Local Search FAQs

Answers to some common local online marketing questions

What exactly makes a search local?
There are two general types of local queries. The first and more straight forward is an 'explicit' local query. With an explicit local query, the user will explicitly include a location modifier in their query. For example, the user could search for 'marketing in St. Charles, IL'. The second type of local query is an 'implicit' local query. With an implicit local query, the user does not include a location modifier in their query but the search engine assumes the query is local in nature and then uses other location information (e.g., the address associated with your account or the geo-location of your IP address / mobile phone) to return local results based on the combination of the user entered query and inferred location. For example, a search for 'pizza' at Google will automatically return local results using the inferred location.
Where should I claim my business listing?
Many sites now allow you to 'claim' your business listing. At least the following sites should be on your list: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Citysearch, Superpages, YP.com, Foursquare and Insider Pages. You should also claim your listing at the two major data aggregators that allow you to claim your listing online: Infogroup and Localeze.
What is a data aggregator?
Data aggregators are companies that compile, store and sell contact/location information for businesses and individuals. Hundreds of search engines and directories rely on this information as their 'source' data for local search, and use it when they cannot obtain the information directly from the business owner.
Why is it important to claim my business listing?
Claiming your business listing allows to control the branding/messaging of the content, ensure that all the contact information is complete and correct, improves your rank in the search results, prevents competitors from 'hijacking' your listing and often gives you access to some sort of traffic reporting from the engine.
What makes for great local listings?

Great local listings come down to four basic principles:

Accurate: The data has to be correct and the message consistent with the brand. For example, is the correct and primary phone number used? Is the 'feel' consistent with any national branding?

Complete: Use all available and relevant fields. This not only creates a more informative listing for the user, but drives recall and ranking in the search engines.

Fresh: Make sure your hours and other business details are up-to-date. Take advantage of coupons and 'specials' to promote your latest deals. An up-to-date coupon or special can make the conversion.

Ubiquitous: Ensure that all local search sites and data providers have your local listing and that it is accurate. This will mean more inbound traffic and will also have a synergistic effect, driving better rankings at the top engines.
What is a citation and why do they matter?
Citations are essentially online 'mentions' of your business and usually come in the form of listings or references on web properties. They have to include some combination of the following about a business: business name, address, phone number or website. This allows the search engine to tie the mention on the 3rd party website back to their local listing. The more citations (mentions) a business has, the more confidence the engine has that the business exists, ultimately offering an opportunity to rank better for relevant searches. In addition, citations can be used to increase the data associated with a listing at the search engine. For example, Google listings will often include additional data from a citation of the business on Superpages.com.
How do I get my listing to rank better for local search?

Here are the items that are most critical to local listing rank:

Business Address: This is local search after all, so your business has to be within a reasonable distance from the user's searched location. The proximity of your business to the user's specific search location is less important than it used to be, but you still need to be within the local area to be considered. For businesses that serve a large area, often far from their physical address, Google has rolled out a new Service Area feature that allows you to define a larger geography that your business services.

Listing Authority: How confident is the search engine that the business exists where it says it does and that it offers the services the searcher is interested in? This authority, or confidence, is built through several steps. A good first step is claiming your listings. As a second step, build more citations of your business online.

Business Categories: Add all the appropriate categories to your business...but only the appropriate categories. Category SPAM has been getting cleaned up aggressively by the engines.

Create Great Listings: Follow the 'great listings' advice from above.

Customer Reviews: Both the quality and quantity of the reviews matter. While their is still debate on how/if this specifically impacts the rank of local listings, a large amount of quality reviews will certainly increase the likelihood that a browser of your listing becomes a customer of your business.
How do I get more reviews for my local business?

Here are some review acquisition tactics to get your started:

Just Ask: The best place to start is with current customers. Contact those customers that have been pleased with their experience and your business. Going forward, kindly ask customers at the end of their buying experience if they would consider writing a review. Provide them with a business card or webpage that has links to all of your listings on the different search sites (where you have already claimed your listings, right?)

Email Marketing: As part of your ongoing email marketing or as part of a follow up email to people thanking them for their purchase, you can again include links to your different review listing accounts. The idea is to make it easy for them, giving them options for different sites in hopes that they already have an account at one of them.

Offline: Let your customers know you are online and that you care about your online reputation. A simple note on your marketing collateral or on your whiteboard can get the word out.

A few additional thoughts on review acquisition. First, great service will ultimately and organically result in great reviews. The tactics above just help get the ball rolling. Secondly, never create fake reviews for your business. They are likely to get filtered, they can erode trust in your business and they create bad karma.
How do I deal with negative online reviews about my business?

First, always keep in mind that there is a difference between a negative review and a false or inaccurate review. For negative reviews, consider responding using the functionally available at the review site. Most review sites offer business owners the ability to comment or respond directly. When you make the decision to engage with the reviewer remain calm, speak honestly and sincerely and try to make amends with the dissatisfied customer. Take the opportunity to explain the circumstances of the negative review and what you did to ensure there is not a reoccurrence. Refrain from engaging in an argument or provoking the reviewer. Remember that negative reviews are part of running a business; approach them as an opportunity to improve your business or service.

Additional resources: Lisa Barone's take and Mike Blumenthal's take
How do I deal with false or inaccurate online reviews about my business?

First, always keep in mind that there is a difference between a negative review and a false or inaccurate review. If the review is posted by a competitor, is done out of malice or just plain made up, use the 'Report Abuse' functionality available at nearly every major review site. This process is often slow, but can result in the false review being removed from the site.

How do I make my local listings get shown for mobile searches?

Mobile and local go together like peanut butter and jelly. The good thing is that you don't have to do anything special to have your local listings show up for searches done from a mobile phone. The local search engines will use the same listings and listing data, presented a bit differently, for both web and mobile searches.

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