SEO Question: I have primarily a local based business. How should I do SEO / SEM for my site?
Organic Local Search Engine Optimization:
These tips will help you rank well for local search results in the global search databases, such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN.
With local SEO you do all the same stuff you would do with global SEO, like:
- do keyword research
- ensure your site is crawlable
- ensure each page has useful unique content
- submit to a few decent general directories
- build other related links
Listing in local directories and advertising on local portals can be a cheap marketing spend that provides a solid ROI. It will take a bit of research to analyze the value, but if pages are ranking well in relevant search results on Google then they are great places to be listed.
You can think of relevant web communities in terms of location or topic. If a site is relevant for broader queries about your field or broader queries about your location it may be a great link buy.
If you local chamber of commerce has a site that provides listings don't forget to submit there. You may also want to consider submitting your business to sites like your local Better Business Bureau.
Why Getting At Least a Few Links is Important:
It is important to build at least a small amount of editorial linkage data pointing at your site (through directory listings and other related link building activities), because if you chose to list in business directories like Verizon Superpages some business directories charge you by the click.
If your site does not outrank them then it is worthless being forced to pay a recurring click cost anytime someone is already searching for your brand name.
Yahoo! also offers a paid inclusion program which charges you by the click to be listed in their regular search results. I generally do not recommend paying for inclusion as getting a few links is typically far cheaper than paying for every time someone searches for your name. Plus if nobody links at your site it is hard for search engines to gauge how much they should trust your website.
As compared to Yahoo!'s paid inclusion Google offers a program called Google Sitemaps, which is a free program that makes it easy to see what traffic you are getting from Google. It will also show top search terms that you ranked for and if Google had any crawl issues with your site.
Leveraging Well Trusted Local Hubs:
In some cases if you are in a competitive field and are starting a new site from scratch it may be worth creating a temporary site in conjunction with your main site. Sometimes Google can take a while to trust new sites in competitive fields, and creating a mini site on an already well trusted and well established site can have you seeing positive ROI quicker.
For example, Maui.net costs $20 a month to establish a business account on their server which leverage their Maui.net domain trust. This one is a bit out there, but in some small markets the hosted content pages cost next to nothing. For example, in Kaitaia (the northernmost town in New Zealand) you can get a lifetime hosted page on kaitaia.com for $10.
Local Domain Registration and Hosting:
If you primarily cater to a specific market foreign to the US it may be worth it to buy a local domain (.co.uk for the UK for example) and / or host it on a server in that country. Building links from other sites that are deemed to be local to a specific region in nature should help get your site included in those search results.
If you are trying to build a strong global brand or are in a hyper competitive field it is probably worth the extra $8 per year to register the global .com version of your domain to prevent someone else from cybersquatting you.
If you are targeting multiple local markets in different languages it probably makes sense to use subdomains by language or different domains for the secondary markets.
What's Your Address?
You should post your business address on at least the home page and one other page of your site, perhaps sitewide. You should format it like 1 Microsoft Way Redmond, WA, 98052. MSN has a search near me feature which may give you a boost in their results if you are deemed to be close to a searcher.
One Page Per Location:
If you are targeting multiple towns it is likely best to focus your homepage on either the most competitive town or the entire region. Use interior pages to target the other towns. It is possible to target many towns on a single page, but the problem is that when people find your content it may seem less relevant if you try to target 5 towns on one page than if you target 1 town per page. The smaller towns may also be easy to rank for by using good page title tags and internal linkage. The more relevant your page seems to a searcher the easier it is to convert them into a buyer.
Local Search Engine Advertising:
Many search queries are local in nature, but the outlay for a professional SEO provider could cost well into thousands of dollars, and even then results take time and are typically not guaranteed.
I could write a 30 page post on PPC right here, but it would be beyond the scope of this post, so I will recommend my free ebook on pay per click marketing [PDF]. As an overview of a few things to consider with local pay per click:
- Are you bidding on ads relevant to your area?
- Are you bidding on ads for each relevant town (with relevant ad copy and sending them to the most relevant page)?
- For large cities are you bidding on relevant neighborhood related or zip code related terms? (these will likely be low traffic and have little competition than the core related terms, but because of those two factors they are often underpriced, and they are ultra targeted leads)
- Think of alternative ways to describe where you are (ie: Raleigh-Durham is also called something like Research Triangle park).
- Are you bidding on core terms and alternate ways to define your products?
- For a qualified real estate agent terms like [my town realtor] makes sense.
- Most realtors will also bid on [my town houses] and [my town homes].
- The smarter realtors will also bid on more descriptive lower searched phrases like [my town town homes], [my town condos], [my town condominiums]. You can use our free keyword list generator to generate these sorts of lists.
- In some cases it may make sense to bid on terms related to moving or things like [my town home buying guide].
- If you do not sell commercial property make sure that you use commercial (or other words that would indicate a demand for commercial property) as a negative word.
- Is your ad copy for each keyword group relevant?
- As you expand out your campaign you want to keep it organized in neat groups where possible.
- Make sure your ad copy is as relevant as possible for your core terms.
- While some dislike using it, Google's dynamic keyword insertion may make your ad seem more relevant than competing ads because it puts relevant copy into your ad.
Google AdWords (and some of the ad systems) allow you to set up ads in multiple ways.
- As described above, you can use modifiers to target your local ads.
- Google also looks at the IP address of web surfers, and can allow you to set up additional regional ad groups targeting the same terms, but instead of using the local modifying terms (such as my town keyword), you can filter the town or regional aspect of the targeting via Google understanding where a web user is located from their IP address.
Google is also getting into partnering with companies to offer free WiFi (which will increase Google's usage AND make it easier for them to target local ads) and Google is also testing using pay per call listing in the search results. Expect the local search marketplace to have significant innovation in the near future.
Google's Vertical Local Search Engine Marketing:
Google seems to go back and forth with their names on the product that integrates local search and Google Maps. I think the key point to consider is that they do want to make people think that local and maps are one and the same.
In the same way that they are trying to integrate the idea of maps and local they may also point more of their global search queries at different verticals. Google is testing a new interface that suggests different vertical databases (like news search, image search, shopping search, Google Groups) on some global searches. Google also sometimes places what they call a OneBox result at the top of the search results. These results are also pulled from vertical search databases.
The Google Local Business Center allows you to list your business on Google local / Google maps for free. Google Local also pulls results from Verizon Superpages and other trusted sources. Google is also testing AdWords ads that allow you to buy local ads on Google Maps.
Google also offers a product called Google Base. It allows you to upload listings of free information or items for sale.
Yahoo! Local offers free basic listings and monthly flat rate advertising based on your category and local market size. They also integrate some relevant Yahoo! Search Marketing ads into their local product. You need to have a physical address to list your site in Yahoo! local, but you do not need a website. They offer a free 5 page website with your listing.
If you are paying a flat rate fee or are looking to maximize how much traffic you receive it may make sense to keyword stuff your title or description if they let you get away with it. From my experience paid ads seem to be able to get a bit more leeway than free listings.
Pay Per Call:
Earlier in this post I mentioned Google was testing pay per call ads. In some verticals calls are much more valuable than ad clicks. Verizon also intends to auction off some of their offline print catalog ads using phone numbers that are auctioned off in a pay per call manner.
Ingenio is a technology market leader in the pay per call space, offering ad distribution on AOL and a few other major directory sites.
Other Local Search Sites & Local Directories:
A number of well known directories get significant direct traffic from global search, searches on other local databases, and direct traffic. A few of the top players are:
- Post by ewhisper showing what major engines Acxiom and InfoUSA power
- PDF Chart by Bruce Clay visually representing the data and mapping relationships at major search sites
If you do not want to need to submit your data at many locations RegisterLocal allows you to submit a profile and have it syndicated to many local search sites.
Local SEM Help:
I have not hired either, but I know Local Launch has some of the brightest minds in SEM working for them. ReachLocal offers this video explaining how they work.
Verizon SuperPages also signed up with Google to become a Google AdWords reseller.
I have not done a ton of local marketing, but I get asked this question often. Feel free to tell me if I am hosed up on anything. Also this post is a bit biased in that I only speak fluent English and have only lived in the US. In some foreign markets where search is dominated by other companies (ie: Baidu in China, Yandex in Russia) you may have to take a look at what other local directories and search services are important.
Some people, like the Kelsey Group, track local search much more in depth than I do, so they may be able to give you information about your local market.
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