A Local SEO How-To

Updated: August 20, 2010

1. Claim your Listings.

If you run a web query for your business name and location you're likely to find a number of local listings on sites like City Search, Yellow Book, Google Local, Yahoo Local, Bing Local and Yelp that already have bare-bones profiles set up for your business. Get the most of those listings by claiming them then adding and updating content. For most sites, this takes only a few minutes and requires only that you create a login with directory site.

2. Flesh out your profiles.

Many online listing sites allow you some space to describe your business, upload pictures or video and list your website.

Making your businesses profile as complete as possible has several advantages. It makes you more attractive to users browsing the directory and it increases your page ranking within the site's internal search results. Having a local phone number (as opposed to an 800 number) and creating separate landing pages for locations if you operate in more than one city also increases your ranking within a directory site.

Be strategic when writing your business description. Always incorporate good keywords and vary your description from site to site to avoid search rank penalties for duplicate text.

Unclaimed listings for your business will likely not provide an accurate URL for your website. Taking the few sections to claim a listing and paste in your URL gives you a valuable backlink from a powerful site. Depending on the amount of keyword competition in your area, getting a couple of these backlinks could vastly improve your natural search rankings.

Lastly, check for incorrect information like an incorrectly placed pin on the map.

3. Choose Strategic Business Categories.

For any directory that allows you to select business categories - especially for Google Local - the categories that you select will have an enormous effect on the amount of traffic you can wring out of your listing.

Categories give you the power to decide which keywords you want to be found for. Choosing the right ones for your business involves a little research.

From the Google Maps page, search for your city plus any keyword phrases a potential customer might use to describe your business (i.e. "Party Rentals NYC" or "Worchester County Dog Groomer") to get a sense for how much competition there is for each phrase. If you run a small business and you see large, established businesses in the top three results for any keyword phase, choose something more specific.

Choosing specific keywords not only ensures you a good position on the map results, but also tend to yield more serious potential customers. Our business does cosmetic and implant dentistry in Philadelphia, if someone finds through a term like "cosmetic dentist Philadelphia" they're more likely to end up calling for an appointment than someone who just types in "dentist." Because local listing pages come with built-in geographic keywords, we can strip out the "Philadelphia" and just use "implant dentist" as a category.

Google's keyword tool is another good resource you can use to get a sense for the amount of traffic and competition there is for a given keyword.

It's extremely important to choose categories you can win. In order to see traffic from Google Local to your website, you need to be in the top three local results. On a normal search results page, if a map appears, it will only show the top three local results. And while more results show up if you start your search on the Google Maps page, only 1% of users use the Maps to perform local searches.

Finally, list yourself in as many categories as the directory allows.

4. Get Reviews.

The number of reviews you have, and possibly also the quality of those reviews, has a huge effect on your rankings within Google Local and other directory sites.

After being in business for many years and building a loyal client base we'd only seen a few internet reviews for our practice. Customers may love you, but you're largely out of site, out of mind by the time they get back home. To combat this apathy, we started having customers fill out review forms in the office and getting their permission to post them to our Google Local page. I'd recommend that if you adopt this strategy stay as above board as possible by: 1. Recreating Google's review form as accurately as possible 2. Not editing your customer's words and 3. Appending a note to posted review disclosing that while these are your customers' exact words, they were posted by your business.

Current speculation about local rankings indicates that in addition to quantity of reviews, it also helps to have reviews by frequent local posters. If you have a particularly web savvy client, it may be worth offering a coupon or special deal in exchange for an honest review posted from their own Google account. Emailing that kind of request allows you to attach a link to the directory listing where you'd like the review and catches your customer in front of the computer where they can act on it immediately.

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