Twenty percent of global web traffic takes place on mobile, and nearly 50 percent of all searches on Google have local intent. Businesses need to get serious about local search.
Demand for local SEO has skyrocketed, and it's the big-box enterprises that are taking advantage of some of the more creative tactics that provide meaningful location signals to search engines. To anyone involved in marketing these statistics likely come as no surprise. But, even so, there's a limited spectrum for local optimization tactics (that are over used and over-appreciated.)
Leaving your company Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) all over the web is still among the most effective of these tactics, but there are a number of other ways by which you can help search engines get a clear understanding of your geography and improve your local rankings.
A picture can actually be worth a thousand words. Much like any file, images can contain a lot of meta-data, which is information available to search engines and anyone nosy enough to find it — it’s even possible to store a separate file, like a PDF or .exe in an image file.
One way to leverage this meta-data is to embed geo data, such as coordinates, into your pictures.
Photos you take with either Android or iOS phones are automatically geotagged, but for everyone else there’s GeoSetter (Windows) or GeoTagger (iOS). These allow you to set coordinates for your photo either by manually plotting or simply selecting the location on the built-in Google map. The editor lets you add the country code, state/province, city and sub-region providing both a contextual and geo-spatial profile of where the image was taken. You can also set the date, contact information and a URL using this software.
Icing on the cake? It’s free.
If you’re using this tactic, you can then re-upload the images to your site and places listings, submit an image sitemap, upload them to your social media channels (as appropriate) etc. Essentially you’re leveraging image SEO in the same way, but now it’s like, totally "meta" dude!
Google isn’t the only one interested in mapping the planet; open source software like Open Street Map, enable crowdsourcing as a means to populate local data. Basically, it’s a non-commercial version of Map Maker, except that the data is open and accessible to anyone.
Listing your business with Open Street Map gets you a citation there, but also with all of the third parties that leverage it. (One listing for a hundred citations, anyone?) Google picks up the signals from all of these listings even if it doesn’t directly incorporate the data into Maps.
Another way you can leverage mapping for citations are through services like BatchGeo (freeware) which allow you to create public, customizable maps. This is an example of a map that was created for a storage chain. All 55 of the company’s locations have been plotted on this map, and clicking any of the markers reveals a clickable (nofollow) link, as well as NAP.
When I thought about the most impactful, most scalable tactic I could recommend to lift your local rankings, it was no surprise that "real company stuff" was involved. Meet local synergies.
Local synergies are all about finding businesses in your area that are relevant to your market, and leveraging those businesses as brand ambassadors.
This can be either by providing these types of businesses with exclusive promotions, or by aligning yourself as a partner with their business to help serve their own customers better. A perfect example of this is how storage companies align themselves with moving companies.
Just think: I’m moving, where does my stuff go? I need to store my stuff while I move, who’s going to help me? That’s synergy right there.
So, let’s reach out to these business owners manually and work with them to build out a promotion.
You could generate a list of the top ranking websites for terms like “city + moving”, “moving + city”, “moving company”, etc. Reach out to these business owners manually with exclusive offers and, if they’re interested, ask that they create a page on their site outlining the promotion and linking back to you (you can even offer to create the page for them!). Why wouldn’t a moving company want to offer their customers xy% off storage?
It’s a value proposition that more often than not, their competition can’t match and gives them a competitive edge that’s well worth a dedicated page. You end up with a link from a locally and contextually relevant website as well as the business referrals the partnership generates.
To scale this out, you can scrape directory listings and automate outreach using a tool like BuzzStream for less exclusive promotions that still benefit the prospect.
Here are a few ideas around how this can be implemented for some common niches:
Home Insurance: Align with telecomm providers to create bundled packages. Someone who’s just moved into a new home is also likely looking for a combination of an internet connection, landline or cable/satellite service. Make it cheaper for them to get all of this with their home insurance policy. Granted this is a more difficult PR play, as you can imagine the results would be tremendous.
Restaurants: Do you buy your ingredients locally? Get the wholesaler to link back to your website! You could also offer corporate lunch promotions to local businesses, educational institutions, etc.
Hotels: This one’s easy — events! Make your hotel a venue for events and you’ll get tons of local links naturally!
Classifieds: Resource lists! A perfect example is a link I recently acquired for a classifieds brand on the University of Toronto’s Rotman “student housing” portal.
The key to remember here is that local businesses will be far more receptive to linking to you if you’re offering their customers or constituents a benefit that they can’t get elsewhere, or a resource that’s relevant to their needs. This helps you establish a relationship, generate links and drive referrals.
This one is more speculation, but there’s a theory that constantly keeping your Google+ Local listing updated can help improve your local visibility. Much in the way that freshness affects a page’s ability to rank organically, there is reason to believe that the same can be said for a local result. Even if this doesn’t help your rankings, it will certainly be good for your brand and gives searchers that extra nudge to pick you over a competitor.
Every month, publish some new images to your local listing, add a new video or promotion. In the U.S. you can create a listing offer (coupon) that shows up on both mobile and desktop as a coupon "card."
Keeping up-to-date images of your property and products, and providing customers with value-offers will also make you stand above your competition. This in a nutshell is CRO for Google Places. Test out the offers that work best, try posting images of handwritten testimonials, or of management interacting with customers. Not everyone will actually look at a listing’s images but every extra conversion counts!
An interesting insight from my CEO and mentor Dev Basu regarding the impact of this tactic on local rankings: “it’s not definitive — just means you always have the freshest data…if Google goes back to an old data-set, you’re taking measures to counteract that.”
Adwords local extensions
Not ranking locally yet? Get results right away with AdWords Local Extensions while your maps and synergies are baking.
Local extensions enable webmasters to add rich snippets for addresses and phone numbers to their PPC ads. On both mobile and desktop, just as with local results, a user can click on that address for directions or to call the company. Local extensions give advertisers additional ad real estate with no added costs. Pair local extensions with location-based bid modifiers and you’ve got the recipe for one hell of a paid search strategy. Still not convinced?
I’d love to hear what creative local search tactics you have up your sleeve. Let me know if any of these were helpful or if you have any ideas of your own. I’ll be writing a follow up to this post with some more ideas on the Powered by Search blog so be sure to follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our blog for updates!
Marc Nashaat is an Enterprise Marketing Consultant at Powered by Search and a geek for all things Local SEO. He's a data junkie who gets his fix diving into analytics in his free time. Marc is equally obsessed with Space exploration, technology, open media and probably some other stuff. Follow him on Twitter, G+ and LinkedIn.