Last month, I did a post exploring opportunities for making an SEO career shift in the New Year. Continuing the focus on looking ahead, I thought that now would be a great time to look at where local businesses should be focusing when it comes to local search in 2012. As a bonus, I pooled a couple of fellow local search geeks – Mike Blumenthal and Andrew Shotland – to get their insight as to where businesses should be focusing their efforts in the coming year.
Build a Strong Foundation
Even though local has been at the forefront of SEO for local businesses over the last few years, many local businesses are still lacking a strong foundation to work from. “According to BIAKelsey, only 13 percent of SMB websites have a phone number on their homepage,” says Shotland. This is a key factor for local search and yet an overwhelming percentage of websites lack this core element.
Mike Blumenthal dove a little deeper and gave a checklist of items that small businesses should address prior to “embarking on one of the many tempting paths that are dangled in front of SMBs every day” in 2012.
- Be sure to have a website that is fundamentally sound that is easily crawlable and says what you do and where you do it:
- Make sure your phone number and your address is on every page
- Make sure your title tags are optimized
- Make sure your internal linking structure is useful
- Install analytics and learn what they mean
- Claim your Places Pages, directories, and local listings
- Be sure you are collecting emails and have a way to stay in close touch with your existing customers
- Have a review gathering process in place
- Be sure that you are continually aware of and getting links and citations from other local businesses and charities
By having a sound foundation, you can continue to grow and adapt your local search efforts as the search engines evolve. If you are relying too heavily on one element of local search, you could have it pulled out from under you in the coming year, as local is ever-changing.
Get on Google+
Whether you like it or not, Google has been force feeding us Google+ since its launch earlier this year. If you’re not using it, at least stake your claim on it. My personal advice is to make sure that you create a Google+ Page under the same account your Google Places Page is claimed under. This will ensure that any subsequent changes or mergers related to Google Places and Google Plus will hopefully transition smoothly within your account.
“[Google+] and [Google Places] will be merged sometime in the coming year. Whether that means that the Place Page will be replaced by a business’ + Page or vice-versa is unclear, but I bet we will see pretty tight integration of both services,” says Shotland. He dives a bit deeper into the subject in his post What Will Google Plus Google Places Equal?
Mike Blumenthal speculates that the Google+ and Google Places merger will happen “sooner rather than later.” And after uncovering Google’s slip up and then confirmation of a Google+ Places check-in feature, I would say he is on track.
It’s no surprise that mobile is becoming more popular as more people purchase and use smart phones and tablets at home and on the go. If you are a local business that see’s a lot of local foot traffic, such as a restaurant, hotel, or similar service, now is the time to hop on the mobile bandwagon.
Andrew Shotland points out that “[Mobile] makes up something like 30 percent of all local searches and most SMBs do not have a mobile website. Mobile adwords clicks are something like 50 percent of the price of Web adwords clicks and there is no competition. As more and more people get smartphones and tablets (iPads), this kind of traffic is going to become a huge opportunity, and the gold rush is only going to last so long.”
Mobile optimization has a lot of different school’s of thought and it’s easy to be misinformed. If you are looking for a place to start, Google’s GoMo Initiative is a great resource, or follow the blogs and tweets of mobile experts like Bryson Meunier, mobiThinking, and Cindy Krum.
If 2012 is anything like 2011 has been, the world of internet marketing is sure to be yet another rollercoaster, especially as Google continues to integrate Google+ into its products and its search results. As a local business, you need to be ready to act and to adapt. By having a strong foundation and focusing on your core efforts, you will have some wiggle room in the long run if you can’t act instantaneously. Furthermore, you’ll be ready to adopt new practices and services because you are no longer worrying about the foundation of your efforts.