So I’ve learned a good bit about local SEO (search engine optimization). For one there are far more location-oriented searches than I had imagined and you never know which one your customers might use or where they get their information from. Fortunately it is possible to update all of these services at once, unfortunately, you can’t do it for free.
First, some basics.
Local Search v Internet Search
A general internet search is looking for information that exists on the web. Local search is different in that it describes a search looking for a physical place that actually exists on its own, outside of the internet. Things still exist outside of the internet, right? Which is an interesting challenge for search engines because these are two fundamentally different kinds of information. Fortunately google, bing and others have created ways to draw a distinction between the two. If you operate a place which exists in the real world, you need to be aware of and optimize for local searches. Depending on the nature of your organization local SEO can be more important than web search optimization.
Local Search Engines
All of the big name search engines (Google, Bing, etc) traffic in local as well as internet searches. There are a plethora of other services that have stepped up to help people find places as well. They all seem to have their own databases to keep track of your business information and serve it up to people who might be searching for you or what you do.
You might be wondering where they get this information. This is not only a good question, it is the right question. It is in the interest of a search engine to have information on what people want to find. Rather than go door to door asking for information they pull it from a source that they deem authoritative; another search database, the phone book, whatever. What matters is that you don’t have any control over it at this point or how accurate your listing is.
Managing these search listings is a matter of taking back control. Once you’ve verified that you are indeed the official representative of yourself they want you to have that control and make sure that they are giving searchers accurate info. This makes them more reliable as a search source and you more findable and credible.
The Easy Way: Use a Directory Service
There a a number of services out there (Yext, Moz Local, Placeable, Synup, to name a few) that will look up your listing and update everything for you. Thanks to internet magic these services have access to local search databases that lets them update listings en mass. Using a service like this is by far the quickest and easiest way to ensure that people looking for you see consistently accurate results no matter where they look. As you might imagine there is a fee.
I did a free search with Moz Local of the coffee shop I happen to be writing this from. Moz doesn’t list as many services as some but they hit the major ones and charge a pretty reasonable fee. That yellow button tells me that they will manage the Office’s local search listing for $84/year. Not bad.
The ‘Hard’ Way: Do it Yourself
Its not really hard, just time consuming. Each local search service will let you claim your operation’s listing and update it.
Using the Office as an example again, Moz reported that it had an incomplete listing at Bing.com. A search at Bing reveals that… Bing is confusing. While they may not have a location listing of their own, they seem to borrow liberally from Yelp and Foursquare to fill in their gaps.
While the provenance of this information is a little confusing, staring the claim process is pretty straightforward. At the bottom of this box appears a friendly link to claim this business as your own.
Each local search has the same kind of link somewhere on their listing. The verification process differs but you will either need to answer a phone call at the number they already have on file or receive a post card at the address. This process can take weeks to complete if postcard is your only option.
But its free!
Local SEO Profiles
Once you’ve started claiming listings, with a service or manually, you’ll need to think about what you are going to put up there. This is where local searches can bolster your overall search engine optimization. One of the strongest signals to search engines that you should rate highly in a search is your credibility. To judge credibility search engines look at a number of things, part of that has to do with being a physical location that is open to people finding. So they might look at your address or phone number, if they are the same across local searches. These things make you look more legitimate. Search engines like legitimate.
All local search profiles will let you supply basic location and contact info, many let you give hours of operation, descriptions, photos. Many also let your customers rate you and leave comments. All these things work together to help you if they are done well, or hurt you if they conflict.
I would start a document with the obvious contact information as well as a standard short description, and a couple photos. As you discover the need to have more material for different local search engines, add it there so you stay consistent.
Now camps can find a challenge here. It is common for camps to have a summer and winter address or for larger camping organizations to have multiple sites. For your primary listing, you need to choose one and make it your one address listed on every search engine. Multiple sites have multiple names, and should obviously be listed with their own address and contact information. If you can differentiate the name of your business office from the name of your camp enough to not be confusing then go for it. You can list multiple businesses on a local search, they just need to distinct in name, address and phone number so as to not be confusing for people or the robots that crawl the internet for search engines.
On Your Website
Your website continues to be an important part of this equation. Not only is it a place that some people will continue to come to find out where you are in the world, search engines look here for consistent contact info as well. Make sure that if you need to list multiple addresses that they are clearly delineated from each other.
A word on reviews. I had mentioned reviews above, don’t underestimate the value of a solid review. Don’t hesitate to ask for reviews periodically from people who check into your location on the services that allow checking in. These make you look more credible to everyone as long as they are reasonably recent and you can use them as customer testimony on your website or promotional materials. Consider a cheap promotion or small discount for people that leave a public review for you.