Local search is currently been taken very seriously by the major search engines.
Google, Yahoo & Windows Live each have special Local search listing platforms for businesses that target specific locales. Here is an overview of each of them.
Google released its Local Business Center back in 2007 and has been adding new features to it like, the ability to upload photos, pop-up info windows via its maps interface, reporting capabilities and its integration with Google AdWords via Local Business Ads. It’s the most sophisticated and easiest to manage of all three local listing platforms. Unlike the other two platforms, its listings are better centrally managed and cover a lot more countries. It is also likely to generate the most traffic to your website due to Google’s new feature of including local search results in searches without specifying a location .
Yahoo Local (USA) works much the same way as Google Local but its free basic listing interface at the moment does not have extras like photo uploads and stats reporting capabilities that Google Local & Windows Live Local offer for free. You would need to pay for extras like including your Company logo, adding photos and adding a detailed business description (which I think is a shame).
It’s free basic listing still captures and displays information most important to your business like phone numbers, address, your website address, opening hours and many more fields. It is like Google, tightly integrated with Yahoo maps.
UK readers: note that at the moment UK & Ireland Yahoo Local is powered by Infoserve. So you would need to have your business listed on Infoserve first.
Windows Live Local
When Windows Live Local was launched back in 2005 (as MSN Local Search), its results were powered by Localeze, a local business directory. But in 2008, Live Search Local Listing Center was introduced in a bid to compete with Google Local and Yahoo Local. Photo uploads are allowed and like Yahoo and Google, Live Local has tight integration with the Live Maps interface. And with a Window Live id, you can manage your business local listings.
UK readers: please note that the Windows Live Maps interface is actually Multimaps (which is owned by Microsoft) and that Live Local Listing Center does not support listing UK businesses at the moment (which is a real shame). To have your business listed on Multmaps, use this form provided by Market Location who provide Multimaps with business listing data. It’s all very confusing at the moment, because Multimap local results differ from Live local search results and as a representative from Multimap explained to me, ‘a lot of changes are going on at the moment’. Fro example, look at the results of a search for ‘estate agents in Oxford’ on Live Local and on Multimap. Microsoft – please sort yourselves out!
So Why Should You List Your Business on Local Search?
Well the simple answer is that it is probably the simplest and cheapest way of getting your site listed on page one on each of the 3 major search engines at the moment. Local search results tend to be placed above organic search results. A well optimised local listing would add immediate value to your business’s exposure online, particularly if you target a local audience.
I was approached by a local estate agent in Oxford early this year and was asked why they didn’t seem to rank on Google for the search term “oxford lettings agents” and I explained to them that it was because their site was not organically optimised, they were not advertising via Google AdWords for the search phrase and they did not have a Google Local Business Center listing. The quick win for me was to get them up on Google Local. I optimised the campaign with all the necessary keywords and they started to rank above highly SEO optimised websites for the search phrase “oxford lettings agents” as well as other relevant search phrases.
Feedback from your local search listings can actually drive your Paid and Organic search campaign.
And the Drawbacks?
Unlike Paid Search campaigns, nothing is guaranteed in Local search. Optimisation involves including the most relevant keywords to your business listings. And you have to be spot on about this or face the risk of losing out on potential business.
- Local Search is a good starting point if you are on a limited budget and need to get some exposure.
- Even if you have a budget for Paid Search and Organic Search, it would add more value gaining exposure on local search listings
- Use a unique traceable phone number on your local search listings to track their performance. I recommend using a Skype to get an online number that can be forwarded to your office line. Skype provides a web interface for tracking all inbound calls.
- Local search listings can be optimised, so if your current listings are not yielding your desired results, you can always shuffle things a bit by updating your listing.
- Hire an Local SEO expert to help you do some keyword research and properly list your business info on each of the local business listing sites (Google Local in particular).
- Remember not every SEO expert knows Local SEO – they are two different beasts