Local search is one of the most attentions worthy aspects of SEM today.
63% of US Internet users (or approximately 109 mln people) performed a local search online in July 2006, a 43% increase versus July of 2005. – ZDNet Research
It is amazing to me just how slow the general search marketing community was to embrace what has proven to be a very profitable area of focus.
Successful Local Search Marketing
To be successful at local search marketing you must be familiar with the landscape as it is quite different from the traditional search arena.
Firstly you need to understand that local search marketing is targeting a specific type of audience. This is a consumer who uses the Internet to search for information on where they may purchase locally. They are using the Internet much like the yellow pages. In fact a study by the Yellow Pages Association suggests that as much as 85% of people who use print yellow pages also use online yellow pages. This means that your marketing plan must very specifically target customers who generally research online but purchase in person. If your business has a physical storefront as well as an Internet storefront, you will find that the two points of interaction will compliment one another nicely with your local market.
Creative tracking is essential to local search marketing campaigns as there is often no online purchase action to associate with traffic; your visitors will use your website to research your business and then appear in person to make a purchase. If you can’t differentiate the percentage of in store sales that were generated by your online marketing efforts, then you cannot gauge the efficacy of your campaign.
This scenario obviously does not apply to online-only businesses; however geography should always be taken into consideration when crafting an Internet marketing strategy.
Once you have a clear understanding of your target audience, you need to make sure that they see you. For a local search optimization/marketing campaign this means focusing on the top local search destinations. No surprise here; the big three that rule standard web search rule local search as well: Google Local, Yahoo! Local and MSN Local. We’ll start with #3 MSN Local.
MSN Local is very straightforward and offers local search as an integrated option within its main search interface. Local search results are categorized as residential, business or web; with the residential listings usually appearing first by default. Most results are complimented by an aerial map.
Yahoo! Local search is user friendly and feature rich. Yahoo Local also encourages user feedback by allowing searchers to write reviews for individual listings in the local results which can also be sorted according to cumulative review scores. Lastly Yahoo Local allows businesses to add their profile to the local search database directly; a welcome alternative to waiting for a site to be indexed.
Google Local is unique in its emphasis on the visual map that compliments local search results. The search results themselves occupy about 1/4 of the screen, the rest of which is dominated by the detailed and feature rich map.
With the exception of Yahoo’s business registration feature, appearing in local search results can require optimization of your page copy for regional terms and references. I have found however that it is often sufficient to add a physical address in the footer of the optimized web pages. This is especially effective for MSN Local. In addition to on page references, securing high quality inbound links which reference your targeted region in the anchor text will also prove beneficial.
With these specific issues addressed it is important to focus your efforts on appealing to your locally targeted audience; let them know that you are a member of the community and a convenient destination where they can do business. Applying traditional marketing wisdom with this mind will ensure a successful campaign.