I’ve had a number of people recently ask me about how to optimize their small business sites for local search engines.
I’ve seen many people post many different links, some correct and some obviously incorrect in their assumptions.
You optimize your site to increase traffic to your site with the intention of converting (i.e. clicks, sales, etc). For small businesses, the conversions are most often sales or products or services.
With the ultimate goal defined above in mind, your first optimization technique has little to do with changing things on your site.
What you need to do is go directly to the data providers. You see, most search engines start with a base data provider…a company that creates this data, may have some checks to clean up the data, and resells it. Some iYPs will actually buy this data as well but others have access to the data from their offline counterparts and can use this information to build out local search data instead (but will usually supplement it since most of these listings will have minimal metadata associated with each business such as an address, category and phone number only). To see an (incomplete or generalized) overview of base data providers and local search engines, take a look at Bruce Clay’s Local Search Engine Relationship Chart.
So, step 1 is to go to the base data providers and make sure they have your business listed, with the correct address and phone number. Additionally, many of them will collect whatever additional information you may be willing to provide (i.e. a URL).
Here is a list of the top few data providers:
Be warned, though. Entering this information may mean you will not only end up in the data directories they license to others, but it also means your information (including contact information you submit such as email, contact name, and phone) will end up on their marketing lead list.
Additionally, although all of this information may end up in their database, most sites pay a price for this data based on a certain collection of fields which may not include, for example, your business URL. So if you hire an SEO, make sure you attribute these additional offline leads (i.e. walk-ins or phone calls) as well (though you would be hard-pressed to find out a tracking mechanism short of asking each user where they found you and researching the data source).
What if you correct or add your business listing in a site that uses their data? Some of these data providers are providing APIs for their licensees to submit corrected information. However, very few, if any, of these large sites will submit this updated information to the base data providers. They know that they would be strengthening their competitor’s site by doing this as well as losing ownership of this updated information (most sites set up terms of service so they own the data submitted by users). The data existing on their site only becomes a market differentiators as well as a sort of intellectual property…so once you submit your data to the base data providers, you can go to the larger sites (i.e. Google, Yahoo, Yellowpages.com, Superpages, and Citysearch) and update or add additional info that is missing such as website urls, etc.