Tis the season to shop. Most of us go online to purchase our items or research where we can buy them. One of the most annoying obstacles is when we cannot find all the information we want. For example when there are two different addresses for the same business. In the blog post Converting Online Visitors to Offline Customers/a><; by Resource.com they discuss such obstacles.
Local search is a critical component in the quest to drive online visitors into brick and mortar stores to complete their purchases. Research by comScore has shown that 49% of local searches are conducted without a specific business in mind, and 61% of searchers consider local results to be more relevant than standard search results. In addition, even for major brands with ecommerce capabilities, some customers will want to see and feel and try on products before making a purchase decision. Winning these potential customers’ foot traffic via local search requires a combination of store locator features on your site, search engine optimization and local feed optimization.
Local search results are divided into two areas: localized web search results and local places results. Localized web search results are simply part of the standard 10 blue links on a search results page, with content specific to your location. Local places results are displayed with a map and contain primarily address, phone number and URL information. These two types of search results are blended into the search results page together, but different forms of optimization are required to be included in each.
Inclusion in localized web search results is primarily about local SEO on your own site and the effectiveness of the store locator. Local places search requires a more comprehensive program of off-site optimization including feeds, social media and store locator data.
Store Locators on Your Site
Most every site that manufactures or retails products has some form of store locator or “where to buy” feature. For sites with brick-and-mortar stores, these store locators serve as the official yellow pages for your brand. Search engines (and customers, of course) expect to find the most accurate information for each store, including address, phone number, URL, and hours of operation.
From an SEO standpoint, search engines use this information to feed their local search results and fill in any local Google+ Pages that your brand hasn’t claimed and updated itself. Here we run into an assumption: that the search engines can access the data in your store locator. I won’t belabor the question of accessibility here because I recently wrote an article about search engine crawler issues with store locators: “Can Searchers Find Your Store Locator?”. Suffice it to say that most store locators have crawler issues that prevent search engines from accessing that important source of local store information provided by the entity best suited to ensure its accuracy: your brand.
The effectiveness of your store locator for SEO affects both types of local search, localized web search results and local places results.
SEO for Local Content
Once the store locator is accessible to search engine crawlers, the optimization of that content becomes important. Each store location should have its own page, and each page should be optimized for that specific location. Specifically, the title tag, meta description, H1 heading and body copy for the page needs to reference the specific name and location of the store using the words that your customers would use to search for it. Typically those keywords will include the brand name, retail category and city or neighborhood name, depending on the size of the city the store is located in and how local customers search.
Successful local SEO also requires link authority, or link juice, as SEOs flippantly call it. Some of this link juice comes from your own site via the navigational links within the store locator, assuming it’s navigable by HTML links rather than just a search form. But for more competitive cities, external links may also be required to boost the local page up in search results. Direct links to the local pages from local chambers of commerce, local Google+ Pages, local news sites and bloggers that write about topics consistent with the products you offer—all of these can be good sources of links that will send local authority signals to improve rankings in localized web search results.
Ranking in the oftentimes more visible local places search results requires heavier optimization of feeds, social profiles and other authoritative sources of local data. Claiming and maintaining your Google+ Pages for each store location is an excellent start, because these pages are a primary feeder of local search results for Google Places and Google Maps, both of which are integrated into Google’s search results pages.
But other local social and reviews sites such as Foursquare, Yelp and others also play a role. Local search algorithms also take yellow pages sites like SuperPages and CitySearch into account, as well as big data feeders like infoUSA, Axicom and others like them. Hundreds of other directories and data sources, large and small, are thrown into the mix to create a giant web of local data from which the search engines attempt to extract the truth about each business’s local information.
In all those hundreds of local listings, there’s a lot of room for error. Ensuring that the data is fed into the sources that matter most for local search is key to successfully optimizing for local places search. The task is daunting, and the only realistic way to manage this vast project is to work with an agency like Resource that specializes in local search.
Ensuring that the data is accurate and comprehensive is likewise critical. For example, details such as address are obvious, but category information also needs to be applied to ensure that your stores show up for the right types of searches. As with Google+ Pages, using the URL specific to that location instead of the generic homepage will increase link authority for the local pages as well as ensuring that searchers and customers using each of the hundreds of local sites land on the best page for that individual store. Feeds can contain everything from images to hours of operation. Include as much accurate information as can be realistically maintained over time.
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