Why Should I Care About Local Search?

Whenever you’re searching for something local in Maine, you’re sitting far off on the long tail of things. From pet stores to restaurants to barber shops, most times I’ve tried to find a local company on the web I find it nothing short of a miracle if I find anything at all, let alone the exact information I’m looking for.

Nothing made this regional obscurity more glaring than this week, when I desperately sought out concrete contractors in the area where I’m building a house. A so-called yellow and white pages directory on the web that shall remain nameless (okay, it was SuperPages) returned me results from hundreds of miles away, and some as far away as Massachusetts! Sorry, but I’m not entirely willing to take out a second mortgage just to get that truck up here.

Another problem that besets local results is the inability to differentiate qualitatively between entries. For many searches I’ve done, some that actually did return results for a variety of shops in an area, there was absolutely no way to compare the listings against each other. Now, I know this is shooting high — after all, you can’t expect this even from regular yellow pages — but impatient web searchers, of which I am often one, don’t want to have to take ten comparable looking listings and call up every single one of them to determine which will be the best match for their needs. Even if it’s only a scant amount of information, any site that had even the remotest web presence got immediate preference over a site with a phone number and address only.

This may be a terrifically unfair methodology — both for me and the service professionals I’m looking for — but I fear that’s just how the web works. Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the reality that the web is rapidly becoming the first thing potential customers use when looking for goods or services. Consumers expect that the web is going to have up to date information about whatever possible service they can imagine, overlooking any resources made available by traditional media, and sometimes even by word of mouth. So your competitor, who may have a vastly inferior product, but a website made by a friend-of-a-friend, is getting qualified leads by default. It’s ugly, but utter reality.

So now it’s time to get to the good stuff. Here’s some things you can do to maximize your business’ exposure for local search results with hardly dropping a dime:

  • Sign up for Google Local Business Center to see if you have a listing, updating or adding it either way. It may be creepy how much information Google is collecting about, well, everyone, but a proper entry here may get you a listing ABOVE the #1 search results — even without a website!
  • Make sure your address is listed on your web site. It seems obvious, but many companies have a site which talks about their services without talking about where they are or the regions they serve. While you’re at it, make sure your preferred keywords are in there, too.
  • In addition to your address, write a page specifically about your local area, and another with directions written in colloquial language using landmarks for how to find your location rather than obtuse language pulled from Mapquest.
  • Put in other information too. Phone number, hours of business, services/products offered, etc. Google happens to like the item: description form, such as phone: 123-4350-430. It may seem awkward to cater to search engines, but regular people will understand it and get benefit, too.
  • Get some reviews. This is a tricky and contentious one, as the ability of people to either write angelic content about themselves or devilish ones about their competitors has very limited restriction on the Internet. Yet, search engines use this information to rank you (and I admit, as a consumer, I sure read them). The best suggestion I have is solicit your guests, patrons, or clients to write a review for you on sites like TripAdvisor, CitySearch, Yahoo Local, or whatever directories may be pertinent to your industry.

These tips may only take a couple of hours to set up, but will go a long way to improving the ability of search engines to figure out where and what you do, and help your customers learn that information easier as well. Which is the reason, above all else, why you should care about local search.