April 16, 2009
As the population with internet access explodes, and more and more people are using search engines to find what they need, the usage of local search also continues to rise. For any sites servicing a local or specific geographic audience, submission to local search based engines is becoming more and more important.
What is it?
In a nutshell local search involves the use of specialized search engines specifically created to focus on a selected geographic region to find local businesses and websites focused on your area.
Local search is commonly utilized as a directory, where users select their location, and narrow their search by categories till they find the listing they want. In many cases local search engines also guess at the users’ location by using their IP, so when you visit the site and search, for example, “Chinese restaurants” you automatically see results specific to your location.
Google has been doing this for a while to one degree or another. When you perform a search in Google using a geographic modifier the map comes up with results specific to that location. You can also take it one step further and search Google Local specifically.
But Google isn’t the only engine out there focused on local search. There are several of these directories ranging from the better known Best of the Web, right down to small town specific websites offering local search options. You even may find a web directory or guide specifically created for your city, and chances are, it will be a great place for you to submit your site.
Many local directories are free for basic listings along with paid advanced listing options.
Who needs it?
Local search is ideal for anyone serving a specific region, especially those with brick and mortar stores. While you do not necessarily need a physical location, some local search directories, including Google Local, require that you do.
Only recently have small local businesses realized the need to be found in the major search engines. I know that if I am personally looking for a bike tune-up, the first place I turn to is online, to find the various bike shops in my area, if at very least, I search online to find their contact info. I can’t remember the last time I picked up a phone book. As the internet grows in popularity, there are more and more people like me who use it exclusively to find what they want, local or otherwise. For businesses not found within the various local search sites, they are missing out on a growing piece of their market.
Considering the limited expense in getting listed in local search directories, traditional brick and mortar business can’t afford to not be listed, it’s quickly becoming a necessity.
With more people using these directories, and the incredibly low cost of “free” involved in being listed in many of them, it only makes sense to get listed. These directories, even the lower traffic ones, are a great free source of relevant traffic and the few minutes required to submit to them (usually around 10 minutes or so) only needs to result in a very small handful of site visitors to make it worthwhile.
Where to get listed?
When it comes to local search there are a few places you don’t want to miss such as Google Local. Many local search directories are country specific, so try your searching by using your country name; such as, “Canadian business directory”.
Try to focus your efforts on finding local directories that not only focus on your geographic region, but also offer you something in return.
How to decide if a directory is worthwhile
There are 5 main factors you need to consider when choosing to submit to a local search directory.
What geographic regions does the directory serve? Do they serve your location?
Does a relevant category exist? When you navigate to your appropriate category, are the other business listings relevant to your business? Some local directories may focus only on one industry, such as hotels. If the theme of the directory will not cater to your industry, you certainly don’t need to be listed there.
How much does the directory charge? If it is free, it’s most likely worthwhile. If there is a cost associated with the listing, you need to know more to find out if it’s money well spent (which is where the next two points come in).
Does this directory have much traffic? The quickest way to get a rough idea on this is to check their Alexa rating. Alexa is a rough indicator of how busy a site is, the busier the site, the closer their ranking will be to 1. If the site looks like it has very limited traffic, then you need to find out if the listing will have any SEO benefits if you are to spend any money here. (A low traffic free directory is likely still worthwhile however.)
Will your listing help you with your organic rankings? This is relatively simple to find out. You want to first check the Google Page Rank for their home page. If it is low (less than 5) then this is not one of the major directories. If it is between 5 and 10, then they likely have some authority. Next check the page your listing will actually reside on. Is this page indexed by Google, and does it have any Page Rank? If so, is the link back to your site search engine friendly?
Many local search directories may link to your site using the rel=nofollow tag, or by redirecting through a variety of tracking methods, which can cause your link to have no value in terms of SEO. However, some of them will give you a straight link fully readable by Google, so you will also get the added benefit of increased link density from many of these links. Some directories will also create a brand new page just for you. In that case, your page will not be indexed by Google and will have no Page Rank, but in time, it will. If this is the case, check a few of the listings to see if their pages are indexed.
If Google can not see this link, it has no SEO value. If the directory has no SEO value, and no traffic, it is not worthwhile to pay for this submission. (That said, if it’s a free listing, you may as well list your site there.)
How can I get listed?
Unlike organic SEO, getting listed in a local directory is often as simple as finding the local directories that are relevant and submit your site. Once you have decided that a directory is worthwhile, filling in a few online forms and submitting payment where applicable is all it takes. Most paid local directories will have your listing posted within a few days, if not immediately. Free directories can take anywhere form a couple of days to several weeks, depending on their policies, etc.
StepForth will soon be offering a Local Search service, so stay tuned to see what we can do for you.
Scott Van Achte is the Senior SEO at StepForth Web Marketing Inc.; based in Victoria, BC, Canada and founded in 1997. You can read more of Scott’s articles and those of the veteran StepForth team at http://news.stepforth.com or contact us at http://www.stepforth.com