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How-To Leverage Local Search for Canadian Businesses

By Terry Van Horne |

After doing a search engine audit to help CanadaOne recover from the Panda update I was invited to write an ongoing column on how the recovery was going. But after catching up my old friends at Biz-Zone and CanadaOne we decided I could help local merchants and business people more effectively by doing a monthly column on how to raise total online and search engine visibility.

To this end send any questions you have to and I will answer as many as I can each month as well as use the topic for future columns.

I am a strong believer in not putting all your eggs in one marketing basket so I’ll be preaching diversity in traffic sources and techniques used to maximize your online visibility.

I have chosen to start with Local Search Engine Optimization, because that is where the least competition is.

Less competition means it costs less to compete and see your business rank well, which is perfect for companies with small budgets, something I perceive to be my audience's biggest need! (The questions will help me make sure my audience's needs are being met.)

The Importance of Local Search

Local search engine results and optimization have been steadily playing a more important role in what you will see in search results, with search engines taking into account things like location and personal interests when deciding what results to display.

Google, in particular, seek to personalize/socialize their results. Bing/Yahoo! are integrating Facebook for Social, but have less localization/personalization data due mainly to Google’s monstrous market share of search. Facebook provides information that helps Search Engine’s identify whether the business is a real local, business because people talk about and engage with legitimate businesses.

Driving this Local Search visibility increase is Mobile Search, which is growing incredibly fast. Mobile devices like tablets and smart phones running social network apps like Facebook or Twitter take users away from "Desktop Search".

The ubiquitous web is here to the point where you can take the Internet with you, using your smart phone or portable hub as a hotspot, linking up other devices like tablets and laptops to get online anywhere you have cellular service. Providers like Rogers in Canada even offer specialized hubs for this purpose.

This paradigm shift in search is going to affect the way people find and discover your business.

Needless to say Local search is a leading business driver for all brick and mortar businesses and services that invest the time and resources to gain visibility. There are a few reasons why local search is important to all brick and mortar stores:

  1. Most purchases are researched online but contact/purchase is made offline.
  2. Personalization and universal search trigger local results.
  3. Google's ability to distinguish real Local businesses from faked directory listings.

Is my Business Local or Global?

The first thing any business that gets a website and/or Internet presence should do is decide if they are a local, national or global provider for their products and services. In many cases the delivery of a service are limited in scope by laws and practicality.

This is important because most search engines have separate global and country indexes. Google's Global index is the index. People residing on Canadian networks are directed to the site automatically.

For the purposes of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) it is important that the site is optimized for the right search index.

A big part of that optimization is ensuring that your  site appears to be targeted at its national or local market. That’s because Google and other search engine's  look at where the site is hosted and/or the type of top level domain (TLD) to determine what market the business serves.

For example, if your business uses a .ca domain name, Google will recognize that the business is Canadian. However, if your business uses a .com domain name, it is important to host your website with a Canadian host in order for Google to recognize that your business is Canadian. This is because the .com TLD is used for the global/US index.

This doesn't result in it being impossible to rank in Google’s global index, it just requires more resources to compete, which is not the best investment of your online marketing budget.

You can assume that other lesser TLD like .biz and .info can be found in the global results but....  recently they are not seen very frequently.

That said if you are a local business and are buying the .ca, I would strongly recommend buying the .Com TLD as well if it’s available.

Another way to target the correct index is through Google Webmaster Tools. However, I would not advise doing that until such time as you have both national and global aspirations. (Then I would target a US hosted site for the global/US index and use Google Webmaster Tools to target all the national sites. I recently have been working with a Canadian manufacturer in this situation with several "dealer stores" in many countries worldwide. Our first contact was to figure out why the global/US site was outranking the Ca. site in the Google Canadian index.)

How'd We Get here?

Local Search first became more important when Google used it as one of the primary means to personalize search. Back then just having the address, phone number and zip code in the footer on every page was more than enough to "localize" the product/service offered.

The "regional directories" like Yelp ruled the search engine result placements (SERPs) locally in the early days, so back then one way to raise visibility for your website/business was to be found in the regional directories.

This was cemented when Google made the directory links a signal and ranking factor. To this day niche professional and geo-targeted directories are a mainstay for promoting a website and raising local SEO visibility.

Next Google took the "directory backfill" strategy to a new level when it started including YellowPages listings in its Canadian local search index. The and niche sites like provided structured data Google was able to parse. To explain this in lay terms, these sites enabled Google to quickly fill its local search index with Canadian business results. The structured semantic data in Wikipedia was also included in results.

This led to an emergence of Google Local listings, which came up in mapped Google searches. Businesses were able to add or claim listings and could customize their Google Local pages.

In 2007 Google introduced a new type of search called “universal search”. This innovation enabled Google to add local, news, videos, images, other "structured references" like Wikipedia, event information like Olympic results, the Leader board for a major golf tournament to results based on user choices.

Local search dominates results where the product or service is delivered regionally. Google is also aware of the fact that users buy things locally and research them online, so transactional queries (the money terms) are often localized with "local paks", which are results from Google Local and some blended or other local organic results.

This localized approach was so successful Google took it one step further. In May 2012 Google moved all Google places pages to Google Local on the Google Plus network.

Article Navigation

Continue to page 2: The Google Local Search Primer

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