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Local Search

If your last citation was a speeding ticket, your business may be losing customers

Ask around and you'll hear that after claiming and updating your Google Places page, nothing is more important than citations for improving search results for a local business. A citation is basically any mention of your business that associates your business with a location. A citation is not necessarily a link—just a mention will do. The quantity and quality of citations is a powerful signal to the search engines that your business exists and is where you say it is. And the more confidence Google has in your location, the more likely you'll be found in Google's all-important local results.

So how do you get these little gems? It's actually easier than building organic backlinks, since there are so many sites that actually want your local listing. But easy doesn't mean quick. Be prepared to invest 40 or more hours of your own time unless you're willing to spend a bit of money for a good automated LSV (Local Search Visibility) service.

There are many curated lists of citation sources around the web, but many of the best sources will be specific to your location or niche. It's well worth your time to look beyond the search engines, IYPs and review sites to dig up as many opportunities as possible. Here's a quick run down of the type of sites and sources you'll want to take advantage of:

  • Search engines (Google Places, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local)
  • IYPs (CitySearch, YellowPages.com, SuperPages.com, etc.)
  • Reviews (Angie's List, Yelp, Brownbook, MerchantCircle, ShopCity, etc.)
  • User-generated content (MyMaps, KML files, etc.)
  • Vertical directories (search for "[industry] directory")
  • Event calendars (search for "[city] events")
  • Hyper-Local Sites (search for "[neighborhood] [city]")
  • Local Groups and Associations (sometimes worth joining groups just for the listing)
  • Unstructured NAPs (ask link sources to include Name, Address, & Phone)
  • Inbound anchor text (ask link sources to include localized keywords)
  • Location service check-ins (encourage customers to check in at your location)
  • Geo-tagged content (upload and share geo-tagged images and videos)
  • Your competitors citation sources (click the "more" link at the bottom of their Google Places page)
  • Your own website (you should be your own best citation source!)

More than 20% of searches have local intent, and over half of mobile searches have local intent. Add to that the fact that Google often assumes local intent even when a location is not specified. This is why a high organic search rank is no longer enough for a company doing local business. Local search results are based on an entirely different algorithm—one that relies heavily on local citations.

The good news is there's no end to the opportunity. The bad news is it's a time consuming process. The pleasant surprise is that for a relatively small cost, a big chunk of this work can be done for you, and an immediate ROI is likely to result.

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The Top, #1, Most Important Step to Improve Local Search Results

When 32 top experts on local SEO were asked to identify the most important factors for achieving greater visibility in local search, there was nearly unanimous agreement on what belongs at the top of the list: Claim and update your Google Places page. Assuming Google knows you exist, Google has already created your "Places" listing, including a dedicated page with details about your business, photos, reviews, and more. So where does this information come from? Unless you have claimed your own page, it comes from anywhere Google can get it, including submissions from random strangers and your competitors. So here's a quick why, where, and how to claim and update your page:

Why?
  • The Google Places page may the first thing people see about your business, so you want to make a good first impression.
  • A "claimed" page will actually rank better in search engine results—Google insiders have confirmed this.
  • Claiming your page will protect it from inaccurate or malicious posting, since you will be the only one who can edit your business info. (Reviews, of course, cannot be edited or removed.)
  • Once claimed, you can enhance the page by adding photos, videos, coupons, weekly specials, etc.
Where?
  • If you don't already have a Google Account, create your free account at www.google.com/accounts.
  • Go to Google Maps, search for your business name, and click on the "more info" link next to the name.
  • If you see "Business owner?" in the upper right, click the link to begin the process.
  • If you see "Owner-verified Listing" someone (either in your company or outside) has already claimed the page.
  • If you did not find your business on Google Maps, go to http://www.google.com/local/add to add a new listing.
How?
  • Fill out the basic information about your business, including Company, Address, Phone, Website, etc.
  • Be sure to use all your important keywords in the business description.
  • Click "Next" to enter Categories, Hours of Operation, Payment Options, Photos, and Video.
  • Use the "Additional Details" section to add custom information fields to your listing.
  • Google will ask you to verify ownership via one of three methods: phone, text message, or snail mail.

You've done it! And it was easy and free! Now keep the listing updated, continuing to add timely information, specials, events, etc., and responding politely and professionally to reviews. And don't forget to check out your Google Places dashboard to view analytics on activity, impressions, actions, keywords and more.

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10 Best (practical) Business and Marketing Resources From 2010

On December 23, Mashable posted a list of the 150 Best Business and Marketing Resources From 2010. That's a lot of reading! In case you don't have 12 hours to spare, here's a condensed list of the 10 most practical and actionable articles for marketing your local small businesses in 2011. (Summaries excerpted from articles.)

One

8 Ways to Reduce Your Site's Bounce Rate
With the explosion of social media sharing and help from smart search engine optimization, many web users are bypassing businesses' home pages and landing directly on product pages and blog posts. Thus, businesses need to optimize their "first impressions" at all entry points in order to reduce bounce rates.

Two

4 Tips for Writing SEO-Friendly Blog Posts
You could spend thousands of dollars to have a search marketing firm optimize your business's blog for search engines, but chances are that you can learn a lot of the fundamentals yourself, saving yourself a lot of money as long as you have the interest and the time. Here's a basic primer on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your company's blog.

Three

HOW TO: Optimize Your Site for Search Engine Marketing
While social media may have the media's attention and Twitter and Facebook are garnering a lot of the hype, search still trumps them when it comes to driving traffic and being discovered by potential new customers.

Four

HOW TO: Market Your Small Business With No Budget
In fact, the toughest challenge facing small business marketers these days is not cost, but finding a strategy to get your message heard over the din of a noisy Internet. For advice on this, we checked in with a few experienced social media marketers. Here's what they had to offer.

Five

HOW TO: Use Social Media for Lead Generation
Social media is the top emerging channel for lead generation among technology marketing professionals according to the annual Unisfair marketing survey. Being that social media is a great place to attract new customers, we put together a quick guide on how to use social media for lead generation.

Six

Why Complaining Customers Can Be Good For Your Business
Companies love positive feedback. But what about when feedback is, well, less than pleasant? Rather than try to sweep these unhappy customers under the rug, look at them as a challenge and an opportunity to improve your brand and leverage them for some publicity.

Seven

HOW TO: Build A Twitter Strategy for Your Business
A lot of social media advice revolves around confusing, high-concept buzzwords: There are only so many times you can be told to "listen" and "engage." Concrete advice can be hard to come by, and while this guide won't tell you what you need to tweet, it will provide you with the real questions you need to ask in order to craft a Twitter strategy for your business.

Eight

HOW TO: Use QR Codes for Small Business Marketing
A Quick Response (QR) code is a two-dimensional code that can be scanned by smartphone cameras to automatically pull up text, photos, videos, music and URLs. These codes have become mobile-friendly ways to point people in the offline space to online resources.

Nine

HOW TO: Make a Successful Marketing Video for the Web In today's YouTube crazed society, video is more accessible and easier to create than ever... This is why small businesses must learn to properly utilize videos to market their services on the web. These same videos can also be used in offline and online branding, sales, marketing and PR strategies. A great video will pay off ten-fold.

Ten

Why SMS Marketing Still Makes Sense for Small Business
While the Western world has focused on smartphones and flashy apps, SMS marketing is still a hugely important part of our mobile lives. Companies or small business that can nail down their SMS marketing strategy, especially when the space is still ripe for innovation, can open up a number of opportunities.

And best of all, you now have an extra 11 hours to enjoy Chrismas with your family!

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The Four Pillars of Online Marketing: Search, Mobile, Local and Social

In a recent interview, Google Vice President, Marissa Mayer, succinctly summed up her company's four key areas of business: Search, Mobile, Local and Social.

Nice to know, but if you're a small business owner, why should you care about how Google is structuring their business? Because, while Google's product may be information, Google's business is advertising. And Google has structured their business model around the four spaces that matter to any advertiser or business trying to reach people online.

So Google's "four key areas" provides a valuable metric by which to measure the reach and scope of our online marketing efforts. Or, put another way, 'Does our marketing plan really take advantage of the full spectrum from Search to Mobile to Local to Social?' Even today, the majority of businesses have have barely tackled half of one, i.e., they've worked on SEO for their Web site. (Paid advertising being the other half of Search.)

SEO has been the golden calf of online marketing for well over a decade, and it's still critical to your online success. But online marketing is not a one-cylinder vehicle, and putting all your effort into tuning one cylinder may leave your business sputtering and making little headway. Why not build on what you've already accomplished by exploring news ways to reach more customers in new spaces online.

Lucky for us, Google has given us a nice set of buckets to help organize our ideas. Here's a non-comprehensive list to jump-start your thinking. Which of these online marketing tools or techniques have you employed, and which do you need to learn more about?

Search
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Keyword research
    • Onsite SEO
    • Inbound links
    • Competitive analysis
    • Linkbait
    • Article marketing
    • Google Analytics
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
    • Multi-variate testing
    • Pay for Inclusion (PFI)
    • Pay-Per-Click (PPC)
    • Conversion tracking
Mobile
  • Mobile Web site
  • Mobile advertising
  • Text messaging (SMS)
  • Multi-media messaging (MMS)
  • SMS advertising
  • Voice (IVR)
  • Mobile applications
  • QR codes
Local
  • Citations
  • Google Places
  • Yahoo Local
  • Bing Local
  • Local directories
  • Google Tags
  • Offers through Groupon, Local Social
  • Event calendars
  • WIFI advertising
  • Classified ad sites
Social
  • Blogging
  • Guest blogging
  • Twitter account
  • Facebook page
  • Linked-In profile
  • YouTube channel
  • Reviews
  • Geo-social check-in apps
  • Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon, etc.
  • Brand listening
  • Influence tracking

Feel free to tell me what I have left out or put in the wrong bucket. Then pick just one new opportunity from the list above and put it to work for your business.

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