SEO Tip To Beat Your Local Competitors And Generate More Sales

January 21st, 2010 | by BillEgan |

Unlocking Google’s Local Search Algorithm

We have already looked at seo tips on how social media can be used to help boost your organic search rankings.

So here we deal with local search – an area receiving significant investment from Google.

Have you figured out how to use Google Maps and Google’s Local Business Center to outrank your local competition?

We have been researching to find out how Google’s local search algorithm works. While we have not found the actual algorithm we are confident that the tips we give should give you a really good jump-start in implementing your local search project.

Whether your business is online or offline, by following these tips you should be able to generate tons of qualified sales leads for your local business.

This is the second of 2 posts on this topic. The first post:

“Local Search Revealed – A Huge Opportunity For 2010″ deals with how to set up your profile in Google’s Local Business Centre.

Why Is Local Search So Important?

For a number of years now, consumers have been doing initial online research   to compare products and prices before making a purchase decision.

Then they typically visit a few local suppliers within 15 miles of their home and make a purchase.

According to Small Business Online Business Coach

“82% of local searchers follow up via a in-store visit, phone call, or purchase”

“80% of all purchases are made with a 15 miles radius of where people live.”

This applies to any product or service that requires a physical visit to sample the service or examine the product.

Clearly this will apply to services such as:

  • Plumbers, electricians, accounting, IT support

And to products such as:

  • Electrical and electronic goods, food, beverages, clothing, household goods

In fact a recent U.S. market study by TMP Directional Marketing, indicates that online research now surpasses the Yellow Pages as a source for seeking local services.

The study confirmed that most consumers do their research online, and then make purchases offline with a phone call or in-store visit. In addition, marketers need to pay close attention to mobile search and to sites that offer consumer user reviews, as they are growing in popularity.”

So if Google determines that a search has local intent the SERP will contain a map of the most authoritative local suppliers of that product or service. If Google is 100% certain of the local intent the map will appear right at the top of the page and displace the highest ranking organic listings.

How Does Google Determine Local Intent?

If a city or town is present in the search term, Google can be 100% certain of local intent, otherwise Google uses a software algorithm to determine an intention on the part of searchers to see geographically related information as part of their search results.  SEO by the Sea extracted research from a study on “How Search Engines Determine Geographical Intent”

Some interesting statistics:

50% of searches involving geographic intent don’t actually use a location in the query (like searches for “pizza” or “dentist”)

84% of queries that include locations do so on a city level

If you enter a town or city name Google will be 100% certain that your search is local.

e.g. a search for “Architect Dublin” returns a map on top of the page.

For certain words Google will include a map among the organic listings since it knows that there is a

e.g. a search for Whereas a “Architect” with no city name returns no map

But a search for “Toy Store” with no city name does return a map, not on top but in the organic listings as follows:

It appears that Google uses a database of businesses that are likely to involve a local intent (e.g. toy store, florists, pizza’a, restaurants, home services etc.) Architects do not appear to be in that database currently so no map is shown.

Will You Get More Business Enquiries if You Appear on a Map?

According to Ian White, of UrbanMapping

  • 40% of queries are Local in intent
  • Only 5% of search terms use city and state
  • Only 2% use neighborhoods or informal terms
  • Only .5% use ZIP code

So a small volume of searches in the U.S. market can be 100% identified as local and for this reason Google tries to identify other searches with local intent by using a database of business categories with a high probability of local intent.

A quick check indicates that in the UK searches with local intent may be slightly less than the US. In Ireland because of the small size of the country local search terms appear to be less frequently used. The conclusion I would draw is that local search is currently more important in large countries with large cities.

But this is likely to change as local search continues to take market share from Yellow Pages.

So if 40% of searches have local intent and since Yellow Page and Business Directories are popular all over the world, people are clearly searching for local goods and services everywhere.

To be successful with local search, the goal should be to have your listing appear in a 7-pack or 3-pack listing. This will mean that your listing will be very visible, will outrank the No. 1 Organic listing and should generate a higher response rate that the No. 1 organic listing.

Jon Schepke, Strategic Internet Marketing Partners says

“Local search is more about phone calls than clicks.” Clearly this makes call tracking very important:

From Stephen Espinosa’s experience, It looks as if setting up a video or image link in your LBL or having a presence in Yahoo’s enhanced product will also increase your business enquiries.

“A video thumbnail and a local listing on the same results page can drive a 340% increase in phone calls”

“Using Yahoo’s enhanced product and having the “Merchant Verified” checkmark increased phone calls by 180%”

Will Google Compete With The Yellow Pages Flat Fee Pricing Model?

Advertising Age featured an article recently commenting on Google’s plans for local flat fee paid listings which use Googles Local Business centre and Google maps.

The initial trials are limited to San Francisco and San Diego. The price model is aimed at attracting local businesses such as plumbers, electricians, hair salons and restaurants, or anyone that has advertised in the yellow pages.

But Google is offering an additional perk: the option to link the ad to a Google voice number so they know which calls are being referred from the search ad.

Kevin Lee of ClickZ did an interesting post on this subject

As you can see from this screenshot, below, if an advertiser has a lot of local presence, their local listings ads can be quite compelling. The paid ads appear on top and above the local google maps listings.

Clearly if this experiment is rolled out globally it will have a major detrimental affect on organic traffic volumes.

6 Tips For Ranking In Local Search

There are three 3 major areas that will impact your ranking for local search.

A: Your Local Business Center Entry:

This is the data you provide in the Google Business Center when you claim or update your Local Business Listing.

B: The Trust Ranking Of Your Business Data:

This is the data provided by Trusted Portals, Directories and Review sites that reference  your Global LBL.

C: Your Website Content:

This is the data you provide on your website which acts as a reference to your Global LBL.

David Mihm has conducted an impressive survey of a panel of 24 experienced local search marketing practitioners and has produced a comprehensive Local Search Ranking Factor survey listing 41 factors that could influence your local search ranking on Google maps.

The real value of this survey is that the survey responses are weighted to indicate the collective view of the panel of the relative priority of each factor.

Given the continuing change in the evolution of the local search algorithm it is impossible to be totally accurate. However in my view the most important actions needed to gain a presence in the 7- box listing you need to take are:

1. Set-up Your Google Local Business Listing Profile

Follow the instructions on How To Set Up Google Maps  For Local Search

Remember to focus on the following factors:

  • Always be consistent with your company name, address and telephone number
  • The address should be located in the city used in the search term. In the past there was a view that, the closer your address is to the city centre the better. Some experts recommend considering renting a PO Box near the centre if you are located in the suberbs. If you do this remember that you will have to change the address on all data sources to implement this change. However the latest view of local search practitioners is that location near the centroid is becoming a less important factor. However if you are outside the city map boundary you will probably have a problem.
  • Association of your business with relevant categories. You can choose up to 5 categories and make sure they return Google maps when you enter a local city name.
  • Use a product or service keyword in your Business Name/Title. e.g. “Interleado SEO” as opposed to “Interleado” should get a higher local ranking. If you stuff keywords into the Business Title you may be penalised. Also if you decide to add a keyword to the business name you must do it consistently on your website and across all citations.
  • Use a product or service keyword in your LBL Description. Again avoid keyword stuffing.

2. Build Lots of Citations

Citations are critical to gain a high ranking..

Given the fact that a large number of small businesses will not have a website, Google maps will need an indication of authority and relevance that is not dependant on links or page rank. The presence of these indicators in authoritative portals is one way of achieving this. Citations are one of the two most important ways for Google to determine relevance.

Local citations are more important and should boost your ability to achieve a higher ranking.

A Citation is a record of the following data in an online database

  • Business Name
  • Business Address
  • Phone number
  • Link with anchor text (if available)

Remember that citations and call-tracking phone numbers do not mix. The key to success with local search is to be consistent with the data used in your Google LBL and in all citations.

Here are links to build citations for:

The USA:

Local Search Engines

Online Yellow Pages

Local Social Networks

United Kingdom

Local Portals

Yell

Scoot

Thomson Local

UK Business Directory

Free Index

UK Small Business Directory

Ireland

Yahoo UK & Ireland

Golden Pages

Browse Ireland

City Local

Find Outer Portal

Property Portal

France

Local Portals

Germany

Local Portals

Here is a list of other useful European citation sources

3. Collect Reviews Of Your Business Or Product

The Google Maps LBL Listings allows the public to add reviews to your listing. This is an important factor for your ranking.

All reviews will help increase your local ranking but in the following p[riority order:

  • Reviews associated with your Google Local Business Listing (LBL)
  • Reviews left at the search engine
  • Reviews on third party sites such as Trip Advisor etc.

Reviews from local websites are more important and should help gain a higher ranking.

It would appear that currently the volume of reviews is the main factor rather than the quality of the reviews. Also it is likely that reviews on your website or from authoritative review sites could also improve your ranking.

In a useful article on the topic Retail Customer Experience suggests a few ways to get online reviews including:

  • Asking purchasers to Provide a review after making a purchase
  • Offering an incentive
  • Seeking permission from the manufacturer, brand and/or distributor web sites to use their reviews for the same product that you offer

A novel suggestions from Small Business Coach involves giving out pre-paid postcards in the store to customers buying specific items that you want reviewed.

You could also offer the customer a free gift when they return the card or a coupon when they return to the store with the completed card.

These reviews can then be added to Google maps as they are received.

4. Optimise Your Website For Your Relevant Categories And Keywords

Since you can be ranked well without a website it is not that important for low competitive category terms in small cities and towns. However where the competition is higher in larger cities you will need to pay attention to this. The normal top on page factors should be optimised including:

  • Page title
  • Description
  • Anchor text in internal and external links

5. Optimise Your Website For Your Relevant Categories And Keywords

You need to have the full address and telephone number on your contact page. This should be consistent with your Google LBL.

There is a view that multiple addresses may confuse Google so it might be a good idea to consider having other addresses on a separate page.

6. Get Quality Inbound Links from Local Sites

Local inbound citations from websites with a high page rank will be particularly important where most of your competitors have websites.

David Mihm wrote a brilliant post on local and mobile search following  SMX Local in San Francisco  in 2008. Although over a year ago many of the points he picked up at the conference still apply.

To Summarise These Tips:

One of the presenters Mike Blumenthal created a useful graph that illustrates local search ranking factors

How Can You Measure You Local Search Results?

Google LBL contains a comprehensive tracking tool to measure:

  • The number of times your listing appeared on a Google.com search
  • The number of times people interacted with your listing. Currently you can only measure clicks but Google is planning to introduce a phone tracking service

If you are interested you can read the previous post on this topic titled: SEO Tip – Local Search Revealed – A Huge Opportunity For 2010

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  1. 2 Responses to “SEO Tip To Beat Your Local Competitors And Generate More Sales”

  2. By Uri - Pay Per Performance Marketing on Jan 26, 2010 | Reply

    Fantastic post, thanks for sharing.

    While I do agree that 2010 will be the year of the “local” for Google, I think they have allot of catching up to do and will either buyout one of the largest players or continue they quest for non spammy listings..

  3. By Bob on Jul 29, 2010 | Reply

    I do agree that searches for local businesses is becoming a very important part of the search criteria. Helping small businesses take advantage of that “thirst” is a large part of our business focus.

    Good information.

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