I consider myself fortunate to live in what I think is one of the greatest cities on Earth – San Francisco. Ever been? It’s packed with cultural attractions, fantastic eateries and boutiques. I may be biased, but one of the things I love is that the city pays homage to the small business owner. Because there are so many SF-exclusive shops, local search plays a huge part of consumerism in the Bay Area. I tend to opt for local search over broader search terms because it makes all the details of my community and local businesses instantly accessible. Store locations, products or service I can get to in minutes, hours of operation, price ranges, testimonials from my neighbors – boom (as my coworker says), it’s all right there. But the Bay Area isn’t the only region where local search is thriving. According to the Local Consumer Review Survey 2012 (published on Search Engine Land), more than 97 percent of consumers are now doing local searches online in preparation for purchases. Whether you’re a small business appealing to nearby prospects around a single storefront, a big brand that wants to foster engagement in particular communities or a company based in one part of the U.S. that wants to reach prospects in targeted neighborhoods, there’s no denying the impact that local search can have on your online and community presence. First, we’ll take a look at why local SEO matters to your brand and cover the basics of local optimization. Then, in part two of this blog series, we’ll explore how to create targeted local content to influence nearby shoppers. Understand how local search drives brand influence A local search presence boosts your web visibility, but it also builds trust among your targeted audience. The Local Consumer Review Survey (2012) reported that 72 percent of survey participants claimed they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (and we’ll go over how you can cultivate reviews for your local presence…). Creating a local presence throws a fishing net over consumers, so to speak, to rein in nearby internet users and capture more clicks by putting you at the forefront of industry searches. The rise of mobile devices, smartphones, iPads and the like, also makes a local presence very important. Brafton has reported that more than one-third of the web activity on iOS and 28 percent of all Android web activity is devoted local search. Mobile users are generally searching local because they’re looking to buy now. Fifty-eight percent of portable device owners say they use their devices to find nearby stores, and last year, a study by AT&T Interactive and Nielsen showed that 43 percent of searchers using mobile devices showed up at the door – and ready to buy. This graphic says it all: The demand is there for local results, and you need to ensure your company is reaching its communities. There’s no need to freak out – stick to this blueprint to build a local presence that is easily searchable, highly visible and appealing to local audiences with quality content. Step 1: Discern local search ranking factors To launch a successful search marketing plan, it helps to have an idea of the main differentiating factors begin geo and non-geo search. There’s no magic list of local ranking factors from the leading search engines, themselves, but in a nutshell, here are some things to consider that you can control: Local search takes into consideration a user’s location and local database directories such as Google Places, Yelp, Yellow Pages and more. (We’ll get to the specifics of these sites soon.) It also uses the validity and consistency of the information you provide to determine ranking factors. That simply means you should provide an actual street address instead of a P.O. Box and including local contact information on your site. Finally, keywords with a geographical focus, Page Rank and links are all also broader ranking factors that apply to local search. Step 2: Claim your business listings Take advantage of the various online business listings that users search on and that impact local search results on leading engines. Register with: Google Places Yahoo Local Bing Local foursquare Trip Advisor Yelp Some Local SEOs argue that your Google Places listing is the hub for local optimization that will reach Google searchers. It’s definitely key, as local searches are accompanied with maps that have pins for local businesses. When you’re creating your Places listing (or pages in any of these local listings) remember to put your exact business name, an accurate business address and use Google’s categories appropriately to describe what your business does. But don’t get complacent with just a Google Places page: Bing just made some major updates to its Map features that make it a more compelling local search option for users. Meanwhile, foursquare is constantly adding more features for its business partners and it just surpassed 20 million users. If you’re feeling really ambitious, check out this local search ecosystem chart from getlisted.org that offers ideas about even more directories for your company. Step 3: Optimize your site with the basics We just talked about optimizing your Places listing with accurate information – and it’s essential to do this for your website, too. Brafton has reported 60 percent of small business sites don’t have telephone number for prospects to call to get more information. With mobile driving much of local search growth, this is especially bad news. Click-to-call features that let users to dial paid search phone numbers directly from a SERPs are used by 54 percent of mobile searchers. (Click to call is also available if you add your number to your Places listings.) Add consistent location information across your site and business listings. Remember to NAP: Does the N.A.P. on your website match the N.A.P listed in directories? It should! Is it on the footer of every page? Stay tuned! Now that you’ve got these basics in place, you’re ready to dive deeper into optimizing your content marketing campaigns to address the needs and interests of your local shoppers. In the second part of this blog series, we’ll cover how to add targeted content to your local SEO blueprint.