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Local Search: Is it For You?
Monday, February 18, 2008
I'd like to pose a question to the masses out there, if you have a well established brand, do you need to optimize your site for local search?

The best answer that I can come up with is "It Depends". If you are Pepsi or Coke do you really need to establish a local search strategy? To me local search is useful and works best for small to medium sized businesses with one or possibly a couple of different locations. Local search can work for larger businesses as well, such as those that have branches throughout towns and cities within North America. Local search could prove beneficial for a franchise with multiple locations throughout the US or Canada... but local search is not necessarily for every business.

In the "old days" it was as almost every business had a listing in the Yellow Pages (I'm referring to the book, not yellowpages.com). Being listed in the Yellow Pages could cost a small fortune, and how great was the return? A couple of phone inquiries, a few sales perhaps? From a user's point of view however, the Yellow Pages were extremely convenient and made it easy to find a "dentist" or "electrician" or "restaurant" in your town or city. I'm not so sure that the same can be said with Local Search. Try finding a dentist in using Google Maps or Yahoo Local. Are you satisfied with the results that you receive? It probably depends on the query that you use, but personally speaking, quite often when I use local search I find a lot of "noise" or sites that are not relevant to my needs. Maybe that's why I don't use local search that often. I tend to go directly to a site, or use a long-tail search phrase in hopes of returning more relevant results. If for example I am looking for "hotels in Edmonton" I'll probably just type that query into ASK or Google and take my chances with the organic/natural search results. If I am looking for something like the "weather in Las Vegas", I'll simply go to ASK and type in "weather in Las Vegas." The reason is that I know that ASK has the most relevant result for this locally-appended query. But let's say that you moved to a new city or part of town and you are looking for a popular brand or store in your neighborhood. Are you going to use local search to find the nearest Wal-Mart or Home Depot? Probably not, you are just going to append your search with a Geo-modifier.

So do large brands need to optimize for local search? Well again it depends. People are familiar with large brands and chances are they will go directly to the site or will perform a search for that brand in a search engine.... they're probably not going to even think about using local search. If your site is well optimized and identifies your branch locations on your contact us page, chances are you have some presence in the "organic" listings of the local search sites. If you are a well known brand and have a number of bricks and mortar locations throughout North America, you'll want to be found when a searcher performs a local search. You simply want to be found. If you are a plumber in Detroit, you want to be found for "plumbers in Detroit", if you're a divorce lawyer in Beverly Hills, you want to be found for "divorce lawyers in Beverly Hills" or "divorce lawyer 90210". The fact is local search is more for traditional bricks and mortar businesses. It does not make a lot of sense for large brands such as Pepsi or Coke to focus their efforts on local search. People are aware of those brands. In this case local search does not provide a benefit to the user or to the brand.

While you should have at least one listing in the local search results of the various search engines, a detailed local search strategy is not necessarily required for every business. It works if your customers use local search, it's pointless if they don't. It works if you are a small to medium sized business, it's not as effective if you are a well established brand. Ask yourself why you should pursue local search. Is your site or business set up and optimized for local search? Does your site have what it takes to rank well in places such as Google Local/Maps or Super Pages? Is local search integral for your customers to find your site? Does your competition have a strong presence in local search? It seems like a no-brainer, but the truth is that local search is simply not for everyone.

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posted by PlanetNim Caretaker @ Monday, February 18, 2008  
4 Comments:
  • At 8:43 AM, Blogger Rob said…

    I have a couple comments. But would you expect less from me? :)

    First, remember that engines like Google are placing local results above organic, and that we are beginning to see more local above the organic. Just because you work in the SEO industry you are used to seeing these, so likely skip them because traditionally they haven't been the most relevant.

    However, you are not the average user. Does the average user look at local results? I think they do. Remember your golden triangle - scanning from top left. People view a web page like they are reading a book. That means that there should be a lot of people at least scanning the local results.

    Also consider that google also presents phone numbers and sometimes even addresses beside the local listing. One could then assume that the visitor doesn't click through to the site - they don't have to they found what they wanted. Is this an indicator that local search isn't working? I think not.

    Second, in my experience, even if a national wants to compete at the local level it's almost impossible. That's because there are too many local sites competing.

    How is Lennox supposed to compete at a local level for furnaces when there's lots of gas fitters and plumbers and even local retailers who are better placed to sell Lennox furnaces?

    Another example is autos. The big automakers can not compete at the local level. Nor should they. The dealers already spend a lot of money annually online to compete in the local market. Chances are if you search for a car model in your area you will get the local dealer as you should.

    The same holds true for retailers, Walmart and Canadian Tire etc. can't compete with the various local directories. Their focus is too broad.

    So I think there is value in local listings, however as you suggested not everyone needs to tap into it.

     
  • At 8:10 AM, Blogger Jody said…

    All great comments. You are correct the average user will most definitely look at local results, in fact more often than not this is what they are looking for as they are searching with some sort of local intent.

    I guess that the point of the post is that local search will not necessarily be effective for everyone, most large national companies have a strong brand awareness or at least some sort of brand awareness. Users will append their query with the brand name and a GEO modifier. Remeber that Local Search was created for the "mom and pop" shop, and more for small to medium sized businesses.... no some much for the Lennox's or National brands.

    Can a National brand have success in Local Search? Of course, but chances are they (the National Brand) are already going to have some sort of presence in the mind of the searchers....

     
  • At 12:21 PM, Blogger Rob said…

    I disagree that local search was created for mom and pop shops. Local search was created because the engines realized how much local searching was going on.

    Not only that but I think they find it extremely important, which is why maps appear above everything else, especially in Google.

    And I do agree that nationals can have a local presence, but is it in their best interests.

    Ideally I think nationals should be just that - national. Let the local stuff be taken care of by your local distributors whether you are a heating company, car manufacturer or food vendor.

    My only hope is that engines like Google get better at local so when you search for something, it assumes you mean locally. For example, if I'm looking for a pizza place for lunch, I don't want to always have to put my city qualifier to find local pizza joints.

     
  • At 10:59 AM, Blogger Nick said…

    Regardless of how well-established your brand is, there is value in facilitating access to your local information. In my opinion, the relevance of a local strategy has nothing to do with the size of the brand or the size of the company. It has to do with the nature of the services/products offered.

    To know if a local strategy is important, 2 questions should be asked: Do you sell locally? Do people look for your products with a geographical location in mind?

    In the case of Coke/Pepsi, it's extremely clear that a local strategy would be rather pointless: Coke/Pepsi don't sell locally and no one searches to find the nearest place to buy a Coke/Pepsi. You don't see Coke in the print Yellow Pages why see them online?

    There is value for Home Depot to be found locally... whether it's on their brand name + geo modifier or just a product category + geo modifier. It just won't be for every single product/service they offer (they simply offer too many). But then again, people don't look for 2x4 lumber online, they look for hardware stores or renovation centres. And I think Home Depot could deploy a worthwile local strategy to be visible on those searches.

    As a final note, I want to point out that Yellow Pages advertising generates more than "a couple of phone inquiries, a few sales perhaps". Local businesses rely heaviy on this advertising medium as it drives (in many cases) 60 to 80 % of their leads. The cost-per-lead is lower than all advertising methods other than SEM.

     
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