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Local search is rising. Currently, 20% of all Google queries are related to location. comScore reported that Americans performed 15.4 billion Google searches in March of 2010. If 1/5th of those searches were related to location, that’s a little shy of 3.1 billion location-based queries… In one month.

Google Places results for pizza in Santa Monica, CA

Local search was certainly one of the recurring themes at SMX West back in March. At PubCon Vegas 2010, local was even more prevalant, but there was also more of a sense of urgency attached to the topic.

Instead of writing one long unorganized post that covered all of my “takeaways” from Pubcon, I figured I’d do one dedicated to local & mobile search, since several of the sessions I attended were based around those topics. Please note that this is not a comprehensive guide to local search for businesses; rather, this is a collection of the things I found to be most useful and/or interesting.

Some of the recent changes that Google has made in how they handle local search suggest that a business with a good web presence AND a good local listing will prevail in the SERPs. If you haven’t already secured and optimized your local listings, it’s more important now than ever before that you do so. If nothing else, use a service like KnowEm to claim these listings, with intentions of leveraging them in the future.

Eric Bramlett had some good news: Local search is still easy. He then offered some bad news: It’s getting more and more competitive. Naturally, the competition is going to vary from one niche to the next. To gauge how competitive your market is, do an allintitle search. Most sites that are optimized for local search will have their main keyword in the title tag, so when you search for allintitle:”los angeles taxidermy” and only see 96 results, you’ll know that it shouldn’t be too difficult to get your LA taxidermy company to the top.

William Leake pointed out that keywords like “auto parts” and “flooring”, which used to show global results, are now showing some local results. He predicted that when Google rebalances their local search algorithm, businesses that are currently sitting pretty for huge search terms will be in a world of hurt. If you want your business to survive, you need to optimize for both global and local search. He said (and I agree) that “classic” SEO is getting boring, and that the local stuff keeps things fresh and interesting.

Brian Combs shared some good information. He believes that the presence of keywords in reviews definitely has an impact on rankings.

Similarly to backlinks, you want to have a constant stream of reviews of your business coming in. Review velocity (the rate at which reviews occur) is a part of the algorithm. If you have a strategy in place for encouraging reviews, make sure that it encourages them over time, as opposed to all at once.

William Leake also said Google may currently only be looking at the sheer quantity of reviews (though info from later speakers conflicted with this), but as Google’s local search algorithm improves, they may begin to look at who is writing the reviews as well as the actual content. “Truthiness” of reviews & citations will become more important than quantity.

How about what not to do?

Brian Combs also warned about the “self review”. Companies writing about themselves, or hiring others to do so, is (and will become increasingly) easy to spot by the search algorithms, and will be penalized.

Brian also suggested that “if your business sucks, you may not want to encourage reviews.” While this was met with some laughter, it’s true. Bad business will generate matching reviews. The opposite also holds true – great business generates great reviews. My dentist here in the South Bay has been absolutely fantastic, and I’ve actually surprised myself with the number of people I’ve told about him. People will talk about exceptional service. Do a good enough job, and you may turn some of your clients/customers into evangelists of your brand.

Doyal Bryant (of UBL) reminded us not to use call tracking numbers. It’s very important that the data in your local listings is consistent and matches up with what’s listed on your site. If you throw call tracking numbers into the mix, your data is no longer consistent. You can (and very may well) be penalized for this. Not only that… Google actually requested that call tracking numbers not be used in their listings.

Doyal also stressed the importance of categories in business listings, and reminded us not to miss the simpler ones (such as hours of operation). Include as much data as you can (within reason). Consider adding things such as:

  • Photos of your business – host these on Flickr and add geo tags, if you can
  • Lists of your products (or services offered)
  • Payment options
  • Languages spoken
  • Any alternate business names

CurtisRCurtis (also of UBL) mentioned Google Tags. For $25 a month, you can enhance your business listing by adding things that you think your customers would want to see: coupons, videos, links, etc. If you come across a business listing with Google Tags, you’ll notice it – they definitely stand out.

Curtis also mentioned that over 25% of businesses are either inaccurately listed or missing entirely.

Michael Dorausch spoke in several sessions about local search over the course of the week. He’s also a chiropractor in Los Angeles – the man must never sleep. Regardless, he offered some good advice: If you own a business, chances are you don’t have time to keep up with all of the local-based services out there… Maps, place pages, Foursquare, Yelp, GoWalla, the list goes on and on. Unless you can manage all of these yourself, you probably want to hire an SEO to help you out.

Customers/clients get excited about these services – so help the new ones out by becoming their “tech friend”. By offering them pointers and helping them along, they’ll most likely reward you. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the more advanced users of these services for some “help”.

Engaging these people in general is very important. Keep a dialog going by asking them questions: How did you hear about my business? If their answer is search: What was your query? Did you have any trouble finding this location? What mobile tools did you use to get here?

A business with poor reviews on Google PlacesDoes your business only have a handful of reviews, and they’re poor? Print out these bad reviews and hang them up – if you present it properly and have any sort of positive relationship with your clientele, they’ll feel encouraged to bury it themselves, because people largely want to protect the businesses and services that they care about.

Michael also talked about the search patterns of mobile users vs. desktop users (users on computers). He mentioned that since 2009, there has been a big increase in Droid and iPhone users, and a decrease in Netbooks – iPads seem to be taking their place. There’s nothing casual about the habits of a mobile searcher – they have a “get it now” attitude. Searches for something like “pizza” tend to happen on mobile devices, and will commonly result in a conversion. Searches for something like “DUI attorney” tend to require a little more research before a decision is made, and therefore would be more likely to happen from a desktop/laptop.

A mobile search for “pizza” results in the debate of quality vs. location. At 2am, the best pizza may lose to a closer pizza place that has so-so ratings. Quality can lose to location.

Location, branding and trust are the 3 main factors at play. The ultimate business would have a nearby location, branding that is recognized by the customer, and reviews that convey a sense of trust. You must have 2/3 of these to win a customer. If you have all 3, you win big!

Michael also touched briefly on Twitter for local business. His advice was “use it or lose it!” DMs and messaging may interrupt office flow, especially if you have a large clientele. Either get a staff member to run the account, or make alternative communication methods known. If you don’t have the time/resources to manage a Twitter account, it can actually work against you, because potential customers who engage you and don’t receive a respone may feel that they’re being ignored and look elsewhere for service.

If you take one thing from this article, let it be that local search is growing quickly. Google’s October 27th release of Place Search should make this fairly evident.

The message is clear: adapt for local or be left in the dust!


3 thoughts on “Local Search Takeaways From Pubcon Vegas 2010
  1. John Vantine says:

    As an afterthought, be sure to check out this survey by ionadas Local and Sentient Services – they used heat mapping to see how people’s eyes move over local search results. This was done before Google released Place Search, but that doesn’t make the data any less valuable.

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