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.