Working the Web: The Lowdown on Local SEO

By Carl Weiss

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a bit like the Air Force in World War II.  It was great when it came to carpet bombing cities.  But it was woefully inadequate when it came to discriminating individual targets.  The phenomenon of SEO is a lot like that.  Type in keywords like Jacksonville Video Production or Jacksonville Boat Club and the companies that pop up on Page One of Google are listed based upon their overall SEO score. 

While this works out fine for video production companies and boat clubs, where customers are prepared to drive clear across town to get the best deal, it doesn’t work so well for businesses (such as Auto Repair, Dry Cleaners or Pizza Parlors) that draw their customers from a smaller geographic area.  Although Google sometimes displays a map of the surrounding area where you can select businesses close to home, it has been proven that search engines have a built-in bias that favors firms located close to the city center. A recent article by Search Engine Journal pointed out:

“Google uses something commonly called “centroid bias”, which means that if someone searches for, say, Seattle Dentist, there will be a bias towards the dentist locations that are closest to the center of the city. While it is possible for a business in a neighboring city to rank for a metro keyword (i.e. a business in Cambridge trying to rank for a Boston keyword), if you’re on the outskirts of a city, or in a city neighboring a major metropolitan area, you’re going to be at a disadvantage.”
The reason this bias exists is mainly due to the fact that when search engines were developed, they were never programmed to deduce the location of the end user in relation to the overall data contained in the system. That’s why it’s called the World Wide Web.

For instance, when you type in the keywords “Jacksonville Pizza,” Google relates the search to 9,970,000 results, of which it displays 11 pizza parlors on the first page. While pizza is a popular dish and Jacksonville is the largest city in geographic area in the US, I seriously doubt that there are nearly 10 million pizzerias in town. More disturbing, the “geo-targeted” listings on the Google Local map start with the three located closest to downtown and work their way out. Still, if I was the owner of a pizza parlor, I would rather be listed than not. So how can a business take advantage of local SEO?


In order to get on the map you need to register your business with Google Places and then you need to complete all the information requested.  And I mean 100% of it.  Having an 80% or 90% score is going to cause more harm than good. It also helps to embed your Google Map and Google+ link on your homepage.  Google+ even offers a widget for both the social posts and the +1 icon that help steer your visitors to your Google+ page.

The most important thing to remember when feeding the 800 lb gorilla in the room named Google is that he is a picky eater that prefers to eat his own brands.  So you should also take advantage of this by also posting your blog on blogger.com and your videos on YouTube.

SEO is Still a Popularity Contest

Anyone who knows anything about SEO knows that when you boil it down, SEO in general has for the past few years boiled down to a popularity contest.  That’s why the search engines put such a high premium on such things as backlinks, positive reviews and reposts of blogs and social commentary.  When it comes to local SEO, this goes double.

From Search Engine Journal, “The three biggest factors in local listings appear to be the number of citations, the number of reviews (primarily on your Google Places listing, though other places do count), and how positive the reviews are overall. From what I’ve seen, positive reviews will trump citations, so persuading your customers and clients to leave great reviews on your Google local page is the single most important thing you can do. Of course, there are some things that have a big impact and that may not be directly in your control, such as how close your business is to the city center.

While it is highly unlikely that you are going to move your place of business in order to take advantage of this last point, it is possible to garner the first.  Many businesses routinely ask their best customers to write (or better yet video tape) testimonials that refer to their business in glowing terms.  Why not ask these same customers to write a review on Google, LinkedIn, Merchant Circle or any local directory in which you participate?  Since it takes less time to write a review than it does a testimonial, it shouldn’t take much persuading to get the task done.

As for such things as comments and reposts on blogs and social networks, that takes a bit more organizing.  But it is well worth the effort.  One of the ways to accomplish this task would be to partner up with other local businesses in a kind of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” alliance.  The way this works is that you would recruit 5 or 6 non-competing businesses in your area.  When you write a blog (which you should do once per week), you would forward it to your teammates and they will comment on and rebroadcast the blog via their social networks.  You will then do the same for them. 

If you don’t want to go through the time and trouble of creating these alliances yourself, there are SEO clubs such as http://clubwcubed.com that will organize, manage and train you in these and other online marketing techniques.



Buying Your Way into the Game

While it is possible to use all the tactics above to position your site prominently on the search engines, there is one other way to up the ante. You can buy your way into the game. 

“Use a service like Yext to make sure that the information from your Google Places page is spread across all of the other major local platforms, in the same format. Each of these will become a citation, which is hugely valuable. Also, use a tool like KnowEm to snag all of your social profiles (while not strictly local-centric, many profiles will show your name, address and phone number, which will instantly give you a whole pile of local citations.) Google of course is free, but using Yext and KnowEm will set you back $500 to $1,000 per location depending on the packages you select (KnowEm is a one-time fee, but Yext is ongoing.)” - Search Engine Journal

Also there are companies like ours that will provide search engine/directory posting to the top 100 search engine/directories starting for as little as $250 for a one time post and $200 a month for monthly posting. 


Regardless of how you get the job done, the most important things you have to ask yourself when it comes to local SEO:
1.      What would it be worth to have my site prominently displayed on Page One of the world’s most popular search engine?
2. What does it cost me if my competitor is on Page One and I am not?

While it might cost you time and money to win the war of online dominance, this is one war that you can’t afford to lose.  If you would like free copy of our book Internet Marketing Tips for the 21 Century click here and fill in the form on our home page.

If you would like to find more articles like this type in your key phrase in the search box at the top left of this blog. If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-works. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the comment sections below.  If you would like a free copy of our book, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century", fill out the form below.




Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, a Jacksonville-based leader in online marketing.  He is also co-host of the BlogTalkRadio.com radio show, "Working the Web to Win," which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern.

The Definitive Guide to Local SEO – Search Engine Journal

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