We’ve reached the midpoint of fantasy football season, and in our SEMpdx league, my team is hanging on to a playoff slot by a thread. (Yes, I am “that guy” who roots for the Patriots to get into the red zone and then stall out, just so my fantasy kicker Stephen Gostkowski gets a chance at a few more field goals.)
One of my favorite halftime interview clichés from NFL coaches is “we’ve just got to do a better job of blocking and tackling.” While that’s sometimes a euphemism for “the other team is way better than us,” in other cases the coach means his superstar team is getting sloppy and ignoring its fundamentals, costing them on the scoreboard.
Tying this analogy back to Local Search, is your business (or agency) losing rankings by getting sloppy with its Local SEO “blocking and tackling?”
A quick refresher on 10 Local fundamentals
This is a total no-brainer. It’s a chance at free exposure and by just by claiming your listing, you’ll give the search engines more trust in your business and improve your chances at ranking (not to mention prevent someone else from hijacking your listing).
Most small business owners have heard of Google, Yahoo, and Bing—even with the recent name change. But a tiny percentage of them (and even a tiny percentage of search marketers) know about the “other” Big Three in Local Search—Localeze, infoUSA, and Acxiom. These guys each have their own databases which form the foundation of the search engines’ Local indexes and of a variety of second-tier portals as well. They’re basically the backbone of the entire local search ecosystem.
Acxiom is the only one of the three which doesn’t have an online submission area; the only way in that I’m currently aware of is via Universal Business Listing.
3. Put yourself in the right categories.
One of the main reasons to go through the steps above is to make sure that your business is listed in the right category—which plays a central role in your business’s ability to show up for your target searches. Sometimes there’s been a mis-entered keystroke or an incorrect mapping from one of the data providers to one of the search engines, and claiming and updating your listing is your chance to correct it.
4. Make sure your business information is consistent.
Google especially likes to see business information match up across the web, because it increases their confidence that their algorithm is returning a relevant, accurate result. This means no keyword stuffing in your business title, either at Google or at the other data providers, and making sure that your phone number and address information matches up everywhere your business is mentioned—the main reason I advised against call-tracking numbers in last month’s column.
If you’re a small business owner, starting with this step, this is probably where you’re going to need the help of a developer or a Local SEO company to actually implement these recommendations.
It’s absolutely essential that the search engines are able to see your business’s Name, Address, and Phone number (a.k.a. “NAP”—a great acronym from Localeze’s Gib Olander) when they crawl your website. If that information is contained a fancy font or in a header image, they’re not going to be able to find it. So make sure it’s in basic HTML, at the very least, and if you want a few brownie points, use the hCard microformat.
6. Create a KML file and upload it to Google Webmaster Central.
Most SEO companies are familiar with XML sitemaps. Well, think of a KML file as a “location map.” It’s a specialized file format that includes the latitude and longitude coordinates of the physical business locations listed on a particular website and gives them one more confidence boost in the location of a particular business. Dutch SEO Martijn Beijk has written an excellent KML tutorial to help those for whom this is a fresh concept.
7. Use your official business name in the title tag of your contact or location page.
This recommendation is kind of a new “blocking and tackling” technique that I’ve advised after reading some of Mike Blumenthal’s discussion of the Google Maps patent and hearing him present on it at SMX East last month. Bill Slawski mentioned this as a Local Search strategy (way back in 2006!) but it took Mike’s presentation to hammer it home for me.
Essentially by doing this you make sure Google assigns your website as an “authority document” for Location Prominence.
8. Use geographic keywords in your title tags.
This is more of a generalized recommendation: make sure that you include your city and state in the title tag of your contact or location page, and if you’re in widget sales, use words like “CityName Widgets” or “Widgets in CityName” on assorted other title tags on your website.
9. Make sure you have Analytics installed on your website.
Think of analytics as equivalent to watching game film in football. If you want to know how your team is performing, you need to revisit how you’ve done in previous games. Analytics can give you great insight into which keywords are bringing traffic to your website, and what pages are engaging your users and leading to new business.
If you’re partial to Google Analytics, check out this excellent post series from SEOverflow on how to track clickthroughs from the 7-pack (i.e. the Maps results shown as part of Universal search).
10. Scout the opposition to see what your high-ranking competitors are up to.
Take a look at both the Organic AND the Local search results for some of your target phrases. What competitors are showing up? Use tools like Linkscape or Yahoo Site Explorer to see if there are particular websites linking to them and not you. Google is now displaying categories publicly as part of Place Pages. See how they’re listing themselves and ask yourself if there’s anything you can learn from that. While you’re there, check out their “Web Pages” area, too, to see if there are any obvious citations you’re missing. Are they accumulating user reviews on certain portals where your company isn’t as active?
While these fundamentals might not be as sexy as Twitter or as inspirational as linkbait, they’re tried-and-true methods that are sure to help your business rank better in the search engines and ultimately bring in more business.
All right, team, bring it in. Let’s go get ‘em—”Local Search” on three!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.