There is a big shift happening in Google that directly effects local business owners and presents opportunities that have previously been out of their reach. This change is local search. When it started out, Google was a nation-based search engine that lumped most queries together by country but more recently Google started tailoring searches down to city or county. This local trend has the potential to change the future of small businesses the world over.
Since the invention of the world wide web one of the major concerns about the development of the internet was that it separated the online world from the real brick and mortar world we live in. The rate at which people started using the web increased so rapidly that it left many businesses behind. In previous years people looked online for products and services that existed in their local communities but not on the web, the Google results page would display results for national companies and the local business down the road would miss out on a customer. Before the arrival of local search, people looking for highly localised services such as estate agents, plumbers or driving lessons were problematic, businesses based nationally, not locally dominated the results. People looking for local services were forced to dig way down through the search results to find exactly what it was they were looking for.
For several years Google has been busy working on a way to fix these problems and tap into the growing pool of revenue generated by localised searches, the first localised search results were include as early as 2009 although these were limited to real estate searches in the US. Google users searching for property in their area could now find local results ranked higher than traditionally high ranked national pages. This new focus on the Google searcher’s IP address was infinitely profitable to real estate companies and brought a new breath of life into their web turned foot traffic.
A few short years later, Google decided to expand on this idea of localisation with Google Local. Google Local has changed the face of internet searches as we know it. Now when potential customers search for “mechanics” or “solicitors” in their area, they don’t have to type in a city and state to find local results, Google factors the location of their IP address into the search and often prioritises local businesses first. Google Local is now the most frequently used vertical search engine in the world today and Google Local’s popularity has been great news for local businesses. It means, in essence, that brick and mortar businesses don’t necessarily need to have a high domain authority and an optimised website to show up on search results and they have an advantage over their nationally based competitors.
In February 2012 Google made an update to their search engine called the Venice update, this significant change made local Google searches ‘de riguer’ practice for Google search algorithms. Now all applicable searches are based on localised results. This means that the location of every one of the billions of Google users who search is taken in to account and if suitable local businesses are available then these can be included in to the search results as standard.
For businesses whose livelihood depends on local foot traffic to support their brick and mortar stores, this change and re-emphasis on local searches has the possibility to attract an unprecedented number of new customers to that business. They are finding that with the right tools, they can access entirely new portions of the market to drive customers to their stores.
While Google Local searches happen automatically for Google searchers, small businesses looking for their stores to be incorporated into Google Local search results must submit their websites to Google Local. The process is as simple as logging on to local.google.com to see if your business is already listed among local search results. If it isn’t, a quick trip to https://www.google.com/local/add/login will allow you to quickly register your website via your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account then it takes minutes to sign-up for one.
One of the benefits of a Google Local listing is that more than just your url is included, businesses can also include their hours of operation, contact information, payment options and a brief description of the services they offer. Businesses can also categorise their services allowing any potential customers searching for services to find them easily. Once a businesses site appears on Google Local, it’s web access increases exponentially. Anyone searching for your category of business in your area is much more likely to be directed to your website’s page.
Another benefit of signing up for Google Plus Local is that your web page will also show up on Google Maps. In today’s mobile-centred world, Google Maps searchers are growing by leaps and bounds. With the recent boom in mobile internet access, customers are now more likely to pull out their phones and search for “coffee shop near me” than ever before. Thanks to this new mobile access, Google Maps has become the Yellow and White pages of the future. Businesses that have their hours, phone number and payment options available at the tap of a screen are often preferable to those businesses whose information is more obscure and harder to find. In highly competitive markets this leg up can be crucial. Businesses that choose to leave themselves out of these searches do so at their own peril.
Google is such a large, centralised player in the World Wide Web that it is shifting the entire focus of the web to become more localised. Now businesses are adding localised keywords to their blog and product content. Blogs who want to stand out make sure that their long-tail SEO includes their city and state when local visitors are an important part of their businesses.
Social media experts are scrambling to reach out to hyper-localised blogs and forums. Via guest posts, twitter followings and a shift in focus to the local they are increasing their readerships significantly. They understand that the way the world thinks about traffic and customers changes with Google.
Small businesses who follow the example of savvy bloggers and social media experts can take advantage of the new localised emphasis of Google Local. Getting your business included in the Local Search results will give you a big advantage over competitors in the field who have not learned of or taken advantage of Google Local. A not-yet-saturated market has endless potential to provide new, loyal customers and visitors who have yet to be tapped. Businesses who know how to create repeat customers will have access to a new community of customers that they can retain for the life of their business.