Local SEO: It Ain’t Your Father’s Phone Directory Ad

Anyone not living under a rock during the past 10 or so years realizes the important role the Internet plays in connecting small businesses with new customers. We’re a mobile, online society, and we want the ability to look up retail locations and service providers from the convenience of our smartphone or laptop. And a majority of us probably won’t stray past the first page or two of results when conducting a search, making it vital for small business owners and operators to be knowledgeable in search-engine marketing, and specifically, local search engine optimization (SEO), which can put your listings and information at the top of customer search results.

Local SEO: The Best Way to Get in Front of Potential Customers

Remember when the paper phone directory was the most important resource for searching out new businesses or just retrieving the phone number from an already-visited store or service provider? Aside from picking up the phone and calling “information”, there was really no other option. We’d receive a new, bulky directory once a year to replace the older edition and usually place it close to the phone, since this is where the majority of phone inquiries and correspondence would take place. Eventually, many directory providers also printed smaller versions to be kept in the car for those select individuals with cell phones or the need to reference it while on the road.

The evolutionary process continued, eventually arriving in the present where a majority of us have Internet access. This has completely changed the way customers look up businesses and their services, creating a new process used by owners and operators to get in front of prospective customers: Local SEO.

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While the inner workings of “SEO” may appear foreign to those unfamiliar with it, it’s actually a simple concept to grasp. It’s the process by which businesses get their information at the top of search-engine results, which means more eyes on your business information. To get a better idea, open up your Internet browser and conduct a simple search in Google for a specific service in your area; for example, ‘massage New York City’. Aside from any sponsored ads at the top of the search results, you should see at the top of the page a listing of businesses that offer this specific service, along with phone numbers, addresses and Web site links. A map pinpointing the location of each business should also be visible. Look familiar? This is a simple search you’ve probably done a million times, only didn’t realize the term used to describe how businesses get listed on it.

For those familiar with more general SEO, the approach is almost identical: utilizing key terms strategically to optimize your business’ presence on the Web. These key terms are placed as tags on Web pages, embedded with back links in press releases, articles and blog posts, and featured in directories. Local SEO incorporates these same principles, only on a more localized and specific level. For example, if you own a salon in “Any Town, USA”, your prospective customers will be using these key terms when seeking out services in this city or town, rather than a general term such as just “salon.”

A good starting point for increasing Local SEO is by adding your business information to a search engine listing service, such as Google Places and Yahoo! Local. Depending on the package chosen, these listings typically will include your company name, address, Web site URL, e-mail address, description of services, photos, promotions and other information useful for individuals searching for your specific product or service. Additionally, adding photos along with key-term tags on your Web site and related pages can also add fuel to Local SEO fire.

As with standard SEO, back links play a pivotal role in expanding your local reach. These are your Web site and page links originating on other sites, directories and portals. This can be an ongoing and sometimes tricky process, but one that small business owners can become successful at with a little research and effort.

Optimizing Local SEO should be on the immediate “to-do” list of any small business owner or operator looking to increase sales, build a better online presence and expand his or her customer base. For those who are unsure of the process or unable to address it due to time and work constraints, there are many service providers who can do the work for you.

Think your customers are looking up your business in a paper directory book? Think again! If you’re not online, you’re missing out.

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