Local Search Marketing – Why You MUST Do It

The major search engines have advanced to the point where they’re able to deliver highly contextualized and personalized search results to users. Local search techniques enable both the paid and organic portions of the search engine results pages (SERPs) to display results tailored to the user’s specific location. This makes local search marketing invaluable for local businesses that wish to provide accurate and actionable information to prospective clients.

Local search marketing is becoming more and more important for businesses

Great—But What Exactly is Local Search?

In a nutshell, local searches enable users to make geographically constrained searches on search engines against a structured database of local business listings. Typical local search queries include information about what the user is searching for (such as a business category or product category), as well as where they’re searching for it (such as street address, zip code, city/town, or state).

Examples of local search queries include “hotels in Tokyo,” “best restos in Manhattan,” and “nail salon Springfield, IL”.

According to Neustar Localeze (@Localeze), over 350 billion Internet searches were made last year—a growing percentage of them on mobile devices. Mobile is projected to overtake PCs as the primary platform for Internet-based searches, and studies show that nearly half of all Internet searches conducted on mobile devices are local in intent.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Local Search

Google’s insightful study about local search—Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behavior—demonstrates how vital local search has become to driving customer acquisition and retention.

According to the study, four in five consumers use search engines to find local information. These consumers are using their smartphones, computers, and tablets to look for store addresses, business hours, product availability, and directions. Mobile users who engage in local search are particularly proactive: 50% of consumers who conduct local searches on smartphones visit stores within the day (in contrast, only 34% of consumers who conduct local searches on computers and tablets visit stores within the day).

Moreover, consumers prefer—and act on—location-based ads; four in five consumers want ads customized to their city, zip code, or immediate environment. Consumers also find location information in ads helpful, and more than half (60%) have used location information in ads. Consumers who utilize computers and tablets prize store addresses and phone numbers in ads, whereas consumers who use smartphones prize directions and call buttons in ads.

Getting Started with Local Search Marketing

While local search marketing is cost-effective and delivers great results, many novices consider it to be both daunting and complex. “Local search marketing encompasses a complex ecosystem that spans paid, earned and owned media. It is always on and continually evolving, and that need for fluidity and adaptability is a barrier to entry for even the most digitally savvy marketers,” stated Jon Schepke in an article for Advertising Age (@adage).

Schepke considers local to be a great way to build closer connections with consumers across search, social, and mobile, “in the moments where and when it matters.” He went on to list valuable tips to help marketers jumpstart their local search marketing initiatives:

  1. Understand how to prioritize local search. Brands are advised to pursue local search marketing at a pace that is appropriate for them. The scope of their efforts should depend on the size of their local footprint and the degree to which their customers are mobile savvy. Hence, multi-location brands that have a large local footprint and a considerable mobile audience should ramp up their local search efforts quickly to meet the demands of this audience.
  1. Identify your approach for adopting local. To help brands successfully embrace local, Schepke recommends embracing a local marketing adoption curve. This adoption curve stipulates the steps a brand should take depending on their stage in the process: (1) the crawl (getting the basics right with local listings); (2) the walk (search engine optimization and optimizing local pages); and (3) the run (hyper-local paid search and paid social targeting DMAs).
  1. Asses the role of an automation tool set. Some marketers are unwilling to embrace local search marketing because previous attempts required lots of resources and manual effort. This inefficiency arises because such marketers are using non-local search tools to run local search marketing campaigns. In other words, to reduce frustration, marketers need to pick automation tools that are specifically tailored to local search marketing. “These tools offer automation capabilities that make local marketing more manageable and less complex in creating contextual brand experiences.”

Prioritizing and Managing Local Search Marketing

Successful local search marketing campaigns require customization, careful implementation, and continuous management. Depending on the nature and scope of the brand and target audience, a local search marketing campaign can encompass some or all of the following:

  • Google, Bing, and Yahoo local listings optimization
  • Optimization for maps on Google, Bing, and Yahoo
  • Optimization for review sites (such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Zagat)
  • Optimization for Yellow Page directories (such as Insider Pages and Superpages)
  • Optimization for local directories (such as Citysearch and Localeze)
  • Optimization for business directories (such as InfoGroup/InfoUSA and Acxiom)
  • Optimization for niche- and industry-specific directories (such as Health Grades)

Marketers should further optimize their listings by ensuring that they are claimed/verified, accurate, and up-to-date.

Local Helps Marketers Transition into Contextual Marketing

As indicated in Forrester Research’s report—Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing—(@forrester) local search marketing produces various benefits. Among these are increased brand awareness, improved quality of leads, and more leads.

Another major takeaway from the Forrester report concerns local search marketing’s ability to initiate marketers steeped in traditional marketing approaches to contextual marketing. “Local can provide a straightforward inauguration into thinking more about brand interactions than campaigns and more about customer moments than about media schedules,” stated the report.

Lastly, marketers are advised to scale operations successfully by adopting an appropriate local marketing automation tool set. Tools that specialize in feed accuracy, content optimization at scale, as well as web and social media templates, can relieve otherwise manual effort while maximizing brand visibility.

Is SEO Dead? Some Want You to Think So

Is SEO Dead? Some people (bloggers, and so-called “experts”) in SEO, would have you think that. At least that’s the message that seems to be permeating the Internet lately.

Anyone who follows me on this blog will know, I don’t post things here very often. I’m either too busy working on other things for our clients, or I’m posting things on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google +.  So when I DO POST something here, it’s either because I need to drive home a point, clear up a misunderstanding, rant and vent, or a combination of all three. In this case, it’s a combination of all three!

Panda - Google's Algorithm ChangesSince the big South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference where Google hinted at tweaks forthcoming to the way their engines rank websites and blog pages, posts and commentary have been running rampant on how these forthcoming changes are going to kill some websites, and destroy businesses overnight, when the next phase of the Google Panda slap occurs. Some of the changes being hinted at would seem to indicate the engines, particularly Google, are going to carve a path through content engineered to benefit search engine robots, rather than the actual end-user.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has been, up until now, all about improving content for the benefit of the search engines. However, with changes looming at Google, relevancy factors are about to become the benchmark for organic, as opposed to paid, search rankings. (If you want to listen to some of the conference discussion from SXSW by a panel, including Google’s own Matt Cutts, you can hear it here.)

These changes don’t mean that SEO is dead. You will still need to pay attention the aspects of your website or blog, those things which contribute to making your content searchable. I believe the forthcoming changes are long overdue, and will only improve what you find when you search for something online, because hopefully, some of the junk will be purged.

Consider some of the criteria search engines look at when deciding which part of a website or blog appears higher in the rankings than another. Search engines like Google use something called Algorithms to determine how pages are ranked for organic search. (That’s the search that is NOT paid for with Pay Per Click Ads). Algorithms are nothing more than mathematical check lists the engines use to rate web content to decide where to place the page(s) in the rankings. The higher quality score a page receives when it’s checked against the Algorithms, the higher that page ranks… or so that’s the theory anyway.

What I believe Google is trying to do is something that has been long overdue in coming, and it has a lot of marketers running scared as rabbits. Those who use “Black Hat Trickery” to try and fool the search engines to believe their crappy web page is really better than it is, is about to get “slapped” by Google. I, for one, am glad to see Google making this move. Google’s engineers are currently working on ways to seek out and penalize ‘search-engine engineered’ content in favor of good, relevant, quality content that is going to be of value to the user. The idea behind this is to level the playing field, which will help many small businesses who lose out in favor of big business with matching budget’s for ongoing SEO work, usually based on maximizing results through the use of key phrases.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some good SEO companies out there, I’ve just yet to find one that really does what they promise, “LONG TERM”.

Some SEO Tactics are short lived, and when Google, or any of the other search engines, figure out what these SEO companies are doing, they tweak and fine tune those Algorithms to better filter out the junk.

Here are some things you need to be sure you’re doing on your site to avoid being slapped by Google for not meeting the quality criteria they are looking for:

  1. Pay close attention to details such as making sure you have descriptive titles. Otherwise, how are the search engines supposed to know if your content is relevant to a user searching their database?
  2. All of your images need to have an ‘alt’ tag. These are descriptions which make images ‘visible’ to both people who are using screen readers to access information as well as search engine robots. Remember, search engines can’t see, only crawl and read code.
  3. Clear and straightforward site navigation helps. Make it easy for people to find the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible. Drop-down menus help tremendously, which become necessary if a site is particularly large.
  4. Having a site map available to users can help with navigation around a large site. However, it doesn’t help much hiding the link to the site-map down the bottom of the page.
  5. Grammar and spelling are important. We all make mistakes, which can be rectified of course. However, a site with little obvious care and attention to the basics will not score well for Google ‘quality’.

It has long been said that “Content is King.” It now seems that in the not-too-distant future, we’re likely to see a swing back to this saying, with more ranking reward being given by Google to those pages with engaging and useful content, rather than content generated with emphasis based on SEO performance only.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, or any other social media channels you’re working with, but don’t have social sharing buttons on your site/blog yet, then get them or lose out.

Interaction through social signals, such as content sharing from a post or page, which you do via social sharing buttons, is going to become more and more important. Yes, you need to be setting up a presence on social media, if you haven’t already. Every time a user shares your content it’s another ‘tick’ for quality. By ‘liking’ or sharing web content a user is applying their own quality rating. That’s what Google wants to see, approval of content by content users.

I’m still amazed at the number of businesses who are kidding themselves thinking they can manage quite well without social media. I’m afraid that thinking is likely going to cause those businesses to slowly slide into oblivion in organic search engine results because their web content will not be generating those increasingly important ‘social signals’.

Change, when for the better, is good. I, for one, think this coming change will be good. From all I’ve seen, read and heard, the proposed developments in search Algorithms are long overdue and to be applauded. The sooner the better!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments!

What is Going On With Google?

The world of search engine optimization (SEO) is in an uproar these days. If you have any kind of Internet-based business, or a business that largely depends on Internet leads, you need to know what’s going on – and how you can take advantage of it.

As you should already know, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is all about getting your site listed in the search engines’ top results. The higher up in the results you rank, the better chance you have of capturing your prospective customer’s attention. Get them to click on your link, and you are on your way to making a sale or getting a new client.

So knowing how to get those coveted high rankings is critical to the success of your Internet based business.

The way search engines currently spider, rate, and index a website depend on various factors, including link popularity, content, site structure, and a mixture of other variables. All of these can be manipulated by most webmasters and SEO specialists.

But this could be changing very soon!

The word on the Net is — search engines are changing the way they spider and index websites to help them serve better results to their search audience. They are incorporating new ranking algorithms that will take into consideration input that is submitted by “real people” (as opposed to primarily software calculations).

Google (and the others) will give higher priority to sites that Web surfers vote for. The way a Web surfer “votes” for a website will be completely transparent. It will not be something that can be easily manipulated by webmasters and SEO specialists as it has been in the past.

If this happens, we will see an entirely different pattern emerge – and it will affect thousands, if not millions, of websites across the Internet. Many that were once showing up in the top 10 results will no longer be there. New sites (rated using the latest algorithms) will take their place.

Google currently asks Web surfers (normally users who are logged into their Google account) to move their search results around, based on the surfer’s own idea of how important each one is. If they like a certain page in the search results, they can move it higher on the list so that anytime they search for the same keyword(s) they will be presented with their own personalized set of results.

Google claims this data is not currently calculated in their existing algorithms, but I seriously doubt that. Search engines are constantly looking to improve their search results. By using actual feedback provided by their users, they can get a better understanding of what Web surfers consider relevant.

So that’s the main thing that I think will make a difference in the way results are ranked in the future: Web users will have more influence. In addition, I believe the search engines will be spidering online videos, article comments, and social media.

Having videos on your website and/or blog helps your SEO now. (Webmasters love to link to good videos.) But if a search engine can actually read the contents of a video, you might have to give more serious consideration to the content of the videos on your site than you have in the past.

According to many SEO analysts, search engines will be looking at criteria like these when scoring your Web pages:

  • How often have Web surfers moved (voted) your listing to the top of the results?
  • What type of searches have those users performed in the past?
  • How many times has your page or blog been bookmarked (voted for) on a majorsocial networking site (i.e., Digg.com, LinkedIn.com, and StumbleUpon.com)?
  • How many other sites are talking about yours?
  • Does your Web page or Blog have video? If so, how long do people watch it?
  • How often do website visitors return to your site or blog?
  • How many comments does your page or blog have on it? (More people posting comments on your page means more popularity, as far as search engines are concerned.)

What YOU Can Do About the “New” Ranking Rules

The new search engine ranking methods are sure to bring a lot of changes to the world of search engine optimization. But don’t worry. You won’t have to learn a bunch of new SEO tactics. One thing will always hold true: GOOD CONTENT IS KING.

Plain and simple, if you have good Web or Blog content, surfers will bookmark it, comment on it, and talk about it on other websites and blogs. Whether you are offering useful videos or informative articles, people appreciate high-quality content. And search engines will take notice as well. This will continue to boost your SEO efforts more than anything else you or your webmaster can do.

With that said, keep in mind that no one knows for sure what the search engines are going to do. They guard their secrets like the CIA guards theirs. We can only make an educated guess as to what the future of SEO holds, and try to keep on top of the latest changes.

One more thing. Keep in mind that even a top ranking on Google won’t mean a thing for your business unless you can turn the resulting traffic into paying customers.


In subsequent posts here, I’m going to expand on this article, and tell you more about what you can be doing to take an ACTIVE ROLE in helping your own site or blog deliver exactly what Google (and the others) are going to be looking for.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog so you’ll know when I’ve posted another article. I highly recommend Bloglines, (subscribe by clicking on the Bloglines Icon to the right of this post) and downloading and installing the Bloglines Notifier. It sits in your system tray and will notify you anytime any blog you are following has posted new content. You don’t have to keep coming back here and checking, Bloglines will tell you when you need to hop over and read a new post.

Cheap “Trash” Traffic

Let’s face it: pay-per-click can be very expensive, especially if you’re wanting to drive thousands of visitors to your site.  There are few keywords that I’ve targeted with AdWords that cost less than 50 cents to a dollar per click that generate any real traffic.  If the return on investment is there it may not be a problem, but what if you don’t have thousands of dollars to float your costs while you wait for your paid ads to turn into closings?


Because of how expensive PPC can be, many people turn to lesser traffic sources that promise a flood of traffic for pennies per visitor (or less).  If you’ve ever been tempted to buy traffic from places that promise, for instance, "5,000 visitors for $67", perhaps my case study into these traffic sources will help you in your decision.


You see, there are a lot of brokers for this kind of "cheap traffic" at a popular forum I frequent.  I kept seeing dozens of people buying from those vendors, and yet I knew what they were selling had to be worthless.  Why?  Because why would anyone sell thousands of real, valuable visitors for a penny per visitor or less?  Anyone who could drive that kind of traffic (if it was quality traffic) would be raking in the profits from it and earning (on average) a dollar per visitor or more.


So I setup a test landing page and started buying traffic from these brokers and redirecting the traffic to the test page.  That page contained a list of 16 cheap traffic brokers.


The bottom line is that I ended up getting 41,499 unique visitors sent to my site (far fewer than promised by the vendors in most cases) and I earned a total of about $25 from the traffic.  Given that I spent around $200 for the traffic, clearly the return on investment (ROI) was not there.


In doing this, I tracked a lot of details about the visitors to find out what was going on.


I tracked the time of the visit, the IP address, the host name of the IP address, whether or not the visitor’s browser supported javascript and/or accepted cookies, the referrer, the length of time the visitor stayed on the page, and whether or not the visitor actually saw the page (meaning that the page loaded completely without interruption).


This list of "visitors" is very typical of the cheap traffic vendors I bought from.  First, the referrer was the same for every single visitor.  Most cheap traffic vendors do this, modifying the referrer so that you don’t know where the visitors are really coming from.  They do this because they know you would be a very unhappy customer if you saw where the visitors were really coming from (and how they were delivering these "visitors").


One broker forgot to turn on the referrer replacement, and so I got to take a look at the methods they were using to send "traffic" to the site.  He promptly realized his mistake and replaced the referrer, but it was too late: I had seen the truth.


The truth is – what you’re being sent are not visitors, not really.  They’re views, and not really even that.  This particular cheap traffic source used what’s called a "pop over", where a box appears on a 100% completely unrelated web site and displays your site in the box.  It’s very annoying, and promptly causes the "visitor" (who never asked to see that site) to close the box immediately.


The viewer was so annoyed by the pop-over that they closed the box before it even completed loading my very small test page.  Closing the box before the page completely loaded prevented the javascript I put on the page from loading (since it was setup to execute after the page was completely loaded, in order to track precisely this behavior).


I also tracked the time a viewer spent on the page revealing that virtually nobody spent any time on it at all.  Why should they?  It was an annoying pop-over that had nothing to do with the site they were visiting.  There are a few really high TOP values that apparently are from the javascript failing to execute that ends the "visit."


Another thing I noticed was that many of the "visitors" were from the same hosts and IP addresses.  This means that the broker was claiming to be sending, say, "5,000 visitors", when in reality it was the same visitors being shown the same pop-over again and again.  No unique visitors here, folks.


The bottom line with traffic is: you get what you pay for.  Yes, AdWords is expensive, but it is operated by a reputable source.  My opinion is that any source of "traffic" that hides the referrer is really a "trash traffic" source and should be avoided like the plague.  It’s most likely a rip-off.  If it wasn’t, why would they need to hide the referring page?


I am currently testing some new ways to advertise on Google that Google has not made much fanfare or announcement about that it’s even available…. and will report my findings to you about that current ad testing when I have enough data to tell you whether it’s worth your time or not.


I originally performed this "Cheap Ad Source"  test to see if there was some low cost ways for you to drive traffic to your site.  I thought the information would be useful to you as well, in case you were considering buying from these cheap, bulk "traffic" vendors.


Please post your thoughts and comments below.