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Use Products As Pawns To Win The Local SEO Chess Game
In the competition to rank highest in local search results, you must employ a number of tactics in coordination. It’s not unlike playing a chess game. However, many businesses have yet to bring all their chess pieces into play on the board.
There are many types of products which consumers typically seek out in local brick-and-mortar stores. If you operate such a store, you’re fortunate if your business category shares the product name, since Google’s and Bing’s local search results tend to bias a lot toward business category names.
But, in many cases stores carry a great many different products and brands which are not reflected in their business categories or the business name. In these scenarios, you need to optimize for products in your local SEO strategy.
It’s surprising that Google and Bing don’t move further forward in evolving local search to incorporate product information in a more overt way. This sort of search has been around for years — quite a few specialized shopping engines have built this capability over time, such as Milo (owned by eBay), Krillion (owned by Local.com), Goodzer and TheFind. Even Yext is incorporating inventory.
Google has an “In stock nearby” search filter feature within their Shopping Search, but it’s extremely poor — I can only get it to provide results for a few product searches. Most consumers would miss it completely.
Bing search engine made an agreement late last year with Local.com’s Krillion to display local products in search results, but these may not be incorporated yet — I couldn’t invoke local products in their SERPs while writing this article.
Even though the major search engines have rather neglected local product search, consumers commonly conduct searches for specific products all the time. A recent survey found that 45% of consumers search to find out the availability of products at local stores.
Don’t Leave Your Troops Off The Battleground
This is why it’s so confounding that many retailers fail to optimize around their products! By so doing, they’re leaving the bulk of their troops off of the battleground. Merely optimizing to rank for your business category in your local area is insufficient, but many businesses stop there.
Consider how many top business categories are associated with product search keywords. People may search for [lawn mowers], while businesses that carry them are categorized under names like [Lawn & Garden Equipment]. People may search for [HDTVs] or [refrigerators], but the businesses that carry them are known as [Electronics Stores] or [Appliance Dealers]. People may search for [recliners] or [mattresses], but those are found at businesses categorized under [Furniture Stores] in Google.
If you compare search volumes in Google Trends, you can see that in some cases product name searches exceed the searches for the type of business. According to the theory of the Long Tail where keyword search is involved, it’s likely that the cumulative quantity of all product name searches far outstrips the quantity of searches for the business types.
This is why optimizing for product names is so vital. You might currently be losing the battle in terms of rankings by business category name searches, but you could potentially still win the war if you rank well for many of the product name searches for your area!
Here are some key tips for optimizing your product names for local search:
• Create Optimized Product Pages
Create a page on your website for every product you carry. For some types of product searches with local intent, search engines may be more likely to display a page from your site if it specifically matches the searcher’s apparent intent. If you merely list the product names in a bullet list at the bottom of an overall Products We Carry page on your site, this won’t be considered nearly as relevant as a page devoted to the particular product.
You may need to create a different page for each brand and product combination. For instance, instead of merely posting a page for Flat Screen TVs, create a page for each brand of flat screen you carry and perhaps for each model, as well.
If you have a large number of different types of products, you’ll need to build out some hierarchical structure in your website to make click navigation simpler for users, and to effectively trickle down PageRank and keyword associations through a solid link structure.
For larger sites with many product pages, it’s a good idea to create a Sitemap for search engines.
• Make Use Of Optimized Visual Content
Always, always, always include photos! In general, you should already be leveraging the power of images in optimizing for local, but images are absolutely vital where product search is concerned.
Search engines will downgrade your product pages if they don’t sport good-sized product photos. Consumers want to see images that immediately telegraph that the page represents the product they’re seeking, or they will bail out. Due to this fact of life, the search engine algorithms deem product images to be table-stakes for appearing prominently in SERPs.
There are a number of details for optimizing photos for search benefit, and for associating location with images. At the most basic level, optimal images on web pages should be original, should have keywords incorporated in filenames, should have IMG tags that include an ALT parameter that contains the product name, and should perhaps also have text captions that convey the product name, as well.
On index pages and product category pages, product thumbnail images should have these features as well, in addition to being linked to the product page they represent.
• Encourage Detailed Reviews
Encourage customers that review your company to mention specific products in their reviews. “This is such a great store!” is terribly generic for this purpose; more helpful would be a review like the following: “I loved the Hamilton Beach Toastation 2 Toaster Oven I bought here, and I appreciated the extended warranty option!”
When you have a client that is particularly pleased by your company, you can ask them to review you and mention the product they bought. Likewise, if you have a customer email list, you can remind customers to review you in various business directories, and suggest they mention specifics.
• Optimize Your Google Places Listing For Products
Of course, be sure to list your top products in your Google Places listing.
• Create Products Videos
Make a video for each of your top products! You could host these on your website and use a video Sitemap with them, although I think it can work better to host these in your YouTube account and simply embed them — this rapidly gives you presence within YouTube search and Video Search, too, while also conveying excellent keyword signals for your site and business if you do it right.
• Utilize Google Product Listing Ads
If you sell these products online in addition to your brick-and-mortar store, advertise them via Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs). Research has shown that companies appearing in both the organic search results as well as the paid listings for the same keyword searches tend to gain a synergetic advantage, enjoying a higher overall click-through rate than if they only appeared in one or the other.
For some types of product name searches, Google will invoke the product ads, which will frequently be at the top of the search results where they are highly visible. There may be indirect relevancy advantages to appearing in the paid search results, too — if the synergetic effect improves CTR on organic listings, there may be some bump in relevancy and rankings determinations, as well, over time.
• Optimize Your Directory Profiles
It is difficult to test and isolate, but I suspect that mentions of product keywords associated with citations could very well be an influential factor.
It makes obvious sense to mention your products in online directory profiles, of course — I mentioned that years ago in my “Anatomy & Optimization of a Local Business Profile” piece. However, you’ll find that many directories do not provide fields for listing out all of your product names in any sort of comprehensive manner if you have numerous products and brands.
As such, it makes sense to incorporate product mentions in your social media and content strategies where your local citation is already associated — either by being implied as the owner/identity of the social media account, or by directly reiterating your citational information.
• Sync Your Inventory Database
For those companies that simultaneously sell products in local stores as well as online, a fantastic optimization would be to list the local outlets that have the product in inventory — on the product information page itself. In this way, each of your e-commerce inventory pages can serve to provide your local outlets with a citation associated with the product keywords.
Obviously, this particular optimization carries potential complexities with it — you’d likely need a service-oriented architecture for your inventory control database, and if you have dozens of outlets, there would be significant challenges in how you’d display store locations on the page without overwhelming it for users.
• Don’t Forget About Mobile!
Ensuring your site is mobile-friendly could also convey additional advantage, since consumers will call up information pages about products while out shopping for them — it makes a great impression if yours is the site that they refer to as a knowledgeable source.
• Make Product Assets Available
PDFs of product specification sheets and user manuals can provide yet more juice, particularly if the documents are optimized a bit, as well.
National Brands Should Still Invest In Product Optimization At The Local Level
National brand name manufacturers often have a role in the local optimization for their products, as well, and it really behooves these companies to perform local SEO for their many dealers.
The primary way this is accomplished is through delivering up a well-optimized dealer-locator section on their corporate website. Dealer-locator sections ought to list out all businesses of local providers that carry the products, and these listings can help provide contextual product mentions with the local citations. Each listing should include the Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) at a minimum, although it’s also beneficial for them to be associated with Maps, which are fairly standard features on dealer locator sections.
National brand name companies get Local SEO bonus points for their retailers if they also work upon providing databases of their carriers directly to business directories and local search engines — this can help in optimizing those business profiles and listings if official dealer badges or brand names are featured on the profiles and listings. Even more bonus points for integrating your local sales inventory information with Milo and Krillion.
The more products you carry, the more information you should be crafting around your business. Incorporating content to target the product names and brand names will enable your business to appear more frequently in local search results, particularly if the major search engines proceed to better providing local product search.
In the meantime, regular keyword search and local search both present web pages and businesses that are associated with product keywords, so take advantage of this fact to increase your visibility for more searches with local intent. Deploy your full army in the local SEO game by turning every one of your product names into chess pieces working for you.
(Modified Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.