With the rise of smartphones and mapping apps we’re living in the era of local search and discovery.
Before we dive into the thicket of what it takes to win in the space and who the players are, let’s take a step back and review the basics of local SEO.
Google’s Knowledge Graph – showing information directly on the search results page -and the presence of the ‘Carousel’ results are just two of the game changers making local SEO a moving target.
The carousel will make images and reviews a key driver of clicks. It may also imply that ranking number one in local results is less important as results are listed horizontally.
Before we dive into the thicket of what it takes to win in the space and who the players are, we will review the basics of local SEO.
The Key Drivers for Local Search
In general, SEOs agree the key factors driving local search results boil down to:
- Keyword-targeted, indexable landing pages (where the keyphrase is the location and the service)
- Consistent, accurate business listing data across multiple listing data providers
- Consistent, accurate name, address and phone number on the site landing page, business listings, and search engine local page
- Good reviews, content, and engagement on search engine local pages (Google+)
- Inbound links and citations / mentions for the target web page and the domain
- User searches for the business name in the geographical area
- Google Map Maker engagement (for Google, obviously)
- A good mobile experience (50 percent of mobile searches have local intent)
Given a basic understanding of the tactics and the user experience for local search, we can now review the various options for local search optimization.
Local SEO for the Truly Clueless
Say you are a lawyer, a plumber, or an exterminator and you don’t have time to worry about this stuff. Setting aside the fact that you likely aren’t reading this article, let’s look at the 100 percent outsourced options.
These vendors will set you up with a website, a local ad or marketing campaign, and some kind of local off-site page presence for a monthly fee, all you need to do is give them a call and a credit card number.
- ReachLocal: Pretty much the first players in this space and the industry leader. They tend to target the larger end of the small business market (more than a few employees and more than a few hundreds of dollars a month to spend). ReachLocal will set you up with a web presence and an online marketing (search, social, display, mobile) campaign that fits your budget.
- Yodle: Lesser known, but providing pretty much the same service as ReachLocal, Yodle targets the small end of the small business segment. They will set you up with a basic template-driven, search optimized website on a domain they own and control. They will also set up a paid search campaign assuming you have the budget, and will track and forward any calls they generate.
One thing to consider with these outsourced solutions is once you stop paying them, you may lose your website, the leads stop coming, and any SEO equity you may have established goes bye-bye.
If you really don’t think you can figure out how to create a website and do basic SEO, the outsourced approach is the solution for you. Just be aware of the downsides and the fact that you are paying them for the service. Otherwise, buck it up and make your own website and follow the instructions below to optimize it for local search.
The Do-It-Yourself Approach to Local SEO
So you are going to do it yourself. As we have seen above, you need good on-page SEO to rock in local search and a good mobile site or responsive design since a ton of your local searches will be on mobile devices.
Step 1: Basic SEO
You need to get your on-page SEO in order – create a nice, responsive site with a local keyword-targeted home page (e.g., “Childrens Resale Store, Brooklyn, NY”). Then go about the usual SEO tasks of getting good inbound links, citations, and mentions in the media.
With basic SEO out of the way, you now need to think about straightening out your business listings and optimizing your off-site local pages like Google+, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, and many others.
Step 2: Business Listings
For a small business, you can manually create and update your business listings at several places. For example, you can get a Dun & Bradstreet number, and update or create a listing with your name, address, and phone number at InfoUSA. These guys gradually feed many other local services like the Yellow Pages vendors with data.
Step 3: Off-site Local Pages
Now it’s time to get your off-site act together. With a few more basic steps like claiming your Google+, Bing, Yahoo, and Yelp pages and enriching your location on Google Map Maker you are on well on your local search way.
Go get some great reviews, upload photos, and make sure you’re your name, address and phone number (NAP) data is visible on your home or store page and exactly matches your listing data. Add semantic markup code to your NAP data to be 100% sure the engines get the message.
Large Enterprise Local SEO
The same basic rules apply for larger businesses with a big local footprint, but things get considerably more complex and time consuming. Welcome to the world of enterprise local search vendors. And, if you’re really busy, you may need a local search agency or specialist.
Enterprise Listings Management
Let’s take a look at some of the main local search vendors. If you work with an agency, they will most likely be using some combination of these in their service.
- Universal Business Listings: UBL directly feeds business databases like Acxiom, Dun & Bradstreet, and InfoGroup (last time we checked). These are primary datafeed providers to multiple publishers. UBL also has a bulk claiming service for sites like Google+, allowing you to make a one-time claim and update of your data. UBL is not the company to work with to streamline management and updating of social / local sites, but they can get your basic business listings created or cleaned up so they can work their way through the local data ecosystem.
- Localeze: Recently acquired by Neustar, Localeze is similar to UBL in that it provides business listings data directly to a variety of publishers and primary data sources. In some ways Localeze is complementary to UBL as it provides data to a different set of distribution partners including Yahoo, Bing, Yellowpages.com, Facebook, Twitter, and TomTom. Localeze has created an impressive roster of sites it feeds with data.
There are other options as well, but for the sake of brevity, let’s move on to:
Enterprise Local Pages Management
Keeping third-party local sites like Google+, Yahoo Business Listings, and Yelp current and enriched with offers, campaign content, and offers is a big job, especially for brands with hundreds of locations. Previously, it was pretty much a manual job. Nowadays, there are several players who have stepped up and created APIs and interfaces that allow you to manage off-site local pages centrally.
Once you get into the space of managing multiple off-site pages for multiple locations you are going to be spending serious coin. If you have the budget, here are some folks to take a look at:
- Yext: While not exclusively aimed at large enterprise, the Yext team offers a range of services including the ability to centrally claim and enrich (with offers or other content) a large number of 3rd party sites. Yext charges a yearly fee for management with additional costs that vary with the amount of content you want to push to the managed sites. If you want to quickly push out a short-term offer to dozens of sites for hundreds of locations, and you have the budget, Yext may be for you. Recently, Yext and Yahoo announced Localworks – a service aimed at small businesses that gives them access to Yext and Yahoo listing and management services for $30 per month.
- Rio Local: Pretty much focused on larger companies with multiple locations, Rio has the only complete hosted local search solution. They 1) Host the local landing page and 2) Claim any number of off-site local pages (G+, yelp, etc) and 3) Create and verify the business listings. If you are OK with having them host your local on-site pages, Rio may be the option for you as they have the most control and due to ‘owning’ the landing page they can give pretty complete end to end reporting.
I am sure I missed a ton of vendors, so feel free to let me know what I left out in the comments.
Conclusion: Local Search Offers Great ROI
For a small business, local search may something that can be done in an afternoon, followed up by a quick daily or weekly review of off-site pages.
For a large business – say 1,000 locations – the costs and difficulty rapidly escalate. While it might seem crazy to spend $500,000 in vendor fees and $50,000 in agency management time to locally optimize your franchises, I would argue that it offers a great return. For some industries (e.g., finance) the ROI could truly be stellar.
Local search results are also less competitive than core web results. While you might not ever be able to rank for ‘Life Insurance’ your might very well be able to rank for ‘Life Insurance broker’ queries in Albany and every other city your do business in. Big brands, small brands, take note.
So if you haven’t already it’s time to add local search optimization to your marketing plan. But there’s no need to hurry – my small local business in Brooklyn would rather not have the competition.
Image Credit: Joe Loong/Flickr