If you do a search on Google, Bing™, or Yahoo!® for a keyword like “tires,” you might end up seeing a local map with local tire sellers listed above the regular search results. This is great news if you’re a tire retailer who happens to be on the list, but it may not be good if your store isn’t visible. Over the past couple of years, such map results have become increasingly commonplace for a variety of searches, and people who hold spots for local searches have gotten more website visits and phone calls as a result. Meanwhile, people who may otherwise have great search engine positions may feel marginalized because their search rankings have effectively been “pushed down” by a map.
It’s important to note that a variety of factors go into the results you see displayed on any given map for a search result. Here are some examples:
- Google may list companies based on their proximity to “the center of town,” or they may give more credence to businesses that have more reviews in Google Places or in external directories like Yelp.
- Other signals that deliver results could be your IP address or any location-based data (such as GPS, Wi-Fi, or network) that may lead a search engine to believe you’re in a particular spot.
- On top of that, local results may be based on users’ previous searches, so a user might be getting results that aren’t seen by anyone else!
Consequently, you shouldn’t expect to see yourself in the same spot—or at all—on every search, even if you’re looking several times each day.
So . . . how do you make sure that your business is listed, and that you have a fair chance at getting displayed on a regular basis?
- For starters, you should register with the local business tools provided by Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. You should make sure that your profile is up-to-date with your business hours, the keywords that are relevant to your products or services, and the phone number where you can take customer calls. You should try to include images and videos—perhaps even YouTube videos, which are easy to create and upload and help to describe your shop. All of these things contribute to a more trustworthy profile, and they help your customers understand what you have to offer.
- Secondarily, you should submit your business to as many Yellow Pages–style directories as possible. Reviews and information from these directories often get picked up by services like Google Places, so a review in Yelp may show up on your Google pages. The added advantage of local directory submission services is that your business will get found by the users of these directories and you’ll even get phone calls and site traffic from these listings. If you’d prefer not to manually submit your business to multiple sites, Web.com provides local directory submission services.
As a caution, it’s important not to abuse local search by trying to hold more than one ranking among the top results. People who try to game the system often find all of their company listings deleted or pushed back. Some of the things that can get you into hot water include registering multiple identities for your company or soliciting or creating fake reviews in Google, Bing, Yahoo!, or phone book services.
In the past, some companies have abused local listings by getting secondary addresses at mailbox stores and post offices. In other cases, people have “hijacked” other legitimate company listings and put their own phone number and website address information into the real company’s profile. You should keep in mind that any attempt to abuse local rankings or artificially secure top spots could get all of your listings blocked.
If you want to maintain a prominent position in local search results, it pays to ask your customers to give you a review every now and then. In our own experiences, we’ve seen merchants hand out forms requesting testimonials and giving customers a list of sites to choose from. Note that not every review has to have 5 stars for your site to get more prominence. In fact, too many 5-star reviews may be an indicator of “shilling.”
Securing your position on search engines for locally based searches makes good sense right now, and it will be even more important in the future. Many of the local map results you see today are also the basis for next-generation tools like augmented reality, GPS-based advertising, and location-based search services. If you’ve seen commercials where people hold their smartphones up to a building and see virtual information, you can see where this type of directory submission is heading. For right now, being visible in local search engine results can definitely have a positive impact on your company’s revenue, so you shouldn’t ignore the potential of local search.
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