Local search marketing experts have long recommended that businesses improve their online presence by optimizing profiles in online yellow pages (IYPs) and local search engines. After accomplishing that, there still remains a lot of small, local “constellations” of geographically-oriented sites where companies should seek to maximize their presence as the next stage in their local SEO. Newspaper sites are pretty much at the top of the list following IYPs, so here are three ways that one can engage with them and optimize for search.
Local search engine optimization experts encourage businesses to update and improve their listings and profiles in the major internet sites because those sites are some of the top places where consumers look to find local information, and because the search engines also feed off of those sources as authoritative hubs for local biz data. This is why you’ll see experts like Andrew Shotland tracking and reporting on the top IYPs based on SEO factors, and why David Mihm’s important Local Search Ranking Factors survey shows how seriously we consider references from IYPs and which ones are the most important.
However, as Justin Sanger, founder of LocalLaunch, has pointed out in numerous local search marketing tactics sessions at major conferences, when we refer to local information sources online, “…local is extremely fragmented…”. When consumers seek locally-specific information, they’re now going to a plethora of sources online—review sites, local guides, yellow pages, local search, maps and also (despite many reports of their imminent deaths) newspapers.
If you’re looking to kick up your game in local search optimization another notch, you not only need to optimize in IYPs, but you need to optimize in many of the other sites where people are going to get their local information. And yes, that means newspapers!
I refer to the fragmented sources for local content as a “constellation” of sites, but I should perhaps use “local solar system,” because each geographic location can be visualized as a sort of star, having a number of sites and web pages revolving about it. In Google’s eyes, if your site is going to rank well for locally-specific searches for your area, there should ideally be a number of the sites in your local “solar system” which are mentioning you and linking to you as you are within the same gravitational pull as the rest of the group.
Most of the rhetoric you’ll find on the internet regarding newspapers and online news are discussing how traditional newspapers are failing at transitioning to online business models—for example, see John Keister’s Search Engine Land commentary “Can Newspapers Be Saved?” if you want a quickie recap. Yet, newspapers and their online versions are still used by a lot of people as a source for locally-specific content, and their pages frequently may be found indexed by Google and appear in news search and blog search results. Newspapers companies may founder, but that content is going to live on through search and the internet, long term, one way or another.
Search engines consider news and newspaper sites to be important and highly trustworthy, even if newspaper websites’ track records have been very poor in terms of crawlability and search optimization. Links & citations from newspaper sites and local news sites are valuable, and as newspapers syndicate their content to partners and step up their games in search marketing, those links will grow in marketing value for local businesses.
Technical savviness of newspaper sites varies considerably from city to city and region to region. Some are more worthwhile for you if you’re optimizing for your local business website. Some of the better ones have constructed their sites to be crawled and easily indexed by Google, while others are whining about the new business paradigm or actively trying to fight against the modern age.
Even if your town’s local newspaper site is highly non-optimal from an SEO standpoint, I’d still advise that you attempt to optimize with it to some degree as I’ve outlined below. Just because the newspaper site may be a crappy online channel today, doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. Many sites are just one good developer away from having a database full of old news stories suddenly visible, ranking and spewing out RSS feeds through search engines tomorrow!
Among the types of sites which Google treats favorably include blogs, news, newspapers, and microblogging sites. There is a lot of research out there which shows that having links from such sites may continue to be very helpful in terms of your site’s rankings against competitors. Google’s recent testing of their next-generation search engine version, Caffeine, may also indicate that they perceive highly fresh news content and blogging content such as from microblogging site Twitter to be highly valuable. Google takes links from these types of sites and treats them as more trustworthy signals of a site’s relative popularity. One good link within a news story or blog post can be worth more than the sum of hundreds of low-quality links elsewhere.
And remember, links are not the only currency in ranking value for local search. As David Mihm outlines, citations may also be used as a major ranking factor. A citation can be when a business is referred to by name in text, without a link at all.
As such, Google may take either links or citations as an endorsement on the part of the author of a news story or blog post. Achieving either a citation or a link from a trusted site such as an online newspaper can help you to further pump up your local business’s rankings in both Google Maps results, and in the regular search results. Here’s how.
Three ways to optimize a business for local search via newspapers
Get listed in the classifieds! Most newspapers were quick to create an online version of their classified ads when they opened their internet arm, and these are frequently very easy to appear in. Some even provide free listings, requiring you to pay extra for “premium” features. These may be worth the advertising fee if they’re cheap enough, friendly enough for search engine spiders and popular enough to be sought out by local consumers. Many newspapers may outsource the hosting of their classified functionality, and this can sometimes be indicated by the use of a different third-level domain. For instance, Alexandria, Louisiana’s newspaper, The Town Talk, has “classifieds.thetowntalk.com,” which appears to be operated by Gannett’s USAToday. When showing up in the classifieds, be aware that ads frequently expire within a short period of time, so do yourself a favor by setting the ad to automatically renew if the site allows. Don’t forget to add links, pics and video to classified ads if you’re able!
Expand your listing/profile in the newspaper’s yellow pages. It isn’t intuitive, but a lot of newspapers have their own, proprietary yellow pages directories on their websites, and all the same, great business profile optimization tactics apply here. Just as with classifieds, some newspaper sites outsource the development and hosting of their online yellow pages, such as the El Paso Times, which appears to be using Local.com‘s yellow pages on the back end (see the listings for Plumbers, for example). In these cases, you may have to go directly to the parent yellow pages site, such as directly to Local.com, in order to optimize the business profile information.
Pitch stories and content about your business to local news reporters. Remember, your business may be one that reporters find interesting and newsworthy. This may be the most important tip of all, because it’s those highly-valuable links and citations that appear within the body of articles can often help your rankings the most. Here’s where traditional media relations and internet search optimization can converge. There are many ways that you can grab the attention of journalists and bloggers, and doing so can nab you some of your best links. Consider how your business might be interesting to a local reporter, and pitch your concept to them!
Come up with a media attention-grabbing stunt or hop on a media feeding frenzy by engineering some sort of response to current news items. Offer free quotes on contemporary “hot” news items as an expert commentator, and develop relationships with local reporters. One great source on how to do this is Jeff Crilley’s “Free Publicity” book which has really helped me ever since a friend gave me a copy. Get on a mailing list, such as through Peter Shankman’s HARO (Help A Reporter Out), and there are other sites where you can register to provide reporters with your expert “sourciness.”
Another tactic is to provide free content to journalists in return for a link, a tactic I outlined in a blog post, Why Free Photos = Good SEO. Using these tactics, I’ve personally gotten mentions and links from USAToday, InformationWeek, Pegasus News, the Temple Daily Telegram, and other news sites.
By using these three main avenues of increasing your presence in local news sites, you can further improve upon your local ranking “signal” with Google and other search engines. When selecting your news site, go for all the online equivalents of the local newspapers for your area, and don’t give up if you don’t see some sort of dramatic, overnight change. Consistency over the long term will give your work more opportunity to have an effect, and can help build your stature as a site and company that merits good ranking treatment for local searches.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.