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Your Local Search Checklist for 2012

The state of local search has been fast moving in 2011. Maybe not as fast as the fastest travelled smash in badminton – clocked at 332kph – but quick enough to blow your hat off and make you scramble to pick it back up.

With all the changes happening in Google Places, SEO, and social media, business owners are struggling to keep up with the pace of things in the digital world. I believe that the struggle comes from both understanding how local search works and prioritizing efforts to ensure their time and money is well spent.

I decided to put together a list of the core items that I think are important to get out of the way and make sure we’re tracking and refining our processes to help local business get found and make more money. What do you say? Sound like a plan? Here we go!

3 Primary Focuses of Local Search

There are three areas that search engines use data from to determine the best results for a query search. They can be categorized into the following:

  1. Google Places
  2. Off-Site/Off-Places
  3. Website

One VERY IMPORTANT thing to keep in mind when doing local SEO is that you must have consistent contact information at every touch point on the web. This is called consistent NAP (Business Name, Address and Phone Number). Search engines aggregate data from multiple sources that relate back to your business profile on the web. So get it right the first time around, or you’ll be pulling your hair out as you go back, making changes to your business information across a bunch of channels.

Google Places Checklist

  • Business Title
    • Are you using your business name as is or are you stuffing keywords in the title? (avoid the latter)
  • Physical Address
    • Have you added your physical address to your Places account?
    • Are you using the exact same physical address throughout? (TIP: have a copy of your address handy and copy/paste your address as is at other sources.)
    • Updated (May 24, 2012): P.O. BOX Addresses are not permitted in Google Places (source).
  • Manually Verified Place Page
    • Did you manually claim and verify your business listing in Google Places?
    • Do you see your business already on Google Maps? If so, claim it.
    • Note: Google only allows you to register one listing per account. Choose your account wisely.
  • Categories
    • Do your categories closely describe the products and services that your company offers? If not, review your categories to ensure your business is placed under the right section.
  • Area Code/Telephone
    • Are you using a local area code telephone number for your business?
    • For multiple locations, you must use a different telephone number for each location. You should also use an area code specific telephone number for that listing.
    • Are you using a 1-800 number in Google Places? (TIP: never use 1-800 numbers.)
  • Reviews
    • Are you letting your customers know that you are on Google Places so they can leave a review?
    • Are you letting your customers know that you are on other review websites like Yelp.com and Urbanspoon.com? – There is greater benefit when you obtain reviews on other well-trusted website.
    • (Tip: Diversify your reviews and aim to get them on authoritative and trusted sites.)

Off-Site / Off-Places Checklist

  • Citations
    • Have you added your business to relevant directories? – Niche, Local, Portals (i.e. Bing Local), etc.
    • Sample directories that you should have a presence on:
      • Yellowpages.com
      • Canpages.com
      • Urbanspoon.com
      • Yelp.com
      • Insiderpages.com
      • Citysearch.com
      • Hotfrog.com
    • (TIP: Use the Whitespark Local Citation Finder to help you build out a list of citation opportunities.)
  • Inbound Links to Website (and internal links)
    • Does your website have links from other trusted websites? (check out Adam Melson’s post 35 Local Link Opportunities You Missed.)
    • Does your website have links from other trusted websites in your area (city level)?
    • Are the links targeting the proper terms (anchor text) that you want your business to be associated with?
    • Have you established any partnerships/relationships with other industry related websites where you can obtain a link from?
    • Is your website linking properly internally? – Use rich anchor text that represents your products and services. Include location in your anchor text links.
    • Do you have a blog? – This is one easy way for a business to start adding content to their site. The benefits of a blog are: quicker indexation, more pages to target more keywords and creating trust with customers.
    • Do you have links in your social media accounts? (Here’s a great resource for optimizing social media channels by Kristi Hines)
      • Facebook Page
      • Twitter
      • Google+ Business Page
      • LinkedIn
      • Flickr
      • YouTube
      • Foursquare
    • Do you have social sharing icons on your site so your customers can easily share your pages and content over social networks?
    • Are you engaging in any social bookmarking efforts to distribute content? – This has proved to be an effective way to get content on high PR, trusted sites.
    • (TIP: Use tools like Google Webmaster Tools or SEOmoz Open Site Explorer to keep an eye on how many links the website receives over time.)

Website Checklist

    • On Page SEO (search engine optimization)
      • Is your homepage optimized for
        • <title>
        • <meta description>
        • <H1>
        • Body text
        • ALT text
      • Do your pages have specific local + keyword targeting? – If you are a Personal Injury Lawyer inOttawa, you’ll want ‘Ottawa’ along with your practice in all these areas.
      • If your business has more than one location, do you have a landing page for each? – Recommended that you have one for each city that your business is in. This increases the opportunity to target towns/suburbs that you may not be targeting if you were in a larger city.
      • Is your NAP information marked up using Microdata (http://schema.org/LocalBusiness)?
    • Contact Us Pages
      • Have you included;
        • Business hours;
        • Directions to your store;
        • Menu if you are a restaurant; and,
        • A map locating your physical location (you can get your map from here).
    • Geo Sitemap
      • Have you created and uploaded a geo sitemap to the root directory of your site?
      • Does your geo sitemap reference your KML file?
      • Is your geo sitemap specified in Google Webmaster Tools?
      • (TIP: use a tool to help you create your Geositemap and KML files: http://www.geositemapgenerator.com/)

*Update (March 20, 2012): Google no longer supports Geo Sitemaps – Susan Moskwa’s Post. Instead, she says “You can continue to submit your Geo content to us using the standard Sitemaps format (just listing the URL of the file(s), without-specific tags).”

  • KML File
    • Do you have a KML file specifying your location and coordinates (latitude and longitude) in the root directory of your site? (i.e. www.example.com/locations.kml)
  • Mobile Site
    • Is your site optimized for mobile?
    • Is the experience on mobile ‘optimal’? – Ensure that your contact information, including phone, directions and a map, is presented in a clean manner on mobile devices.
  • Content
    • Do you have content about your products and services?
    • Are your pages optimized for your researched keywords + location?
    • Are you writing and provided helpful resources that make you sound credible and trustworthy to your customers?

There you have it; a local search checklist for your 2012 ventures. If you think I’ve missed out on something here, please let me know in the comments below and I will add it to the list.

Additionally, I recommend reading through David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking study, checking out GetListed and reading the official Google Places Guidelines.


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