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Local Search – A Key Trend for Small Businesses





Local search is a rapidly evolving area. Local search, i.e., searching for local businesses and destinations, is an especially important trend for small businesses. Most small firms do the majority of business locally, within a 50-mile radius.

Marketers and search engine professionals working for small businesses, as well as small business owners trying to do their own online marketing, all need to be aware of the evolution of this area.

If you do most of your business locally, and do NOT want to throw money down the drain, you should make sure you educate yourself about local search and get good at it. For instance, if you do most of your business near Detroit, Michigan, you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money attracting visitors to your website from Italy or even from Miami, Florida. That would just be a waste, right? You want to isolate your search engine optimization and online advertising dollars to attract traffic from the areas you can serve.

Yesterday in Denver, Colorado I attended the Local Search Engine Strategies conference. Some of the newer search engines concentrating on local search were showcased, as were techniques for conducting local searches with precision. Here are some of the broad impressions I picked up about the players in the local search landscape:

  • The big three search engines — Google, MSN and Yahoo — support local searching in varying degrees. Google is far and ahead of the other two when it comes to local search. Google supports searching by IP address (targeting according to the geographical locale of the searcher’s IP address). The IP address searching can be sliced and diced in a number of ways: state, metro region, radius, even polygon searching which involves plotting areas on a map and searching within the boundaries of those points. Yahoo currently does not offer IP targeting, but the next release (Panama) will offer it. MSN offers limited IP search, and search by metro region — but its new Live Local Search integrates search results with maps of local areas.
  • A crop of new search engines focused entirely on local search are picking up traction. Local.com and TrueLocal.com are two of them. Then there are directories and community sites of various kinds, too. ShopLocal.com and Judy’s Book are two examples.
  • The Yellow Pages sites are another category. Printed Yellow Pages books are declining in usage (although I am certain they will still be used for years to come). As the print versions decline, the Yellow Pages publishers are going through transitions to online versions. For them, it’s a matter of survival. Many of them offer a basic free listing for businesses, but also offer enhanced search visibility upon payment of monthly upgrade fees. YellowPages.com and SuperPages.com are two of them.

You can find a list of local search engines, directory sites, and yellow pages sites at LocalSearchGuide.org. Set aside an afternoon to check out the options. Submit your site if not already included, and take advantage of free listings when offered. If you try out any of the online marketing solutions in these sites, be sure to test, test, test. Evaluate your results from each directory or search engine, until you identify the vehicles that work best for your type of business and your local area.

10 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

10 Reactions

  1. VerusNova blog has good advice on Local Search
    “Local Search Engines can Attract New Customers” at
    http://verusnova.com/blog/index.php/2006/03/10/local-search-engine-listings-can-attract-new-customers/

  2. Shirley George Frazier

    It’s interesting to read that Google’s local search is ahead of Yahoo’s! I recall using Yahoo’s! local search feature, which allowed me to drill down to find exactly what I wanted on the local level. It’s a feature I highlighted in one of my books.

    The new localized search engines you mention must do a fair amount of advertising and/or partner with better-known engines to make their product a bookmarkable place on consumers’ desktops. Otherwise, the firms that advertise with them will never connect with customers.

  3. I think your right that most small businesses do all of their buisness within a small geographic radius and typically do business with people in their rolodex or within 2 degrees of separation from their rolodex.

    I think the internet provides an opportunity for small businesses to do break that cycle and find customers who are “shopping” for their niche product/service all over the world regardless of proximity. On the internet, most searches are for “niche” goods/services and the buyers generally do not care where the vendor is located. On the internet, no one knows how big/small your business is, so it’s benefits are disproportionate to small businesses. My advice were not to be too focused on local search, but on improving page rank for pure search and on buying the niche-y-est adwords regardless of location.

  4. Anita Campbell

    Hi Mike, thanks for the link to your article at VerusNova.

    I recommend it for those who want the skinny on how to get listed in the largest local directories. And the comments under your article had links to some interesting resources, also. Thanks for pointing this out.

    Best,
    Anita

  5. Mr. Halligan, your suggestion is a good one for many businesses but just as no shirt is a “one size fits all,” Internet marketing isn’t either.

    Suppose a business is a pool cleaning service. Would you suggest that this business, which is a service that can only work by the service provider working on his client’s premises, market itself to people in Hong Kong if they are located in Lansing, Michigan? That would be impractical. Local search provides businesses who, by necessity, must do business locally to market their businesses online to their targeted clientele even if their keyword niche can be found by anyone anywhere. By typing in your zip code, or your city and state, you can narrow your search to a local business within a niche so that you don’t have to sort through pool cleaning services in 15,000 cities around the world to find the one in your small town of 4,000.

    Besides that, many people are still wary of doing business online. They go online to find a business then call, send an e-mail, or just drive over to see what they can find.

  6. Anita Campbell

    Hi Brian, I agree that some companies are boundary-less and can attract customers from all over the world, despite other businesses being primarily local in nature.

    And don’t forget the unique national/local combinations that local search allows, for franchisees. Local search is a a godsend, because the franchisor can invest in a national marketing campaign — but then use local targeting to develop leads by specific geographic area, forwarding leads by geographic area to the proper franchisee for that territory.

    Best,
    Anita

  7. Anita Campbell

    Hi Solo Business Marketing,

    You raise a very interesting point.

    Let me clarify my statement about local search. I was referring specifically to IP-based searching in the regular Yahoo search engine.

    Today, among the big 3 search engines, Google beats every competitor hands down when it comes to delivering search results (including ads) tailored specifically based on the searcher’s IP address.

    I think you may be referring to Yahoo’s Local directory, which is something a little different from its search engine. Your comment prompted me to check it out. The Yahoo Local directory looks like it has gotten much much better. I noticed that even my company, which is as virtual a business as you can get, appears in the Local directory.

    This page describes how to search using the Yahoo Local directory: http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/local/help/basics/local-13.html

    Best,
    Anita

  8. Darren J Deverux

    This post is a great demonstration of smallbiztrends’ talent for identifying trends. Local search has continued to grow in importance for both consumers and businesses and is now at an all time high in importance. 20% of ALL search queries are now “location-based” (says Google™ in a recent study.)

    Check out this infographic I designed recently on the importance of local listings in 2011 bit.ly/qRe59n.

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