Local Search Engine Optimization

Local search engine optimization
Local Search Engine Optimization is critical for businesses that want to attract local search engine traffic and local customers online.

What is local search?
Finding an authoritative definition for the term ‘local search’ is challenging.  A loose definition could be ‘local businesses run by locals for locals’.  Put simply, let’s call a ‘local business’ one that’s in reasonable driving distance of where you live.

Why is local search engine optimization important?
A 2006 report conducted by Nielsen/NetRatings and WebVisible titled, ‘I Searched, I Clicked, I Contacted…I Transacted‘ revealed that:

  • 70% of Internet users report using search engines to find a local service;
  • 68% said they would use the phone number on the website to contact a vendor;
  • 35% had saved the phone number;
  • 27% searched a second time;
  • 23% has bookmarked a service vendor’s website;
  • 5% used a phone book to find the service vendor;
  • 59% verbally recommended the service to a friend or family member;
  • 38% e-mailed a link to a friend or family member.

In more recent times, a 2007 report by Nielsen/NetRating and WebVisible titled, ‘Message to advertisers: Search engines, not phones‘ noted that “search engines are where people are going most when doing shopping research—74 percent said they use a search engine to look for a local retail or service business.  That beats the number who still use the yellow pages (65 percent), Internet yellow pages (50 percent), local newspaper (44 percent), white pages (33 percent), television (29 percent) and consumer review Web sites (18 percent).”

How do people use local search?
By the time someone needs a product or service, there are usually 2 types of searches they’ll conduct; the first may be for a specific business name (perhaps they’ve used that business in the past, or it came via word-of-mouth): the second being more generic, perhaps a search for a product, service, or brand.

It’s important to note that at this point in the process, consumers are ready to make a buying decision, giving you ‘permission’ to market to them. This is rare, especially in an age where Anti-Advertising Legislations – Anti-Spam LawsNational Do Not Call Laws and popular Ad-Blocking Technologies – are on the rise.

For a consumer in ‘local search mode’,  a popular option may involve the use of a business-to-consumer directory; also referred to as ‘directive or directory advertising.’  Directive advertising is a form of ‘permission marketing’ and includes:

  • Yellow Pages Print Directories;
  • Internet Yellow Pages; and,
  • Search Engines.

Traditionally, ‘directive advertising’ has been dominated by The Yellow Pages Print Directories.  It is difficult to discuss search – especially local search – without giving mention to The Yellow Pages, which is synonymous with search.  It could even be argued that The Yellow Pages was the first Search Engine.

Local search – A brief history
The concept of local search has been around for 100 years: the first business-to-consumer print directory (The Yellow Pages) was published 1908.  Its longevity is based on relevance; more to the point, the fact that it delivers what consumers want – fast and relevant local business information.

How does local search work?
The local search process is similar whether using a print directory or search engine.

To break it down, Yellow Pages Directories sell ‘headings’ (known as ‘keywords and phrases’ in geek speak) and ‘markets’ (known as ‘geo-targeting’ in geek speak).

For example, a business may provide a service [insert your headings and/or keywords here] within an area [insert your market(s) here] that may be covered by multiple directories.  In order to reach consumers in each directory, an advertiser would need to advertise in those individual directories.

To be the first ad, or get on the first page, an advertiser will usually need a display ad; depending on the competition, the bigger and more colorful the ad, the better placement and visibility it will receive.

In addition, once an advertiser inserts their business information in the print directory, it is mirrored – to a degree – in the Internet Yellow Pages, under the same heading and market.

This advertising model has been very successful for TheYellow Pages, benefitting consumers (able to find local businesses); advertisers (able to choose which markets to advertise in); and The Yellow Pages (able to cross-sell and monetize multiple headings and markets).

Prior to the Internet, Geeks, and Search Engines, chances are you simply ‘Let Your Fingers Do The Walking’ when you needed to find a local business or service.  The fact that it has over 90% brand awareness helps make The Yellow Pages one of the most recognizable brands in North America.

The commercial web
Things have changed since 1908; other advertising mediums; print directory competition; and the biggest change for ‘local search’ yet – and Yellow Pages – the Internet.

Like The Yellow Pages, Search Engines also offer ‘directive advertising’ and business-to-consumer information.  But how do The Yellow Pages and Search Engines like Google compare on a local search level?

Despite growing search engine usage, The Yellow Pages are still with us and still relevant; even as other print media usage and ad revenue numbers continue to shrink. In fact, The Yellow Pages and Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) usage and ad revenue outlook, according to the The Kelsey Group, is rosier than its print media cousins.

The Yellow Pages have always focused on print and display advertising – some would say at the expense of their Internet Yellow Pages.  On the other hand, recent online competitors did not have the luxury and stable revenue streams offered by an established print directory, thus; were forced to focus solely on their exclusive web properties.

The results speak for themselves, with the rise in the 1990’s of Internet juggernauts like Google, Yahoo! and MSN.

Also around since the mid 1990’s – but taking a backseat to print – are the Internet Yellow Pages, which have lacked the visibility and reach of major search engines; rather, depending on print ad revenues to provide shareholder and corporate value.

In comparison, competitors like Google have gained online visibility and reach, but have lacked local search content. One of the early knocks against search engines like Google was exactly what people liked about the Yellow Pages – relevant and local search results.

The early days of search
The early days of online search often produced frustrating results.  For example, a search for [Pizza in Toronto] could return random results.

On the other hand, a search for [Pizza in Toronto] in The Yellow Pages Print or Internet Yellow Pages would – and still does – serve up a wide selection of local Pizza Parlors [in Toronto] with convenient contact information.  Just what the searcher ordered.

It is only within the last few years that Yellow Pages has promoted the local search value of its Internet Yellow Pages; dubbing itself ‘The Find Engine’ and running a number of targeted television commercials, radio spots and other media to emphasize the point.

As for Google, it strives for ‘Relevance’.  The more relevant the search result, the higher the usage, which translates into higher and more profitable ad revenue.

In essence, Yellow Pages wanted what Google had (a wide and powerful online distribution platform and audience), and Google wanted what Yellow Pages had (a rich database of local search and relevant businesses to bolster local search results), and in 2004, the first deal of its kind was struck.

Google goes local
In March 2004, Google introduced ‘Google Local’, confirming what Yellow Pages had known and played off for years; that when it comes to searching for businesses, products and services, people prefer to search and transact locally.

As Marissa Mayer, Google’s director of consumer web products notes, “A lot of times when people are looking for something, they want to do it on a local level.”

Google’s local search strategy
As part of its strategy to deliver relevant local search results, Google leveraged third party business information providers able to deliver local search content; one of these being Yellow Pages.

In a September 21, 2004 new release, Yellow Pages Group(YPG) announced “a strategic agreement with Google that will make its business listings available on Google Local Canada, a new local search service that can be found at http://local.google.ca. As part of the agreement, YPG’s 2.4 million Canadian directory listings will be available on the new Google site, helping to provide users of the service with comprehensive local search.”

What does this all mean?
It seems that the bigger and more popular Google has gotten, the smaller it has gotten.  Smaller in the sense that its algorithm can now help a searcher pinpoint to within a very short distance the name, phone number, address, directions and more for a ‘local business search.’

As for Yellow Pages, not only does their information now have wider distribution vis-à-vis the Google deal, but they can also enter into other cross-promotional deals with Google.

For example, on October 9, 2007 Yellow Pages Group (YPG) announced that it had entered into a new strategic agreement with Google to become the first Canadian based reseller of Google AdWords™.

This leaves the door open for both companies to leverage and strengthen each others existing technology and distribution platforms.

For the time being, a basic business listing in Google’s local search platform is free, as is a basic business listing in The Yellow Pages and Internet Yellow Pages Directory.

Note: Part 2 of this article will deal with local search engine optimization and how to optimize your site for Google’s ‘local search’ platform.