Best Local Search Tools – 2012

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Best Local Search Tools - 2012It’s possible to get a business visible in Google Places and other local search engines without using any tools…but why would you want to?

Sure, you can drive a nail with a brick (or that poundcake your in-laws sent for Christmas), but it’s much more effective, quicker, and easier if you’ve got the right tool.

I’ve rounded up a list of the best tools that I, other local-searchers, and wise business owners use on a daily basis.  Others exist, but I consider these the cream of the crop.

There were some great lists of local-search tools last year—including an excellent one by Mike Ramsey—but none so far for 2012 (that I’m aware of).  Another year, a new lineup.

I’ve categorized the tools with 3 little symbols:

User-friendly tool= Extremely user-friendly tool.

Tool you should use on an ongoing basis= A tool that’s good to use repeatedly—both before you’re visible and after, as part of a maintenance routine.

Paid tool= Paid tool, but a heck of a good investment.  (Any tool that doesn’t have this symbol next to it is free.)

Near the bottom of the list are some tools that aren’t specific to local search, but that can indirectly help your local rankings anyway.

 

The list: best tools for local search optimization

 

GetListed.org
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGetListed.orgIn the world of local search, GetListed is handier than duct tape and a Swiss Army Knife put together.  It instantly analyzes how locally visible your business is and gives you specific recommendations for how to get more visible.  Plus, the rest of the site contains some superb resources that show you the ropes of local search.

(Once you’ve done a basic scan of your business and maybe browsed GetListed’s resources,  check out my advanced tips for GetListed scans.)

 

Local Citation Finder
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLocal Citation Finder - WhitesparkBefore Whitespark came out with this tool, getting citations was like getting your teeth pulled.  Now it’s just like a routine tooth cleaning :)

The Local Citation Finder will tell you all the business directories your top-ranked local competitors are listed on – which allows you to go out and list your business on those sites and turn the tables on your competitors.  Very user-friendly.  Absolutely essential if you’re serious about growing your local visibility.

 

Google Places Category Tool
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyGoogle Places Category Tool - Mike BlumenthalBeautifully simple, yet powerful: a giant list of all the business categories you can choose for your Google Places page.  Use it to make sure you’ve picked out all the categories that may apply to your business.  It also includes synonyms corresponding to each category, which help if you’re unsure about which categories to pick.  Created by none other than Mike Blumenthal.

 

Link Prospector
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleLink Prospector - Citation LabsGetting good-old-fashioned links to your website can help your Google Places rankings.  In a nutshell, this is the best link-finding tool I’ve used.  It’s made by Citation Labs.  The demo video can explain the details better than I can.  Also, I really dig their “Pay as You Go” option.

 

Local Search Toolkit
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocalSearchToolkit - SEOverflowYou can learn a lot about how to rank well in your specific local market if you spend enough time poking around on your competitors’ Places pages to find out what categories they use, which citations they have, and so forth.  Local Search ToolKit lets you gather that competitive intel instantly.

 

BrightLocal’s ReviewBiz
Best used repeatedlyReviewBiz - BrightLocalI had a brilliant idea: little buttons you could put on your website that customers simply could click to write reviews for you…but then I learned the chaps at BrightLocal had already thought of it and made it.  An awesome tool for getting an extra stream of reviews from your customers without even having to ask them.

 

MyReviewsPage
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyMyReviewsPage.comA great way to keep quick tabs on your reviews (how many and what ratings) on the most important review sites, with a really handy “dashboard” feature.  MyReviewsPage also has a number of other features for monitoring and gathering customer reviews.

 

Microformats.org
Microformats.orgGoogle’s bots like it if you add your business name, address, and phone number to the bottom of every page of your website.  But the bots are tickled pink if you can format your name, address, and phone number with a few specific lines of code before doing so.  This format is called hCard.  You can prepare the code you need at microformats.org/code/hcard/creator.  (Chris Silver Smith has a great article to help you do this.)

Another smart move is to add a few lines of a similar kind of code to any customer testimonials you have on your website.  This format is called hReview.  If you mark up your customer testimonials with this code, Google will (essentially) treat those testimonials as reviews.  This means you’ll not only get “review stars” for those testimonials, but those review stars will show up next to wherever your business is ranked in Google’s search results.  Be sure to read this excellent piece by Linda Buquet before preparing your testimonials in hReview.

 

GeoSitemapGenerator
GeoSitemapGenerator - Arjan SnaterseThe more information Google has about the location of your business, the more likely it is you’ll rank well locally.  Whereas a regular sitemap file is a way to tell search engines where the pages of your website are located, a geositemap file tells search engines where your business itself is located.  The easy-to-use GeoSitemap Generator lets you create the two files you’ll need to upload to your site.

 

David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyLocal Search Ranking Factors - David MihmEven the best compass isn’t much use without an accurate map.  This comprehensive, definitive study will help you at any and every stage of your push to get visible to local customers.  If you ever find yourself wondering “Gee, what do I need all these tools for?” look no farther than this document.

 

Honorable mention: Definitive Citations List
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyAn ongoing project of mine: to list every citation source I’ve found.  The Definitive List of Local Search Citations List isn’t in the same league of awesomeness as the above tools, but it’s a resource I’ve been working on for a while, which I’ll keep trying to develop and improve.  Please take a look and let me know if there are any citations you’d suggest I add to the list.

 

Tools that indirectly help local search visibility

 

CrazyEgg
Best used repeatedly + costs a littleCrazyEgg.comA simple plugin-like tool that shows you a really sexy heatmap of where your website visitors click, the traffic sources those clicks come from, how far down the page they scroll, and other crucial intel.

Whereas Google Analytics will tell you which links on your site people click on, it won’t tell you things like how many people are clicking on your giant logo at the top of the page, even though it doesn’t link to anywhere, or whether only about 2% of the visitors who came from Facebook actually click on your “Services” page.

CrazyEgg, on the other hand, will tell you all that and more.  You’ll discover that areas of your website potential customers take interest in, and which areas they don’t.  If you tweak your website according to what you learn about your customers’ worries and wants, you can better gear your site toward the specific services they’re most interested in, which will also help your chances of turning those visitors into customers.

 

WeWe Monitor
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedlyIs your website content focused on your customers…or on you?  There’s a big fat gray area between being customer-centric and narcissistic.  This simple tool will read the content on your site and tell you how well you focus on customers and what they care about.  I’d suggest this to anyone who runs a business.

But it can be especially handy for local-search ranking purposes, because it might help you realize that (for instance) you need to write a little more on your home page about each specific service you offer, exactly who might need those services, and how they might make your customers’ lives better, etc..  Having service-specific, on-topic content makes your site more relevant to the terms you’re trying to get visible for, and in this way can help your organic and local rankings.

 

SnagIt
Extremely user-friendly + best used repeatedly + costs a littleSnagIt - TechSmithA screenshot tool and photo-editor wrapped up into one very handy bundle.  You need good photos if you want to make your Places attractive enough that visitors are compelled to click through to your site rather than to hit the “Back” button.  Some people swear by Photoshop, but SnagIt is my weapon of choice.  It will also help with some of the fairly wild things I suggest you do with your photos in order to maximize your local visibility.  It has a great free trial, by the way.

 

Google Alerts
Tool you should use on an ongoing basisGoogle AlertsWant to know where your competitors are getting publicity (and citations and links)?  Need to know if they’re talking smack about your business?  Set up some Google Alerts and you’ll receive emails from Google that let you know what’s been published on the web about you or your competitors.

It’s still very early in 2012; there’s a ton of year left for innovation.  If a new tool comes out that brings something new to the local-search table, let me know and I’ll take a look.

Got any tools to recommend that aren’t on my list—or anything you’d like to say about the tools I’ve already got?  Leave a comment!

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Comments

  1. great post!

    I use all those tools (except crazyegg). I add to it, google adplanner, google insights, keywordspy, seomoz’s tools, seomajestic… that’s off the top of my head.

    • Hey Matthew,

      Well, in that case, start using CrazyEgg on the double! :)

      Thanks for the recommendations. I don’t think Google Insights is robust enough to be of much use (still too many cases of “we don’t have data for that”). I used to be a big fan of KeywordSpy, but the flame between us kind of died. Would be interested in knowing specifically which Moz tools you’re referring to as useful for local search; I like a number of them as well.

  2. Great stuff as usual Phil! Thanks. Already use ReviewBiz which is great! Will be sure to check out the others.

  3. We use Localeze and you do not mention it in your tools. We are on the fence about it’s effectiveness. I have heard of white spark. Would you recommend it over Localeze?

    I have seen a competitor to obne of my clients come up on almost every state search in New Jersey. Are there special methods to appear outside your local area on a state search?

    • @Bill
      I take it you’re referring to the paid version of LocalEze? Obviously making sure you’ve claimed your clients’ free LocalEze directory listings is crucial. However, I don’t think I’ve ever used the paid option for my clients. I’m pretty sure you’re in a better position than I am to say how effective it is.

      Yes, I’d recommend Whitespark: as you know, I highly recommend the Local Citation Finder, but Darren & Co at Whitespark are real pros, so I recommend any of their tools and services in general.

      Great question about the state search. My best guess is that the way to get visible for queries of “service name + state name” is just to be off the charts in terms of your “prominence” factor.

      To be more specific: as I’m sure you know, Google itself has stated that its local algo takes into account 3 main factors: “proximity,” “relevance,” and “prominence.” Relevance is probably taken care of: you’re (say) a chiropractor, and the query is (for example) “New Jersey chiropractors,” so that’s a match. Proximity is sort of off the table: the query is for New Jersey, and you are one of a gazillion chiropractors in New Jersey, so that matches up fine as well. At that point my guess is it comes down to relevance: do you have more and better reviews, and from a wider variety of sources, than the next guy? More citations? More and better backlinks? A beefier, more awesome-content filled site? Become the high man on the big statewide totem pole—not just the shorter local one.

  4. Another excellent post full of useful resources. I am familiar with
    some of these tools and am looking forward to implementing the others
    at some point. I am especially interested in the KML generator and seeing
    if it can produce a measurable effect upon my clients Places ranking.
    Thanks again.

    • Hey Dino,

      Thanks for the kind words, as always! I started using geositemaps for clients only pretty recently, and (as we both know) it’s hard to measure the effect of one factor in Google Places of many, but I’d be really interested in hearing about any effect you’re able to measure.

  5. Hi Phil, I heard a rumor that its best to go slow in accumulating citations. My GP listing seems to be doing well with all my citation gathering. (dozens ). Should I slow down? (sounds like an old husband’s tale). CN

    • Yeah, that’s kind of a “husbands’ tale.” It’s only true in the sense that slow and persistent is better than fast and sloppy. I’ve found it just takes time to (1) get all the citations to be accurate and (2) to rack up a LOT of them. If you can get a bunch of citations quickly, great, but don’t do it for a couple weeks then stop.

      IF all your citations are accurate (and that can be a big “if”), then there’s no harm in getting them really quickly. But what you don’t want to have happen is you blast through a ton of citations, and then those citation sites get fed inaccurate info from sources you maybe forgot about, and then you have a bunch of inaccurate citations on your hands and you have to spend all your time cleaning them up rather than getting more. I find it’s just a little easier to go slowly, but you don’t HAVE to.

  6. This is my first day of quest on what’s the best way to gather online review, and Phil’s article about the subject has been beyond my expectations! The tactics are clear, the tools are relevant. Thanks much!

  7. Phil
    excellent information..
    Is there somewhere I can find info on installing hcard on word press sites and is it that big of a deal if I don’t or can’t?
    Could not find anything on youtube.
    the concept is a clean way to structure info.
    Thank you

    • Hey Pete,

      Thanks for the compliments.

      Regarding how to get hCard into WordPress, I think you can go one of 3 routes:

      1. Use the hCard ShortCode plugin: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/hcard-shortcode/

      2. Generate the block of code yourself (perhaps at http://microformats.org/code/hcard/creator) and stick it on every page either by adding a “text” widget to the universal sidebar, or by adding it to the footer.php file (or whatever file manipulates the footer area in your version of WordPress).

      3. Generate the block of code yourself and stick it anywhere on the pages manually.

      Each of these options is pretty easy, but if for whatever reason you can’t do #1 or #2, go with #3. The only reason you wouldn’t start with #3 is it could be tedious if you have a bunch of pages, but if you don’t have a bunch of pages it’ll be quick and easy.

      If for some unexpected reason you can’t get hCard in there at all, it’s not a huge deal: what counts above all is getting the name/address/phone on every page in a standard format (as though you’re mailing a letter).

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