Local Search, a Different SEM Creature

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Greetings from Search Engine Strategies! This post is part of aimClear’s continued live blogging coverage of SES NY 2008.

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Local search has finally come into itself. There are roughly 20 million small and medium sized businesses in the U.S., and fewer than 25% have a website. Most of these companies obviously have a limited presence in a small geographically defined region. Search engines have made some major inroads in giving many of these SMEs a presence online, but there is still much room for improvement.

Not only will search provide an opportunity to all those local businesses, but so too will those with the foresight and capability to help expose those business to the internet and search. What a behemoth opportunity!

Which approach will win … the search engines’ self serve type approach, or the Yellow Pages customer relationship approach? Today’s speakers discuss some of the opportunities, and their thoughts.

Gib Olander, Director of Business Development, Localeze

Local search is about this; 67% of respondents said they prefer to make purchases in physical stores. 69% research products and features online. 58% use the internet to locate items before purchase. So local search is very very important in the purchase process!

There are some challenges from the search engines’ perspective though. Currently there are more than 16 million business in U.S., 500,000 change monthly. Another 500,ooo open and close each month. Less than 50% of these business businesses have web sites. So imagine the complexities for search engines.

Showed a Google study, of 20 links on a serps page, none went direct to a local businesses. Point taken … opportunity abounds. Sure some of the responsibility falls to the search engines, and they are trying to improve. Much of the onus as well falls to local businesses of the companies that support them.

Solution:
Create a cloud of content for each individual business location. Keep in mind that the content must answer both discovery and recovery local search queries, where;
– recovery type searches mean … searches for specific businesses
– discovery type searches mean … searches for products or services, but not the business by name
So your web site needs to contain all the related information:
a. business name
b. business address
c. business phone numbers
d. business web addresses
e. primary line of business
f. neighbourhoods services
g. payment methods accepted
h. alternate lines of business
i. secondary products/services sold
j. specific brand names
k. delivery information
and more …

Each business location should create and maintain search content clouds for organizing content for recovery and discovery searches. Not all of this is done only on the website itself … this information needs to be added to offsite and aggregation sources too, such as:
a. the search engines themselves
b. localeze
c. inforusa
d. acxiom

Much of the information of local sections of search engines comes from local information aggregators.

Benu Aggarwal, Founder & President, Milestone Internet Marketing
Is local search integrated into your overall online strategy? Here’s a quick checklist for assessing:
1. web site research, content

    – do proper keyword research to ensure that the site will have content addressing specific keywords

2. site design and programming

    – make sure address, zip codes, neighborhoods, etc. is in text, city is in image alt tags, etc.

3. pure local search engines and maps
– ensure that your site is listed on all local search engines and maps

4. IYPs

    – are you listed? Take advantage of free listings

5. business data providers

    – ensure that your information is integrated into all the business data providers and aggregators

6. local/vertical listings
7. social media, UGC, images, blogs

    – put images of local sites onsite and on images engines (eg Flickr), participate in local blogs, social media, etc.

8. online videos

    – make geographically local videos, and post them to your site and video engines

9. GeoTarget PPC

    – target geogrpahically relevant terms using ppc if the effort can be cost justified

These are the component steps to establishing a local strategy.

Chad Schott, Vice President, Business Development, Marchex, Inc.
Current internet trends:
a. communications
b. search (local)
c. commerce (ebay)
d. social networking

Local explained as the online equivalent of local newspapers, print yellow pages, community forums, spot tv, and radio.

15 million + U.S businesses, only about 1 million of which are advertising online today. Local is growing in leaps and bounds today; in 2011, local online ad spending is expected to equal all online ad spending in 2007.

Why is local search different?
a. the local consumer is fragmented and is still evolving. There is not one source of local information on the internet
b. lack of volumes has resulted in national advertisers not allocating a significant budget to local
c. small and medium size businesses lack the time to manage search marketing (71% say they would rather have a phone call than a click).

In addition:
86% of search engine users search for local products and services
92% of internet shoppers make their purchases offline

New innovations in local search:
a. pay per call
b. video ads
c. better mobile applications
d. self service tools to better manage and update organic listings

Good blogs available to further research local search:
a. blogs.kelseygroup.com
b. screenwerk.com
c. localonliner.com
d. localpoint.com

Vik Advani, Co-founder & CTO, UpNext.com
Advani believes local is different because location of the search is what matters most. The Holy Grail of Geo-targeting is knowing exactly where someone is when they’re searching, and the more specific the better.

Geo-targeting on is best done via maps. There are different levels of geo-targeting; city level, radius, custom shape. Some of the next evolutions in geo-targeting will involve evolutions/improvements in:
a. data -more information provided in terms of hours of operation, forms of payment accepted
b. maps – guiding people to the location of the actual business
c. ad targeting – serving relevant ads to those within specific geographic areas
d. awareness – creating more awareness of local for searchers, businesses, etc.

Conclusions:

Local search is becoming increasingly important, especially for small and medium sized businesses. To put this into perspective, one of the facts that was mentioned in the Q&A session that followed was that specific neighorhoods were only mentioned in 5% of search queries (based on an AOL study?), yet fully 30% of searches are thought to be local in nature. Obviously, a tremendous gap, that leads to tremendous opportunity.

Jeff Quipp is President of Search Engine People Inc..

  • Michelle Tukachinsky

    Hi… thanks for all of the great information. I am currently a piano teacher in Wellington Florida. 95 percent of new customers outside of referral come from my website strictlypiano.com. I get my business strictly from local search.

    I am currently launching an online business directory in Palm Beach County Florida which will feature videos of local businesses as well as basic listings.

    I believe that local search marketing is so significant to all businesses nowadays. If it were not for local marketing of my piano teaching business online, I would not have the thriving business that I have today.

    I think what surprises me, however, is how some local search marketing companies are charging people thousands of dollars just to submit to local directories.

    The lack of knowledge that business owners have regarding local search marketing will put money in the hands of businesses feeding off of this ignorance.

    Thanks again!!

  • donna

    how do i participate in local seach marketing in local directories