Local Search generally refers to the maps or places listings that are presented by Google when someone is searching for a local business provider. Yahoo Local and Bing Local also offer local listings, and while these are important for business owners, a Google places listing is vital for search engine success.
Each year, David Mihm (a highly regarded SEO consultant) polls a large group of SEO experts about factors they find are related to local search, and compiles all of this information into a report. Since Google and other search engines keep their algorithms secret, it is up to the rest of us to decipher what factors contribute to successful optimization. This report gathers many expert opinions and provides a general consensus about what is most important.
There are 3 broad categories at play when it comes to local search.
1) The places listing itself must be optimized properly.
This means the categories must be optimized correctly, the listing must have a local area code, and it must be a verified listing (these are things we make sure to do when optimizing a places listing, along with many other things!)
2) The business website must be optimized and consistent with the places listing.
The addresses and phone numbers must match up and be crawl-able by Google. The website’s pagerank is a factor, as is consistency of heading tags and title tags that match up with the places listing
3) Links and Reviews
Both the quality and quantity of directory links and links to blogs and other sources count. Reviews on the local page itself are a factor, as are reviews in other places (like yelp and other review sites). Other directory listings must have the same consistent information.
As you can see, consistency is key. If google finds different physical addresses and phone numbers for a business, the trust factor about that business goes down, and the search ranking can suffer. This can be especially challenging if your business location changes! If this is the case, it is important to find old directory listings and change those as much as possible, as well as changing your google places page.
We are currently making some slight modifications and tweaks to our clients listings and websites based on this report. Although our practices have been in line with what the other experts are reporting, we’ll see if these few small changes result in ranking boosts.