Synopsis — There is a lot happening in local search marketing these days, particularly as social media expands quickly to offer a multitude of different options for brick-and-mortar businesses to participate in deal-a-day programs, social networking opportunities, game-like activities, coupon offerings, etc. But local businesses must not neglect the basic elements of a search marketing program in their rush to take advantage of all the new options that are available, which is ensuring that you have a solid presence in Google and other search engines’ results pages. It need not involve a great deal of time or expense to do so, and businesses that ignore this parameter of today’s competitive world do so at their own risk.
In his article, “Get Local and Get Results,” Tom Shapiro looks at the local search landscape from the point of view of the local merchant. He discusses different ways in which businesses with a physical presence can leverage opportunities in local search, including the major search engine programs, using localized marketing, local directories, click-to-call, and ways to structure your AdWords account to take advantage of local targeting.
For those who still are delaying their move into using online capabilities for their local brick-and-mortar setup, Tom’s article is a good start for uncovering the basic arenas of involvement, together with a collection of tips and suggestions for specific actions.
The complete article follows …
Get Local And Get Results
“Psssst. Hey you. Yeah, you. I know what you need, and you can get it right here. No need to order online, or pay for shipping, or wait for it to arrive. Come by and get it today!”
Sound like a compelling offer? You bet. Whether you’re looking for a restaurant, financial advisor, or a new shirt, local search can help you find it nearby. Yet many marketers miss out on this golden opportunity.
Understanding The Value Of Local Search
What’s the one thing local brick-and-mortar merchants have over ecommerce sites? Their local physical locations of course! Fortunately, local search helps you leverage your local presence as a competitive advantage. In fact, it provides what local merchants need most — online visibility. It not only cuts through the clutter and serves up local, relevant results, but it also allows marketers to essentially wave a flag that says: “We are practically neighbors. Stop by.”
What’s more, millions of people are tapping into local search every day. In fact, according to comScore, 73% of all online activity is related to local content. And if that wasn’t enough, consider the fact that of the 10 billion searches generated on Google each month, comScore estimates that 20% have local intent. That translates into 2 billion local searches per month, and that’s just on Google! But beyond volume, marketers should also consider that consumers are inclined to convert on local searches. Again according to comScore, 82% of local online searchers follow up their query with a call or walk to the store, while 61% of local searches result in purchases.
With purchase intent so high, investing in local search should be a no-brainer for marketers. In fact, if you have a local business and are not present in the local search results, you are pretty much driving prospective customers directly to the competition.
Seeing Local Search In Action
Recently, a major financial services company discovered the power of local search to increase their online visibility. With thousands of physical locations, the company placed great value on search, yet they had ignored local search options in their campaigns. As a test, they started providing feeds of their locations to infoUSA, Google Places, and Yelp, and started leveraging KML (Keyhole Markup Language) in their sitemaps to gain further trust with the search engines.
And their efforts paid off. Within four months, their rankings in the local search results increased by more than 25%, and Yelp page views increased 14 times over. In addition, they are driving traffic to their website from Yelp, which is something that they had never achieved before. Needless to say, the company is now a big believer in local search.
Making Local Search Work For You
If your business has a physical presence, you should be leveraging local search. Here are five tips to help you get started:
1. Major Search Engine Programs — Leverage the search engine’s local programs such as Google Places, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Local by setting up an account in each. The first step in the process is to claim your physical locations. Typically, this involves a request by the business and a phone or postcard verification by the engine. Be sure to claim all of your locations, and not just the headquarters or main store. Remember to include an optimized description of the business in your local profile. Give the facts and include just a few relevant keywords.
Your locations may already be appearing in certain search results, but to maximize your visibility in the local results, you should still go through the process of claiming your locations and optimizing the information listed with the engines per location to your targeted keyword phrases. You also want to ensure that your business is listed in the most appropriate categories and that its contact information is correct. Google, for example, will pull data from a variety of sources, but prioritizes the information submitted by the owner of the location.
If you do not claim your physical listings, you risk being hijacked by another business, and having someone else claim your listing and change your contact or business information. Considering that, it’s critical that you participate in the search engine’s local programs to ensure proper ownership of your data.
2. Localized Marketing, Not Just Local Marketing — Many companies with multiple locations strive to tackle the local issue through concatenation of their marketing messaging to the different geographic areas they serve (e.g., “Find a financial advisor in New York City” or “Find a financial advisor in Miami”). This is certainly a more local approach than it would be without the geo qualifiers, but concatenation is NOT a strategy, and certainly not the most effective approach to local search.
Instead, marketers should strive for localized marketing. This is the customization of your targeting, messaging, and conversion efforts to more deeply resonate with each audience segment. By localizing your marketing, you speak more directly to your audience’s interests and pain points. In addition, you also differentiate your business from other firms who take the more common concatenation approach.
You can localize your marketing by selecting your top priority markets and then customizing your marketing campaigns for each area. For instance, with the financial advisor example, you might want to appeal to people in New York by focusing on managing the high cost of living there, while centering your Miami efforts on the management of retirement funds. This approach should be integrated into your messaging, promotions, incentives, and outreach programs.
3. Local Directories — A third pillar of local search is local directory programs such as Yelp, Citysearch, and SuperPages. The top six directory programs tend to appear often in local organic search results in the aggregate (although of course it depends on the keyword phrase as well). If you want to maximize organic coverage for local search results in the top three engines, you need to include the top directory programs in your local search efforts.
But don’t take my word for it; test this out for yourself. Go to the major search engines and type in a local query, whether “pet store Chicago,” “Chinese restaurants San Francisco,” or “dentists in Philadelphia.” You may be surprised by how many of the organic search results are from these directory programs. These programs are trusted sources for Google. As Google tries to include as much information as possible for each local listing, it pulls from various sources using a tiered hierarchy of trustworthiness, starting with the property owner, then agencies, and then trusted third parties such as infoUSA. All other sources are weighted below these local directories.
4. Local Campaign Structure — You should structure your search campaigns to target “local” to maximize your local search results. This means setting up geo-targeted campaigns within your SEM account, in which you run specific campaigns for specific regions, cities, or neighborhoods. You can also run national SEM campaigns with local qualifiers (“financial advisor Miami”). Alternatively, if your business is limited to one region, you can structure the entire campaign to run within that area.
Local SEM options include Google’s Local PlusBox, in which the physical address appears immediately below the ad. If the searcher clicks on the box, additional business information such as the phone number and a map appear. In addition, mobile search is overwhelmingly conducted with local intent, and Google enables you to segment your SEM campaign by device, including mobile devices with web browsers. Fortunately, all of the above are available as options within your Google AdWords account.
But don’t forget about SEO. To get your website ranking in organic local results, optimize accordingly. Optimization efforts can include: the incorporation of local qualifiers to targeted pages; web pages targeting one physical office location; the use of KML sitemaps; the use of hCard micro formats in your code (to semantically mark up your HTML to inform search engines about the components of your page identifying addresses, phone numbers, and other typical local directory information); and involvement in the engine’s local program, as mentioned in the first tip above.
5. Click-To-Call — When people search for products or services using their mobile phones, they often call the store or business. Therefore, it’s especially important for you to make it easy for prospective customers to call you when they are on their mobile devices as opposed to their computers.
In January of this year, Google introduced a new click-to-call feature for local search that makes it easier for mobile users to call you. Advertisers who participated in the beta trial experienced improved clickthrough rates, and many of the advertisers received more visits to their websites in addition to the incremental phone calls.
The click-to-call feature is a simple option within AdWords, in which the advertiser adds location extensions and corresponding phone numbers to be included below their ads that appear on mobile devices with web browsers. The phone number is linked, so that making a call to you is just as easy as clicking through to your website. Since ads can be served based on user location, your potential customer sees the phone number of your store location that’s nearest to them. Google also enables you to measure results by allowing you to track the number of calls you actually receive from your ads.
Overall, local search offers a great number of benefits to any business with a physical presence. Smart marketers will start tapping into it sooner rather than later, or risk driving their audience to the competition.