Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Optimize Locally In Five Easy Steps

by Chris Gill

As more and more companies are discovering, even locally-oriented brick and mortar businesses need search engine optimization (SEO) services to attract customers. People head to the internet before they go to the Yellow Pages now (and the Yellow Pages are online anyway!). Even if your store's just blocks away from customers you need to make your presence known in their homes, through their broadband connections. To get there, you can't just rank for general keywords. You need search engine to respect your location to cater to people who've entered their town or neighborhood in as part of the search.

Professionals can optimize for local searches using a powerful arsenal of tools but virtually anyone can make basic inroads into local search success if they're willing to put in the time. The development staff at GILL Media has outlined a simple five-step procedure for local SEO.

Step 1: Localize Your Keywords

Keyword (search term) research is essential for any SEO campaign. Beginners should simply find phrases related to their business, but to localize they need to take things a step further by adding the name of their region, municipality or neighborhood to each term. Make full use of your local knowledge. Is there a common slang term for an area? A prominent local landmark? Create variants of your keyword phrases that include these phrases. Your list shouldn't just include "blue widgets," or whatever your business sells, when "Bay Area blue widgets, Yourtown" drills down to the region you serve. Remember that some slang terms are common across several regions and specify as much as possible.

Step 2: Localize Your Content

Now that you have a list of localized keywords it's time to apply them to your on-page content. Write about your experience selling blue widgets in your area. Like any page content, don't force the keywords in. Your product descriptions, blogging and other writing should integrate these phrases naturally, so that the sentences make sense and are still a pleasure to read. While you're at it, make sure your street address and store hours are placed prominently on the site. Many SEO experts instruct search engines to ignore the contact page, but you should not do that! You want search engines to index your location!

Step 3: Get on the Map(s)

Major search engines have services that allow you to submit your business to a local directory, where it will show up in services like Google Maps. Take the time to do this for every major search engine, including Google, (www.google.com/local/add) Yahoo (local.yahoo.com) and Bing. In addition, submit your business to directories such as DMOZ.org and the Yahoo Directory (dir.yahoo.com). In some cases you may have to take extra steps (and in DMOZ's case you may have to wait for a long time, as volunteer section editors have spotty records when it comes to performing updates) so if you must set priorities, take care of local search engine listings first. Step 4: Link Build in Your Local Network

Do you know other local businesses with websites? Is there a local business directory on the Web? Approach these organizations first to ask for links back to your site. The most valuable links will come from people and groups you have sincere connections to, because you may be able to get additional supporting content, such as a description of your business. Don't be shy about mentioning your target keywords and when you can ask your contacts to use them as anchor text. Try crafting your own example link entries - more often than not, your associates will be happy to add them as is.

Step 5: Socialize Locally

Social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are becoming more and more important for SEO. Kijiji is also worth noting for businesses. Don't let its "want ad" orientation fool you; it gets plenty of traffic from established businesses as well. Search engines are striving to include more "social" results, but the best value you get out of these services is by meeting people through local networks, starting conversations with them and building positive buzz through reviews. Make contact with other local businesses and individuals whenever possible and present yourself sincerely - not as somebody just out for cheap promotion.

About the Author

GILL Media is a leading provider of economical search engine optimization and affordable web design for small, medium and large businesses.