I’m Going to Get So Busted for This One!

In this Intro to Local Search I’m going to give away everything I know about getting higher ranking in the local maps and business directories. You’re going to be very pissed off if you’ve been paying a vendor to do this for you (especially when you realize that they haven’t done you any justice and may actually posses the power to take your business DOWN).

I have to protect this content for Standard and Premium Members only, it’s the best of the best as it pertains to what I’ve learned about optimizing for higher ranking in the maps sections of Google Places, Yahoo! Local and Bing Maps. Of course I’ll give you a teaser (you can hate me all you want).

Principles of Local SEO

Below are what I believe to be the principles of Local SEO for 2011. They are without a doubt completely different from organic SEO and Sponsored search engine optimization, and like anything else in business need to be a part of the ongoing online marketing strategy.

  1. You must be authentic
  2. You must optimize your website with (Local) SEO best practices
  3. You must do business in the area for which you are marketing
  4. You must select the right categories for your business
  5. You must get your customers say good things about you
  6. You must share as much information, media, and offers as possible
  7. You must know where to be listed and be active where you are listed
  8. You must NEVER spam

Okay, that’s my teaser. Ready to learn what the heck all that means? Read on, my friends.

You Must Be Authentic and Spam-Free

Google is cracking down with hammer of Thor on businesses who spam. In 2009, if you were a locksmith looking to get into the Google Maps (now Google Places), you’d have a better chance at winning the Powerball lottery 3 times in a row then getting in the “Lucky 7” or even on the 1st page of Google Maps. Locksmiths declared war on each other and Google Maps was the battlefield. So Wonka closed it’s doors and locksmiths were banished for a good period of time. Even now it’s tough to get in.

What were locksmiths doing? Lying, spamming, hijacking each others profiles, and all sorts of ugly unimaginable things. Basically, being everything but authentic. Stuffing keywords into their titles, descriptions, and additional fields seemed like a necessity to get anywhere near the first page. The new trend is review syndication, which (as Local SEO Expert Mike Blumenthal explains) often leaves a footprint for the search engines to detect – and I’m sure they will.

The way to win in 2011, at least in Google Places, will be authenticity. Those who build their brand and stand by their value proposition will prevail while the spammers get plucked from the search results as Googlebot picks up on footprints, inconsistent business data, negative reviews and “flat as inappropriate” patterns.

As you start your crusade for higher maps ranking, follow these guidelines and you’ll be creating the right foundation for long-term results from local maps and directories (hang in there black and gray hats, I’ll explain later):

  1. Use your real business name (copy directly from your D.B.A./F.B.N.)
  2. Use your real business address
  3. Use your real local phone number (as registered)
  4. Stick to the category that best describes what you do
  5. Take pictures of your location, don’t borrow from the Web
  6. Use YOUR website, not the one provided by a local SEO company
  7. Ask yourself, “am I being truly authentic here?”

Now I’ll show you the secrets to getting higher placement in the maps WITHOUT the need for an agency to take over your listings, using your authentic business information.

Optimize Your Website

I know what you’re thinking, “what the heck does my website have to do with my local business listing?” The short answer: relevancy and accessibility. The long answer, read on:

I’ve participated in several tests where the customer’s website was swapped out with an optimized “profile page” and ranking went up across the board on every single test sample. What did the “profile page” have that the customer’s website didn’t? Local SEO Best Practices. Click here to learn: Website Optimization for Local SEO

Select the Right Categories

Selecting the right categories in the local maps is a bit of an art. I’ve got spreadsheets and case studies I can’t share on this website that identify patterns of category-based local maps optimization. Think back to your high school days and class registration. You thought about which courses you wanted to take based on your own criteria (friends, teacher, difficulty, etc). Later you find out that you might have done better had you been told which courses would give you the best results or had you known what last year’s valedictorian had signed up for.

Welcome back to high school registration and to your official guide on choosing the right course. Put yourself 365 days from now. You have the chance to completely change the number of leads and/or sales you’ll receive and it can be as significant as 1,000+ from selecting the selecting the right categories.

Read this article on Optimizing Categories for Local SEO to learn the technique.

Get Customers to Say Good Things About You

Reviews of your business will play a major role in the future of search, especially mobile search. Soon iPhone and Droid users will be setting their search preferences in maps and many of them will choose a sort view by a hybrid of number of reviews and quality reviews. If your listing is getting clicked on more so then your competitor’s (called Click-Through Rate or CTR), you have a higher probability of increasing your ranking. CTR plays a major factor in organic and paid search; I see no reason why it wouldn’t also play a role in Local SEO.

Read this article to learn how to get business reviews to improve your local maps ranking.

The Most Important Business Directories

We’re back to high school again. You’re running for Senior Class President and you need a campaign to get everyone’s vote. You pass out flyers, hold lunch-time rallies with a megaphone, pass out buttons and goodies, and authentically try to convince everyone who is allowed to vote that you are the best candidate.

In Local SEO, business directories are your classmates. Their vote could make or break your campaign. If your competitors are all getting votes and you’re not, you will lose. The good news is that business directories can cast more than one vote. The bad news is that the candidate with the most interaction, positive reviews, and content within the business directories will get more visibility within the directory – which adds up to more crawls from web crawlers, which adds up to more relevancy and a much more powerful vote.

Read this article to learn which business directories to submit to and best practices for optimizing and interacting within them.

Do It Yourself and Save

With the strategies listed above (and linked to from above), you have the opportunity to do some basic research, make some simple website modifications, analyze competitor categories and citations, get tons of positive business reviews, and (bottomline) get incredible results from search engine maps and directories.

Don’t Make Me Beg for Feedback

Share, argue, spill it – let me know what you think of all this “Local SEO” stuff in your comments below. Don’t hold back.