With Local Search becoming stronger and stronger in the search engines it is now possible for some small businesses to focus their search engine optimisation and marketing on just attracting business in their area.
If you are only interested in attracting business from customers within about 50-mile of where you are based then read on. The good news is that more and more web-based tools are making it easier for your business to be found primarily by people searching in your area. The tools are getting more precise and more intelligent as the major search engine companies invest in local search technology.
Here’s some background on local search.
What is local search
Local search occurss when people search in Google or another search engine using a geographical parameter. For instance, let’s say I want to find a printer. I might search for “printer” plus the name of my town “Oxford” or maybe by city AND county, “Oxford, Oxfordshire.” Or I might enter my postcode if I want to be especially precise. If you do this now in Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s new Bing you will see a list of local businesses at the top of the search results.
You have probably searched this way yourself. But in addition to this sometimes the search engines help out on their own. For instance, the major search engines my computers IP address, work out where I am located, and deliver up local search results even without any geographic data in my search.
Google now has 2 sets of general search results; one without a bias for the location of the searcher and one biased towards to the location of the searcher. When it presents its results it combines the 2. It will vary the results based on the search terms even if I don’t put in geographic information. At Oxford Digital Marketing we have developed a special software tool to test the local search results individually as part of the tools that we us in our labs.
How can local search work for your business
If you want your business to get found by those searching for local businesses, there are a number of specific actions you can take to increase your chances of being located.
1. Include address information on your website
To rank well in local searches you must include you full address information prominently on their websites so that the search engine can associate your business with that address. Some key pointers to achieving this are:
- Spell out the county in full as people often search on the full county spelling.
- Do not bury your address three layers deep. You could put it in the footer of each page.
- Include city and/or county in your title tags and/or Meta tags in your site’s HTML code.
- Include your address in text, not in an image as the search engines index text.
2. Use labels to describe contact information
Some search engines recognise information when it is paired up with a key term. For example the word “telephone” is a key so use the form telephone:number when writing your telephone number on the site like this “Telephone: 01865 784 922”. This has an increased chance of your contact information being found.
3. Include working hours, accessibility, parking etc.
Some specialised local search engines provide more information about a business than simply address. For instance, they may provide business hours, accessibility for the disabled, and so on. One search engine claims its algorithm considers pages with such detailed information to be more important than other kinds of pages. Plus, detailed information is a sign of credibility for your business, aside from the search engines.
4. Cater for people searching with their mobile phones
Quite often business travellers, tourists, people visiting friends and relatives, commuters, and people relocating nay well be looking for you via their mobile phones.
People using mobile phones may find you if you are listed well in local search engines. Consider optimising your site for mobile-phone viewing.
5. Consider mail forwarding
If you work from home and still want to be found, yet for security reasons you prefer not to publicise your home addresses on the Web you can consider using a mail forwarding service that provides a physical address in your town. Even using a post office box address is helpful. Again having a local phone number is good and you can get locally redirected numbers to work in your favour.
6. Get a mention locally even if you can’t get a link
For purposes of local search, if you can get your business mentioned with your address or phone number, the search engines may extract the information and use it to validate that the business is in fact associated with that location. So, for example, getting mentioned in the local chamber of commerce website or in your local online newspaper, can be helpful for local search purposes. The more mentions, and the more specific the mentions, the better.
7. Geo-target paid search campaigns
Up to now we have been talking about unpaid search results. But if you purchase search advertising, such as Google AdWords, make sure you set you ads so that they are shown only to those in your area. Adwords allows you to only show them to people by town/city. This will keep your searches very tight and your costs as low as possible.
8. Be found even without a website
It is possible to be found via local search even though you don’t have a website by getting listed in the local search engines and local directories.