More Ways to Optimize for Local Search

This is the second part of a two-part article on local search engine optimization. In this part we are going to cover how different factors affect local search engine rankings: the number of user reviews, positive and negative reviews, reviews on third party websites, the age of the business listing, keyword location, categories, phone number and more.

Phone Number

Both 800 and local phone numbers work. One of the key things you will notice on Google is that only numbers with local area codes show up. Sometimes 1-800 surfaces, but local area codes dominate. If you’re shooting for markets outside your area, it’s crucial for you to have a local area code on your website.

One of the things we did was get an IP phone and then reroute the number to our location. Even though the office was in a different city, we were able to “fool” algorithms into thinking otherwise.

On the other hand, we have not tried using a phone number with a different area code than that of the targeted city. Logic tells me that search engines would put less weight on the listing if the address and the area code do not match. You can try, but what’s the point?

Positive and Negative Customer Reviews

The number of reviews clearly has an impact in industries where listings get a lot of reviews, but at the moment search engines cannot see the difference between positive and negative feedback other than star ratings.

It would make some sense to put some weight on a listing that has 5 stars as opposed to the one that has 4 stars. But what if the one with the 4 stars has 100 review and the one with 5 stars only has 3 reviews? Ratings are a cue to search engines, but not the definitive factor.

Age of Listing

You can get a new listing ranking fairly quickly, so age isn’t a big factor.

City Keywords in Title

City keywords in your listing title help if you are chasing after one city, but NOT a specific area, such as suburbs. If you are in the suburbs, city keywords in the title will limit rankings to a specified town, leaving out other towns.

On the other hand, it helps search engines refine their results. If you take two equal listings, one with the city in the title and the other one without, the first listing is likely to show up over the second one.

By third party reviews, I mean reviews on third party websites.

Search engines definitely count the number of third party reviews in algorithm computation, and the more the better. The bottom line is, search engines are using all possible cues to help them determine the quality of a listing. Reviews on third party websites is a perfect example of such a cue.

In many industries, sites rank locally without any reviews on the search engine platform or other platforms. In other industries with tons of reviews like hotels and restaurants, search engines may use the number of third party reviews as an indicator.

The key is to calibrate. If you’re in industry where your competitors have tons of reviews on both the search engines and third party sites, chances are you’ll need some too.

Keyword in Business Listing Description

Having the right keyword in your business listing description definitely helps. It can hurt if you do outright keyword stuffing, but a sensible, natural occurrence only reinforces the relevance of the listing, so why not put a couple of keywords in there?

Location of the Business in Relation to “Downtown”

“Downtown” in this sense is the center of the city, as the search engines perceive it. This used to be one of the key factors on Google Maps, but has bounced around since. If you carefully observe local Google listings, you’ll notice that many A listings are located at the CORE of the city. This applies to city municipalities as well. If you can, list your address as close as possible to the center of the city.

Ranking for City Search in a Municipality

Unfortunately, you won’t rank for New York listings if you’re located in New Jersey or Union City. Though together, certain small cities constitute New York as a whole, they are considered to be separate by the search engines.

This goes for all other cities as well. For example, in Toronto, Etobicoke and Mississauga are considered different cities by the search engines, while in reality they make up Toronto as a whole.

Listings from municipalities or nearby cities may show up if there are no listings in the original city that the user requested. If algorithms calculate that the distance between the requested city and the one in which they have a matching listing is reasonable (whatever it is), they will show it. This works for suburbs.

Don’t expect to rank at the top for city searches in a competitive industry if you’re located in a municipality that is not considered part of the city. It’s best to be close to downtown.

Just do basic searches like “new york pizza” or “Atlanta taxi.” Notice that the top listings are usually cluttered around one point. This brings us to the topic of fake addresses.

This is a little shady, but many if not most good companies do it for their A-class clients, who pay a lot and regularly. The key is to stay under the radar, keep your mouth shut and sweep all the traces behind.

If you want multiple business listing in Google’s 10 local box, one of the best ways (which is also extremely hard to catch and much more on the “white hat” side of things) is to register several businesses with different addresses, websites and phone numbers. This requires REAL addresses.

Home addresses work, though; search engines aren’t smart enough yet to see the difference between businesses and homes, and are not likely to soon. Keeping phone numbers different is also key. As mentioned earlier, you can get cheap IP phones, with great quality, that even provide fake area codes.

Category of a Business Listing

This can hurt more than help. If you’re in a wrong category, say adios to business listings, so it’s crucial you place yourself in the right one. If you do not, search engines will use yellow pages and local directories to categorize you, and those can be wrong. Many search engines also allow the creation of your own categories, so if you can’t find a suitable one for the keyword create your own.

Just look at where most of your competition is. If they are in A category, it makes sense to put yourself in A as well instead of a distant Z. Many SEOs say that the wrong category is the biggest negative factor in local SEO that can keep the listing right out of SERPs.

Multiple Businesses at the Same Address

I wouldn’t recommend putting more than two businesses at the same address; in fact, keep it to one if possible to safeguard yourself against unexpected surprises in the future. Who knows what can hit search engineers in the head?

Multiple City Listings on One Domain

This works if your domain is powerful enough. Take Marriot as an example. If you’re small, don’t expect this to work. You’ll have to create and optimize separate sites for each city you’re after.

This is an important factor. In fact, if you own a keyword-rich domain that includes city + product/service, coupled with a keyword-rich company name that includes city + product/service, you have a 25% higher chance of getting the authoritative listing than the site using a generic, unrelated name and web address.

This method is abused by the spammers, but if you have the best of intentions, it can really go a long way.

Website Content

Website content is something we completely control, so make sure to include all of the correct keywords and quality indicators for the search engines. On the other hand, to rank in local you don’t need a website, so this factor is not that important. Search engines scour local data from directories, yellow pages, telecoms and other sites. It’s completely possible for a business to be listed there without having a website.

Conclusion

Some of the most important factors to highlight in local search engine optimization:

  • Inbound links – still matters a LOT as with regular SEO.

  • City Keywords in Anchor Text – if other sites point to you with “montreal club,” chances are you have a club in Montreal

  • Validation of the Business – validate your business listing on map services. It tells search engines you’re very real and improves trust.

  • Customer Reviews – consider doing fake reviews if you have to (don’t do it from your office, same IP or an account of which search engines are aware).

  • Always claim your listing as the business owner.

  • Keywords in Title – keep location and product/service keywords in the local business listing title.

  • Address and Phone Number – obvious.

  • “Downtown factor” – list the address for the business’s location as close to the perceived downtown of the city as possible.

  • Categorization – list the business in a proper category.

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