In today’s ultra-competitive business environment, it is surprising that so many businesses still fail to take advantage of the free directory listings that can be driven by a fully optimized Local Business Profile. The term ‘free directory listings’ applies to local search engines, internet yellow pages, consumer review websites that focus on local businesses rather than products, local vertical search engines, and special directories like free 800 listings.
A fully optimized Local Business Profile contains a well-crafted business description, containing a unique selling proposition based on market and keyword research, domain name and email cross branding (including generic domains), authentic testimonials, and all permissible media including photos and videos. This is on top of all the basic contact, product, and services information. A fully realized business description in the right category is the key to the free directory kingdom.
Local Business Profiles Can Save PPC Costs
Submitting a properly optimized Local Business Profile to free directories can generate up to 2,000 unique and motivated local business visitors per month. Attracting 24,000+ annual visitors will save roughly $25,000 in pay per click costs (depending on keyword prices and competition). Such benefits more than justify the minimal effort involved in this process.
This post outlines methods and benefits for creating fully optimized Local Business Profiles – with or without a website. Also listed are free time-saving submission tools and free directory resources.
Here is an opportunity to learn a disciplined approach to creating an online presence in the local search market, with no ongoing cost. America has around 20,000,000 existing small and medium sized businesses and nearly one million new businesses are formed each year, yet very few businesses have yet done this – by acting now, you can be one step ahead of the game.
As a courtesy an email link to a fill-in-the-blanks Local Business Profile Fact Finder is provided at the end of this document.
About Local Search
Local search is growing rapidly, yet relatively few businesses take full advantage of free directory listings. More growth is forecast and this projected expansion justifies taking action. According to the ‘US Online Local Advertising Forecast, 2007 – 2012’, released by Jupiter Research, local advertising will increase by 13 percent from 2007 to 2012, faster than online advertising as a whole.
My local internet business clients have enjoyed high quality website traffic driven by Local Business Profiles optimized for free local internet directories. Meaningful traffic for the local business succeeded whenever the business owner, advertiser, or a paid professional took the time to prepare and submit a fully optimized Local Business Profile. This process will be described in full later.
One reason optimized Local Business Profiles work is simply that most businesses have not set one up yet. Check it out: Most local search queries at Google Maps will show just a few businesses, with little more than basic contact information – no pictures, testimonials, product brands, persuasive business descriptions, videos and the like.
This lack of competition alone has enabled many of my clients to appear on Google’s main page one results in its One Box; similar results have been enjoyed on other directories.
An optimized Local Business Profile offers the following benefits:
- Free Traffic: Substantial traffic potential that persuades visitors to take action. Free advertising and new customers, whether or not supported by paid online advertising campaigns.
- Branding: An opportunity to brand a business across many local directories encompassing business name, domain names (including generic variants to attract type-in traffic), logos, email addresses, phones, fax and 800 numbers.
- Unique Selling or Value Proposition: In a business description written for local searchers, with a search engine friendly value proposition limited to 200 characters based on keyword and market research.
- Drag and Drop Identity: One place to incorporate all your essential business information, including name, address, phone, fax, email, products and services, hours of operation, etc. Also, a handy cut and paste business profile for other occasions, including online business or social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc
- SEO Enhancements: Improved overall search engine optimization results on local and main directories, improved ‘findability’ in local directories that may use many different category systems. If you are in the wrong category then you will not be found.
At this point, you may well be asking questions – What distinguishes a ‘fully optimized’ Local Business Profile from a more basic profile? What does it include? Why does it get the attention of search engines and visitors? Why does it attract a high and surprising amount of qualified traffic?
Our experience has shown that the key factors for generating traffic and buyers are a well crafted business description, photos that relate to the services offered, and authentic, well written testimonials – which most businesses struggle to obtain, no matter how satisfied the customers.
Start with what is known for an established business, and what the goals are for a new business. These benefits are for both the short-term and long-term
Free directory listings are available at Local Search Engines like Google and Yahoo, most internet yellow page directories, consumer review websites such as Yelp.com and insiderPages.com, many vertical directories, and even 800 number listings. Resources for the major free directories are provided at the end of this document.
Creating and submitting a great Local Business Profile is a very human endeavor. Most of it cannot be automated, despite several companies offering such services. I have found the economic value of automated submissions to be non-existent, as automated creation and submission to the major databases and search engines can neither create a great Local Business Profile nor properly submit one, since they cannot address the many listing category variations, or upload photos and videos.
A great Local Business Profile requires basic keyword and market research skills, basic search engine copywriting awareness techniques, domain market know-how to understand the value of generic domains and direct navigation, local directory familiarity, and, last but not least, common sense. Whilst creating the profile is human, there are submission tools that can semi-automate the process.
Once you have created your Local Business Profile, you can use it as a persuasive drag and drop tool for online and other networking. It pays, therefore, to ensure that the profile is as good as it can possibly be.
Here is how I go about creating a fully optimized Local Business Profile:
Step 1 – Basic Market and Keyword Research
Get a handle on the marketplace and competition. Basic market and keyword research are key to the business description and the directory categories. I never cease to be amazed at the gap between my common sense assumptions and actual results – results will often contradict how a business has merchandized itself if they have not advertised online and researched their market.
First, some basic questions: Am I a new or established business? Do I have a website? Do I advertise online? Have I done previous market and keyword research? Do I have any useful data? Whether the answers to these questions, I do basic keyword research testing variations based on geography, to get a big picture based on search terms and number of queries.
With or without prior keyword research or experience, I like to imagine myself as an online customer of my business’s products or services (and my competitors), walking in their shoes as an online mystery shopper. What search terms or phrases (keywords) would someone enter into Google or other search engine to find your business?
I use basic keyword research tools to see the number of searches my business categories generate – nothing too sophisticated at this point.
- Google’s Keyword Tool
As a local business I add location to my keywords. For example, if I am a seafood and waterfront restaurant in Miami I will check the number of searches for ‘seafood restaurant‘ and ‘waterfront restaurant‘, then ‘Miami restaurant‘, ‘Miami seafood restaurant‘, ‘Miami waterfront restaurant‘, and ‘Miami-Dade restaurant‘. It also pays to test for zip codes, state or county combinations.
Local keyword tools: GeoMake. This freeware creates location-targeted lists combining a keyword with a state, city, county only, both cities and counties, city before keyword, etc.
Need inspiration for creative keyword research? Read Aaron Wall’s ‘Keyword Inspiration’
Based on my research I can then move on to what is the most challenging task of all – a 200 character (200 being the most common limit) business description.
Step 2 – 200 Characters (only) Business Description
Writing a great business description is arguably the most important part of a great business profile, as it is how visitors will first connect with you. You have 200 characters, including spaces, to convey your business and why search engines should find you and why buyers should click. This challenge is on par with trying to tell your life story in three sentences.
Describe your business to potential customers in terms of benefits on the one hand and high volume keywords on the other. Incorporate all of the research from high volume search terms including local variants, taglines, unique selling propositions, and all the items in Step 1.
Take time to create this document, and use the same technique used for writing online copy, except you have to be more disciplined as the length is limited. Important keywords should begin sentences, and important sentences should precede less important ones. Try to eliminate articles and prepositions without losing their meaning. Also, the copy must be marketing oriented to appeal to buyers, plus search engine friendly. These techniques are similar to writing any online copy – the most important terms and sentences are at the front of the description.
I pull together basic answers to the basic questions required of a Local Business Profile. What is my primary line of business: service, retail, mfg, or other? Whom do I primarily sell to: consumers, businesses, both, or other? Does my business have memorable tag-lines? If so, and they are related to your keyword research, then use them in your business description. If not, consider high search volume keywords as taglines.
What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? What brings customers to your door and keeps them coming back? Most owner operated businesses have never taken the time to articulate this.
Construct your Local Business Profile based first on keyword research and then your USP.
Which five categories best describe your business? If this were a print yellow pages ad, where would buyers most easily find your business? Connect the keyword research to your categories. Be specific, as the categories you select are one of the ways searchers will find you. Remember to connect the dots between your USP, keyword research and traffic driving categories.
Take a look at these additional resources for business description copy writing:
‘How to Create Content That Ranks Well in Search Engines’ by Brian Clark:
‘Search Engine Optimization: Writing Effectively for Humans and Spiders Alike’ By: Stephan Spencer
Step 3 – Business Name, Domain(s), Email, Branding Consistency
Consider the following as branding opportunities to incorporate into a Local Business Profile: Business Name one is known by, Legal Business Name, Website Domain, Generic Direct Navigation Domain(s) and emails.
Business naming to optimize online branding can be accomplished relatively simply. Selecting (if not already decided) the most memorable of the Business Name vs. Legal Business Name such as the legal corporate version with Inc. or Corp. at the end).
Do you already have a business name and domain name that reflects your brand, or are you a new business? If you are well known in a locality, take the name use it online, using email and domains to reinforce it. If you have a bricks and mortar name but no online presence or domain name, then this is your chance to create internet traffic and extend your local branding online
Ideally, web addresses should be short, descriptive, and easy to spell, containing keywords that reinforce your brand. Also, consider a generic domain name as a supplement. Generic domains may generate direct navigation traffic, as many searchers enter exactly what they seek in the address bar, and then add a dot-com. Visitors can then be redirected to your main website. Leveraging a domain in this way can generate customer prospects and also extends the brand.
Let us go back to the earlier example and consider the options. Let us say that I am Joe’s Waterfront Seafood and my domain is joeswaterfrontseafood.com (a little long). I would check if generic domains for frequently searched phrases are available, possibly miamiseafood.com, miamiwaterfrontdining.com. If joeswaterfront.com and joesseafood.com were available, I would consider that to be a cheap investment for those people who type domains into the address bar rather than use a search engines. I would then see if my keyword research uncovered any generic domains that could generate traffic: miamiseafood.com, waterfrontdining.com, etc.
Namedoppers.com is useful for checking domain availability and provides suggestions for generic domains that can improve branding and drive direct navigation type-in traffic.
Use your business name in your email for the Local Business Profile (at least), this should make use of your brand name and be easily remembered. For example: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Any or all of these free emails could be used or forwarded to less memorable email addresses. I would definitely make use of these for my email contact info.
Step 4 – Client/Customer Testimonials, User Ratings and Reviews
This can be difficult as testimonials are difficult to obtain from even the most satisfied customers, as they are often too busy or lazy. Yet consumer reviews have been determined as a major decision making factor for shoppers. Many local business directories invite consumers to rate and review the services used from their listings. Directories that accept consumer reviews are growing all the time and the leading directories accepting reviews include Yahoo, Google, Windows Live, Zagat, SuperPages, YellowPages.com, InsiderPages, Yelp, OpenList, CityGuide and Citysearch.com. This is especially true of restaurants as restaurant review websites abound and must be used to your advantage if you are a restaurateur. Same for consumer review contractor and other websites
These ratings can influence your ranking, as the most reviewed and most praised businesses are listed higher on the directory listings. Rating values have become one of the most important factors for achieving rankings in various local search engines, so do not ignore them. Consumer reviews are increasingly being aggregated by local search directories.
Getting satisfied clients to provide more than just a name with their review will do wonders for your credibility, and testimonials that are specific are effective. With regard to our seafood restaurant example, ‘the salmon was prepared with flavorsome Béarnaise sauce,’ is much better than, ‘the salmon was great‘.
I add a local city ‘Bargains’ section to the local business website and include the major review directories. Visitors will then return to the website to find bargains locally and be more likely to write a review about a business. Take a look at this example: LAWindowTreatments.com (http://lawindowtreatments.com/la-window-treatment-bargains.html)
Step 5 – Photos, Logos and Video
Google allows up to ten images, which may include logo, location, products, services and key personnel. Local directories are increasingly making available media options. Where possible include image tags with keywords, brand and/or business categories.
Low cost corporate video production companies are all the rage and should be considered when looking to take a local business profile to the next level.
Step 6 – Basics
Here is a list of things you need to take into consideration from the word go:
Location: Street address, City, State, Zip code, and mailing address (if different). Many directories require a local address, some a business address, and some preclude work at home businesses.
Maps pinpointing business locations are now appearing alongside business listings. In some cases, maps and map features of an area do not reflect a precise one-to-one relationship with reality.
Some local businesses, such as plumbers or contractors, may not operate out of a fixed address. With internet directories, local search engines, and online map sites, not having an address can be a big disadvantage. This can be resolved in certain cases by renting a shop mailbox.
If you have multiple locations, it is recommended to have one profile per location.
After submission, you should search for your business to see if you can be found under your submitted address. Streets can be cited in many ways: Streets that have both a north and south, or east and west can be incorrectly interpreted by search engines and mapping systems, resulting in unclear maps and directions. Make sure you are spot on.
Always check your online business address with the major online mapping systems, such as MapQuest, Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, and MSN Maps, to ensure that they pinpoint your business.
Bear in mind that new streets and addresses can be an issue with a one to two year time lag before new streets appear in online mapping systems.
Take some time to view this useful and detailed article for fine tuning location issues: ‘Anatomy & Optimization of a Local Business Profile’ by Chris “Silver” Smith of Netconcepts.
- Certifications, Affiliations, Business Credentials: Licensed / Bonded / Local Occupational License / Better Business Bureau / Chamber of Commerce.
- Associations: Minority owned / Chamber member / Religion / Environmental / Professional Associations.
- Operating Hours
- Areas served
- Telephone Number(s)
- Secondary telephone(s)
- Fax number
- Lease/own real estate
- Owner a female or a minority
- Number of employees (at each location)
- Years in business
- Professional endorsements/ratings
- Languages Spoken
- Forms of payment accepted: Cash, Check, Traveler’s Check, Invoice, MasterCard, Visa, PayPal.
Step 7 – Submission Tools
It is my belief that a Local Business Profile that can be found by search engines and responded to by potential customers cannot be automated. This is because each directory has a different system for categories – unless you actively match up categories determined by keyword research and factor in the directory anomalies, you will not be found very often. Further photos and videos must be uploaded manually.
However, one can semi-automate the process. The simplest method is by using the auto-fill option on a Google or other toolbar for the basics. Longer text such as the business description, can be cut and pasted from Notepad or similar programs.
Roboform is a very popular freeware program most often used for remembering passwords. There is an identity section where entering detailed information allows for the submission of more basic information into the varied directory forms. Information is manually entered into a new identity, which then fills in more blanks in directory submission forms than toolbar auto-fills can. Custom fields may be used for items like store hours. Despite Roboform filling in the basic information, each submission should be checked as Roboform is not 100% accurate in filling the right information in the right box
Many submissions require a two step process and some require email confirmation. Google sends a postcard several weeks later with a PIN number that is to be entered when received. They also accept immediate callbacks to the business to confirm, although these can be hard to coordinate.
Step 8 – Free Local Directory Resources
There are hundreds of local directories including popular local verticals like restaurant, contractors, etc. Some of the major free directories for submission may be found at:
- Business Portals and Local Listing Guide – eCommerce Optimization Local Search Engines and Popular Local Search Listings
- Detailed tutorials for submission to the major local directories at Matt McGee’s (Marchex) useful blog: Small Business SEM
- Guide to Google Local Search
- Guide to Yahoo Local Search
- Guide to MSN Local Search
- Other Local Search Marketing Options
Step 9 – Recommendations
Read the excellent Local Industry Report ‘2008 Perspectives on Local Online Advertising and Content’
Step 10 – Free Local Business Profile Fact Finder Template
For anyone who would like a free editable Word Document Local Business Profile Fact Finder send an email to Steven Brier at firstname.lastname@example.org (privacy will be respected)
Final thoughts: we all know of attorneys who die without wills; the children of shoemakers who go without shoes. While I have successfully provided fully optimized Local Business Profiles to clients with great results – I am now resolved to take my own advice now that I have articulated the benefits for all the world