One of the smartest things you can do to improve your search position, and your online reputation in general, is to develop a local search initiative. To begin, let's focus on two key areas...
More than ever, mobile search is more important than desktop search. Think of how many of use our handheld computers today. Users want to find "________ near [location]," "where is the best place to ________," "how to get ________." Search engines then tailor search results to your present location, whether determining that by the cookies in your browser identifying your local search tendencies or by asking you how you would like to filter your location search (by city, state, category, etc.). In addition, an increasing amount of users prefer to use voice search and voice commands to get answers to their questions. Think Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant. All of those search tools, all powered by algorithms and artificial intelligence, are designed to help you get closer to your desired search result in a way that's more distilled than a typical search results page. Today's users want instant answers, even more instantaneously that having to sift through a page of search results.
Create and update local search directories (Google My Business, Yelp, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, etc.) and other online aggregators of business profile information.
It is in your interest to make sure that your brand/business/organization contact information is correct everywhere it appears online, not just on your website. Look at it this way: search engines are only as smart as the information available to them - after all, they are fundamentally, information aggregators. So, while your website may be earnestly letting search engines know (an issue we discussed in part here) that your business is, for example, a pilates studio, search engines would like third-party verification that you are who you say you are, that you are where you say you are and depending on the user search request, that you are pertinent to the search query. Local search directories and online aggregators are two major influencers in that regard.
Try searching for your business category (not by your name, but by your market niche...EX: hardware store, assisted living, private school, etc.). When you do, search engines will try to provide you with the most pertinent answer. They'll look at the words you used in your search. They'll determine (or try to guess) your location. More often than not, your Page 1 search results will include a range of website suggestions (many of which may be geographically closest to you), social profiles and some local search directories (Yelp, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, etc.) and several online directories that reflect your business category (EX: for "assisted living" you might find a profile of your business on caring.com or aplaceformom.com) - if you've optimized your site well, your brand might even show up (either your website, which would be ideal; one of your social profiles; or a listing on one of these local search directories/online aggregators.
While being on these directory sites does not necessarily endow you with "site authority," being listed properly on these sites increases the chances that users will find you in a broad location or category search, even if they don't yet know you by name. And because it's highly likely that these directories, especially general ones like Google/Yahoo/Bing Local, CitySearch and TripAdvisor), have vastly greater website visitor traffic than you do, being on them exponentially increases your chances of being found and being a pertinent answer to a user query.
So...how did your brand/business/organization even get listed on some of these directories?
A random user provided your business information...
Some directories crowdsource, enabling any user to provide business profile information and submit it to that directory's "quality control" team who then verify that the information provided is valid and decide whether to post it. If the business profile information posted is not correct, you can often change the profile info yourself, either as a fellow random user or as the owner/authorized brand steward, following the protocols for doing so on each directory website.
You, or someone in your organization, manually entered the business information...
If you're already doing this, good job. It's really not hard...but ensuring that every single one of your local search directory listings is correct and has all the information you care to share can be pretty time-consuming. It doesn't have to be. You could cherry-pick the ones that are most important to you. You could pay for an automated solution like Yext. Or - shameless self-promotion coming - you could task Burgundy Group to take care of it for you.
Your business information was automatically/manually gathered by a local search directory/online aggregator...
It's always weird, maybe even a little disconcerting, to discover your business profile on a random directory website. As site administrators, we often see these kinds of directories in Google Analytics referrals before seeing them in search results. Some of these sites can actually be pretty helpful, though. To use an "assisted living" example, caring.com and aplaceformom.com may provide value to a client providing long-term health care services, especially if they have multiple locations. Both of those directory sites aggregate basic information by scraping the Web, then listed companies the option of enhancing their profile. These two sites also generate content related to long-term health care. The nice thing about that content is that you can link to it from your website ***, further validating your brand's pertinence to a general search for "assisted living" and associating you with a website with greater traffic and site authority than yours. If you can avoid paying for such things, do. We can help advise which ones might be worthwhile for you.
*** NOTE: Some of these directory sites also charge to link to their "authoritative content." Again, we can advise on which ones might serve you best.
You can see why it's so critical to think about a local search initiative. You have to determine the value of local directory/aggregator listing to your business and acknowledge the changing ways that people search for information online and the devices they're using to do so. With a smart approach to local search, you are more assured of being one of those instant answers.
Stay tuned for more "best practice tips" in coming weeks...