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Google’s Local Search

GOOGLE LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
For those unfamiliar with ‘Google’s Local Business Centre’, this article will provide you with a basis for using it in order to reach local consumers while generating more qualified leads.

GOOGLE LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION – HOW TO
Before getting into the nuts & bolts of  ‘Google’s Local Search Platform’, it’s important to know the different types of search results that may appear on a Google search query; namely:
1. Sponsored Links
2. Local Business Results
3. Organic Search Results

1. Sponsored Links (also known as Pay-Per-Click (PPC)- usually frames the top portion (shaded) and/or right hand column of a Google search results page and is clearly identified by Google as being ‘Sponsored’.  This is paid advertising and as such, you can pay to be on the first page for your category.  Pay-Per-Click is an excellent way for new sites to gain immediate search engine exposure.

2. Local Business Results – usually appearing below the top page portion of sponsored links – up to a maximum of 10 listings per first page results – and is accompanied by a Google Map, Title, URL, Address and link to additional information.  This is a free service.

3. Organic Search Results (also known as ‘natural search engine listings’) – usually appearing below local business results with a maximum of 10 listings per page.  This is also a free service.

(Note: Not all Search Engine Results Pages contain ‘Sponsored Links’ and/or ‘Local Business Results’).

Unlike ‘Sponsored Links’, Google’s ‘Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results’ are free services and as such, Google is under no obligation to list a site in either.

Google goes to great lengths to protect its ranking algorithms for both its ‘Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results listings’.  At times, the same listings may appear in both ‘Google’s Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results’, sometimes on the same page.

The following local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips will help to get your site better visibility in both ‘Google’s Local Business Results’ and ‘Organic Search Results’ pages, in addition to learning what you can do to influence them.

GOOGLE LOCAL SEO TIPS
Google seeks out clues in determining a websites regional relevance; the more clues you provide Google, the better chance you’ll have of targeting and reaching your local audience.  Some of the following clues that will help Google determine regional relevance include:

1. Top Level Domain (TLD)
Google will consider your domain name in assigning regional relevance. A site with a [.ca] suffix provides a clue to Google that the site is Canadian, and likely targeting a Canadian audience. A url with the actual location/region built into it (e.g. www.toronto[service].ca) should provide another region-specific clue.

2. IP Address
Google will consider where your site is being hosted from.  For example, if it resides on a Canadian server, Google will have found another clue as to the regional relevance of that site.

3. Web Content (On Page Information)
The text on your website is yet another clue that Google – and your audience – use in determining regional relevance, and includes a number of considerations, for example:

  • Contact Information: Google may cross-reference location information posted on websites against trusted third party sources (i.e. Local Telco’s and Directories).  As a result, it’s important to list this information on your site.  At the very least, this information should reside on your ‘Contact Us’ page, for the benefit of Google & visitors and should include the following elements:
  • Address
  • City/State
  • Postal Code/Zip Code
  • County
  • Area Code
  • Local Phone number
  • Location and keyword usage: Build ‘geo-modifiers’ and spelling variations of those areas you want to target, including:
  • Neighborhoods
  • Suburbs
  • Towns
  • Cities

Searches for the same region may be conducted differently.  For example, those searching for something in ‘San Francisco’ might search using any one of the following ‘geo-modifiers’: “SF”, “SFO”, “Bay Area”, “North Beach”, “SanFrancisco” and “San-Francisco”. Those searching “Toronto” might also use “Greater Toronto Area” and/or “GTA”.

As well, some countries share the same city names:  For example, Cambridge (Massachusetts and United Kingdom), London (Ontario and United Kingdom) and Paris (Texas and France).

In a nutshell, consider short-forms, abbreviations, synonyms, alternative spellings, misspellings and region-specific references when optimizing content for local search engine optimization.

4. Title and Meta Tags
It’s vital to include location information in your title tags when optimizing for local search.  That said, Google is getting better at sussing out regional-specific indicators via on page content – good news for sites with poorly written title tags:  still, there’s no substitute for well crafted title tags and, to a lesser degree, description tags.  Taking care to do both will let Google and your audience know who you are, what you do and where you do it.

For example, a Web Writer (yours truly) that wants to attract clients from their local area (Toronto) may go about creating any one of the following 3 title tags:

Poor:
<title>Welcome</title>

Better:
<title>[Writing Web Words] [Web Writing Services]</title>

Best:
<title>[Writing Web Words] [Web Writing Services] [Toronto] [Ontario, Canada]</title>

Note: It is always a good idea to include both City and Province/State for local search engine optimization efforts.

5. Google’s Local Business Centre
A relative new comer to the world of ‘local search engine optimization’, Google’s local business centre is one of the most powerful weapons in any SEOs arsenal.

The most effective method of getting your site included in this directory is by submitting it to Google’s local business centre, also known as Google Maps.  Some sites acquire listings in this sub-directory without physically submitting their sites:  in these cases, Google populates Local Search Results with business listings from third party directories: To maximize your Local Listing, it’s best to do it yourself; or better yet, having someone familiar with this tool to do it for you.

Once you register with Google Local, they’ll confirm your listing by contacting you. Part of this process requires that you set up an account with Google.  Following that, you can start buidling out your Google Local Business Centre Listing.  In order to ensure that you are providing relevant information, Google will have you complete information relating to your business’ products and/or services.  This is where things can get tricky; entering the incorrect the information can result in improper categorization and lost opportunities.

There are 7 fields you will be asked to complete:

  1. Basic Information Including:
  • Country
  • Company/Organization
  • Address (City, Town, State, Province, Postal Code/Zip Code)
  • Phone
  • E-mail Address
  • Website
  • Business Description

2.    Categories:

Google’s Local Business Centre lets you enter up to 5 categories.  When doing so, consider keyphrases relevant to your business.  Getting this part right is crucial to local search engine optimization success.  Also, while some categories are pre-programmed (most likely drawn from business directories like Yellow Pages and Superpages), Google does allow you to customize some of your search terms and phrases.

3.    Hours of Operation:

This field is optional: You can choose to either display hours of operation or not.

4.    Payment Options:

Google offers a number of payment options that can be displayed.

5.    Photos:

There is also an ‘upload photo’ option (up to 10 images) should you wish to profile your storefront, logo and/or images of your products.

6.    Videos:

Google allows other listing enhancements such as videos (up to 5 videos per listing).

7.    Additional Details:

You can also include additional business information such as Parking, Brands Carried etc…

Once your website and business information have been submitted and accepted, it should take approximately 7 to 10 business days before you get ranked and listed in Google’s Local Search Results.  Shortly after going live, visitors will be able to post reviews which, according to some SEOs, may also help your ranking and visibility, as well as give visitors more reasons to contact you.

IN CONCLUSION
A number of factors are making Local Search Optimization and Advertising more attractive to consumers, especially for ‘service-related businesses’.  Considering the rising cost of gas and studies pointing to the fact that local consumers prefer to purchase locally, it’s a no brainer.  As for how much longer it will continue to be a free service has yet to be seen.

Happy Local Searching!

Ray Litvak
www.writingwebwords.com
Website Writer Toronto

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