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Local Search

Posted on 2.11.2007

Helping a new breed of consumers to find your business
by Judy Colbert


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Almost every business relies on customers and the ability of customers to find your business. One of the ways this is happening on a large scale is through local search. Sites such as JudysBook, Yelp, InsiderPages, Local, TrueLocal, Topix, DexOnLine, Verizon Superpages and Windows Live Local Search are helping consumers locate businesses faster and more efficiently than ever before. Plus, these new sites and resources go beyond simple business listings. They are incorporating maps and user generated content (UGC) that include user reviews and other community features.

LeeAnn Prescott is the research director at Hitwise.com and was a featured presenter at the SES local search seminar held September 28, 2006 in Denver. “Growth over the past year to the yellow pages custom category has been relatively flat, while the market share of visits to the custom category containing Yahoo! Local, Yelp, Judy’s Book and Insider Pages has grown by 44 percent, when comparing August 2005 to August 2006,” said Prescott. “While standard yellow pages sites are receiving significantly more traffic in terms of volume, these newer directory services, with maps, reviews, and community features are quickly catching up.”

The beauty of a local search, and a big reason businesses are rushing to take advantage of the service, is that in this search mode consumers are close to making a buying decision.

Greg Sterling, founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence citing a recent comScore study said, “Performing a local search drives consumers to take action. During the second quarter of last year, 47 percent of local searchers visited a local merchant as a result of their search behavior, while 41 percent made contact offline. More than one-third (37 percent) made contact online as a result of conducting a local area search.”

Besides the general business listings, an added value of these sites lies in the positive and negative comments left by site viewers. As you no doubt know, a personal reference is worth more than advertising. With that in mind, there are two important aspects of these sites to remember:

 

Basic listings are generally free. It’s up to you, or someone you designate, to go to each of these sites and make sure your company is listed. Listings can be upgraded and expanded for a fee of up to $25 per month. If you are one of 25 competing companies in your town, you should invest in that upgrade so you can define how you are different from those other two-dozen companies. If, on the other hand, you’re the only game in town you can probably get away with the basic listing.

Visit these sites regularly to see what is being said about your business and your competitors. Lynn Upthagrove, owner of the bed-and-breakfast style Hotel Charlotte in Groveland, California searches listings for user comments. Should she find a negative comment, she considers whether it’s a valid complaint and how to respond. Reading about other bed-and-breakfast establishments gives Upthagrove ideas about other services she can provide based on their popularity.

Additionally, more of these searches are happening on a mobile device. GPShopper.com has created a local mobile product search. With over 30 million products, their Slifter technology allows consumers to receive up-to-the-minute product availability, location, and price on their mobile phones and devices. A consumer enters a product and their current zip code and receives a photo of the item, product description, prices, store locations, phone numbers and directions. This is yet another good reason to take advantage of local search.

Local search has hit the scene with high expectations. If you’re an entrepreneur or local small business, you’ve heard the hype. In fact, you’ve probably received a number of emails soliciting your participation in the many local search networks. Still, you’re not convinced that it’s all its cracked up to be. However, according to comScore, local searches jumped 45 percent from July of 2005 to July 2006. So it’s important to get yourself in the mix.

One of the problems facing local search is that it’s a very fragmented market. Some of the sites out there are YellowPages.com, craigslist, SuperPages, Yahoo Local, Google, Citysearch and any number of localized or city-wide search sites. There’s no silver bullet to cover every site in one effort. But there’s also no denying that local search is here to stay.

And one of the best and cost-effective ways to do it is by riding the coattails of others. When a local search is performed, many of the same sites will continually show up in the rankings, regardless of the search query. Those are the sites that you need to get listed with.

Perform a local search on your business sector and find out who your competitors are in your area and where they are getting listed. Then, attack the same networks.

Research your own listings. Search for your business across a wide variety of local search engines. You may be surprised how inaccurate some of the information is.

Cleanse your information. Many of the local search engines use third-party information from such sites as Amacai, Axciom and InfoUSA. Make sure that your business information is accurate within these sites.

Geo-targeting will dominate local search. It’s important that you optimize your site pages accordingly. Keyword listings should include your business locations. Include your address on your site pages for the spiders.

Consider paying small fees for local search. Depending on the competition in your area, paying nominal monthly fees could be well worth a bump in the rankings.

About the Author:
Judy Colbert is a Web Usability Mentor, Author and President of Tuff Turtle Publishing, LLC.


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