local seo helps website traffic launchGot a website for your business… and ready to start driving traffic right away?

One of the first things you should do after bringing your business online is take advantage of local SEO: list your company in as many searchable specialty directories as possible to build your local presence and authority.

This is not “search engine marketing” in the sense most people think of it, as there’s not a list of things you have to do to your website before submitting.

Whew. ;)

Instead, with local directory marketing, you’re simply finding and submitting your site to local directories… so it’s a little easier than full-fledged search engine marketing, per se.

Good for you.

Note: I use the terms “search engine” and “directory” somewhat interchangeably in this article, though they’re actually a little different.

Directory Local Search Profiles: How You Benefit

Local directories and engines list business profiles by locality to help local customers and local businesses find each other.  Therefore, getting listed with them can put your website in front of the eyes of people who are looking for you, right where you are.  Not only can that help improve search engine positioning as local customers search for the precise solutions you offer, but there’s one other important competitive advantage: customer preference.

What’s a “Local Search Profile”?

Put plainly, this is a searchable listing for your business as indexed within a geographic/local directory or search engine.  And when I say “indexed,” I don’t mean as in “waiting for directories to find and list your website” (which directories do not do).  Instead, a local search profile is something you generally must create and add to the directory database manually.

Creating accurate, complete profiles is an integral part of local SEO for your website traffic strategy.  As a bonus, they’re typically free to create and easy to build if your organization has the hours to spare.

But Why Local (and Not More Broadscale) Marketing?

Ad-ology Research answers this  better than I ever could with their 2010 Audience Interests+Attitudes Study, which revealed that “the vast majority (73.6%) of U.S. consumers seem to prefer doing business locally.”  <–tweet that]

Even more recently, the 2012 Public Affairs Pulse Survey reported that “more than two-thirds of the public (68%)  prefer to do business with ‘a smaller local company that may charge somewhat higher prices.'” <–tweet it]

2012 Public Affairs Pulse Survey result

Local businesses are still preferred… even with higher prices?  Now this is even better than we thought. ;)

Doesn’t it make sense that one of the first things you should do for your new online biz, then, is to create local search profiles on the top local directories for your business?

Consumers’ strong local preferences aside, remember that achieving search rankings for specific, localized terms is vastly less competitive and overall easier.  Therefore, beginning with search engine marketing on a local level is really a no-brainer.

Can You Use Local Marketing … with No Offline Presence?

Definitely.  <–tweet the news!]  And you should when and wherever you can, for two reasons:

Reason #1:  Your competitors aren’t likely doing so.

Most businesses either seem to believe they don’t qualify — like you may have ;) — or believe they should focus on “online” lead generation only, if their business is exclusively Web-based.

Disclaimer: Technically, a local search directory is, of course, “online” lead generation.  What I mean is that small business owners often think of local directories as something they can use only when their businesses have an offline storefront.

Again, not even close.

Even if you don’t have a “brick and mortar” presence, you CAN promote your company with local marketing.

Reason #2:  Many businesses believe their companies aren’t considered “local” because they don’t serve local customers exclusively, nor have a local address.

Again, not quite the case.

I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve ever registered for a business license in the U.S. of A., I had to give somebody somewhere an address.  Didn’t you? ;)

No matter where you’re working from, you have an address considered “local” to some state.

Tip:  If you conduct business solely from home though, of course you wouldn’t want to plaster that address all over the Internets… But easy fix.

Some executive office suites can accept mail for you, as can the UPS Store, Mail Boxes Etc., and so on. Local post offices have also begun offering “Street Addressing,” allowing you to use a street address instead of a P.O. box.  See if your local USPS has implemented this yet.

When you use this option, though, please know that a few search engines and directories (like Google, unfortunately) still may not (knowingly) allow you to set up a listing with that address. Technically, “online-only” businesses for some reason aren’t supposed to use a P.O. box as a business address. Ugh, what-evz.

The Difference Between Regular Search Results and Local Results – and Why It Matters

This little nugget drives home the importance (and the benefits) of building a complete local search profile for your company in these directories.

You’ll notice that regular search results include only title, description, and link(s) to your company website.

Local search results include those, plus other info, such as:

  • ratings and reviews (A)
  • physical address and phone (B)
  • a visual map pointer (C)
  • the business’ category (D)
  • and a link to directions (E)

…basically, all the stuff you’d want to find out about a local business before deciding to visit or call.

Bing’s Local Results:

Click it for full-size ^

Google’s Local Results:

Click it for full-size ^

In fact, many businesses without websites are listed in Google for local search terms.  But how?

The listing is linked to their Google profile page even when no website exists.

When you fill out your business’s Google local (and other pages) completely and thoroughly, you’ll have the advantage over those businesses with incomplete profiles.  Trust me, every little advantage helps fuel your search engine marketing campaign!

How to Fully Complete Your Local Search Profile for Best Results

Now that you realize your company qualifies for a local search profile in many directories, and you understand the value of making it as complete as possible… it’s time to get to submitting!

Well, not so fast.

It’s critically important to enter all of your company information (even down to using “St.” or “Street,” etc.) in exactly the same way in all local directories to avoid screwing up your search ranking potential.

This is so important that it deserves its own article. With so many factors going into ranking, it pays to ensure that we hit every target.  Your business name (very, very important), category, customer ratings/reviews, photos, videos, etc., should all be chosen precisely to craft a high-response local search profile for your company.  Check GetListed.org’s brief but informative plain-English primer for help with that here.

Consistency is Critical with Local SEO. Here’s Everything You Need…

^tweet that!]

Thankfully, I didn’t have to spend hours going through the directories to compile all the info needed (and neither do you ;). Here instead is a very useful list, all in one place, sampled from this article:

  • Business Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Hours of operation
  • Email address
  • Website URL
  • Contact Person — name, phone number, email
  • Keywords
  • Photos – logo, of your office, products/services that you offer
  • Number of employees
  • Age of company
  • Fax number (if applicable)
  • Payment methods accepted
  • Business description (160 characters in length)
  • Affiliations/Memberships
  • Specialties

To their list, let’s also add:

  • Category(s)
  • Tags
  • Annual Revenue
  • Green Initiatives
  • Social Media Accounts
  • Media Links (pictures, videos, podcasts, PDFs)
  • Company “About” Information (usually a longer description than allowable in a “Description” field)

Fortunately, not all directories require this much info, but it’s nice to have it on hand when you get started so no one has to go digging.

How to Choose the Directories to Submit to for Maximum Website Traffic

Two ways:

Step 1.  Start with the major national directories and engines that offer local segmentation.

For instance, Bing.com is one primary search engine; Bing.com/local is the geo-targeted subdirectory of their main engine where you’d build your local search profile.  Cool, right?

So here are 20 of the top local directories below, in alphabetical order.  (I haven’t listed direct links to directory submission pages in most cases to keep the list fresh/relevant, as their sub-pages occasionally change.)

Best of the Web Local http://local.botw.org/
Bing Business Portal http://bingbusinessportal.com
Brownbook http://brownbook.net
Citysearch** http://citysearch.com
Google Places http://google.com/places
Hotfrog Small Business Hub http://sbh.hotfrog.com/
infoUSA http://www.expressupdateusa.com/
InsiderPages http://www.insiderpages.com/
Judy’s Book http://judysbook.com
Local.com https://advertise.local.com/
Localeze http://webapp.localeze.com/directory/search.aspx
Manta http://manta.com
Merchant Circle http://merchantcircle.com
Open List http://www.openlist.com/
Superpages http://www.superpages.com/
Topix http://topix.com
Yahoo! Local http://local.yahoo.com/
YellowBook http://yellowbook.com
Yellowpages http://www.yellowpages.com/advertise/
Yelp https://biz.yelp.com

**Tip: Citysearch has an annoying, hidden submission process these days, so this article by Matt McGee shows you exactly how to add or claim a listing.

After you’re done with that list of 20, you can also submit to the additional 10 sites listed at 30 Local SEO Citation Sources to cover all your bases.

Step 2. Seek out the highest-traffic directories for your region and your industry.

For instance, if you’re a beauty consultant in Raleigh, NC, you’d search for both Raleigh business directories and beauty consultant directories.  Then, you’d add your business to the top directories from each search.

Importantly, please note that “top” doesn’t always mean the first results that come up during your search.  For my clients at Excellent Presence, to cover all bases, we do select “first results” as well as the top-ranking directories in which your competitors are listed.

Hint: How do you decide which directories are “top-ranking” if not those that appear at the “top” of search results for a certain term?

Easy.  Check the directory’s traffic rank (with Alexa), as well as its PageRank; then, order your directory list from most to least popular.

We’re getting there!

What to Do When Directories Don’t Disclose Where or How to Add a Listing

Yes, this actually happens.  And yes, it will be annoying.

In many cases, it’s easy to simply overlook the submission page, as some directory interfaces simply have way too much going on.  So, first, try scrolling to the very top or very bottom of any directory page and look for a link stating “Add Your Business,” “Add a Listing,” or, yes, even “Advertise with Us.”

Despite the wording, the vast majority of these sites are completely free for at least a very basic listing — even those submission forms you’ll from the “advertising” page.  In those cases, you’ll usually just end up going most of the way through the listing process before you understand the “limitations” of your free-level listing.  (For instance, as with all things AT&T, I find their listing process to be overly convoluted and a pain in the @#%$.  But just near the end of the process, you’ll find that their stripped-down basic listings are free.)

Hint:  Don’t worry about the “privileges” stripped from certain directory listings.  When it all comes down to it, sometimes the “ranking weight” Google gives for the directory link matters more than the paltry amount of website traffic you’d directly receive from it.

Make sense?

While you shouldn’t expect an onslaught of website traffic from listings in local and industry directories, the website traffic you do receive will be more qualified, your website will gain more local credibility in the major engines (i.e., Google), and you gain locally relevant backlinks, all of which help with rankings for your overall search engine marketing campaign.

The Reveal:

While your competitors are spending all their time on “the usual” means of online promotion (like submitting articles, press releases, and doing general/global search engine marketing within Google, Bing, and Yahoo), *you* can gain an edge by considering your business local — because it is — and beginning your local SEO campaign right away.

Pursuing less competitive local search avenues will give your Web marketing campaign a solid foundation, firm overall search footing — and “starter” website traffic.  Score. ;)