If your business depends on bringing in local traffic, you need to make sure you’re listed in the local business sections offered by Google, Yahoo and Bing. All three companies offer a way for businesses to provide listings and information that provide valuable supplements to your Web and social media promotional efforts, and can stand alone as Web pages.
The importance the major search engines devote to local search is driven by their intense competition for local ads, and the growing market for mobile search advertising. The idea is that if you’re, say a pizza restaurant in a given city, you can better afford to invest in ads targeted at users in your specific city than trying to compete with the thousands of pizza places nationwide that might be advertising online.
And as more users ditch printed yellow-pages directories into their recycling bins without reading them, search engines are playing an ever-more-important role in helping consumers find local businesses.
Managing Your Listing
Let’s say you’re running a bakery in Springfield, Mass. Search engines are going to use your business profile page to determine your ranking not only on searches that mention Springfield, but also on general searches on bakeries from users in the greater Springfield area. Since Google knows where people are searching from, it adds a local bias to increase the relevance of its search results.
A Google search for bakeries in Springfield provides a number of links, either to a bakery’s Web site or a Google maps listing.Which do you want? You want both, because the initial search is going to determine where the links point.
If the user starts on the main search page (google.com), the initial results will default to your Web site, or to the Google Maps local business listing. But if the search is launched from within Google Maps, that listing will appear first. So you need both, and their information needs to match.
Along with basic information such as your businesses’ name and phone number, Google includes public transit information (if applicable) and a Street View image of your building to help customers find you.
You have the ability to supplement the listing with additional information, such as your hours and detailed descriptions that can improve your search engine optimization results. Take advantage of this opportunity, and be sure to include the keywords you’d like people to use to find you.
Be sure to keep your information current. If your hours change seasonally, for instance, remember to update your local business profile.
Promoting Good Buzz
The search engines local business listings pull in user reviews from sites such as CitySearch or Yelp, and also give users the ability to review a business directly on the listings page.
This provides an important tool in helping you manage your online reputation. Because negative reviews generally tend to outweigh a number of good ones, you should ask regular or satisfied customers to submit favorable reviews or comments. Getting to know customers and interacting with them on Twitter or Facebook can strengthen your relationships and make asking for good reviews easier.
You want to avoid the temptation to add favorable reviews about yourself, since the search engines will recognize multiple reviews from the same IP address. And similarly, you also don’t want to post nasty reviews about your cross-town competitors. You probably don’t have time for antics like that, plus, whether you believe in karma or not, it’s not worth tempting fate.
Here are the local listings homepages for Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Are there other ways businesses can take advantages of local search listings? Let us know.