Back when I was a wee lad growing up in primitive times (you know, the days before the internet), there was really only one way for us to discover local businesses (which at that point we just called businesses). Sure we could happen upon it as we drove around aimlessly (since there was no GPS) or hear about it by word of mouth, but the way to find businesses was to look it up in the yellow pages. It was worse than using an encyclopedia to find out an answer to your question, since at least most information in the encyclopedia were facts that did not change. But businesses open and close all the time and hours of operation change. So it was a multi-step process for the consumer, and they were not always getting the the latest information. And forget about adding the term local, since it was only organized alphabetically, and it would be really tough for a physical book to know where you were.
Enter the Internet and The Search Engine
Searching for local business is a perfect match for the internet. The internet is designed around searching for information. Since it can be constantly changed and updated, it also has the ability to display locations on a map in proximity to the user, making it an actual tool for local searches. So great, that was a short and easy blog.
Not So Fast there Buddy
As Peter Parker’s uncle told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Right from the start, it was obvious that the internet would be the perfect tool for local searches. Or was it? There were, and still are, many problems with local searches on the internet. About 25%, one quarter, of small local businesses don’t show up online. Why? Several reasons. Many still believe that the yellow pages book is the gold standard of local searches. While listing your business in the yellow pages won’t hurt, and will probably get you listed online too through the book’s website, it alone won’t necessarily get you found online. Which brings me to the real problem with online local searches….
Right from the start, the marriage between the internet and local search was blatantly obvious, everyone hopped on board. Just like the early days of the search engine (which has since been corralled into fewer, more powerful, dominant sites) the world of local searches is still the wild west of the web. The issue lies in the fact that you go to Google or Bing for searching everything, everywhere. But since we aren’t talking about things that are world wide, but, rather, places around the corner, many niche, local or specialty sites began operating to try and grab their piece of the pie. You may want to search a geo-targeted site that only has results in your town because, even though they are online, they are close to home. Or you may want to search a site that is only focused on the business sector you are interested in, ie. just restaurants, just for moms, only dog friendly hotels, or even a site that focuses more on customer reviews, so you don’t actually have to make the decisions alone. More often than not, if you do decide to go to one of the bigger search engines, they are going to wind up pulling their results from all these other sites, and not just from the local businesses. So how do you make sure you get found in this frontier town?
As with most of our techniques to optimize your business, you need to make sure that not just the correct, but the same information is propagated throughout the web. Make sure your address is spelled out the same way, everywhere, including on your own website. If you can narrow down a category or a specialty on certain sites, do it, but make sure that it’s the same specialty and/or category. If you can put in your hours, by all means do so, but make sure they match up. That way, no matter where your customer may look for you, they’ll not only find you, but find the right you, and the right information about you. And the big search engines will feel more confident displaying your business’ information, since they can get corroborating information from multiple reliable sources.