Former US Speaker of the House Tip Oâ€™Neil (D-WA) once quipped, â€œAll politics are local.â€ He was referring to the necessity of elected politicians to listen to and work on behalf of the ultimate assessors of their past and future success, their constituents. When it came down to choosing options, the smart politician always chooses the ones that favour the folks who elected him.
Similarly, there is a philosophy in search marketing circles that states â€œAll search is localâ€, or to be more precise, most product and services searches are local. Search users use search when looking for something they want to purchase or something they require professional help with. Most of the answers they seek can be found within five to twenty miles of their homes.
Since people have been buying local products and accessing nearby services for countless generations, that fact is not lost the vast majority of consumer searchers. The difference is search is rapidly replacing traditional marketing sources such as telephone directories, newspaper ads, television and even junk-mail in informing locals about local products and services.
Though it would be entirely unwise to advise local businesses to cease spending money on tried and true methods of reaching out to local consumers, it would be equally or even more unwise for local businesses to ignore search as one of their primary advertising tools. Given the ability of the Internet to store, make available and transmit a wide variety of media file types, in the near future it could easily become the only long-term media capable of efficient and inexpensive communications. Mainstream publishing and/or broadcasting costs are not going to be decreasing anytime soon, even though their audiences tend to be migrating to the Internet.
Performing well in local search results is becoming easier than ever. The major search engines, most particularly Ask.com and Google place enormous weight on the location of each search user when determining results to display for their search queries. There are several very simple but highly effective things SEOs can do to enhance a websiteâ€™s chances of displaying well for local searches.
The first and simplest is the provision of accurate address and contact information. Make it as easy as possible for search users (and search engines) to find your physical location by giving them as much information as possible. In order of operations, the basic information is as such:
1/ Business Name + Keyword Phrase
2/ Street and Suite (or Unit) + Larger geo-reference such as shopping mall, school or other public space)
3/ City + Neighbourhood(s)
4/ State or Provice
5/ zip or postal code
6/ Going as far as including longitude and latitude and GPS coordinates wouldnâ€™t hurt.
The idea is to associate the business with the communities it serves. A restaurant, for instance, can add several elements to its ABOUT or CONTACT pages that reference neighbourhoods, schools, shopping malls and nearby streets while introducing the staff or giving explicit driving directions.
A second local SEO technique is the inclusion of maps. Though used by the fewest active searchers, Ask.com provides (by far) the best local mapping technology of all major search engines. I see no reason why a link to maps from all major search engines canâ€™t be included on a CONTACT page.
Go mobile with your message. As computer users migrate to different types of devices like handhelds, the search engine that produces the best mobile results will dominate the local search market. The only reason this truism hasnâ€™t become a marketing truth is the onerous rate structures used by Telcos that limit consumer use of cell phones to access the Internet. Think about how Blackberry users interact with their devices and imagine a world in which your cell phone was as inexpensively useful. That world already exists in South Korea and other parts of Asia and Northern Europe. It is coming to Canada (and likely the US) in 2008.
Lastly, businesses serving a local clientele get great value public participation in the life of the greater community. Not only is public participation the best way to build a good community, it is a way to acquire juicy local links. Think about it as buying links with sweat equity. If your business organizes, donates or volunteers for a local charity event or participates in local business events, you can probably get any number of relevant and complimentary links for the efforts. The benefit of good references never hurts.
Local search is the last mile in marketing. As we enter the holiday purchasing season, webmasters and marketers are urged to recall another online marketing truism that says, â€œMost conversions happen offline.â€ Though the consumer might have learned about the product or service by researching online, the majority of purchases are still made in stores, over the telephone or face to face. That means it is our responsibility to drive the customer to our clients front doors, or at least provide enough explicit instruction so they can drive there themselves.