Think Global, Go Local

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For most of us, going online when we need to locate a specific product or particular service provider is second nature. Our knee jerk reaction is to log on and surf the offerings of the World Wide Web; ironic when you consider that we may be searching for something as localized as a window cleaner for the office, a plumber to stem a leak at home or a garage to repair our car en-route to work. Why then do we go online rather than thumb through the yellow pages? Surely the old-school directory is more geared towards our very local need?

If you’re struggling to make a dint in the search engine results pages (SERPs), optimizing for local search could be the perfect medium-term solution. It is an opportunity to establish trust, confidence and relevance. While we may search online for TV reviews and product info, a lot of us will still jump in the car and go to the nearest store to make the purchase. Reinforcing your locality at this crucial stage of the purchase process ensures that you are the local seller buyers turn to, pushing up targeted traffic and conversion rates.

Local search has grown with the advent of the mobile internet. As commuters surf the web during their daily journey to work, placing your brand at their fingertips and in their neighborhood can be surprisingly lucrative. Getting a listing for a localized search term is also a step towards globalized rankings. Here’s how you do it:

1. Keywords
This is a very simple step. In your preoccupation to be seen as a global player, don’t forget to include local terms. If you have physical store locations, this is easy, you just need to provide directions, a description of the store in relation to its neighborhood location and listings of services and products stocked at the venue. Use product + location naturally where possible.

What if you don’t have a storefront? Think about the areas you service, where you can ship to, even where you are based. Shout about your local links; if you support any local causes detail those efforts and include contact information. The basics of optimization also apply here – use geographical targets in page titles, include your zip code, town and state in the contact information displayed on each page, use local terms and include geographical references as often as possible in the text of your site.

2. Create A Listing In Local Directories
Each of the major players have their own localized version of the mainstream search engine. Google Maps and Yahoo! Local are the top two destinations, but don’t forget about sites such as Yell.com, Yellowbot.com, MSN Live Local and City Search. While these are the sites most capable of directing real traffic to you, there are also hundreds of niche local directories that will welcome your listing.

Some sites require you to pay a small fee, others will give you basic coverage for free. Make Google Maps your first stop. When users search for directions they’ll find your business address and opening hours. You can even upload photos of your products or store for free. Yahoo! Local also allows you to add your address, phone number and website but will charge for featured listings.

3. Use Social Media
Despite the proliferation of all things internet and web-based, word of mouth is still the most powerful and persuasive method of winning new business. Channeling the deep-seated trust we traditionally place in the reviews and recommendations of our peers is difficult in an online arena but not impossible. Although user reviews and recommendations are open to abuse online (there’s nothing to stop you writing your own favorable reviews and posting them at a number of sites for example) and therefore are not as powerful as a recommendation from a friend or neighbor, you can begin to tap into the power of your brand advocates by creating a virtual online community. There are a limitless number of sites and applications available to house this project; think Squidoo, MySpace, Blogger, Bebo etc. Use this space to create a virtual community, firmly entrenched within your physical location. This is also an excellent chance to build links back to your main site, using local search terms.

4. Facilitate Mobile Search
Mobile search is one of those web 2.0 buzzwords that just won’t go away. You can harness the power of the thousands of commuters in your local area using their PDAs or cells on the journey too and from work. Making your web site accessible to mobile internet users opens up another flow of traffic to your site. The trends inherent in mobile search lend themselves well to local optimization strategies – quite often, someone using a PDA to access the web will be looking for directions, a local restaurant, or some other form of information needed immediately. Keep these factors in mind when optimizing your site by mentioning points of local interest.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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One Comment

  1. Local search is definitely the hot topic these days. Local businesses need to address this or be left out of the online race.