From marketers to Wall Street analysts to the Department of Justice, everyone (even the general public) recognizes that Google is the 800-pound gorilla in the world of search. And particularly with the introduction of the generic 10-pack to Universal results, this fact largely holds true in Local Search as well. Google Maps has pulled even with Mapquest thanks largely to this decision by the higher-ups in Mountain View.
There’s tremendous value for small businesses in optimizing for Google’s Universal results, as Hanan Lifshitz pointed out last week. It’s hard not to imagine that small business owner grabbing the lion’s share of chiropractic searchers in his region, thanks to the efforts of Will Scott’s Search Influence firm.
But no matter your industry, when it comes to Local, it’s absolutely critical to think beyond Google, even if all you’re trying to do is optimize for the 10-pack.
The importance of citations for Google Maps
One of the pathways to “Local Organic Domination,” as Hanan termed it, is through the acquisition of citations. Citations are just mentions of your business name in close proximity to your address or phone number, with or without a link to your website. Think of them like votes of confidence for a particular business’slocation…the more confidence Google has in your listing, the higher they’re likely to display it in search results. So it’s important to list yourself fully and accurately in as many places across the web as possible, including blogs about your city or industry.
Bottom line, it’s hard to rank in Google Maps (and consequently Universal Search) without paying significant attention to how your business is listed across the web, not just on Google.
“Other” local search
One of Gib Olander’s favorite lines is: ” ‘other’ is the third-largest local search engine.” What he means is that local search is far more fragmented than traditional organic search. Unlike traditional search, if you’re only paying attention to getting your business on Google and Yahoo, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of local market share.
While the demise of the Print Yellow Pages seems imminent, Internet Yellow Pages sites are far healthier, and some are even thriving. YellowPages.com’s ad partnership with Bing is just one example…at least if Bing can continue to capitalize on its current hype. Superpages.com has long been a trusted source of data with its own steady traffic stream, and more recent entrants like InsiderPages and Yellowbot are starting to develop passionate user bases.
Then there’s the online classified market. Craigslist is the default place to look for local ‘stuff” here on the West Coast, not to mention other major players like Oodle and Kijiji.
Vertical local search
Success in local also means promoting your presence on sites with strong market shares of their own in particular industries. This doesn’t mean only ranking well, but paying attention to what people are saying about you, responding to their feedback, and improving their perceptions.
For example, sites like TripAdvisor and Kayak are huge in the travel industry. Restauranteurs might even think about places like Yelp, BooRah, or Urban Spoon before thinking about Google. For chiropractors like Will’s client, these might include Planet Chiropractic and No More Clipboard. For searches near and dear to my heart, [golf courses] – it’s portals like Golf Digest and GolfNow.
(Incidentally, almost all of these sites make excellent citations for your Google Maps listing…)
Social local search
Many of the sites mentioned above, and even Google and Yahoo, straddle the line between social media and search due to the prominence of reviews in their users’ experience. But local “searchers” are often turning to purely social sites like Twitter, Praized, and RetailMeNot as well for recommendations and sale information about Local businesses. And as we all learned from Dave Carroll’s brilliant lampoon of United Airlines last week, word-of-mouth can sometimes be more powerful than any search marketing campaign could be.
Local search traffic is only going to grow in importance. So don’t “put your blinkers on” as Nick Faldo loves to say (indulge me…this is Open Championship week, after all) and focus all of your energies on Google. Your long-term chances for a successful online presence will suffer if you do.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.