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1st Pillar of Local SEO for Lawyers – Building Citations and Profiles

Local Listings

Each of the major search engines have a different philosophy under local ranking, but there is one major common similarity among all three. They started their business ranking websites, now the search engines have the power to rank which businesses the general population chooses to do business with.

With the introduction of integrated results on Google’s main search engine results page showed different types of results from the traditional organic listings and PPC.  These integrated results included different rich media such as images and videos, included news and social media tweets.

According the Kelsey Group, 43% of ALL searches included a geo-mod on the mainstream search page.  Geo-mod is a geographical modifier that dictates to a search engine where to conduct a geographical search.   However, this is likely going to decrease as the search engines become smarter about assuming the location and educating users that they do not require a geo-mod with their search to get local results.

Local On-The-Page Factors

As mentioned when I am talking about on the page factors for local business I am not referencing your website and you should follow all the standard principles taught in white hat search engine optimization for organic results. Because we are talking about local businesses here, you should by default  have the address of the business on the appropriate pages of that local businesses website. You might have location pages and you might have contact us pages and your name address and phone number should appear on these pages.  We call this our NAP, short for Name, Address and Phone number.  More on that later.

So we’re talking about the places page in the local business center of a search engine.

Because the places page is typically created before it is attached to the businesses Google account, a local business must claim that listing as their own and verify that they in fact are the owner of that listing.

In the local on the page factors video I am going to be covering several of the factors that need to be considered when claiming, creating or completing a business listing profile page within one of the search engines listings.

Types and Location of Results

Since location is an extremely important part of the local business, location is a main factor in determining these results and there are many triggers such as a geo-mod or physical GPS location of the searcher to determine the local results. We need to further understand the triggers.

The location of the local business results varies . Since the introduction into mainstream results in 2009 we have seen a tremendous amount of variation on the placement of the local business results for both when a geo-mod is used and when a geo-mod is not used. This has made it a very difficult process to pinpoint and accurately teach exactly what factors are involved in the placement of the local business results.

It is clear however that the local business results when triggered always are placed above the  fold and almost always show at the very top when a geo-mod is used.  When considering the blended organic results this is not always true.  As of December 2011 all three major search engines are still providing a variety of results for similar searches with different geo-mods. Let’s take a look.

We are seeing three types of results in all three of these searches.

  1. Organic
  2. Local – Blended (Blended Local / Organic)
  3. Local – Pack (Local Pack)

This is still a major problem for all search engines today. The problem becomes that a search engine is a single tool for practically an infinite number of different types of people.  Each individual might have a different objective when trying to search in a single platform.

Understanding individual needs helps the search engine personalize results. In order to maximize the businesses exposure, a combination of a well-designed website and stable online profiles is required in order to achieve success online.

Local Search Results Triggers

With the introduction of integrated results on Google’s main SERP, Google was showing different types of results from the traditional organic listings and PPC.  These integrated results included different rich media such as images and videos, included news and social media tweets.

Let me demonstrate.  Okay, a search for Barack Obama gives us 3 recent News stories, Obama’s website, Wikipedia, live twitter feed,  youtube videos, 3 sponsored links, social media profiles, listing of books, images, related searches and now links to more on each of these subjects.

A search for McDonalds gives us the main link, corporate head office, nutritional facts, a Wikipedia entry, news results and a MAP with the three closes locations.

So the question is how does Google know where I’m located to give me locations of McDonald’s close to me?

Let’s try another search and include a term to tell Google to find me and McDonald’s close to my physical location.  Try [McDonalds in Algonquin].

Now we get very different results. The map result is right at the top and we only have two results this time in the map. The third result is a directory for the county. The following result is the head office company that runs the local McDonald’s and then it is McDonald’s corporate office. Next we find some directory information that includes some review information as well as some obscure result for the McDonald’s campus in Oak Brook since McDonald’s head office is just down the street from us.

The point that we’re trying to identify here is that there are certain triggers that tell Google what type of results to display. Whether it be the news or images the Google local map is just another factor in Google’s integrated results home page

Well since Google places is a place for businesses to list themselves whether they have a website or not on the Internet, Google basically has to decide if the search phrase being used is looking for a business close to a specific location. This means that there are certain search phrases that trigger the results with a map and other search phrases that don’t.

A geo-mod can be any term that signifies a geographical location, such as a city, town, village, airport code, zip code, postal code, local jargon, state, country, county among many other terms. Obviously when a searcher uses a geo-mod it is fairly clear cut that a searcher is looking for local information and enhance like Google gave me the locations of McDonald’s first when I included a geo-mod.

But the question becomes what triggers the local business results to come up when we do not include a geo-mod and how does the search engine know where I’m located.

Obviously, when I’m searching from a smart phone most users have their location on and therefore a search engine knows exactly where I’m located. This becomes a little bit more of a challenge with a PC. Your location is typically based on the IP address of your Internet service provider and this poses to be a big problem for a lot of Internet users, such as AOL users because they are always located in California, according to Google and their IP address.

These methods to fine location include IP address, GPS location, cellular triangulation and user input.

The bottom line is that a geo-mod will almost always trigger the local business results and Google is consistently tweaking their algorithm along with personalized search to make their best attempts at trying to determine if that individual searcher is looking for information that has to do with a local establishment.

I also want to point out that many experts claim attaching a website to your places pages helps your rankings on the local business results.  I will challenge that claim for the present with many different scenarios, however I am predicting that this in fact will be a factor in the future, it only makes sense.

Local Search Engines

It all depends on whom you are talking to but there is a variety of different local search engines out there.  Some people argue that a local yellow page website is a local search engine. A local social network can be considered in the local search umbrella. Let’s clarify.

Essentially, we are dealing with data providers, search engines, review sites, local directories and local social networks.  Refer to the document titled Client_Inventoy_Assets.xlsx for a complete list of these sites.

Here is a list of local search engines.

  • Google places
  • Yahoo Local
  • Ask City
  • Bing Local
  • com
  • AOL Local
  • Citysearch

 

Between Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, they hold over 90% of the market and therefore these are the three we are going to be looking at today.

Local Search Engines & Popular Local Search Listings

Getting a business listed is easy, all you have to do is decide where you want to begin.  Just navigate to http://bit.ly/lmsplacesto find links on how to claim listings for each of the three major search engines.

Claiming and Correcting Listings

Unfortunately, not all business owners have come to the realization that they do not have to passively let these interactive web pages exist.  There are those business owners that have caught on quickly if they claim and update their local business listing, they can use this as a local marketing tool.

In order to make these interactive pages a benefit for a local business, the first step is to claim the listing before you can update the listing with the business marketing material.  There are typically four methods being employed to verify the authenticity of the claimant

  1. E-Mail
  2. Postcard in the mail with a Pin code
  3. Phone call to your business phone number with a pin code
  4. Manual verification

 

Depending upon the local listing website, some allow you all of these options while others begin charging a fee for enhanced listing. Recently we have seen the search engines restricting how easy it is to claim a particular listing. In fact, we are seeing the majority of listings only able to be verified via a phone call or snail mail, such is the case with Google, unless there is an abundance of existing trust for that business.

The claiming process is important because if say a competitor gets access to the local business listing they can detract customers to a different location by phone or by website address. In addition, the damage that can be done might include incorrect information on photos, videos, coupons, and much more.  Because consumers are using the local business listings to locate a business, product or service in their area, by phone or website, the security around  local business listings has to be high priority for any local listing website. If you are having problems in this area, links to help are found at http://bit.ly/lmsplaces.

Ranking Methodology

Our ranking methodology is very simple.

Qualified traffic + Conversion = Sales.

The goal of marketing a business on the Internet is to provide your clearly defined target audience with a high impact, high value interactive experience.

While this is simple, it is not easy. We do this by creating effective transparency for the business and exposing the business in the appropriate areas of the Internet that their target audience is hanging out.

Therefore, whether we consider search engine optimization, paid advertising, e-mail marketing or social media marketing, the goal essentially remains the same and the goal’s answer lies in your marketing principles. Online Marketing efforts should provide your target audience with a high impact, high value experience while they’re spending their time online considering the business in question.

This is fairly simple to accomplish, just not easy. We accomplish this goal by providing high-quality effective transparency and exposure of the business online. For example, having a testimonial video and uploading to YouTube and embedding that video into your blog and sending people from your e-mail list to your blog is creating that exposure a business requires. The greater the exposure, the greater the quality, the greater authority a search engine will assign to that business and in turn provide greater exposure on their search engine.

We focus 80% of our efforts on 20% of the activities that yield 80% of the results.

It is nearly impossible for anybody to know all the factors that are involved in ranking. We can only determine these factors are trial and error and testing and of course learning from others. The bottom line is that all the search engines want to see value added to the end-user.

Local on-the-Page Factors for the Website

At first I’m going to talk about the local on the page factors that are relevant for the business website itself. You must not forget about those other organic SEO factors and they must all be properly implemented in addition to some of these am going to discuss right now.

These factors are exclusive to a website for a local business. First let’s take a look at location pages. A local business might have several different locations in a specific geographical area. This geographical area might be regional with several states or just within a specific province or state, country or even within a city or suburb. Here were talking about locations that are only relevant for the audience that the business is trying to attract, a warehouse that is never mentioned in typical marketing material does not apply here.

Location pages should be well-defined location pages and have the appropriate geo-mod keywords in the content. This means writing content that is relevant, informative and entertaining for potential customers for the business website. You can further connect with the audience by creating content that discusses the geographical location and local jargon of the area.

This leads me to Geo content. The entire website should have content that is focused around the geographical location as discussed in the organic search results section this information should appropriately fit in to key information such as the title tag, each one and H2 tags, and the anchor text for internal linking within the website.

The entire theme should have Geo intent. When considering topics such as your community, you can create communal of fact by having a common interest of a certain geographical location. Your web 2.0 properties on the website are going to focus on an audience within your service area.

All of your audience messaging on the website is focused around all of the common interests of the audience or potential customers you are trying to reach. Within that geographical area there are many common interests that can be discussed and provided to your audience to interact with. Think of local events, local organizations or businesses, history or local industry.

All of your images should be properly tagged for location and include the geographical location in the Alton information of the title tag for the image.

Your internal linking structure doesn’t change too much except for the addition of location pages. All of your products and services pages should have links with the appropriate anchor text linking to all of your location pages. All of your location pages should have links going to all of your service pages with the appropriate anchor text and the geo-mod located around or within the links.

A Review can contain a several different properties which you can label in the HTML code using microdata, microformats, or RDFamarkups. Google recognizes the following Review properties, derived from the hReviewmicroformat. This is when you get a testimonial from a customer and you want to display it on your webpage.  In Google Webmaster tools search for review data to get specific coding requirements.

Profile Listings & Best Practices

If you visit a site, visit www.getlisted.org, this has a simple little tool in its collecting all which listings on which search engine is claimed and provide links to go ahead and claim the listings.

It is important that your profile is completed 100% or as close to it as possible. When filling out information for any of the fields, your information should be unique and very focused on the customer. Your description should use the entire available space to properly describe the business is in your unique competitive advantage. Remember, always talk about benefits and not features.  Remember that search engines read content and tie it to your keywords. Keywords are typically words or phrases that are driven by consumer market demand and in turn, by using the greatest number of searched keywords and placing that in your description, you are merely providing great content to the end-user where a majority of users would use those keywords.

There is the debate on addresses, whether they should be shown or not. One thing that we have found to be true is that non-physical locations, such as a PO box or UPS store box, is a challenging listing to rank. Google doesn’t want to rank asset-less companies.  Google wants to rank locals and you must have a physical address to properly compete.

In addition to this we suggest this is the time to establish your NAP.  This is your name, address, phone number and you should always appear in the exact same format regardless of the online property.

Just like the discussion of photos, videos are merely a different medium to just to view content in the search engines are favoring listings that utilize videos. This is a great opportunity to upload testimonial videos or a walk-through video.

The categories section is one of those sections. Make sure that you use all five of your categories and that you have claimed your category with Google’s suggested results first, and any remaining claims to input a custom category which is your number one or top keywords.

Testimonials and reviews are something as you should know are very important.

There are couple of points that I want to remind you of on your places page that are very important to have filled out properly. If it is filled out properly you will vastly increase your chances of getting ranked.

A new section found in Google places that was recently announced as service areas and since its introduction on 4/20/2010, the service area feature does not seem to be working in less there are relevant off the page factors that are present. It is highly suggested to not over estimate your service area and provide Google with accurate data.

Your description section is a section for you to maximize your content. Remember the Google is a huge fan of content and this is an area that all of your services should be covered along with all of your locations and if possible surrounding suburbs.

Avoid These on your Profile Pages

Now moving forward there are six points I want to bring up is highly relevant to avoid using in your local listings.

Stay away from using 800 phone numbers, or as previously mentioned PO boxes or UPS boxes.

Since Google’s guidelines indicate that each business can only have one places page per location, and Google is attempting to localize everything, having one main phone number on multiple pages is a big no-no, at least at this time.

If you go to LMS Places, http://bit.ly/LMSplaces, we have compiled a list of links that you can reference for local.

Having different phone numbers on different pages of your website, or different locations through the Internet such as yelp and Google, can also have a negative effect on the Google listing. Sometimes people use different phone numbers for telephone tracking purposes. I generally recommend against this and a local business should never, use more than one phone number per location that is publicly displayed. Forget about the benefit of call tracking analytics for a moment, having multiple phone numbers for one single location from a user standpoint and a memorability standpoint can have a negative effect on the user experience. I’m talking about customer service. It is not good for the end-user . Stay away from this.

And worthy of a mention, albeit violating Google’s T&C’s, having multiple pages for one single business in one single location will definitely hurt the rankings of all the listings.

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