When online shoppers are searching for a particular product, the first businesses that come up in the search results often represent those companies with the money to purchase that high results ranking. This is known as search engine marketing, or SEM, and involves targeting potential customers by buying relevant keywords on popular search engines. (For a thorough overview of the SEM process, be sure to read the What Is Search Engine Marketing?)
But what about those smaller businesses, like yours, that want to reach local customers? Fortunately, the major search engines have finally come around to realizing that this represents a large untapped market. In an effort to refine their product offerings and provide increasingly relevant search returns, the three major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, and MSN) now offer localized search geared to users looking for businesses within a specific city or region.
This is great news for small businesses, as local search gives your business a chance to be heard above the din and compete with the “bigger fish.” Here’s how to get started:
Google and Yahoo!
Once you have an account, visit the search engines’ local pages and find the link for adding your business. (See the Google Local Business Center and and the Yahoo! local listings site.) Listing with Google is free while Yahoo! offers three different packages (free, $10/month, and $25/month) depending upon which features you want and whether you are interested in a featured listing. During the creation process Yahoo! also gives you the option of building your own business Web site.
In both cases, the process is nearly identical — enter all the relevant data for your business including address, hours of operation, and contact information. Next, choose which category or categories you wish to be listed under. In Yahoo! you are given a limited range via drop-down menus while in Google you enter keywords and then select from relevant options.
The final steps are to confirm the information entered, enter your location on a map, and choose a method of verification. Google asks you to choose between a postcard sent to your business address or a phone call (apparently, not always an option). With Yahoo! you must simply agree to the terms and enter a submission code.
The MSN page is more user-friendly and less intent on showcasing fancy functionality but has a severely limited range of available locales. For example, MSN has no listings for Ann Arbor, Michigan, a city of nearly 125,000 people with an outlying population of nearly 500,000. Instead, MSN returns listings for Toledo, Ohio, which is nearly an hour away. MSN Local merely serves up data from Citysearch but seems to do so selectively as Citysearch has over 500 listings for Ann Arbor. Google and Yahoo! both provide far more relevant returns in even the smallest of towns and effectively render MSN’s local search useless.
So you’re better off focusing your efforts on Google Local and Yahoo! Local and can safely ignore MSN, although it might be a good idea to at least list your business with Citysearch.
To learn more about the process of making your Web site friendly to different search engines, check out What Is Search Engine Optimization? And for additional help with improving your site’s Google ranking, be sure to read How Do I Improve My Site’s Google Page Rank?