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The Internet is the new yellow pages. Even the companies that create yellow pages directories think so, as companies like BellSouth and AT&T are concentrating increasingly on their online properties like yellowpages.com. The major search engines like Google and Yahoo! are also placing ever more importance on local search, as evidenced by expansion of local search functionality on those sites. So how does a small local business take advantage of this situation? We’re glad you asked. There are a few things a business can do to significantly improve its local search traffic.

The first is to practice sound search engine optimization. Your site doesn’t have to be professionally optimized by an seo firm (although we recommend it) to see improvements across the board. Following is a list of some of the most basic things you could do to improve your site search engine performance for all searches:

  • Place important keywords and phrases near the top of web page text.
  • Use important keywords and phrases in headers on the page, the title tag, inside links, etc.
  • View the html for your page and note how near the top of the file the most important text on the page is. If you have a lot of JavaScript or other code taking up the most room at the top of the file, you should either move the code to the bottom of the file or place it in an include file. Search engine robots read a web page by looking at the code, line-by-line. They don’t see it the way humans do, so you have to think from the perspective of the search engines.
  • Try to swap links with other relevant web sites.

With respect to local search, there are a few things you need to do specifically for that traffic. Make the physical location for your business very prominent on the page. Someone coming to your web site needs to be able to tell immediately if you are in his target area. We will also want to include longitude and latitude data. The specifics of doing so are beyond the scope of this article (it involves meta tags), but adding geographic coordinates to your web site allows users to not only get directions to your business but to actually view it on a map. It may also be very profitable to run a locally oriented keyword ad campaign. Local keyword click through rates are generally much more affordable than more generic terms. Since you only pay for the actual click, having someone click through who is searching for a specific product or service in a specific geographical area gives you a strong chance at closing a sale.

To get started using local search, first optimize your site as best you can using the tips listed above. Then go to the Google and Yahoo! local business center web sites and add your business to their database.

Google: www.google.com/local/add
Google requires that you have a Google account. It’s free, so if you don’t have one, sign up for one. After signing up, you fill in a form to add your business to the google database.

Yahoo: http://listings.local.yahoo.com/Yahoo
Yahoo! also requires that you have an account, but it’s also free. Yahoo! even gives you a free web page, which you might as well use in addition to your regular site. After logging in or signing up for an account, just fill out the necessary information and you will be added to Yahoo!’s local business search listings.

While you’re at it, you might as well go over to superpages.com, owned by Verizon, and sign up for a free business profile. Many of the Yellow Pages-related local search sites require you to actually purchase a print ad before being included, but superpages.com will allow you to add a basic entry for free.

Doing a basic optimization of your site and signing up with the above local search providers will get you on your way toward generating highly targeted local search traffic. There is much more you could do. If you want to take it to the next level, contact Work Media. We will be happy to work with you.