How To Win In Local Internet Marketing

Oct 15th

Local Ants Logo.

Once a training ground for novice SEOs, local search has evolved into a complex, unpredictable  ecosystem dominated by Google. Corporations and mom-and-pops shops alike are fighting for their place under the Sun. It's everybody's job to make best out of local Internet marketing because its importance will continue to grow.

This guide is geared towards helping you deepen your understanding of the local search ecosystem, as well as local Internet marketing in general.

I hope that, after you finish reading this guide, you will be able to make sense of local Internet marketing, use it to grow your business or help your clients do the same.

Objectives, Goals & Measurements Are Crucial

Websites exist to accomplish objectives. Regardless of company size, business models and market, your website needs to bring you closer to accomplishing one or more business objectives. These could be:

  1. Customer Acquisition
  2. Lead Generation
  3. Branding
  4. Lowering sales resistance
  5. etc.

Although not exciting, this is a crucial step in building a local Internet strategy. It will determine the way you set your goals, largely shape the functionality of your website, guide you in deciding what your budget should be and so on.

Getting Specific With Measurement

Objectives are too broad to work with. They exist on a higher level and are something company executives/leadership need to set.

This is why we need specific goals, KPIs and targets. Without getting into too many details, goals could be defined as specific strategies geared towards accomplishing an objective.

For example, if your objective is to “grow your law firm,” a good goal derived from that would be to “generate client inquiries”. Another one would be to use the website to get client referrals.

When you have all this defined, you need to set KPIs. They are simply metrics that help you understand how are you doing against your objectives.  For this imaginary law firm, a good KPI would be the number of potential client leads. After you set targets for your KPIs, you have completed your measurement framework. To learn more about measurement models, you can read this post by Avinash Kaushik.
These will be the numbers that you or your client should care about on a day to day basis.

Lifetime Customer Value And Cost Of Customer Acquisition

Regardless of size, every local business needs to know what is their average lifetime customer value and the cost of customer acquisition.

You need to know these numbers so you can set your marketing budget and be aware if you are on the path of going out of business despite acquiring lots of customers.

Lifetime customer value (LTV) is revenue you expect from a single customer during the lifetime of your business. If you are having trouble calculating this number for your or client's business, use this neat calculator made by Harvard Business School.

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the amount of money you spent to acquire a single customer. The formula is simple. Divide the sum of total costs of sales, marketing, your overhead, with the number of customers you acquired in any given period.

LTV & CAC are the magic numbers.

You can use them to sell Internet marketing services, as well as to demonstrate the value of investing heavily in Internet marketing.

Understanding and using these metrics will put you and your clients ahead of most competitors.

Stop - It's Budget Time

Now when you have your business objectives, customer acquisition costs and other KPIs defined, and their targets set, it's time to talk budgets. Budgets will determine what kind of local Internet marketing campaign you can run and how far it can essentially go.

Most companies don't have a separate Internet marketing budget. It's usually just a part of their marketing budget which can be anywhere from 2% to 20% of sales depending on a lot of factors including, but not limited to:

  1. Business objectives
  2. Company size
  3. Profit margins
  4. Industry
  5. etc.

What does this mean to you?

If you are selling services, you will need to have as much of this data as possible.

Planning And Executing Your Campaign

Now when you know what business objectives your local Internet marketing campaign has to accomplish, your targets, and your budget - you can start developing a campaign. It's easiest to think of this process if we break our campaign planning into small, but meaningful phases:

  1. laying the groundwork,
  2. building a website,
  3. taking care of your data in the local search ecosystem,
  4. citation building,
  5. creating a great website,
  6. building links,
  7. setting up a review management system,
  8. expanding on non-organic search channels
  9. and taking care of web analytics.

Laying The Groundwork

Local search is about data. It's about aggregation and distribution of data across different platforms and technologies. It's also about accuracy and consistency.

This is the reason why you need to start with a NAP audit.

NAP stands for name, address and phone number. It's the anchor business data and should remain accurate, consistent and up to date everywhere. In order to make it consistent, you first need to identify inaccurate data.

This is easier than it sounds.

You can use Yext.com or Getlisted.org to easily and quickly check your data accuracy and consistency in the local search eco system.

Start With Data Aggregators

Data aggregators or compilers are companies that build and maintain large databases of business data. In the US, the ones you should keep an eye on are Neustar/Localeze , Infogroup (former InfoUSA) and Axciom.

Why are data aggregators important?
They are upstream data providers. This means that they provide baseline and sometimes enhanced data to search engines (including Google), local and industry directories. If your data is wrong in one of their databases, it will be wrong all over the place.

Usually, your business data goes bad for one or more of these reasons:

  1. You changed your phone number;
  2. You moved to another location;
  3. Used lots of tracking numbers
  4. Made lots of IYP advertising deals where you wanted to target multiple towns/cities
  5.  etc.

If you or your client have a data inconsistency problem, the fix will start with the aggregators:

Before you embark on a data correction campaign, have in mind that data aggregators take their data seriously. You will need to have access to the phone number on the listing you are trying to claim and verify, an email on the domain of the site associated with the business, and sometimes even scans of official documents.

Remember - after you fix your data inaccuracies with the aggregators, it's still a smart idea to claim and verify listings in major IYPs as data moves slowly from upstream data providers to
numerous local search platforms your business is listed in.

Building Citations Is Important

Simply put, citations are mentions of your business's name, address and phone number (full citation) or name and phone or address (partial citation).

Just like links in “general” organic search, citations are used to determine the relative importance or prominence of your business listing. If Google notices an abundance of consistent citations, it makes them think that your business is legitimate and important and you get rewarded with higher search visibility.

The more citations your business has, the more important it will be in Google's eyes. Oh, there is also a little matter of citation quality as not all citations are created equal. There are also different types of citations besides full and partial.

Depending on the source, citations can come from:

  1. your website;
  2. IYPs like YellowPages.com;
  3. local business directories like Maine.com;
  4. industry websites like ThomasNet.com;
  5. event websites like Events.com;
  6. etc.

We could group citations by how structured they are. This means that a citation on YellowBook.com is structured, but a mention on your uncle's blog is not. Google prefers the first type. The bulk of your citation building will be covered by simply making sure that your data in major data aggregators is accurate and up-to-date. However, there's more to citations than that.

What Makes Citations Strong?

Conventional wisdom tells us that citation strength depends mostly on the algorithmic trust that Google has in the source of the your citation. For example, if you are a manufacturer of industrial coatings, a mention on ThomasNet.com would help you significantly more than a mention on a blog from some guy that has visited your facility once.

You also want your citations to be structured, relevant and to have a link to your website for maximum benefit.

How To Build Citations?

You already started by claiming and verifying your listings with major data aggregators. Since you are very serious about local search, you will make sure to claim and verify listings with major IYPs, too.

Start with the most important ones:

  1. Yellowpages.com;
  2. Yelp.com;
  3. local.yahoo.com;
  4. SuperPages.com;
  5. Citysearch.com;
  6. Insiderpages.com;
  7. Manta.com;
  8. Yellowbook.com;
  9. Yellowbot.com;
  10. Local.com;
  11. dexknows.com;
  12. MerchantCircle.com;
  13. Hotfrog.com;
  14. Mojopages.com;
  15. Foursquare.com;
  16. etc.

You shouldn't forget business and industry associations such as bbb.org or your local chamber of commerce. Here's where you can find your local chamber of commerce.

Industry Directories Are An Excellent Source Of Citations

Industry directories such as Avvo.com for lawyers or ThomasNet.com for manufacturers are not just an excelent source of citations, but are great for your organic search visibility in the Penguin Apocalipse.

How do you find those ?

You can use a couple of tools:

Want even more citations?

Then pay attention to daily deal and event sites. Don't forget charity websites either. If you are one of those people that are obsessed with how everything about citations works, I recommend this (the one and only) book/guide about citations by Nyagoslav Zhekov.

Make Your Website Great

While it's possible to achieve some success using just Google Places and other platforms to market a local business, it's not possible to capture all the Web has to offer.

Your website is the only web property you will fully control. You have the freedom to track and measure anything you want, and the freedom to use your website to accomplish any business objective.

Marry Keyword And Market Research

There's nothing more tragic nor costly than targeting the wrong keywords and trying to appeal to demographics that don't need your services/products.

To run a successful local Internet marketing campaign, you cannot just rely on quantitative data (keywords), you need to conduct qualitative market research. This is very important as it will reduce your risks, as well as acquisition costs if done right.

Let's start with keyword research.

Getting local keyword data has always been a challenge. Google's recent decision to withhold organic keyword data hasn't made it any easier. However, Google itself has provided us with tools to get relatively reliable keyword data for any local search campaign.

Coupled with data from SEOBook Keyword Tool, Ubersuggest, and Bing's Keyword Tool, you will have plenty of data to work with.

Of course, you shouldn't forsake the market research of the equation.

You and/or your client can survey their customers to discover how exactly they describe your business, your services/products or your geographic area. For example, you'll learn if there are any geographical nuances that you should be aware of, such as:

  1. DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth)
  2. PDX (Portland)
  3. OBX (Outer Banks)

Use this data against keyword research tools. If you're running AdWords, you can get an accurate idea of search volumes. To do that, click the Campaign tab, followed by the Keywords tab, then Details and then Search Terms. This data can be downloaded. The video below shows how you can get accurate search volume data if running AdWords.

Keep in mind that the quality of data using this method depends on your use of keyword matching options. This practically means that if you want to get exact match search volumes for a certain number of keywords, you have to make sure to have those keywords set as exact match.

If you're not running AdWords, Google gives you a chance to get a good representation of your local search market using the Keyword Planning Tool as described in this post.

Content And Site Architecture

Largely, your content will depend on your business objectives, brand and the results of your keyword research. The time of local brochure type sites has long passed, at least for businesses that are serious about local Internet marketing.

Local websites are no different from corporate websites when it comes to technical aspects of SEO. Performance and crawlability are very important, as well as proper optimization of titles, headings, body text etc.

However, unlike corporate websites, local sites will have more benefit from:

  1. “localization” of testimonials - it's not only important to get testimonials, but it's crucial to make sure that your visitors know where those testimonials came from.
  2. “localization” of galleries, as well as “before and after” photos - similar to testimonials, you can leverage social proof the most if your website visitors can see how your services/products helped their neighbours.
  3. location pages - pages about a specific city/town where you or your client have an office or service area. Before you go on a rampage creating hundreds of these pages, don't forget that they need to add value to the users, and not just be copy/pasted from Wikipedia. The way to add value is to make them completely unique and useful to your visitors. For example, location pages can show the specific directions to one of your offices or store-fronts. You don't have the “big brand luxury”  of ranking local pages that have virtually all of their content behind a paid wall. 

  1. local blogging - use your blog to connect with local news organizations, charities and industry associations, as well as local bloggers. In addition, blog about your industry; this way, you will get the best of both worlds.
  2. adopting structured data - using schema markup, you can increase click-through rates from the SERPs and get a few other SEO benefits. You can use the Schema Creator to save time.
  3. adopting “mobile” - everyone knows that local search is increasingly mobile. Mobile websites are not a luxury but a necessity Luckily for you or your clients you don't have to invest a lot of resources in developing a mobile site. You can use tools such as dudamobile.com or bmobilized.com to create a fully functional mobile website in hours.

Link Building For Brick And Mortar Businesses

Links are still important. They are still a foundation of high organic search visibility. They still demand your resources.

But a lot has changed - since Penguin. Building links has become a delicate endeavor even for local websites. But there is a way to triumph, all you need to do is change how you view local link building.

See link building as marketing campaigns that have links as a by-product.

What does that mean? It means that your are promoting your business as if Google doesn't exist. Link and citation building overlap to a certain extent. They do so in a way that makes good links great citations, especially if they're structured.

Join Business Associations

BBB.org has an enormus amount of algorithmic trust. It's also an excellent citation. As a bonus - displaying the BBB badge prominently on your website you will likely receive a boost in conversion rates. Similar is true with your local chamber of commerce. Would you join those if Google was not around?

You probably would.

Join Industry Associations

Every industry has associations you or your client can join. You will get similar benefits to ones one can expect from BBB. However, being a member of  trade associations will add an additional layer of value to your business in form of education or certifications.

Charity work

Every business should give back.  Sometimes you will get a link sometimes you will not but you will always benefit from this type of community involvement.

Industry websites

There are plenty of industry websites and and directories in  almost every industry. Sometimes these websites can refer significant traffic to you but they almost always make for a good link and a solid citation.

Organize Events

Events are good for business. If you organize them you should make sure that it's reflected on the web. There are plenty of websites you can submit your event to. Google is not likely  to start considering organizing offline events spam any time soon.

Find Local Directories

Every state has a few good ones. It' likely that your town has an  online business directory you can join. These types of links can make good citations too. They are usually easy to acquire.

Local Blogs

It pays to a friend of your “local blogosphere”.  Try to include local bloggers in your community involvement, offer to contribute content or offer giveaways.

Truly Integrate Link Building Into Your Marketing Operations

Whenever possible, make sure your vendors link to you:

  1. If you're offering discounts to any organization, make sure it's reflected on their website.
  2. If you're attending an industry show or an event, give a testimonial and get a link.
  3. If you get press, remind a report to link to your website.

Review Management

In local search, customer reviews are bigger than life. Consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations while majority (52%) says that positive online reviews make them more likely to choose a local business. Influence reviews have on your local business go well beyond social proof. Good reviews can boost your local search visibility, while bad reviews can destroy your business.

Reviews - The Big Picture

Every organization that strives to get better at what it does should use consumer reviews to improve its business operations. Customer reviews should be treated as one of the most valuable pieces of qualitative data. You should be surveying your customers daily and use their feedback to improve your services, products, customer service etc..

This holds true for corporations, as well as mom and pops shops. It's not complicated to ask your customers about specific aspects of their experience with your business and record their answers. It's not expensive, either.

The benefits of taking reviews seriously are enormous:

  1. More search visibility;
  2. Less potential for online reputation management issues;
  3. Increased Credibility;

 What can you do to win at review management?

Since you need to get high rating positive reviews on different websites in a way that doesn't break any guidelines and keeps you out of jail, your best bet would be to use reviews as a customer service survey tools.

This means that you should seek customer feedback systematically in order to improve your or your client's business. You can ask your most ecstatic customers to share their experiences with your services/products on major local search platforms. Remember that you cannot provide any type of incentive for this behavior.

To save time, you can use a tool such as GetfiveStarts.com. This tool will do everything described above.

Think Beyond Organic Search

Internet marketers tend to be blindly focused on organic search. It's understandable - organic traffic is relatively cheap (in most markets) and seemingly unlimited.

It's also a mistake.

Organic search channel is getting increasingly more unstable. And with that, more expensive to acquire. Since you're aware of your customer acquisition cost and have a measurement framework, it's easy to know how affordable traffic from other sources is for your business.

Paid Search Traffic

Paid search advertising works, especially if you did a good job gearing your site for conversion. You shouldn't leave your PPC budget to Google, though. Bing/Yahoo! are a more affordable source of paid traffic with similar conversion rates.

If you're planning to run a local paid campaign, don't forget to:

  1. target geographically;
  2. use negative keywords and
  3. be fanatical about acquisition cost.

You can also read this post by PPC Hero on what you should keep in mind when running local search advertising campaigns. You can also check out this post on Search Engine Land about managing and measuring local PPC campaigns.

Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) Sites

Sites like YellowPages.com or SuperPages.com don't have the traffic Google or even Bing get, but they do have a significant amount of traffic. They also have traffic that's at the very end of the buying cycle. This is the reason one should be serious about IYPs.

What does that mean?

It means that you should have most of the big IYP listings claimed, verified and optimized to the best of your ability. So use every element of your listing to sell your products/services. In a lot of markets, it's wise to explore advertising opportunities, as well.

If you want to take an extra step, or simply lack the time, you can sign up with a service such as Yext.com and control the major IYP listings from a single dashboard.

Keep in mind, though, that Yext.com doesn't come for free, and you will have to pay a few hundreds dollars for a year of service.

Another avenue to take would be to outsource this process. In this scenario, you will most likely pay a one-time fee for verification and optimization of a predetermined number of listings. However, if you would like to change some of your business information somewhere down the road (such as name and phone number), you will have to go through this process from the beginning.

Social Media

These days, social media means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Local businesses should use social media platforms to connect with customers that love them. Empowering these customers and giving them an incentive to recommend you to their family and friends.

You should automate as much of your social media efforts as possible. You can use tools like HooteSuite or SocialOomph.

Always try to add value in your interactions and never spam your follower base.

Classified Sites

It's amazing how many businesses miss to build their presence on classified sites like Craigslist.org. Even though Craigslist audience the type of audience that is always on the lookout for a great deal, the buying intent is very strong.

If you'd like to get the most out of Craigslist and other classified sites, remember to make your ads count. You need:

  1. persuasive copy;
  2. targeted ads;
  3. special deals;
  4. etc.

Other sources of non-search traffic you should explore are local newspaper advertising, ads on big industry websites, local blogs and others.

Tracking And Web Analytics

If there's only one thing local businesses should care about, it's tracking. As we established in the beginning of this guide, everyone needs to know how much they can afford to spend in order to acquire a customer.

Proper tracking ensures that you don't make a mistake of spending too much on customer acquisition or spending anything on acquiring a wrong type of customer.

You can use a number of free or low cost web analytics solutions, including Clicky, KissMetrics, Woopra and Google Analytics.

If you're like most people and don't care if Google has access to your data, you can use Google Analytics. Take advantage of custom reporting and advanced segmentation.

In order to make the most out the traffic you get, and to get more of the traffic that is right for your business, you should create custom reports. They will enable you to know how you're doing against your targets.

To create a custom report, click the “Customization” tab in Analytics and then click the “New Custom Report” tab.

Pick your metrics first (I recommend a Unique Visitors and Conversion Rates and couple that with the geographic dimension)

Tracking Offline Conversions

This step is crucial for local businesses that want to measure performance. Fortunately, this is not as complicated as it sounds. Depending on the type of your campaign, you can use tracking phone numbers, web-only discount codes as well as campaign-specific URLs.

Avinash Kaushik has written extensively on best ways to track offline conversions. I highly recommend this post.

Tying It All Together

Focus on improving the quality of products you sell and/or services you provide. Remember that every Internet marketing campaign works better if you're able to provide a remarkable experience for your customers.

Build your brand and make your customers fall in love with your business. That would make every aspect of your marketing, especially Internet marketing, work better.


Vedran Tomic is a member of SEOBook and founder of Local Ants LLC, a local internet marketing agency.

Local SEO - A Case Study

Dec 31st

How Do You Do Local SEO?

It's quite clear that local SEO will be *one* of the places to be in 2010 and beyond. Need convincing?
Check out:

 

  • Google and Yelp's failed deal - If local search was unlikely to see a decent ongoing up tick, Google might not have as much interest in acquiring a site like Yelp. Even if Google was just buying Yelp out to remove competition for it's own local stuff, it still shows an acknowledgement that local search is quite important.
  • Google's Flat Rate Local Adwords Pricing Model aimed at local businesses
  • Google's Local Business Center is becoming a more and more robust service.
  • The local 10 Pack continues to show up in general service related queries. Local SEO is also about gaining visibility in Google's 10 pack and maps in general so it is equally as important to be optimized for your geo-specific keywords as it is to be set up to succeed in the local pack

Speaking of the local 10 pack, it appears to have done part of its job for Google. Consider the following from TMPDM/ComScore

So Google's maps increased sharply, likely due to the local 10 pack being shoved down people's throats. I happen to like the 10 pack to some degree, more when I type in a town/city + service instead of my town + service because lots of times they pull from my IP which is a ways away from where I am now, which kind of renders the initial map findings a bit useless for me. I also like it much better when it takes up #4 in the rankings rather than having be at spot 1 or 2

The Process

One of the nice things about local SEO for me is that I don't have to fuss around with a bazillion different keyword tools, cross reference data points, wonder which data sets are more accurate (and which ones are entirely useless), or spend time creating a site structure which ultimately has to be redesigned after finding some some of the keyword data was rubbish.

There are a few ways get a general idea of which keywords you should incorporate in your campaign. You can use tools like Google Trends, Google Insights, as well as PPC campaigns. You can also look at competing sites to see how they structure their page or site in order to target specific keywords.

A Case Study

So you just spoke at a local chamber of commerce meeting in your hometown of Atlanta and now you have the locals all fired up about search marketing. You end up landing a client named Mary Smith who owns Peachy Insurance Agency which has offices in Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, and Athens.

Mary has decided her agency is going to focus on vehicle insurance only. So she asks you to begin the process of figuring out which keywords best suit her goals. Will it be broader geo-local keywords (on the state level) or pursuing really local keywords (down to the town level) or both?
In this case, we have to figure out if car insurance or auto insurance is the more popular keyword in this specific area. I would start with the Adwords Keyword Tool to figure out if there is any big difference from a broad perspective

It appears that the modifier georgia and "auto" is a bit more popular (but it is pretty easy to work in other variations like the state abbreviation into your on-page copy)

Then I would head over to Google Insights for additional data points, one targeted to the state and one broader country wide search with local modifiers

Broad Search with modifiers

Broad Keywords but geo-targeted by region

Lastly, from a tool standpoint, I would give google trends a shot. They break out volume by town/city but I would still test that heavily in Adwords.

My next step would be to type in some keywords, since the difference is not huge and trying to target both might be a good move

Note the local box on the more niche, local search. Also, note how some sites target both car/auto. From a relevancy standpoint, Mary's site should be able to do pretty well in these SERPS as a local resource guide, a local insurance agency, and a site which is not essentially a lead generation site. If Mary can create content which is valuable to the local community, earn local links, promote the site in local communities, etc.. she should do pretty well when compared to either thinner affiliate sites or one page off-shoots on a large lead generation domain.

Georgia Auto Insurance

Georgia Car Insurance

Atlanta Auto Insurance

Atlanta Car Insurance


The best way to figure out local keyword volume, or really any keyword's volume in most cases, is to set up an adwords campaign. I like to set up 2 PPC campaigns:

  • Campaign 1 - no radius targeting, targeting keywords with specific geo-local modifiers (georgia auto insurance, car insurance in atlanta, etc)
  • Campaign 2 - targeting by maps (state of Georgia and specific zip codes) with no geo-local modifiers (auto insurance quotes, car insurance quotes) etc.

So that second option will probably be fairly pricey but the long term payoffs of making sure you or your client are optimized for the correct keyword variations in your market are much bigger than any nominal PPC campaign costs.

Conclusions

So the volume might not be huge but keep in mind this is a local insurance agency. They may not be able to scale their operation with a huge firehose of traffic (say the 10's of thousands places like Geico and Progressive receive per day), it is all relative.
You might proceed as follows:

  • Go with the state level keywords on the home page and try and grab the exact match if possible (either GeorgiaAutoInsurance.Com or GeorgiaCarInsurance.Com depending on what your PPC campaign tells you has the higher volume)
  • Target towns/cities on individual pages like peachyinsurance.com/atlanta-auto-insurance.com

Most of the time local SERPS are ripe if you can figure out which angle you want to pursue, be able to execute it, and have a client willing to spend some capital

Must have resources, for me, when launching an SEO campaign is to browse through the local search ranking factors and see how I can apply them to my client's site. Also, I am a big fan of Andrew Shotland's Local SEO Guide & understanding Google maps & local search.

SEO For Regional Domains

Sep 8th

Webmasters are often faced with the problem of how to approach SEO on websites which have a country-specific focus. As you may have noticed, the search engine results pages on Google's geo-targeted search services frequently display different rankings than those you experience on Google.com. 

If you run a few queries on, say, Google.com.au, you'll soon notice distinct regionalization patterns. In order to make search results more relevant to local audiences, Google uses different sorting methodologies than those used on Google.com.

Here is a guide to optimizing sites for the different regional flavors of Google.

Country Specific Local SEO Tips

  1. Get a local domain extension:  Google places a lot of weight on the domain name, so it is important to get the appropriate country-code domain extension. If you compare results across the different geo-targeted flavors of Google, you'll notice the weight given to the local TLDs. There are exceptions, but the local TLD tends to trump .com when it comes to local result sets. Different countries have different registration criteria for domain resitration. It is fairly easy to register a co.uk or a .co.nz, whilst a .com.au can involve setting up a business entity in Australia. 
  2. Specify your country association in Google Webmaster ToolsGoogle Webmaster Tools offers a facility whereby you can specify a country association for your content. You can do this on a domain, sub-domain and directory level. More detailed instructions can be found on Google's Webmaster Tools Blog.
  3. Include local contact information: Specify a local address, business name, and local contact phone numbers. Whilst not critical in terms of ranking, every little bit helps, and by including local information, the site becomes more credible to a local audience. 
  4. Local hosting: Depending on who you ask, you'll get different answers as to whether the geographic location of the web host makes a difference in terms of ranking. I have .com.au, .co.nz, and .co.uk sites, hosted on US servers, and they rank well on the appropriate local versions of Google. Other people feel that location-based hosting is a must. Still others say the location of the name server is most important! It's fair to say that if you have a choice between hosting locally and hosting offshore, then it might pay to host locally. It certainly can't hurt, and there might be additional benefits, such as increased download speed. If you go this route, one thing to check is the servers physical location. Often, web hosts have a local office, but their servers are located in a different country. Use an IP lookup tool to determine the exact location of a server. 
  5. Spelling & Language: Ensure you use the appropriate spelling for your chosen region. There is a difference between "optimization" and "optimisation". Keep in mind that searchers will use the local vernacular. For example, if you are optimizing a travel site in the US, you might use the term "vacation". However, searchers in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, amongst others, tend to use the term "holiday". 
  6. Tone: Copy that works well in one geographic location may not work in another.  For example, the sales language used in the US is usually more direct than that typically used in the UK, Australia or New Zealand. Familiarize yourself with local approaches to marketing, or engage local copywriters.     
  7. Inbound links: Seek out local links. All links are good, but inbound links from local TLDs are even better. Approach your local chamber of commerce, friends, suppliers, government agencies, business partners, and local industry groups and ask them for links.
  8. Local directories: Get your site listed in local directories. Local directories still feature well in geo-targeted search results as the depth of content, in terms of sheer volume, isn't as great in the local TLD space as that published on .com. Obviously, you stand to gain from the local traffic that the directories send your way, and any local link juice the directory may pass on.  Here are some top local directories:
  • The local Yellow Pages i.e. Yellow Pages Australia, Yellow Pages New Zealand, and Yell (UK). Keep in mind that some of these directories may not pass link juice, however you can weigh this factor against their value in terms of local reach. You could also seek listings in the regional sections of the following global directories: DMOZ, Yahoo, and BestOfTheWeb.
  • Recommended regional directories:

  • Scoot.co.uk is a prominent UK business directory.
  • Webwombat.com.au is a comprehensive Australian directory.
  • Te Puna is a government run New Zealand directory.
  • Press releases: Try to come up with a local angle for your press releases, and submit them to local news and information channels. Small, local news outlets are highly likely to run local interest stories, which in turn may help your brand exposure and get you more local links. 
  • Avoid Duplicate content: If you market is in one country, then it makes sense to use the country-code TLD for that country. However, if you target multiple countries, consider creating different content on each domain. Placing the same content on multiple domains may risk duplicate content penalties. 
  • Off-line marketing: Don't forget to get your name out locally. If people search by you by your brand or business name, you'll always be well positioned in the serps. 
  • Have Your Say

    If you have some additional ideas that have worked well for you, please feel free to add them to the comments.

    International Search Engine Marketing and Arbitrage

    Sep 18th

    Limited Competition in Secondary Markets

    I recently took the AdWords professional exam again and the section I failed was international search. It is easy to do that because if you are primarily focused on the US market there are parts of search you can't appreciate until you see them. When I was in Canada about a month ago I noticed PageRank 4 pages dominating search results where you would need at least 100x the link equity to compete on Google.com. Some of the most valuable US keywords only have a couple advertisers in Canada.

    In The Slums of Search, Gord Hotchkiss wrote:

    At Enquiro we actually did studies and asked people why they were reluctant to click on sponsored ads. The most common response was that they didn't trust the advertiser. They felt that by clicking on the link they would end up on an affiliate or spam site and may get caught in a never-ending cascade of pop-up windows. Searchers were very wary. In the US, this attitude began to change as known brands began to adopt search.

    If Google can't attract the right advertisers that also means that the organic search results in that geographic market are likely easy to manipulate. In many underdeveloped markets around the world, PPC offers greater opportunity than SEO because their is virtually no competition, but as the markets mature and margins get squeezed, doing SEO and owning a brand becomes more profitable than PPC. Either way you approach it, if you can compete on Google.com you should be able to dominate foreign markets. The only issue is scale.

    Estimating Market Scale

    Google offers an ad preview tool to show you what ads look like in various markets, and you can take advantage of their traffic estimator tool to estimate the size of a market.

    If you are in a market dominated by engines other than Google (like China and Russia) then of course you have to use tools other than Google to estimate the size of the market.

    How to View US Google Search Results

    If you are international and do not want to get redirected to your local version of Google you can view Google.com's results by going to Google.us. While on Google.com you can append &gl=us to see the related US targeted ads. Another option to view international Google search results by using this Google global Firefox Extension or use Joost's plugins that turn off personalization.

    How Google Makes Lazy US Only Advertisers Buy Foreign Traffic

    While in the Philippines I have noticed that some $20 keywords (in the US) have few advertisers here, and many of the ads are for garbitrage websites. For example, one page advertising on student loans went to a page with stolen content, and had a page title about mesothelioma. If an advertiser choses US only search distribution but opts into the content network they are probably paying for exposure on that page.

    When I switched Google to only search local pages the number 1 ranked page for online degrees was an off topic forum thread. Limited competition means great opportunity for those who understand the local culture and are able to gain international recognition.

    Mapping the Google vs eBay Local Shopping Wars

    Nov 25th

    WSJ: Getting an Oil Change Off eBay [sub req]

    EBay is aiming to take over the phone book's customary role as the first place people turn to find local services from housecleaners to accountants.

    While eBay Inc.'s focus for now is on auto services like oil changes and brake jobs, its goal may be to connect consumers with local businesses of all kinds. This could signal a major shift in the way consumers shop for such services and greatly affect pricing and competition among local shops.

    Does eBay have any sort of a map? How are they going to do local without one? Craigslist (which eBay owns part of) links off to Google and Yahoo! maps. I think Google and Yahoo! get information from the same source: Navteq. Not sure if Navteq is going to go after local search as well, but they recently partnered with Zagat.

    Any chance someone would want to scoop the leading map company? Are there any other high quality digital mapping companies?

    Froogle was recently upgraded, and without a hitch! Google's Froogle Drops eBay for a Day.

    When Paypal was upgraded in June Google overshaddowed the news with the announcement of Google Wallet.

    Here is yet another article about who should be afraid of Google.

    Google's Froogle Supports Local Shopping Search

    Right before Black Friday Google unveils a new local shopping tool. Froogle now mashes up with Google maps. According to a Silicon Valley article:

    The Mountain View, Calif.-based company developed the free tool to help consumers avoid the frustration of traveling to a store that no longer has an item on their shopping lists, said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer products.

    Froogle, a comparison shopping site that Google launched three years ago, will continue to give visitors the option to buy the merchandise online. Google receives a commission for the online referrals.

    I am not sure what they meant with that Google receives a commission bit. Is that just for the ads near it? In 2003 when Mike Grehan interviewed Craig Nevill-Manning, Craig said:

    BUT - the bottom line is - they are unpaid listings, they're unbiased. They're the best results we can find for those products online. ... It'll be free forever.

    The New York Times made it sound as though the Silicon Valley article was misquoting or overtly vague in their description of how this service will make Google money.

    The service will be freely available to merchants in the United States, Ms. Mayer said. Google, as it frequently notes, plans to gain revenue from the new Froogle service by placing relevant text ads on the same page as the local results.

    The company also believes that it gains revenue when users employ Google more frequently as its services become more useful.

    The Silicon Valley article also stated:

    Initially, Google is depending on a contractor to pull the inventory information from several hundred major merchants. The search engine hopes to make the service even comprehensive by encouraging stores to submit their own customized merchandises list to the newly created "Google Base" - an information clearinghouse for everything from family recipes to scientific formulas.

    What vertical search site is safe?

    A while ago Battelle had a highly related post about comparison shopping called The Transparent (Shopping) Society. The New York Times made it sound like the eventual goal of this launch is spot on with what John was describing:

    Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, a market research firm in Port Washington, N.Y., said that if Froogle delivered up-to the-minute inventory updates from retailers, "consumers will finally know whether a trip to a store is worthwhile."

    Google wants to be the default inventory information clearinghouse. Users love defaults. I am guessing the value of being the default shopping search site is worth far more than any value they would extract by charging for the feeds, at least off the start. Just like with regular search, there will be incentive for merchants to spam this service. Any idea how Google will fend off spam if they aren't charging? Or are they charging?

    Google AdSense Ad Links, Google Local Business Center, The Butler, The Sandbox, New SEO Blogs

    Ad Links by Google:
    Peter D shows new AdSense change

    Google Local Business Center:
    wonder if the Yellow pages are feeling yellow? Andrew Goodman has the details. for now US only.

    Wonder What Google thinks?
    of a free product that strips out their published ads for the user

    their response to autolink thusfur has been nothing short of pathetic. nice job Mark.

    Ask Jeeves also recently created a FireFox toolbar.

    Google Sandbox:
    Does the sandbox only affect phrases containing popular words?
    found on ThreadWatch

    I have recently seen a site under a month old rank for some rather short query sets.

    New SEO / SEM Blogs:
    maybe not new, but at least new to me.
    Got Ads? - seems to be more focused on the ad / ppc side of the search game. have not read it a ton yet but have seen John contribute many good posts on Andrew Goodman's SEM 2.0
    Wolf Howl - should have mentioned and found this one a while ago as multiple friends have recommended it to me. his most recent post references Flatland, so it must be a cool blog :)

    the conference I am at:
    ended today. I could blog about a bunch of stuff but now find myself headed toward the closing party, which I suspect may give me more stuff to blog about.






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