Don’t forget about local search

There’s a good article posted by Nine by Blue’s Vanessa Fox (who, when working for google was responsible for google’s webmaster central), about why restaurants should care about local search.

Amongst the key points that it makes is that your business needs to take on a holistic approach to its online presence, not concentrating solely on search engine optimisation or social networking, but rather taking them together. It’s not an either or situation.  Fox takes a good example, which rings true:

A woman is reading Twitter and sees that a new restaurant has opened up nearby. Later, when she and her husband are trying to decide (yet again!) what to have for dinner, she remembers the new restaurant. Finally, a new idea! She suggests it. Her husband says great, but what’s on the menu? Will I like it? The woman does a quick search on Google for the name of the restaurant to see if the web site has the menu. Huh. The restaurant doesn’t come up. She goes back to Twitter and starts scrolling back through the tweets, trying to find the right one. In the background, her husband is getting hungry. And after waiting a few minutes, he picks up the phone and orders a pizza.

The moral of the story is as old as the hills, and as relevant as ever. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The amount of restaurants I see locally that have a presence on facebook, but nowhere else, is interesting. They’ve taken a good strategy, to use social networking to increase the visibility of their business, and completely missed the point – partly because it’s free, and partly because it’s this year’s fad. Many of the restaurants don’t even get the facebook equation right,  choosing the wrong options between personal, public and group profiles and having limiting privacy settings to boot (there’s a good article here for facebook seo).

And what they’re missing is the fact that an overall web presence can be cheap/free compared to more traditional marketing methods – so, for example, including yourself in the local business centre at google is a great way to get listed towards the top of the search results in a local search context. It’s free, and will pinpoint you on the map and give searchers useful information that traditionally you might have gone to the Yellow Pages for.

You can choose to add a location in twitter now as well, going into your account settings and clicking on ‘tweet location’. This makes perfect sense for businesses with a local presence – though perhaps less sense for individuals (privacy concerns have been raised by many, meaning it’s an opt-in feature).

If the restaurant has taken the step of setting up its own website (which is a must, in my opinion), then they should consider a number of things carefully to ensure being listed correctly for local searches.

  • First, if you don’t have a specific top level domain (like .ie or .co.uk) relevant to your location, and your site is not hosted on a server in the territory you’re located in (both common problems for sites with a .com address), then the very least you need to do is to set up a google webmaster account and select a territory in your profile settings. This will give a very clear indication to google as to what local search index results you should be included for
  • Obviously tied to this first point, you’ll need to make sure that your site has content that marks it out for local searches – put your address and telephone number in the page footer (which you should do for your customers in any case), and maybe include maps. Put in some local information on your home page etc.

These are tips obviously for businesses, like restaurants, that rely on people physically finding them – but the lesson is equally important to completely online sites where often the emphasis is equally misguided but in the other direction, ignoring the possibilities of social networking to bring traffic to your site. The presumption being that if your site is indexed by the search engines and ranks well for your keywords, then your online-marketing job has been done.

This of course ignores the fact that, while neither are the google-killers they’re periodically made out to be, both twitter and facebook have powerful search functionality that people use increasingly. Ignore them at your peril. As you rest on your laurels your competition will be out there exploiting them fully.

Food for thought:

Get Found Now! Local Search Secrets Exposed: Learn How to Achieve High Rankings in Google, Yahoo and Bing

Get Found Now! Local Search Secrets Exposed: Learn How to Achieve High Rankings in Google, Yahoo and Bing

Secrets of Social Media Marketing: How to Use Online Conversations and Customer Communities to Turbo-Charge Your Business

Buy any of the above books from the book depository and you’ll get free delivery worldwide!

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