Google Default Local Search Simplifies Finding SMBs

You may not have purchased Google at $85 a share, but the search giant could still make you a little money. On April 1, Google quietly changed the way it ranks search results on certain keywords, according to Scott Wilson, president of online marketing firm Taking into account the IP address the search originated from, Google now gives higher placement to local businesses, rather than global results, even if no one entered a specific location.

“Up until last month, people became frustrated when typing in ‘pizza’ or other search terms when it wouldn’t get them the local results they were looking for,” said Wilson. “They were either being forced to refine their search by typing in an exact city or abandon Google altogether to search the Yellow Pages.” So while Domino’s, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut still get the top spots when you Google “pizza”—having spent untold sums in search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing to garner those positions—the subsequent results focus on local business results.

Wilson sees this change as an opportunity for small businesses to generate new leads and increase their market share. “Now small players don’t have to beat out the giants for top placement, they just have to top local competitors,” he noted. “It has leveled the playing field for small businesses.”

Wilson’s firm, RankHigher was formed in 2004 and identifies Internet opportunities, builds SEO-optimized Web sites, writes and shoots Web videos and provides other Internet services for clients like Apple, Pepsi and Gerber. The company has now turned its attention to helping small companies with Internet marketing and SEO. He offered some tips for small business owners looking to take advantage of Google’s newfound local focus.

For starters, you need to add or claim your Google business listing. Visit the Google Local Business Center Web site to add your business. You may find that your business already exists in the database; if that’s the case, you must claim the listing by following the steps on the page.

Secondly, Wilson says consistency is key. Make sure the company address and phone number for your Google business profile is written in the exact same format as your company’s “contact us” Web page. This helps Google recognize that this is the same company. You can also maximize your listing by using all of the Google options available to you, including adding videos from YouTube, photos and even coupons. “This will help to supercharge your listing and get it to the top,” noted Wilson.

Owners also need to think of all the keywords that customers would use to search for your business. Wilson pointed out that you are allowed to enter five categories, so it’s important to think about all of the products and services you offer. “For example, a pizza place that also sells chicken wings should enter “pizza” and “chicken wings” as two of their categories, ensuring results in both searches.”

Wilson also divulged three secrets of SEO to help small businesses rank higher in Google results. “First, you have to build Google trust,” he said. Google ranks trusted sites higher, and bases that trust on the length of time a site has been in existence and the number of links to the site from other, preferably trusted, sites. “So get your site up as soon as possible, and build links from other sites,” advised Wilson. Second, you also must ensure that Google can read your site, he stressed. That means not building the entire site in Flash, which Google can’t index, but rather in good old HTML.

Finally, Wilson also advises his small-business clients to focus on long keywords, rather than single words. “A single keyword in a multi-billion-dollar industry—golf, for example—is hard to win for a small business,” he noted. “But if your company focuses on something in particular, like left-handed golf clubs, you might be able to rank higher in a search for that particular term.” Wilson says to dedicate a Web page of at least 300 words to the particular long key phrase that fits your business, and be sure to mention the phrase verbatim at least eight times on that page.

“Maximizing the Google local business listing is an easy and free way for small businesses to stand out in a search,” said Wilson. “It presents an opportunity to gain new customers and grow your business.”

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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