|GOOGLE PLACES OPTIMIZATION, LOCAL SEARCH OPTIMIZATION|
The growth of the internet and search engines hasincreasingly changed the way that people find and research local businesses. In a recent study by comScore, 2008 was the first year that more consumers turned to search engines over the phone book as the first source for consumer research and information. The implications for this dramatic shift in consumer behavior is leading to a severe decline in yellow pages advertising and the increasing emphasis on Local Search Optimization to provide visibility online for local and regional companies and services. The resulting challenge for many companies operating on a local and regional basis is how to create presence and visibility online with a limited budget and understanding of this growing field of Local Search Engine Optimization (LSEO).
Understanding Google Places Results (Google Local)
In addition to the growing use of GPS systems and new mapping technology, Google™ took the greatest step forward in local search by introducing “universal search” to their results in 2007. Now instead of just website listings, Google™ now displays Google™ Places (Maps) results, images, and video along with their geographic organic search results. For example, by searching for “bankruptcy lawyer New York City” in Google™, you will now see the top 10 Places results followed by the organic results listed below. Google™ has now added these places results to the most commonly used geo-specific searches such as adding a city name to a search term as previously displayed. So what are the implications of this change for local search engine optimization? Huge! In essence, Google™ has now introduced places (local) results in place of the four highest organic positions on Google that traditionally received the highest results and clicks. This area in eye tracking analysis (or heat map ) is considered to be the primary location for the human eye to scan the results and now people are seeing maps results for local searches!
So how do companies get listed in Google Places results? They can be listed from a number of sources pulled by Google™ places and/or submitted to Google Places manually by you or an SEO consultant. The great part about Google places is you don’t even need to have a website to be listed in the results – but it will certainly help with customer research and conversion if you do. Another point to consider if are currently listed or submit to be listed is HOW you are listed in these results. Google Places allows you to create and/or edit your listing and content - so don’t waste the opportunity to optimize your listing by including your keywords and phrases into your listing results.
Along with a number of ever changing factors used to determine Google Places (local) results is where your company is listed in relation to the city center (or centroid). The closer your company is listed to the center of the city, the more likelihood you will display prominently in the results. This of course can lead to abuse but it is certainly to your advantage if you have a physical address close to the centroid if you wish to score well on these results.
It is not uncommon to see companies show up prominently in the places results and mistakenly think that because of this; their website is optimized well for the search engines. In most cases, this is simply not the case. As discussed in our section on keyword SEO, just because you might show-up prominently in Google Places for a commonly searched term doesn’t mean you are also showing up in other searches as well. Moreover, around 40% of all searches are unique “long-tail” type searches that are far less in volume but much higher in quality and results. Most long-tail searches are referred to as “money” searches because they tend to be highly focused and come from people who are actually looking for something specific. So don’t be confused by the results provided in Google Places – yes they provide prominence with certain searches but they should not be considered a replacement for a good local search engine optimization strategy.
The Growth of Mobile Browsing
As of 2008, there are around 228 million mobile subscribers in the United States, a 6% growth year over year. What is more startling is the 45% growth over the same period of time in mobile browsing – or people who are searching the web from their mobile phones and PDA’s. A recent study by comScore also shows that 1 in 5 online business searchers with an internet-accessible cell phone have conducted a local search through their phone. So if you are a local company, you need to ask yourself what the growing use of mobile browsing means for your business.
Many local companies have poor website design SEO and therefore do not show up optimally in mobile web-browsers. If you have a website now, take a moment to look at your website through a cell phone or PDA and see how it looks. Part of an optimal website design process is to understand the desired customer journey through your website. Once this is determined, you can now take that journey yourself through your cell phone or PDA and see how easy or hard this now becomes for your website users. Often times a local search through a PDA may be as simple as people trying to find your phone number, email, and/or physical address through these searches. So when in doubt, a minimal approach is to make sure that these journeys are easily accessible to mobile users and your website is not too choppy and unnavigable in these type of browsers.
Google Places Optimization Strategies
Here are a few ways in which you can improve your local search engine optimization: