What Exactly is Local Search?
The hottest new trend to hit search engine marketing is local search. Local search is primarily beneficial for businesses that want to drive people to actual physical stores or other places of business. For example, if you operate a retail store or restaurant, then local search is a means by which you can market your physical store location.
Local search boasts many benefits over the traditional print directories, such as the Yellow Pages. The local search listings are highly interactive and offer features such as maps and driving directions, email location to a friend, and more.
Local Search Tour
We’ll use Yahoo Local Search to show examples of these features. Google Local Search offers very similar functionality to Yahoo’s offering. Say you wanted to find a nightclub in Atlanta, Georgia. By typing in the geographical words Atlanta and Georgia, you trigger the technology that will show you local search listings as opposed to the traditional PPC or sponsored listings. Try the following search: http://search.yahoo.com.
The above search string will show the main page of results. You’ll notice that instead of sponsored listings at the top or to the right, the results begin with: “Local Results for Nightclub near Atlanta.” According to Yahoo, the three results shown on the main page contain the “names and addresses of up to three of the nearest [nightclubs], with links to more local listings.” They also state that the businesses shown in these top 3 listings may have financial relationships with Yahoo. This means that these 3 are likely to have a local search listing setup directly with Yahoo as a (free) basic or (paid) enhanced local listing here: http://listings.local.yahoo.com. Yahoo doesn’t specify further why they decided to show these 3 on the main page, but its likely that if you pay you’ll increase your chances of showing up here. Relevancy is definitely a factor: the 3 results that show up, in this case, on the main results page are all really nightclubs, unlike the results on the “local results” page, as we’ll see next…
From the above “Atlanta, Georgia Nightclub” search, you can click the “Local Results…” link to go the main page of local search results. Use the following link: http://local.yahoo.com/results.
This page allows you to refine your search by showing related categories, allowing you to choose results within a certain distance, etc. Here also you’ll see sponsored results and additional local search matches (which are a mix of organic and Yahoo local listings). If you look at this particular list, you’ll see one of the biggest problems with this technology: irrelevant matches. Included in the top 10 results for “Atlanta Georgia Nightclub” are a Steak and Ale and a Benihana Restaurant. It appears that both of these have been included by the Local Search Algorithm, i.e. Yahoo’s software determined that these would be relevant matches for the nightclub search. Clearly Yahoo’s software doesn’t get out very often!
Additional pages relevant to this discussion are the individual business listing page: http://local.yahoo.com/details, and one that really shows off the power of the web, the map page: http://local.yahoo.com/mapview.
Most of the actual search listings shown in this example were NOT paid ads. Yahoo’s technology has gone out and created this directory via various means, including spidering the web, online directory listings, etc. If your local business has a website, you should optimize your site for the geographical keywords. Always include your full mailing address including zip code in the visible text and in your <title> tag and metatags on your website, as appropriate. If you have multiple locations you might consider creating a separate page for each location, and fully search engine optimize each page for the address of that location. Local search is still in its early stages, and faces obstacles in my opinion before it will be fully adopted by the mainstream markets, including relevance of results and ease of use. The technology, however, is very exciting and useful and once it gains momentum is likely to be the main way that local businesses market online in the very near future.
Look for more and more on- and offline marketing for local search this year. The search engines see local search as a market that is ripe for takeover from traditional business directories. With the amount of money pouring into the search sector you can bet that this is no idle threat. In my opinion I say bring it on! The Yellow Pages waste paper and take up space on my crowded bookshelf. I love the functionality of local search and am sure you will too!
Lachlan Brown is the founder and President of Tech for People [http://www.techforpeople.com], a small business internet marketing consultancy. Lachlan found himself in the “catbird” seat during the dot-com years with Sapient Corp., an international Ecommerce consulting firm. Tech for People was consequently founded to offer high-value, low-cost solutions to the small business market to take advantage of the surplus of E-Commerce software and the evolution of e-business strategy. In short, Tech for People strives to implement common-sense internet solutions that generate positive ROI every step of the way.