What local search means, and what it can do for your business.
It seems like every time I come to work, there’s a new buzzword in our industry. Over the years, we have talked about SEO marketing, keywords, “the fold,” mobile Apps, mobile sites, responsive web design, social media, and countless other terms. Our industry is relatively young, and innovation is occurring at a breakneck pace. We have to prioritize time for reading and research just to keep up. I can only imagine what it must be like for our customers who have their own industries to keep up with! We try to filter through all of the chaff and educate our clients on the really important things that they need to be aware of to help with that process. So, what is the most important “new thing” businesses need to be aware of in 2014? Hands down, it’s local optimization.
“What Is Local Optimization?” or “Whatever Happened to the Phone Book?”
Do you remember phone books? For those of you under 30, these are the huge books that you carry from your front step to your recycle bin once a year. There were two parts of the phone book. (At least, there were two parts in Hokes Bluff, Alabama where I grew up; I think in Birmingham there were two separate books.) Either way, the White Pages helped you find people, and the Yellow Pages grouped businesses by category (plumbers, roofers, pharmacies, etc). Until recently, if your business wasn’t in the phone book and the Yellow Pages, you weren’t going to be in business for very long.
Things started changing as the Internet grew in the mid-90s. It became increasingly important for each business to have a website, because some people were looking for businesses in the search engines. Phone books were still important though, because most people weren’t near their computers all the time. That all changed with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. SmartPhones vaulted from the domain of a few nerds with blackberries on their hips to almost complete ubiquity. All of sudden, everyone had the Internet with them all of the time.
I went several years without ever consulting a phone book before I even realized that they were gone. The last thing I remember looking up was a roof repair company after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. This raises the question: How do potential clients find your business in 2014?
Why Does Local Optimization Matter?
Potential customers find your business through the search engines. It’s important to remember that search is much more than just a simple organic search result. Let’s take Google, for example. Google uses a totally different algorithm when you add a local modifier (i.e. “roofers in Birmingham” instead of just “roofers”). When you do a local search like that, there are location-specific results that are more prominent than anything else on the page except for the advertisements. Look at this screen shot. The red boxes highlight the local results.
So how do you get your business to show up in these results? Many people think that updating their website will help, but there are many factors that affect local search that are totally unrelated to your website. Google and other local search providers base these results on information that they have in their databases about your business. They look at that information to figure out what you do, and they compare it to all of the information on the Internet to see how consistent the information is across different data sources. If one data source says that your company specializes in “storm repair” and another says your specialty is “roof installation,” then Google loses confidence in your business. So that raises the question. Where does all of this data come from?
Directories and Citation Providers
There are two primary types of companies that maintain data about your business on the Internet. The first type is directories. Directories are data warehouses and local search providers that people use to search for business. These are companies like Google, Yahoo, Yelp, FourSquare, and Superpages. These companies buy and search data from a variety of sources in order to try to figure out what your business does, but the quality of this data can vary wildly. The other sources of data about your company are commonly called citation providers. These citation providers can be any site that lists information about your business online. A citation could be a local Chamber of Commerce, or it could be a data aggregator that pulls business license information and utility bills to get information on your business.
Here is the thing to remember: All of these companies purchase data from each other in an attempt to find out as much about your business as they can. If you haven’t taken responsibility for making sure that the information about your business is accurate, then all of this data creates a huge mess. These citation providers are collecting data on you whether you help them or not. It seems like every time we look at this data with a client, they end up saying, “Where did they get that? I didn’t tell them that!” Infomedia is also a great example of what can happen. Over the last 20 years, we have moved several times, and we have had different people in various leadership positions. As we have worked on our local optimization, we found a lot of these people and locations listed just as if they were current. We were surprised, and we were glad to have the opportunity to correct these errors.
People Are Talking about Your Business
Many of these directories and citation providers offer a venue for comments and ratings on your business. Your clients are talking about you whether you participate or not. Sometimes, the conversation may be good, and other times it may be negative. Either way, you have the opportunity to join the conversation. Your business gains tremendous benefits from engaging with customers who are praising you, and from attempting to resolve complaints for those who are angry with you. An effective local strategy helps you to be aware of the conversation so that you can take action.
Who Needs Local Optimization?
So, who needs local optimization? Well, everyone. Even if your business operates nationwide, optimizing your local listings will help the directories to gain confidence in you . When we optimize a local listing, you have the opportunity to indicate the geography that you serve, so, in a sense, even national search is now local. There are a few categories of businesses that have an even greater need to focus on local. First, any business with a retail location. Local search results provide the greatest opportunity to bring clients in through your front door. Second, any business with a location of any type benefits from local optimizations (not to mention local optimization helps drive traffic to your website.) We recently performed a local optimization for all of a company’s locations even though they rarely bring customers to their locations. They were concerned because vendors and employees traveling to different markets were going to the wrong places because of inaccurate information in Google. Finally, local search is important for any business that wants to maintain a positive company image online. By monitoring and joining online conversations about your business, you have the opportunity to manage your company’s image.
So What Do I Do about Local Search?
It is time for your business to take responsibility for your online profile. The first and most important thing that you can do is start claiming and updating your profile on directories like Google, Bing, Yelp, and Yahoo. This can be a time consuming process, but it is critically important. Once you have updated those, it is time to start taking a more comprehensive look at the data about your business on the web. Many companies like to work with a company like Infomedia for local optimization because of the experience that we have tracking all of this data down. Local optimization isn’t rocket science, but it takes a lot of work and experience to locate all of the data about your business and understand the relationships between the data providers. Do you have more questions? Contact us today to find out more about what local search means for your business.