Brand visibility leads to brand awareness, and brand awareness leads to customers. Although many SEO management companies don't "get it" because they are solely focused on tracking metrics and getting their clients to that coveted first place position with Google (which, of course is important), the goal is more detailed than that. By making full use of online and mobile search portals, directories, aggregators, and review sites, your business will stay in front of the consumer, creating constant visibility and market saturation. That's exactly what you want.
If your market consists of tourist traffic your goal is to be seen everywhere the local visitor might look. Your local search optimization would include all the search portals, but you'll want to pay special attention to review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. For the local dry cleaner located in suburbia, Judy's Book and Bing can offer deals to your potential customers. Bottom line? No matter where your business is located, your goal is to come up in every search portal and every online directory with valuable information that is truly compelling to the consumer.
How do you accomplish this? If you want to dominate Google Places, Google Maps, Yahoo, and Bing, you'll need to enhance your local listings through citations. Citations are third party references containing your business name, location, phone number or website. Think of citations as "mentions" of your information. Every place your business information appears is a citation, from the Chamber of Commerce business directory to Yelp or TripAdvisor.
In the world of local SEO, citations are as important as inbound links to traditional SEO. The more places your business has consistent information (same address, same phone number, etc) the more confident the major search engines are that your business is valid and valuable. Where do your citations come from? Review sites, directories and local search portals. In order to quickly create a strong online presence, it's important to understand how the hierarchy works. Here's a breakdown of the online local search players.
The Hierarchy of Local Search Optimization, LSO
First in the chain are the data aggregators. Many listing services use data aggregators to pick up the information they have about local businesses. If you've ever looked up your business and had to "claim" your listing by pressing the "I am the owner of this business" button, you've just experienced aggregators at work.
The top local search aggregators are listed below. Access each of them to add your business information or to make sure the information they have is current and correct.
• Infogroup's Express Update USA - A fairly new but big player in the data aggregation game. Infogroup has been supplying business listings data to Internet Yellow Pages companies for years, so has the means to develop search engine ranking clout in record time. The website is fresh, easy to navigate and user friendly for business owners.
• Acxiom - Provides business information to IYPs, local search portals, mobile search, and print directory publishers.
• TargusInfo - With nearly two decades in the information business, Targus provides both consumer and business information.
A step down from the huge aggregators, the online listing and directory sites are more geared toward the business owner and often provide a variety of helpful services.
• Merchant Circle - Recently bought by ad network Reply, Merchant Circle provides a business directory for merchants in smaller towns. Their mobile applications conveniently allow small businesses to manage online marketing platforms while on the go.
• Yext - Yext currently works with 36 different sites, including Yelp, HopStop, Superpages, and Yahoo. They are determined to streamline the tedious listing portion of local search optimization with a service it calls PowerListings Turbo. The idea is to offer business owners a one-stop place to provide information, updates or changes. Yext will then supply this information to the 36 sites they currently work with. It remains to be seen if this will pan out and prove to be a reliable option, but it's an excellent plan.
Internet Yellow Pages
At their conception, IYPs were intended to be online versions of their printed counterpart. The intent was that Internet Yellow Pages would help lead businesses from print into online advertising because of the longterm relationship and the trust businesses had for the Yellow Pages brand. Although still valid, IYPs will need to step up their game to keep up with the likes of Google Places, who are aiming to be the one-stop site with information, directions, hours of operation, deals, and reviews. Here are the main players of the IYPs.
If you don't want to list with all of them right away, a quick way to decide which to target would be to perform a search for the keywords/keyword phrases your business is targeting, along with your city. The IYPs or directory sites that come up in the search results will provide the best search engine optimization for your local business since you'll simply be piggy-backing off of their rankings.
Looking at the screen shot below, you can see that dry cleaners in Cape Coral, Florida returned listings with Merchant Circle and DexKnows. Claiming your listing with both of these directories would be the place to start.
Here's a list of other valuable Internet Yellow Pages or business directories. Some of the sites listed below are IYP directories, review and deal site combinations.
• Super Pages - Yellow Pages directory with an entertaining and user friendly mobile app.
• Yellowbot - IYP and review site combination.
• Yellowee - IYP which introduced the iPhone App in October of 2011. Combining the directory with GPS technology makes mobile searching a powerful force for Yellowee, as it basically leads searchers right to the door of local businesses.
• YP.com - Offering deals in Groupon fashion, a local directory and paid advertising spots on the home page.
• CitySearch - Provides local business information to Ask.com, Hotwire, MSN, Expedia, and Ticketmaster
• Manta - 3,000 businesses per day are claiming their Manta listing with more than a million to date.
• DexKnows - Video, comparison-shopping, itinerary planning, and advanced mapping are just some of the qualities of DexKnows. They also have a distribution deal with Yahoo Local and sell advertising through Google AdWords.
• Local.com - Online local media and search company. They purchased shopping data aggregator, Krillion last year, which provides consumers with comparison pricing, discounts and availability of over 70,000 products and almost as many retailers.
There are two words involved in dominating review sites (after you've created your account, of course). These two words are monitor and respond. Taking the time to monitor your profiles and respond to feedback. The easiest way to do this is by setting up alerts that will inform you whenever a new review hits one of the sites. Whether the review is positive or negative, it will provide you with an opportunity to reach out to your customer and either thank them or solve their problem right there on center stage. When you, as a business owner, respond to negative feedback and make wrong situations right, you become the hero and are likely to attract plenty of attention, especially in the 'customer service starved' age we live in.
Here are the review sites you should be on, right now.
• Yelp - Currently one of the most popular business review websites, and one who is keeping up with the times. Not only are they available online, but they have Yelp for iPhone, iTouch, Android and Blackberry.
• Foursquare - A unique social networking /business listing site where members interact with each other, check-in at business locations and explore the city together.
• Judy's Book - Social search tool providing reviews for local businesses.
• Insider Pages - Reviews and recommendations for local business services, doctors, salons, restaurants, and retail locations.
• Kudzu - A review site offering basic and enhanced (paid) profiles geared toward homeowners. Kudzu is partnered with HGTV and DIY
A Word About Siri
The fact that Siri, the voice recognition app that can help you send a hands-free text message, check the traffic, and call you a cab, all from your spoken instructions, is much more than just a cool party trick. Since Siri can, and will, call a cab in response to your voice request, it is more important than ever to make local search a priority for your business. Siri is pulling information from well-cultivated data sources like Google Places, Bing, Yahoo and Yelp, but will soon be drawing on third party app information as well. Are you ready?
The best way to prepare for the coming wave of mobile information is by making your business as accessible as possible by saturating local search portals.
Final Thoughts on Local Search Portals, Review Sites, and Directories
If this information has your head swimming, trying to figure out a direct strategy or foresee which search portal or review site is more important, don't strain your brain. Trying to figure out which one will be tomorrow's rising star is a lot like playing the stock market. You may think you're picking a winner because all the current information you have looks so promising. So, you put a lot of effort and possibly advertising dollars into just one or two information providers and then an unforeseeable event occurs that either makes the particular search portal (or review site) much more valuable, or much less. Look at Yelp, for example. Although it's still a huge contender and a popular site with searchers looking to find local businesses, just last year Yelp's reviews populated a good portion of Google Places. After a run in with the FTC, Google has now removed all third-party reviews from their local search results. So, what was once a goldmine for business owners who were reaping the benefits of the Yelp and Google combo is now a completely different landscape.
The key is not to try to pick tomorrow's winners. They key is to grow your online presence systematically with all the players. This builds a strong foundation. Then, if one or two search portals or directories drop off the radar, your business is not affected.
Market saturation is the name of the game, both offline and on.