Do you feel lucky?
Thomas Russell -- Casual Living, May 21, 2013
It wasn't too long ago when people used the yellow pages or the Sunday newspaper to find local home furnishings stores. Boy how times have changed.
According to Google, 97% of consumers now search for local businesses online via computers and smartphones. They are typing in phrases such as "furniture stores in Phoenix" or "patio stores in Charlotte." We're living in the era of local search, and top local market search engine rankings help businesses stay ahead of the competition.
What is local search? It's a term used for a search query using some type of geographic reference. It also applies to a search that references a product or service that is typically consumed locally, like "restaurant" or "furniture stores."
As an example, when a person Google searches "Boston furniture stores," they get a special list of area businesses with a map and contact information. Businesses on this list, known as a "7 pack," typically get the most traffic from Google.
In the era of smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices, it's critical to get on this list because it can be a huge source of customer traffic.
How do you improve your chances of landing a top spot on Google local search results? The key is local search engine optimization (SEO). This is what you do online to generate high rankings that attract a localized, targeted prospect base. Unlike traditional SEO, local SEO is built around local markets and uses keywords and practices with a geographic focus.
Local SEO is a process that just about any business with an online presence can do. It involves the following steps:
Research keywords: Free keyword research tools from Google and Wordtracker can help you find relevant keywords customers are using to search for your business. Once you identify keywords, add geographic locations to them like "San Diego furniture store."
Update website: Once you have keywords, include them in meta page titles and descriptions, the H-1 and alt tags on your website, page URLs and on page content. You'll also want to publish your business address and phone number on each page of your website. This will help Google identify the location of your business. Also, eliminate any technical issues on your website that could affect rankings. This can include duplicate content and various page errors. Use Google's free Webmaster Tools to find problems.
Claim local search profiles: Google and other directories have profiles for local businesses. Google uses them to provide customers with basic information about businesses. The top profiles are Google+ Local, Bing Business Portal, Yelp and Yahoo Local. Sometimes the local search profiles are already created. In some cases, you'll have to create one from scratch. The important thing is to claim ownership of these profiles so you can optimize them for high local search rankings.
Optimize local search profiles: It's important to completely fill out your local search profiles, so search engines can properly rank your business. To optimize your profile, include important keywords in company descriptions and submit address and contact information exactly as it appears on your website. Google is a machine. It cannot understand that "123 N.6th St." is the same as "123 North Sixth Street." You want to be consistent when entering information.
Get local market inbound links: Google uses the number of relevant inbound links to help determine the authority of a website. More inbound links coming from other relevant websites of places located in your local community improve the chances of boosting your site's local search rankings. Work to get inbound links from other local businesses, local community groups and local news organizations.
Encourage citations: The more citations (aka reviews) that you have the better. Google uses quantity and quality of reviews as a way to rank businesses for local search. Encourage your most loyal customers to leave positive reviews on Google+ Local as well as Yelp. Don't be afraid to send an email to your top customers asking for a review. Provide them with an example review to help them with the writing process.
Following these steps will help to optimize your company's website for high Google search rankings in your local market.
It's important to note that this kind of thing takes time. You'll want to avoid any SEO companies that promise high rankings overnight. It doesn't work that way. It requires patience and dedication. If you're looking to outsource the process, find an online marketing company with a proven track record in local search engine optimization.