According to Google, "97 percent of consumers search for local businesses online." Are you being found?
What Is Local Search?
Local search is a specialized function of the major search engines. Studies have shown (and common sense confirms) that a customer shopping for a product or looking for a service or restaurant would like an option that is local.
These broad searches are wildly popular as users are trying to find something general or something new. They search with keywords like "pizza in Bangor," "computer repair in Burlington," "where to buy purses near Warwick" or "New Hampshire construction." The inclusion of a geographically specific keyword triggers the search engines to provide results linked to that area.
If you have a brick and mortar business, Google, Bing and Yahoo may have created a business page for you, even if you do not have a website. Make sure the information they are providing is accurate. If it is not, claim your page and correct it. Then add to your page, the more information you can provide the better.
It has been more than two years since Google started incorporating Place Pages at the top of its search results, and it is here to stay (at least long enough for you to benefit from it).
Google Places combines the organic search results and Google maps, giving you a localized search result.
In addition to an integrated local search, Bing has developed Bing Business Portal, where you can claim and manage your business page and offer customer discounts and loyalty programs.
Yahoo Local provides business owners with two options, a free basic listing or an enhanced listing for $9.95 per month. I suggest starting with the free listing that includes address, phone number and website URL, five categories, and a list of products or brands.
Citations or "mentions" of your business on other web pages, even if there is no link to your website, are cataloged by search engines and used to populate the information on your business pages. A citation may be an online yellow pages directory where your business is listed without a link. It can also be a local chamber of commerce, or a local business association where your business information can be found, even if they are not linking to your website.
Citations are a key component of the ranking algorithms of the major search engines. Other factors being equal, businesses with a greater number of citations will probably rank higher than businesses with fewer citations.
Increase your ranking by encouraging your fans and followers to write reviews on your business pages on the major search engines or on niche sites like urbanspoon.com or yelp.com.
Where to start? Try GetListed.org, this is a resource for small business owners to learn more about the way their businesses are listed online. As their mission statement says, their goal is "to help small businesses claim and enhance their listings at major search engines."
GetListed will help you claim your listings on Google, Bing, Infogroup, Yelp, Yahoo, Best of the Web, HotFrog, and YellowPages.com. They also provide an easy to follow "to do" checklist to optimize each listing and a dashboard to manage them.