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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  
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