Over the past couple of months, Google has made it clear it's taking local search seriously. In essence, they have reconfigured the search result page and algorithm so organic and local listings become integrated. Studies suggest websites that implemented best practice SEO tactics weren't largely affected by this change, as local optimization was likely already a part of the overall optimization strategy. In fact, it's been shown that sites that already had strong organic and local optimization saw their overall positions increase. Conversely, sites without a local optimization campaign that implemented grey and black-hat techniques (in other words, simply gaming the Google algorithm based on the most recent exploits) have or will soon experience an overall decrease in visibility and ultimately traffic.
So with all this talk and importance on local search, it's important to ask if local search is even relevant to your business. In short, if a search for what your business offers includes a geographic reference, then yes. If, on the other hand, the address of your business is irrelevant, then this change wouldn't be applicable to your search engine visibility.
"But Google already auto-generated my listing. Is there anything else I need to do? "
Yes! Claim it, populate it and track the impact.
Google tries to use the information it finds across the web to generate and display the most relevant search results possible. It's possible that Google found your address, verified it through other sources on the web, and created a listing for your business. If you want to know if this is the case for your business, try doing a Google search for your business name + the city you're located in. If you don't see a map with your address pop up, click the "maps" link at the top of the page. If you have an auto-generated listing, you would see it here.
While it's nice to have the added visibility, these auto-generated listing often have insufficient, or even outdated information about your business. This is when it becomes important to claim and populate these listings with as much information as possible about your business.
Once you've had your listing claimed, Google will give you data through the Google Places interface. This data can be insightful in terms of understanding how many times your listing shows and how many times it was clicked - however it doesn't go as far as to tell you what happens once that visitor comes to your site. With just a little extra configuration, you can track these visitors back to your site and see how they accomplish your site goals right alongside your organic and paid traffic.
If location has any significance on your business, you should take local search seriously. If you've already been targeting SEO, you could be poised to have a favorable, immediate impact on local targeting. This isn't the end of quest, as it's important to have these listings optimized to ensure they show as high and as often as possible, and then add the appropriate configuration to track these visitors back to your site. After all, it's all about getting the visitor to take the right actions. And wherever you choose to invest your time and resources ultimately needs to be held accountable.
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