on-page factors can be more helpful in less competitive fields, but in cluttered markets, the value of on page SEO goes down. Some SEOs also say that citations that reference your business with its address can be more valuable than targeted keyword-rich links for local optimization.

Make sure you validate listings everywhere validation is offered (Google maps, Yahoo maps, Live maps, etc) to prevent vandalism of your listings. Also keep in mind that Google has editing holes in map listings that allow third parties to modify information. Even after verification, some goofball or competitor can change key information about your website on Google, so keep a close eye on it.

Inbound Links still play a crucial role in rankings. Matt McGee states that local businesses do not attract many links, something search engines have to consider, but one of our sites has top listings and is a top leader on local search results. Links are as valuable as with regular SEO. The more authoritative and targeted links, the better.

Anchor Text with city names help search engines classify pages. The difference between regular SEO and local SEO is that local anchor text has to be targeted by city locations. Keep in mind that the value of anchor text has gone down, especially when it’s aggressively targeted, so keep it looking natural. For example, some links may be outright optimized, like “chicago real estate agents,” while others appear only as www.site.com or “buy and sell real estate in Chicago IL.”

Customer Votes, such as star ratings and customer reviews, can have an impact on how a website is ranked. A site with stars, in comparison to a site without stars, is a clear indicator to search engines that it has more value. Make sure your listing get scored by associates from multiple locations of your country.

User Reviews can be important, but user review criteria depends on the industry. If you’re in a field where the site get a lot of reviews and feedback, it’s likely counted in algorithm computation. If one site gets 50 reviews and others only receive 10, it’s a clear indicator of natural “votes” to search engines. On the other hand, if you’re in an industry where sites get little or no reviews, they aren’t likely to make a difference. Hotels and restaurants usually have the most reviews so it’s crucial to have many there. This brings us to the next topic.

If you’re a business owner, you have most likely done this. If you have not, the question is – why not?

Yes, there is ethics on the line; just think about the furor once seen when large corporations tried to use fake blogs to drum up interest and publicity. But apart from that, fake reviewing is a regular business practice. Let’s not call names, but many interactive agencies offer “online reputation management,” which is nothing less than fake reviews, fake votes, fake criticism and fake forum conversations.

It makes sense as a business owner to write yourself realistic fake reviews for local and global listings, because your big competitors are doing it on an industrial scale. Tropical SEO did a good post on how to do fake reviews and appear natural. Check it out. Let’s summarize his ideas.

  • If you’re going to do fake reviews, write naturally, as if you’re a regular guy/girl who is giving unbiased advice.

  • Avoid exclamation marks, names of managers and super raving feedback, i.e. “I love it!!” “it is the best place on the planet earth”

  • Don’t give perfect scores, like 10/10 or 5/5

  • Mix positives with negatives. Many people are naturally looking for negatives, because all is not perfect. Pointing out the negatives and then stating positive looks more truthful and persuasive.

Here are two great examples to help you visualize how to write good fake reviews, from Tropical SEO:

Bad

Mai Thai is my favorite Thai restaurant in Houston! Everything from the chicken pad thai, to the hot and sour soup, to the chef’s specialty “Chicken Curry No Hurry” is absolutely delicious! The decor is wonderful, there are authentic Thai paintings on the wall. I go there at least twice a week, and the owner, Lewis, always says Hi to me and we chat pleasantly for a while. It is a great place to go for a business lunch or even a Friday night date!! Oh, and don’t forget to try the green tea ice cream!!!!! 10/10

Good

Mai Thai is a pretty decent Thai restaurant for the price. I’ve tried the Pad Thai (good) and the hot and sour soup (average). The lunch crowd is busy but they get you seated fairly quickly. 8/10

Be aware that local sites and search engines are well aware of fake reviews, so giving many reviews from one city, or worse, one IP address, can set off red flags. Be careful.

Come back for the second part of this tutorial on local search engine optimization, where we cover different factors that impact local search rankings.

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