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Local and Geographic Search

Local and Geographic Search

As more and more brick and mortar businesses market themselves online, search engines (“gateways to the Internet”) have reacted by becoming more like an advertising platform and less like a simple directory. In fact, a few (Yahoo, MSN) have morphed into whole “portals” providing online users with options galore. Still, no one can deny the power of search which remains the #2 reason people go online behind checking email.

What hasn’t necessarily worked well to-date, however, is the online marketing of local-only businesses. The ‘Net is not necessarily conducive to finding a painter in Stony Point, New York.

Now, with the advent of new developments, some of the largest purveyors of search, namely Google and Overture, are out to change all that…and likely to take a financial bite out of their off-line informational counterparts along the way.

Will phone book yellow pages, direct mail, local radio and newspapers take a hit if search goes local? We’ve compiled the information surrounding this subject from Google and Overture localized testing to breakthroughs in geo-targeted search advertising to changes that can be made to your web site to optimize for localized search.

Google and Overture Lead Localized Search

Last month both Google and Overture released beta test versions of their geographic search solutions. Overture is currently testing localized search on its newly acquired property, AltaVista. It’s also testing a handful of geographically-specific advertisers. Overture’s local search demo allows users to enter a keyword and then the state, city, or zip code of the location they’re looking to pinpoint.

While Google’s local search (called “Search by Location”) is set up similarly, they have also partnered with MapQuest in order to be able to show local matches on a map. If you’re looking to get in a golf game around the Queenstown, MD area, a Google location search for “golf” and “Queenstown, MD” yields 326 results and maps 10 of them. Here are the Google Local Search results.

Google’s Search by Location reveals tidbits of how it generates its results, which include site content with zip codes, town names, and addresses. Notice the second listing on the above search resulst page is for a bed & breakfast. It “made the cut” because its site content aligned with the parameters of the search. If you are a local business that would benefit from these kinds of related searches, it seems it would behoove you to include keyword content not just related to your specific business.

Localized Search and Advertising Potential

While ads are currently missing from the current Google Search by location, don’t expect that to last forever. The ad dollar potential in mapping plus localized advertising is enormous. Google could get ad revenues from “mapped advertisers” in addition to pay-per-click Local AdWords, much as it does right now. Overture already estimates that local-search web advertising will be a $1 billion market by 2008. Not a bad chunk o’ change is it?

Clicking on either ad brings the user in seconds so much more information than a yellow pages or AAA travel book ad does. Plus, the advertiser could enhance the user experience by offering special coupons to be redeemed on location or any number of other promotions they couldn’t do otherwise because of limited space or time in other forms of localized advertising. Giving the searcher the ability to click directly to a web site is like giving them a yellow pages dedicated entirely to their own business

Optimizing Your Site For Local Search

Along with basic search engine optimization (SEO), if you have a geographically-specific business you should be looking at localized SEO as well. Things may change in how the search engines eventually refine their local search technology, but it can’t hurt to do a few simple things…and get a jump on your local competition.

1) Add your address in a prominent place on your web pages. Many sites use the very bottom of their pages for their address listings. Address location didn’t use to matter. Localized search may change all that, so consider including all or part of your address nearer to the top of your page.

2) Add city and state information to your meta and title tags.

3) Add local information to your site’s content. As demonstrated in our local golf search example, links to and information on other businesses and attractions in your town may end up helping to promote your own site.

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Loren Baker

Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing ... [Read full bio]

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