Optimizing for Vertical Search : Optimizing for Local Search (part 1) - Check Your Local Listings

1/14/2011 5:22:24 PM
Search engines have sought to increase their advertiser base by moving aggressively into providing directory information. Applications such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Maps have introduced disruptive technology to local directory information by mashing up maps with directory listings, reviews/ratings, satellite images, and 3D modeling—all tied together with keyword search relevancy. This area of search is still in a lot of flux as evolutionary changes continue to come hard and fast. However, these innovations have excited users, and the mapping interfaces are growing in popularity as a result.

Despite rapid innovation in search engine technology, the local information market is still extremely fractured. There is no single dominant provider of local business information on the Internet. According to industry metrics, online users are typically going to multiple sources to locate, research, and select local businesses. Traditional search engines, local search engines, online Yellow Pages, newspaper websites, online classifieds, industry-specific “vertical” directories, and review sites are all sources of information for people trying to find businesses in their area.

This fractured nature of online local marketing creates considerable challenges for organizations, whether they’re a small mom and pop business with only a single location or a large chain store with outlets across the country.

Yet, success in these efforts is critical. The opportunity for local search is huge. More than any other form of vertical search, local search results have come to dominate their place in web search. For example, Figure 1 shows the results for a search on minneapolis rental cars.

Figure 1. Local search results example

The regular web search results are not even above the fold. This means that if you are not in the local search database, you are probably not getting any traffic from searches similar to this one.

Obviously, the trick is to rank for relevant terms, as most of you probably don’t offer rental cars in Minneapolis. But if your business has a local component to it, you need to play the local search game.

1. Foundation: Check Your Local Listings

Today, literally thousands of online directories and websites offer up guides to local businesses. So, if you have a local business or a chain of shops, where do you start?

Directories can be built from the local phone company’s database information, but no one phone company covers the entire country. Because of this, companies that host nationwide directories are primarily getting their content from data aggregators to form the foundation of their guides. Data aggregators build their content from a variety of sources, such as local area Yellow Pages, to have information that is as comprehensive as possible.

Three top aggregators exist for U.S. business listings: InfoUSA, Acxiom, and Amacai, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Aggregators of business listings

The first step in managing the online presence of local companies is to check and update the business’s listing information in each of these main aggregators. Ensure that the address information, phone numbers, fax numbers, and any other contact information are correct.

It is also a good idea to check/update your listing information in the top Yellow Pages directory sites, vertical directories (directories that are apropos for your industry), and top local search engines. But how do you decide what the top local information sites are?

As of this book’s printing, the best guide for Internet Yellow Pages, vertical directories, and local search engines is the Local Search Guide provided by the Yellow Pages Association. Check your listings in each of the sites listed in the guide, and update where necessary.

Of the search engines listed in the guide, you’ll focus primarily on their local search or map search sections, and you’ll want to look for how to add/update/edit your listings in them. For instance, you can find the interface for updating listings in the Google, Yahoo!, and Bing search engines at the following URLs:

Google and Microsoft offer methods for validation using automated phone and fax systems. Yahoo! offers a paid service in which the business pays for data maintenance and then gets direct control over its listings.

The major advantage that these systems offer is that you are validating your data directly with the search engines themselves. You can bet that they will treat this as highly trusted data. If the address you validate directly with them is 39 Temple Street and the InfoUSA address is 41 Temple Street, they are probably going to use the 39 Temple Street address.

1.1. Additional local info guides

Search engines are not the only source for local business information. Some of the more notable alternatives include the following.

1.1.1. Additional local online Yellow Pages

In addition to the online directories listed in the Local Search Guide, check to see that you’ve also updated your information in any local directory sites that are independent of the Local Search Guide lists. Other Yellow Pages guides may be dominant for your area but may not be listed. Check the printed phone books delivered in the area where your business is located, and see whether they have URLs printed on their covers where you can audit/update your information.

1.1.2. Additional vertical directory sites

The Local Search Guide lists only a handful of vertical directories, so if your industry isn’t represented in that set, you might do some research to identify ones appropriate for you, and check them to ensure that your business listing is optimal in them.

1.1.3. Newspapers

Check the sites of the top newspapers in your area and see whether they have business directories with a good presence for you.

1.1.4. Chambers of commerce

Most U.S. cities have a local chamber of commerce to help promote businesses in the area, and getting listed within it can be beneficial to you, particularly if the chamber’s site is optimized for search engines; getting your chamber of commerce listing linked over to your website can help with your link weight.

1.1.5. Online classifieds and eBay

These sorts of sites can be time-consuming to integrate with, but users sometimes conduct local-based searches through them for some types of products and services. Craigslist is the most-used online classifieds site, although there could be more specialized ones for particular cities or industries. Figure 3 shows results from an eBay search for stuffed animals.

Figure 3. Online classified sites

EBay’s advanced search features allow users to search for things offered by sellers in particular regions/localities. So, for some types of businesses, it could be helpful or worthwhile to list products on eBay. Listing items through online classified or auction sites might not be good for improving direct sales, but it could be worthwhile as another channel for advertising to local consumers.

1.1.6. Local guides

Loads of local guides are devoted to information about local areas, so search on your city’s name or zip code and see what sites appear on the first page of results in each of the main search engines: Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Review the top local guide sites for your area and assess whether they’re apropos for your business’s information.

1.1.7. Specialty Yellow Pages

Many niche Yellow Pages directories are geared toward particular demographic groups—for instance, special interest groups or directories in other languages. Consider integrating with the ones that are right for you and your business. Association with these specialized guides may position you for more ready acceptance by the end users of those guides, because it sends them a clear message that you value their interests and are more directly sympathetic to their needs and desires. Here are some examples:

  •  Optimizing for Vertical Search : The Opportunities in Vertical Search
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Social Networking for Links
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : More Approaches to Content-Based Link Acquisition
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Choosing the Right Link-Building Strategy
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Types of Link Building (part 2)
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Types of Link Building (part 1)
  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Further Refining How Search Engines Judge Links
  •  The Art of SEO : How Links Influence Search Engine Rankings (part 2) - Additional Factors That Influence Link Value
  •  The Art of SEO : How Links Influence Search Engine Rankings (part 1) - The Original PageRank Algorithm
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