Harnessing the Power of Local Search

What is Local Search?

Local search can be defined as any search that is aimed at finding something within a specific geographic region. Some examples include “landscape gardener melbourne”, “baby photographer bondi”, “gold coast accommodation” or “yoga classes williamstown”. Local search includes searches where the transaction takes place online and searches where information is gathered online and the transaction takes place offline.

For some businesses their entire customer base is centred around a specific geographic area so local search is vital to their business. Examples include vets, restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons, doctors and dentists. For other businesses their location is important and people based elsewhere will seek them out. Examples include tourist destinations, accommodation providers and car rental companies. Finally, some business will draw prospects from near by and far away. This includes businesses such as consultants, lawyers, accountants, graphic designers, psychologists and specialist shops.

The one thing all these businesses have in common is the benefits optimising their website for local search will bring them.

Where is Local Search Offered?

Local search is currently offered by the big three search engines: Google, Yahoo! and Live Search. All these search engines have a local component which collects local data and displays it in relevant searches.

It’s also very important to point that that most local search listings, including Google’s, include reviews of businesses by customers. This enables prospects to research businesses and get a variety of opinions of their products and services from others who have used that business.

For more information or to see local search in action you can visit the Australian versions of their local websites:

Google Maps
Yahoo! Local
Live Search Maps

Who Can Benefit from Local Search?

Many businesses can benefit from local search including businesses who service a specific geographic area to businesses who offer a unique, sought after product or service.

It’s also worth noting that most statistics show a trend in people migrating away traditional methods of finding businesses such as the Yellow Pages to searching online. In fact studies report that up to 70% of shoppers begin on the Internet with their favourite search engine. And Google states 73% of activity online is in one way or another “related to local content”. (Google 5/07)

Here are some examples of how your prospective customers might use local search:

  • To evaluate local companies – in particular service companies and individuals such as cleaners, plumbers, accountants and hairdressers.

  • To book or order a service that is location specific.

  • To hear others experiences of travel and accommodation providers such as hotels, bed and breakfasts and caravan parks.

  • To research a product that they intend to purchase offline i.e. in your store.

  • To find a unique product or service available in a specific area.

6 Steps To Boost Your Local Search Presence

Ok so you’ve realised the importance of local search. Now what? The following six steps will help you boost your local search presence in the three main search engines.

1. Add Location Keywords to Your Website
As well as incorporating the main keywords describing your products and services in your website add keywords related to your locations. I also always recommend adding  your address to each page of your website. And finally, include your location keywords to your page title and meta tags.

2. Link to Your Web Pages Using Local Keywords
Your link reputation (the number and quality of websites linking to you) is an important part of  getting high rankings in the search engines. So when asking for links from other websites be sure to get them to link to you using your main keywords and location phrases. Try to mix them up so you don’t end up with the same link text for each one.

3. Get Local Links
If you’re a business that relies on local business then networking and getting links from other local websites is for you. This strategy will not only help your local listings in the search engines but should help drive targeted, local business to your website.

As well as straight links look at other ways to link up with other relevant local businesses. Some suggestions include running joint promotions, sponsorship of local clubs and sporting groups or competitions.

4. Claim Your Local Search Listings
Claim your local listings at Google Maps, Yahoo! Local and Live Search Maps. At all three search engines you can claim or submit your business listing and then provide information about your business. Doing this can also help boost your reputation with the search engines and give them a higher level of trust and confidence in the information they display about your business in their results.

5. Enhance Your Local Search Listings
Once you’ve claimed your listings in Google, Yahoo! and Live it’s worth taking the time to enhance your listings by providing as much information as possible. Keep in mind that prospects are usually hungry for information so provide business information, photos if applicable, location details and opening hours, payments accepted, areas you service and any other information you feel is necessary.

6. Monitor and Manage Your Online Reputation
As I mentioned above most local search providers include reviews of businesses and their products and services as part of the local listing. These reviews are an incredibly powerful “word of mouth” thumbs up or thumbs down opinion of your business. In the past friends may have shared both positive and negative experiences with your business but now they can share them with anyone who is interested and looking for the information. So I can’t exaggerate the importance of monitoring what’s being said about your business online and if a problem arises stepping in and resolving it.

More than ever before people are using the internet to research products and services they require locally and it’s tipped to increase in importance over the next 10 years. So it’s vital that your business and your website can be easily found by people performing local searches.

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The Google Grail: Getting to the Top

With search engines accounting for up to 75% of visitors to a website, and Google being the dominant player in town, having your website listed and ranking in Google is vital to your online success. In fact not being in Google is like having an unlisted phone number. Unfortunately many business owners discover this to late and are unsure how to rectify the problem. The following article will provide you with a series of strategies to help ensure your site is listed, and at the top of Google’s search results.

There are a number of ways to ensure your website is at the top of Google. The three main approaches I recommend you start with are:

  • Building a Search Friendly Website
  • Optimising (SEO) an Existing Website
  • Implementing a Pay Per Click (PPC) Campaign

Building a Search Friendly Website

If you are about to start building your website you are in the perfect position to ensure your website is designed and built in a search engine friendly manner from the ground up. By search engine friendly I mean a website that is easy for the search engines to find, crawl and index. A search friendly website should also rank highly in the search engines for keyword phrases related to your business.

Unfortunately many web designers have no understanding of the search engines and do not take them into account when creating websites. For this reason it’s important that you find a company that understands how important search engines are and can help you develop and implement a strategy to ensure you are capitalising on the targeted visitors Google can send you.

The first step is to find out what knowledge of the search engines your potential web designer has. if they have none I would suggest looking for some alternative companies. Once you have determined your web designer can help you to create a search engine friendly website it’s time to sit down and discuss the strategies you will adopt. You and your web designer should discuss:

  • Website Goals
  • Your Target Audience
  • Keyword Selection
  • Content Creation

Website Goals

Talk to your web designer about what you want to achieve with your website. This could include generating online sales, attracting targeted leads, increasing newsletter sign ups, online subscriptions, advertising sales and so forth. These goals will help you with the steps outlined in the next few sections.

Your Target Audience

It’s important that you define your target audience(s). Who is your website gong to be targeted to? I would recommend breaking your audience down in terms of:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Location
  • Income
  • Internet skills

It’s also important to consider primary and secondary audiences. Perhaps your main audience are people you want to sell products to but an important secondary audience is existing customers to whom you provide online product support.

Defining your target audience will help you to plan your search friendly strategy. For example whether your online audience is local, Australia-wide or International will have a big effect on the approach you will take in relation to Google.

Keyword Selection

Keywords are the words and phrases that prospective customers type into Google to find products and services they are looking for. Too often businesses fall into the trap of using words they, and their industry have for describing their goods and not those their customers are using. A successful keyword strategy will look at the words your customers are using – this is vital, as they are the ones you are appealing to.

I always recommend you start by brainstorming with your web designer to come up with an initial list of keywords. When undertaking this consider looking at the keywords used by your competitors as well as talking to your existing customers to see how they describe your offerings.

This initial keywords list can then be used by your web designer who will do further research to come up with a list of relevant, regularly used keywords phrases to incorporate into your website.

Content Creation

A main component of any campaign to get to the top of Google includes creating interesting content that encourages other websites to link to you. These “links” help boost the popularity of your website (as well as attracting potential customers) and helps you rank higher in Google.

There are numerus content creation ideas you could consider. They include:

  • Publishing a blog;
  • Hosting forums;
  • Publishing a newsletter;
  • Writing articles on your subject area;
  • Running a topical directory.

These content strategies can be implemented over time and will help your website stand out by containing valuable information relevant to your prospective customers as well as helping your rank higher in Google.

All of this information will help you and your web designer plan and build a website that not only appeals to your target audience but helps propel you to the top of Google. Remember building a website is an ongoing process and working on it steadily over time will help increase your chances of top search rankings.

Optimising (SEO) an Existing Website

If you already have website that is not performing in Google you need to discuss your options with your web designer or a search engine optimisation (SEO) expert. It is important to point out that SEO is a medium to long term strategy. It takes time to implement and see results but once the results start to roll in you will reap the rewards for a long time.

Your SEO or web designer will help you to ensure that your website can be crawled and indexed by Google and will be able to rectify any problems your website may have. They will also help you define your target audience and help you research and select the appropriate keywords for your business (see above in Building a Search Friendly Website) and incorporate them into your website.

Finally they will be able to monitor and track your success and make recommendations to increase your targeted traffic based on your own specific needs.

Implementing a Pay Per Click (PPC) Campaign

The quickest and easiest way to get to the top of Google is to implement a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign. PPC campaigns are a short to medium term strategy – they can be running within hours and are a great way to drive prospective customers to your website quickly. For this reason a PPC campaign can compliment your SEO efforts. It sends you targeted traffic quickly while you wait for your SEO efforts to kick in.

Pay Per Click (PPC) ads are the sponsored ads you see on search engines such as Google. With Pay Per Click advertising you pay only when a customer clicks on your ad, regardless of how many times it’s shown. You select your search terms and set an amount you are prepared to pay if someone clicks on your ad. When a user searches for, or is using, a search term you have bid for, your ad will appear on the right side of results pages under the heading Sponsored Links. If a user clicks on your ad you pay the amount you bid for that term.

Pay Per Click is a great way to target hundreds of niche keyword terms for a relatively low cost. In addition it is highly targeted and the results are highly quantifiable.

A search marketing professional will be able to help you with ad copywriting, landing page copywriting and design, and set-up and monitor your PPC campaigns. As with building a search friendly website or implementing an SEO campaign you’ll need to sit down and determine your goals, target audience and keyword list. This information will help you develop a successful PPC campaign. PPC campaigns are highly quantifiable which will ensure you can measure the return on your investment (ROI).

By focusing on the 3 strategies above you’ll be in the perfect position to propel your website to the top of Google, ensuring your website receives targeted visitors that you’ll then be able to convert into paying customers.

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Website Health Check: Is Your Site Search Friendly?

Kalena Jordan from Search Engine College has written a great article titled “Secrets Your Web Designer Isn’t Telling You”, in which she asks:

If I was to ask you right now “Are you absolutely certain that your web site is optimized for high visibility in search engines?”, what would you say?

Sadly the vast majority of websites have not been designed with the search engines in mind, and worse, many business owners have no idea that’s the case. And with so much traffic coming from search engines, it’s like being cut off from your air supply.

What to do?

If you already have a website, do some research to see if your site is listed in the search engines — especially Google. A quick way of doing this is to type your business name and/or website address into the search engine to see what results are found. Ideally you should be listed at the top of the results.

As well as making sure your site is in the search engine it’s important to see if your website ranks for keywords related to your business. So if you are a motel located in Bondi, for example, try typing “bondi motels” into the search engine and seeing what is returned. Ideally your website should be prominent. Repeat this for a variety of phrases.

If you are listed and ranking for relevant phrases good for you, however if you are one of the majority who is no where to be found, it’s a good idea to get some outside expertise to help get things sorted.

If you are about to start building a website, it is a good idea to discuss your search engine strategy with your web designers. If they don’t have one, or have no idea what you are talking about I’d suggest firing them and finding someone who does know.

Remember: Having a website that’s not in the search engines is like having an unlisted phone number.

Secrets Your Web Designer Isn’t Telling You by Kalena Jordan.
Website Health Check Report by ThinkProspect

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Planning a Successful Website

As the internet has matured so have business’s requirements in a website. No longer is it enough to just have a website, or have a website that looks good. A website is now a vital part of a business’s marketing arsenal and is a valuable sales tool in itself. In order to ensure that the money spent you spend on your website is well spent and will provide a return on your initial investment you need to spend time planning your website and setting attainable goals.

This document will help you plan your website design and get you thinking about all the issues you need to address. It will also help you when talking to web design firms as you will be able to give them a clear idea of what you are after.

It Starts With the Planning

It probably goes without saying but the place to start is with the planning of your website. This can be broken down into four (4) main steps:

  1. Defining your website’s goals;
  2. Determining your target audience(s);
  3. Reviewing your competition;
  4. Determining you traffic sources.

Define Your Website Goals

The first place to start is by defining the goals of your website. This is also what you will measure to evaluate the success of the venture. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve with your site? Some goal suggestions:

  • To sell online?
  • To collect targeted leads?
  • To provide information about your products and services?
  • To brand yourself?
  • To provide customer support?
  • To entertain?
  • To build a community?
  • To receive advertising revenue?
  • To reduce printing and mail out costs?

When you define these goals bear in mind they don’t all have to be achieved at once. Your plan could involve a roll out of goals over a period of time.

Determine Your Target Audience(s)

Who is your target audience? This can be broken down into:

  • Primary Audience
  • Secondary Audience
  • Geographic Locations

Primary Audience

Your primary audience is who the majority of your website will be targeted to. Generally this will be one or two groups who are most important to your business and those you expect to receive the maximum return on your investment (ROI).

Secondary Audience

Your secondary audiences are everyone else you expect to visit your site. List as many of these as you can.

Geographic Locations

The beauty of the internet is that you don’t necessarily have to market just to your local area, unless you provide a service that is only available to your local area of course. If you are only targeting a local area again it is easy to focus on just that region. List all the geographic regions you would like to target – think local suburbs, states and countries.

Review Your Competition

The internet is a great tool to research your competition. Spend some time on your competitor’s websites and ask yourself:

Is the website professional looking?
Is it easy to work out who they are and what they do?
Is it easy to use? Can you find what you are looking for?
Would I do business with them based on their website?

It’s also important to remember that your competition offline may not be the same as your online competition. If you are wanting your website to rank in the search engines take some time to see what sites are currently ranking well for keywords relevant to your business. The top ranking sites are your online competition. Take a look at their websites and answer the questions above for them too. You may also need to consider what effort they took to reach the top of the search engines and talk to your web designer/search marketer about what will be required of your site to achieve similar success.

Determine Your Traffic Sources

Where will the visitors to your website be coming from? I’m not going to address offline marketing here just the online marketing as some of the options need to be considered before the site is designed so they can be done together – such as search engine optimisation (SEO.

Here are some of your online marketing options:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Pay Per Click Advertising
  • Links on Partner Sites
  • Email Campaigns
  • Website Sponsorship
  • Forum Participation
  • Content Creation
  • Blogging
  • Other – you may have other ideas.

It’s important that you tell your web designer what online marketing strategies you are planning to use so they can take that into account if need be when developing your website.

Develop Your Online Strategy

All of the above will help you in deciding what information you should have on your website and how best to structure it.

Determine Your Website’s Content

Now is the time to decide on the content you want on your website. By content I am including text, images, illustrations, support documents and the like. Here are some of your options:

Product information – descriptions, specifications, photos, user manuals, warranties, reviews, pricing etc.

Online ordering help – payments accepted, shipping info, returns policy etc.

Service information – services offered, locations covered, warranties, pricing etc.

Company information – history, staff profiles, photos etc.

Contact details – address, phone and fax numbers, email addresses, contact names etc.

Location details – maps, parking options, opening hours etc.

News – business news, special offers, features etc.

Articles and resources – information to help support your offerings and educate your prospects and clients.

Forms – quote requests, contact forms, newsletter subscriptions etc.

Case studies – examples of successful work done to date.

Develop Your Website Structure

Often called an information architecture or site flowchart – the site structure is like the architect’s blueprint of the organisation and layout of your website. The content you want on your website will help determine the structure of the site. It’s best to break this down into main section which will then have sub-sections off of that.

As a starting point I’ve listed the main sections that most sites would have. This can be added to or deleted from as required.

  • Home - Products/Services - Product/Service 1

  • Product/Service 2

  • Product/Service 3

  • Product/Service 4

  • Company News

  • Resources

  • Articles

  • Guides

  • About Us

  • Contact Us

  • Site Map

This will give potential web design firms an idea of what is required in your website and will help them prepare a quote for you.

Putting It All Together

Once you have completed all of the above you are ready to have your website built. If you have not done so you will need to select a web design firm. Provide all the information you’ve put together from above, discuss your requirements and budget, provide examples of websites you like and talk to them to see whether they are a good fit for your business. You want a company that understands you and your goals and that you feel will help you ensure that your website is a success. With the right web design team and the planning you did using the above structure you;re sure to be on the path to a successful website.

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