Many of our customers have businesses that serve a limited geographical area. Over a year ago, Google started adding a selection of local results into its search results when searches were done on specific geographical areas, or for specialized terms. For example, if you type in “roofing contractors” you may or may not see a map of roofing contractors in your general area.
Naturally, the big question is how to get found in this space. Aside from the techniques used by spammers to dominate map listings, Google makes it possible to achieve results by adding your site to the Local Business Center , which lets you put multiple local locations into your map results, so people searching in a nearby suburb will see one of your branch offices.
Claiming your business in Google Local is also imperative for any business owner. This is because there are people who will impersonate your business or hijack your listing and put their own information on it, which is not only confusing for potential customers, but also could be a black mark against you if you’re being impersonated. Florists and Locksmiths have found themselves victimized and pushed out of listings by shady operators who replace legitimate phone numbers with local ones that forward to out-of-state call centers. In the case of locksmiths, a random “free agent” is often dispatched to your location and the price is invariably higher than the quote you received when you made the call.
One way to make sure your business is considered legitimate is to have an established local address, so Google can confirm your business identity through one of three verification methods. Verification is an important part of claiming your account, and it gives you the ability to use the many advanced features available with this free service.
By being registered in the Local Business Center, it is possible to add features like hours, alternate phone and fax numbers, a description of your business, and other information. One tip for savvy small businesses involves using the Google Keyword Tool to discover the most common search terms relative to your local business. This lets you write a business description that incorporates the high quantity and quality phrases that are more likely to bring customers. It also gives you competitive market intelligence on what new services you can offer, and the relative demand for service offerings that you may already have.
Some of the new features of the Google Local Business Center include traffic statistics, keyword usage, and even requests for driving directions. Information of this kind allows for the business owner to understand the local demand for products and services, and identify opportunities for expansion relative to customer growth. For services that have mobile dispatch, this kind of information lets you know what part of town to “loiter” in while awaiting the next service call. This saves on fuel costs while improving customer satisfaction and overall efficiency, since less time spend on the road equals more time servicing multiple clients.
Aside from the local results incorporated into Google maps, local and geotargeted pay-per-click (PPC) are also great ways to make sure you show up when people are looking to patronize local shops and trades. City targeted PPC campaigns generally have a lower cost per click (CPC) than national campaigns, and the customer conversion rate is higher because you can add local phone numbers and regional terms into your ads. By adding PPC ads to Google Maps, you also have the ability to put in small images and messaging that helps you stand out among the other red dots on the page.
One other secret to local results involves the ability for people to write reviews of the product, service, or (in the case of restaurants) food quality experienced. There is a school of thought in search optimization that says you will get better results if your listings have reviews. Whenever possible, encouraging customers to review your business will set you apart from the listings that have bad reviews, or no reviews at all. We would not encourage people to write “fake” reviews for a restaurant, trade, or shop, but it is being done by people who want to stand out.
Finally, there are other important local listing services like Bing and Yahoo Local which are also very important tools for people who work out of limited geographical areas. By controlling your local online presence, you can ensure that your potential customers are finding out everything you want them to know about your business. Furthermore, improvements in local search matching are going to increase the presence and use of local results over the next few years. Staking a claim on these results can give your local business a competitive advantage in a slow economy, and a huge head start when conditions improve.