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Tuesday, July 19, 2011



It's impossible to do a search on Google today with local listings popping up.  This has been a real challenge for those of us in SEO but an opportunity as well.  When I wrote the second edition of SEO Made Simple, I dedicated a number of pages to this phenomenon that we call local search.  This is because of the tremendous impact local search has had on website traffic.

The good news is that you're not at the mercy of Google (a.k.a. Google Places) or other local search results.  In fact, you can do a lot to optimize your local results on major search engines.  
Here are some tips for making the most out of your Google Places and other local search results.

Please note that if you don't claim your Google Places page, Google will likely compile one for you, by bringing in information from Internet Yellow Pages, Yelp, localeze, and other sites.  This is not ideal however because you want to control the information you are sharing with the world.

Focus on these factors: 
1. Include your physical address.  Make sure that it matches the city where you're located.
2. Manually verify your ownership of the company's Google Places page via the confirmation email.
3. Use the proper categories for your Google Places page.
4. Complete other listings online that Google will use to verify your local listing (ex: Internet yellow pages).
5. Include your address and local phone number, including area code, on your website.  Be sure to render as text, not as an image.  Google can't read what's inside images, only image tags.
6. Build inbound links to your Google Places listing in addition to your website.  Treat your Places page as as a primary page that is deserving of inbound links.

    A few things to remember:
    When putting together your Google Places listing, there are a number of things to keep in mind.  The first is to sure to publish information that is accurate and complete.  I have seen that local businesses that take the time to fill out all of the information on the Google Places profile, even including hours of operation, tend to do better in local search results.

    As is true with any optimization effort, focus on your primary keywords for local search.  Generally, this might include your service type followed by city, town, or region.  Keep in mind who your primary audience is and how they are likely to find you.

    One effective strategy is to include the name of your service in your listing title.  A great example would be Mikes Farmers Market instead of Mike's Market.  This way, your listing will come up for searches focused on "Farmers markets" in the local area.

    Reviews are very important to local listings.  Even though many small business owners know just how important they are, rarely, if ever, do they ask their customers to help them out.  If you want to improve the ranking of your local results, you must ask for and get positive reviews.

    The last point I want to make is that if your business provides services versus your traditional retail shop, it might be beneficial to provide would-be customer with access to service areas on your Google Places page. Also referred to as "enhanced listings", the service area gives you many more options to enrich your listing.  Additional features like photos, links, videos, etc. make your listing stand out.  Google charges $25 per month for the advanced features but it could be well worth it.

    Local search is not going away.  Claim your Google Places page today at http://www.google.com/places/.  Once you do, you'll be well on your way to improving local traffic.  Even if you don't have a brick and mortar establishment, consider using local places to drive additional traffic to your website and create awareness for your business.
     

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