When was the last time you reached for phone book when you needed a hotel, a florist, or indeed a solicitor? We’re much more likely to reach for Google than the Yellow Pages, and “Local Search” is about how the internet presents geo-targeted information about your business, including location maps, customer reviews and detailed information about your services.
Google reports that one in every thirteen searches includes a map in the search results. That means that a lot of people are searching for local businesses, and one of those people might be your prospective new client.
Local searching isn’t limited to just Google web search. Yahoo! has a local business listing service (uk.local.yahoo.com) and Microsoft’s Bing search engine shows local listings and a map for most local searches (www.bing.com/maps).
The Google 7-pack
Nevertheless, the major player in Local Search is, of course, Google. Run a search for a local business type, say “Solicitor Newcastle”, and you will trigger search results from the Google Maps service that includes a list of 7 local business listings, including mapping information. This display is known as the Local Onebox and the 7 business listing is the Local 7-pack.
If there aren’t enough suitable businesses to generate a 7-pack, then Google might display the local 3-pack, and indeed sometimes just a single company listing is displayed.
You can submit your business to the free Google Maps service at the Google Local Business Centre. You will require a Google account to list your business; it is likely that your firm will already have an account if it is using Google services like AdWords advertising, Google Analytics or Gmail.
Claim the listing as your own
There is a very good chance that Google will have your firm listed already even if you haven’t provided the information yourself. Google gathers information from a number of internet directory sources and it may have created a generic listing for you. If that is the case, it is essential for you to claim the listing as your own. If you do not claim your listing yourself, you may find yourself victim of the scam known as “hijacking.” At its simplest, that means another organisation claims your listing, but changes the phone number to be their phone number, thus siphoning off your phone calls. Reclaiming a hijacked listing is tedious, so prevention is much better than the cure.
As you enter your company information into the Google Local Business Centre, keep in mind that how you enter the information will have a significant influence in whether your firm appears in the all-important Google 7-pack.
Tips for creating the perfect listing
Name of your firm. It is important to include your keywords in your company name. So, if your firm is called Smith & Jones and you’re based in Springfield, then be sure to list your business as Smith & Jones Solicitors, or even Smith & Jones Springfield Solicitors. Don’t try and cram too many keywords, but include the essentials.
Business address. Ensure your business address matches exactly the address you are listing on your website and the address that is listed on other internet directory sites. The more identical addresses Google discovers for your website, the better.
Phone number. 0800 numbers do not indicate any geographic area, so be sure to include your local dialling code phone number. You can add your 0800 number, but make your local number the first number.
Business description. You have up to 200 characters to describe your business and you will want to include keywords in here. Keep in mind, however, that this content is intended for humans, so it will need to read well and cramming too many keywords in here may get you banned.
Business categories. The categories you choose to classify you firm are exceptionally important, so choose them carefully. You should choose some categories from the suggestions provided by Google, as well as creating your own categories.
For internet searchers using their mobile phones, Google Mobile Search uses the My Location feature to pinpoint your precise location and provides you with search results targeted to your physical location. Put in the word “curry” into your Google Mobile search and you’ll find every curry house in the vicinity.
In addition to the search engines’ own local business directories, firms should be creating listings in the major Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) websites. Many of these listings are free, and offer you a way to provide consistent contact information for your company. These directories can be generic business listings like Yell, City Visitor, FreeIndex and Touch Local.
There are specific legal directories like:
Don’t forget your own website
And finally, in addition to your listings on other websites, you need to ensure your own website is giving off clear local signals. Make sure you are including your physical address, including postcode and local phone number, on every page of your website; typically this will be included in a footer on the page.
There are many more factors that influence local search rankings, but if you address these as your top priority you should start to see good results. The importance of Local Search for law firms in the UK cannot be underestimated and the process of providing complete, accurate and consistent location information is what you need to do in order to take advantage of this relatively new and low cost marketing tool.
Susan Hallam is Managing Director of Hallam Communications Ltd which provides internet marketing consultancy and training services for the legal profession.
Note. Susan Hallam is hosting The Internet Conference on 14 May 2010 at the East Midlands Conference Centre. The Conference is CPD accredited and covers web marketing for solicitors.