Local SEO “Substitutions”

I’ve always liked the part of cookbooks with the “substitutions” chart.  It’s a life-saver for those of us who buy all the right ingredients at the market but gobble up half of them before we can cook anything.

One reason I like the substitutions chart is it reminds me that good cooking isn’t necessarily perfection.

Sure, you can’t substitute every ingredient in a recipe.

But if you’re a little short on time or ingredients and need to improvise, the finished product still will turn out great (usually).

 

The same is true of local search. Some people seem to think that local search “optimization” means “everything’s got to be perfect.”  It doesn’t.  There isn’t just one correct way to do the steps that will make your business visible to customers in the Google+Local search results and beyond.

Granted, for some steps in your local-search campaign there’s no such thing as “good enough.”  For instance, you must follow Google’s “Quality Guidelines,” or you risk having your business flicked off the local map entirely.

But for other steps “close counts.”  (No, it’s not just in horseshoes and hand-grenades, as the saying goes.)

If you’ve had a tough time of implementing some of the local SEO best-practices you’ve heard from me or from other people, check out my list of “substitutions,” below.

By definition, a substitution isn’t perfect.  These are no exceptions.  Think of them in terms of “if you can’t do this, do that.”

 

For your Google+Local listing

If you…
Can’t include all your main services as categories in your Google listing (you can list yourself under a maximum of 5 categories).

Then…
Have a separate page of your website devoted to each specific service you offer.  This page should tell potential customers all about that particular service. Then make sure you’re linking to these pages from your homepage (or whatever is the landing page you use for your Google+Local listing).

Explanation
Categories are the best way to tell Google, “Yoo-hoo, over here…OK, these are the services I want to rank for.”  But probably the next-best way to do this is to have distinct, focused pages that describe in detail each specific service you offer (e.g. one for heating, another for air-conditioning, etc.).  That makes it easy for Google to scour your site and determine exactly what kind of business you’re in and what you offer.

Have a page for each service you offer - esp. if you run out of categories

 

If you…
Can’t think of any eye-catching (but relevant) photos to upload to your Google+Local page

Then…
Upload screenshots or photos that aren’t necessarily eye candy but that are relevant to your services and informative in some way.  Things like handwritten testimonials, “fan mail,” your BBB accreditation, or documents that show you’re certified to do whatever it is you do.

Explanation
I haven’t found that photos affect local rankings.  But good photos will make people more likely to click through to your site or pick up the phone.  Which is what it’s all about. And which means it’s perfectly OK to upload photos that aren’t flashy but that tell potential customers something they might want to know about you or your services.

 

For your website

If you…
Don’t have a keyword-relevant domain name.

Then…
Create a page (or subdomain) on your site with a keyword-relevant page name, and use it as the landing page for your Google+Local listing.

Explanation
Let’s say your competitor’s website is AcmeChiropractic123.com.  He ranks well locally for search terms that contain “chiropractic.”  Your website is DrJohnDoe.com.  Consider building a page named “Doe-Chiropractic” that talks all about your chiropractic care.

Then use “http://www.DrJohnDoe.com/Doe-Chiropractic” as the landing page for your Google+Local listing (in other words, enter that URL into the “Website” field of your Googl+Local listing).  That should make you a little more likely to rank well locally for “chiropractic” and similar searches.

In lieu of a keyword-relevant domain, try a keyword-relevant name for your landing page

 

If you…
Can’t or don’t want to use hCard or Schema.org to mark up the name/address/phone (“NAP”) block of text that should be on every page of your site

Then…
Put the NAP on every page of your site without marking it up with hCard or Schema.

Explanation
I haven’t seen any evidence or noticed first-hand that marking up your name/address/phone number with search-engine-friendly code (AKA rich snippets) helps your rankings significantly.

Sure, we know Google pays attention to rich snippets.  If you or your webmaster can implement them, great (one easy way to do it is with this excellent Schema generator).  But it’s OK if you can’t or don’t want to use the markup for some reason.  Just make sure the name, address, and phone number of your business is on every page of your site.

 

For citations

If you…
Can’t claim your business listing on a given third-party site (Yelp, CitySearch, etc.).

Then…
Make sure that the listing at least has the correct info on your business – regardless of whether you’ve claimed that listing – and make sure you get any listings with the wrong info removed.

Explanation
In my experience, the consistency of your basic business info (name, address, and phone) as it appears all across the web is the biggest factor in how well you’ll rank locally.  Getting this consistency needs to be at the top of your priority list – and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.

If for any reason you can’t claim a given listing for your business, that’s OK: I haven’t found that Google will give you any brownie points for having done so.  But if the listing has incorrect info, you’re in trouble.  The good news is there’s almost always an area on these business-directory sites where you can suggest corrections.

 

If you…
Aren’t using the Local Citation Finder but want to get all the citations your competitors have.

Then…
Use this neat citation-discovery technique or my Definitive Citations List, or some combination of the two.

Explanation
Citations matter.  A lot.  ‘Nuff said.

 

For reviews

If you…
Have trouble getting Google or Yelp reviews.

Then…
Get some CitySearch or InsiderPages reviews (or other sites).

Explanation
Google reviews are central to your local-vis efforts, but there have been serious problems with them recently.  The filters are WAY too strict.  Legitimate reviews from real customers in many cases won’t “stick” on your Google+Local page.  Similar story with Yelp, although their review “filters” have always been pretty draconian.

But even if you have loads of Google and Yelp reviews, you’d still be smart to get customers to review you on CitySearch and InsiderPages.  (For a little more detail on this, see my “Local Business Reviews Ecosystem”.)

 

If you…
Can’t get reviews because it’s nearly impossible to do so in your particular industry – to the point that even your competitors don’t have reviews.

Then…
Put a Google +1 button on your site and ask customers to “+1” you, or ask them to email you (or even handwrite) a testimonial that you could feature on your site.  Preferably ask them to do both.

Explanation
Reviews help your rankings.  Most likely so will having “+1’s” – at least in the near future.  Reviews are great “social proof” that show potential customers why your services are worth their attention and possibly some of their hard-earned money.  Testimonials can do that, too.

In case you want something to slap on your fridge, here’s a little chart that sums up all of the above:

Your handy-dandy local SEO "substitutions chart"

Any other local SEO “substitutions” you can think of – or have actually used?  Leave a comment!

17 Questions with Darren Shaw – Creator of the Local Citation Finder

Whitespark.ca - home of the Local Citation FinderRecently I had the pleasure of grilling Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca about his “Local Citation Finder” – the ultra-handy local-search optimization tool he created.

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes grappling with local SEO, you’ve probably heard of the Local Citation Finder – and there’s a good chance you use it, too.  It’s one of my very favorite tools for building up my clients’ local search rankings.

I’ve used the LCF since it came out in 2010.  Since then, I’ve had some questions I’ve been itching to ask – mostly about how to use the LCF to glean every last bit of local-search visibility for my clients.  For that there’s no substitute for “insider tips.”

Plus, the LCF is a really popular tool, so I also wanted to learn more about some of the secrets behind its success.

I went straight to the horse’s mouth, and Darren was kind enough to answer my questions

In case you didn’t know, Darren is kind of a big deal.  In some parts of the world he enjoys the spoils of an emperor:

Darren Shaw: ruler...er, creator of the Local Citation Finder

If you have any interest in getting your business more visible in local search, or if you just want some tips on how to launch a successful venture…read on.

Phil:  If you were in an elevator with someone who knows nothing about local search, how would you explain the Local Citation Finder?

Darren:  The Local Citation Finder is a competitive analysis tool for finding out where the top ranking competitors are getting citations, and for seeing where you already have citations. It will automatically tell you which ones you don’t already have, and includes SEOMoz’s Domain Authority and Majestic SEO’s ACRank metrics so that you can identify the best possible citation sources that are helping your competition rank locally.

 

Phil:  Why should a business owner—as opposed to a local SEO junkie—get the Local Citation Finder?  It’s not like that person necessarily needs to build citations every day.

Darren:  Currently, I don’t think a business owner would need to use the LCF for more than a month. I think it’s pretty typical for a business owner to sign up for a month, use the tool, export a CSV for all the citation opportunities they found, and then cancel. They can then work through that list when they have time.

We are working on citation monitoring services though, so a business owner will be able to track when new citations come live, and also get notifications when their competition gets new citations. When those features roll out, a monthly subscription will make more sense for a business owner.

 

Phil:  What would you say to someone who has all the basic citations (Yelp, SuperPages, etc.) and isn’t sure why he/she needs a tool to find more?  When is “good enough” good enough?

Darren:  The basic citations are an important starting point, especially the key sites you mention and the primary data aggregators, but we find that smaller city specific and industry specific sites strengthen your business’ association with your location and your niche and provide a noticeable rankings boost. The LCF helps you find these sources.

 

Phil:  Let’s say I need to build 50 citations for my business.  How much time could the Local Citation Finder save me, roughly speaking?

Darren:  I suppose we need to think about what the tool does, and what it would take to do that manually.

First you would want to run a keyword search and record all the businesses that are ranking locally.

Then you would want to find and record all the sites that the first business has a citation on. You could do this through various Google queries and then paginate through the results

Repeat for each of the other ranking businesses. You would then combine the lists, cross-referencing to make sure you’re not listing the same site twice.

Finally, you would repeat the process for your own business and then make note of which sites you’re already listed on, and which ones are opportunities.

Oh, and then you’d also look up SEOMoz Domain Authority and Majestic ACRank metrics for each site.

For an efficient and focused worker, I’d guess that this manual process would take at least six to eight hours

Our tool typically returns results in one or two minutes, and this is just one keyword search. At our lowest plan level you can run up to twenty different keyword searches per day.

In addition, the tool provides direct links to the “add your business” form for thousands of sites that get returned in our results. No need to spend time hunting through the websites to find the place where you can submit.

So, roughly, I’d say that the tool saves days of work.

 

Phil:  A lot of great tools are created by people who are fed up and just know there’s a better way to do a particular task.  Before the Local Citation Finder, how many hours would you typically spend gathering citations for a given client?

Darren:  Surprisingly, we didn’t do much citation building prior to developing the LCF. I was just getting interested in the topic, read a post by Garrett French about a technique you could use to find citation opportunities, and figured we could build a tool to automate the process.

 

Phil:  Did you have a prototype that you used for your own clients, before you realized “Hey, this might make a good tool for sale”?  In other words, was there an “ancestor”?

Darren:  No ancestor. The first version of the tool was developed and released in three days. It was an extremely simple tool that would just email you lists of potential opportunities. You can see some screen shots of the first version of the tool on Matt McGee’s post, “Local Citation Finder: Must-Have SEO Tool”.

 

Phil:  Yeah, I remember using it at that early stage.  Why did it come along when it did (summer of 2010)?  We’d known for a couple years beforehand that citations were important.  There was a niche and a need for it before 2010.

Darren:  The existence of the tool needed Garrett French’s brilliant idea for citation finding to spark the idea. 🙂

 

Phil:  Roughly how long did it take you to develop the LCF— from when it was a few neurons firing in your brain to when you put the “Order” button on the site?

Darren:  The free version we developed in three days was up for about six months before we rolled out the full-blown system that exists today. A few months of solid development went into taking it from simple/free to awesome/paid. It has evolved considerably since then as well.

 

Phil:  What’s a complaint or suggestion you’ve received on at least a couple occasions about the Local Citation Finder?

Darren:  This one comes up all the time:

“Why are there so many sites that I can’t submit to?”

The answer is because the tool performs a competitive analysis to find ALL the places that the top ranked competition is getting citations. A site doesn’t have to have a “submit your business” form on it to be a good citation. In fact, just like in link building, the harder a citation is to get, the more valuable it may be.

For example, the New York Times doesn’t have a “submit your business to our local business directory form”, but if your competition has done something newsworthy and has received a citation from the NYT, that’s a great thing for you to know about so you can look at what they did to get that citation.

 

Phil:  What’s a favorite “secret tip” of yours for getting the most benefit out of the LCF?

Darren:  We use the LCF in our client work to find “hyper local/niche” citation sources that we think have a significant impact on rankings. Here’s the process:

Create a new project. Call it something like “Local-Niche citations for __business-name__”

Run a bunch of different keyword searches in your specific city and industry, and assign each search to the project you created. So, for a plumber in Denver: Denver plumbers, Denver plumbing, Denver drain cleaning, etc. Try to be exhaustive.

Go under “Your Projects”, select “view sources” for the project you created, and ALL the citation sources from all of those different queries will be listed on a single page.

Hold down Ctrl and press “f” to bring up your browser’s search function. Now search for “plumb”, “drain”, “Denver”, “Colorado”, etc. Any words, or portions of words, that are related to your location or industry. The browser search feature will find sites with these words in their domains. These are going to be some very targeted sources that should help your rankings.

 

Phil:  How much room for improvement do you see for the LCF?  Any features you’re dying to add?

Darren:  Yeah, I’m dying to add the citation monitoring features I mentioned above. We’ve been super focused on our latest project, our local rank tracker, but it’s almost done, finally! Once it has launched and is stable, we’ll be jumping back to those LCF features. I also have plans for a NAP consistency tool that will complement the LCF nicely.

 

Phil:  Tons of people in the local-search community—and many people outside of it—use or at least know about the LCF.  What’s been the most important part of your strategy for “getting the word out”?

Darren:  Honestly, it’s just been dumb luck. We built a tool that the community needed, and word spread naturally. People liked what we built and started blogging.

 

Phil:  I’ve never encountered another tool that’s specifically designed for citation-gathering.  There doesn’t seem to be much competition—or even any knock-offs, for that matter.  Why do you think that is?  Why aren’t there any Pepsis to your Coca-Cola?

Darren:  Hmm. I don’t know. I suppose it’s just so narrowly focused. Citations are just one piece of the local SEO puzzle, and local SEO is just one niche within SEO overall. People that can build quality tools probably prefer to focus on bigger opportunities.

 

Phil:  The LCF has been around for long enough that the kinks have pretty much been smoothed out.  At this point, how do you spend your time on it?  What work do you have to do regularly on the LCF?

Darren:  Our time on the LCF is mostly support and troubleshooting at the moment. Kinks and edge cases do continue to come up, and as our user base has grown we have run into minor scaling issues here and there.  There are a fair amount of behind-the-scenes processing performance and monitoring tweaks we’ve made over the past couple years. The end user doesn’t see anything different, but these tweaks keep everything running well.

 

Phil:  What’s a tool that you, personally, would love to see someone create?  (Unless it’s something you’re working on and can’t spill the beans!)

Darren:  I’ve got IDEAS man! So many tool ideas. There isn’t one tool that I would love to see someone create that I don’t eventually plan to create. Sorry, nothing I can share.

 

Phil:  What advice would you give someone who has a great idea for a local-search tool and just wants to get it off the ground?  Or, for that matter, what general advice do you have for someone who has a good idea but isn’t quite sure how to develop it?

Darren:  I’d advise anyone who has a great idea for a tool to email me with all the details. 😉

Really though, you just have to do it. Have an idea? Don’t sit on it. DO IT. Millions of people are sitting on great ideas and they’re all on the back burner because they’re busy with the regular day-to-day of their lives. Block out some time and force yourself to dedicate it to developing your idea.

 

Phil:  Whitespark offers local search optimization and a bunch of other services, but you’re not some ho-hum SEO / SEM agency.  You create tools.  That’s kind of your niche.  In general, what advice do you have for someone who’s trying to develop his/her niche and stand out from the pack?

Darren:  If you want to stand out you need to do something to stand out. Building tools is one way to do that. You can also do it by picking one specific area and becoming an expert on it. I think you have done that with reviews, for one thing. You are regularly publishing excellent advice about review acquisition and that makes you stand out. I often think of you as “the review guy.”

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Darren Shaw [applause]A HUGE thanks to Darren for his tips and insights, and for tolerating my questions :).

I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter (@EdmontonSEO) and Google Plus.  While you’re at it, it’s also worth following Whitespark on Twitter (@Whitespark).

If you’re not already a hardcore LCF user, check out the excellent free trial of it.

Any questions for me or Darren?  Leave a comment!

12-Week Action Plan for Google Places Visibility

Action is awesome - but smart action is even betterUnless you’re Arnold, furious bursts of action alone probably won’t get you very far.  You need a plan for the action.

This is especially important if you’re trying to get your business visible in local search – and particularly important if you want to boost your visibility in the ever-finicky Google Places results.

That’s why I’ve sketched out a 12-week action plan you can follow to climb up a little higher on the local totem pole.

This is a timetable that’s worked really well for me and my clients, though I recognize there’s more than one way to skin a cat (figuratively speaking, of course…I like cats).

12 weeks may sound like a long time.  But I’ve found that’s about how long it takes to implement everything you need to implement – especially if you have a business to run and have your hands full.

I always have a heck of a time trying to explain this verbally, but, as you can see, it’s actually pretty simple.

(Click below to see larger version of the timetable, or download it as a PDF)

 

Here’s a little more detail on each step:

 

 Claiming Places page

What you’re doing – First editing your Google Places page to make sure all the info is accurate, and then claiming your page so any edits you made actually stick.  This is also when you should try to remove any duplicate Places listings for your business, and it’s when you should do any basic optimization, like picking your business categories.

Explanation of timing – It usually takes 7-12 days for Google to send you the postcard with the PIN that allows you to claim your Places page.  Sometimes there are hang-ups, so it’s best to get started on this ASAP.

 

 Tuning up website

What you’re doing – Making your site at least somewhat local-search-friendly.  Optimize your title tag (with a light touch on the keywords), add a footer with your business name / address / phone number to each page of your site, and make sure your homepage (or whatever you use as your Google Places landing page) contains detail on the specific services you’re trying to get visible for.  Also, make sure your site isn’t “over-optimized.”

Explanation of timing – What’s on your site has a huge influence on how you’ll rank in Google Places, especially in the ever-more-common “blended” local rankings.  Therefore, if there’s even a chance you’re in trouble for keyword-spamminess, bad links, etc., you’ll want to start crawling out of the doghouse ASAP.  Later on (like in weeks 5 & 9) is a good time to do some general housekeeping (like scanning for and fixing dead links), to see how you can beef up your pages with more service-relevant content, to put out a couple of blog posts, or maybe to do some link-building.

 

 Submitting to data-providers

What you’re doing – Listing your business on ExpressUpdateUSA and LocalEze, or – if you’re already listed there – making sure you’ve claimed those two listings.  If possible, also claim your listing at MyBusinessListingManager and make sure it’s accurate.  If you’ve got a few extra bucks, consider listing yourself on UBL.org.

Explanation of timing – It generally takes about 2 months for these data-providers to feed your business info to Google Places and to third-party sites (CitySearch, SuperPages, etc.).  Because your rankings really depend on how consistent your business info is from site to site, it’s important to deal with these sites at the very beginning.

 

 Gathering citations

What you’re doing – Getting listed on as may directory sites as you can.  Start with the most important sites (like all the ones you see when you do a GetListed.org scan) and eventually try to get on some of the sites nobody’s heard of (like some of the sites on my Definitive Citations List).  If possible, also try to list your business on (1) “hyperlocal” sites that are specific to your city/town and on (2) directory sites that are focused on your industry (i.e., your “vertical”). You can find these citation sources with the help of the Local Citation Finder, or by doing it the old-fashioned way.

Explanation of timing – You’ll be dealing with dozens of sites.  Not only does it take time on your part to list yourself on them, but it also often takes weeks for these sites to list your business or process any edits you’ve made.  You’ve got to start early.  Plus, the more citations you can rack up over time, the better.

 

 Fixing 3rd-party data

What you’re doing – Checking the data-providers (see yellow) and at least some of your citation sources (see green) to make sure all your business info is 100% accurate – and fixing any inaccurate info you find.  You should also check to make sure no duplicate Google Places listings have popped up – and remove any that have.

Explanation of timing – Making sure your citations don’t get FUBAR is an ongoing task, but there’s no need to check on them every day, because many of them take a while to update.  Just check on them every few weeks (at least during the 12 weeks).

 

 Getting Google reviews

What you’re doingAsking customers to write reviews directly on your Google Places page.  As you probably know, they’ll need Google / Gmail accounts to do this.  I suggest you ask about half your customers to write Google reviews, and ask the other half to write reviews through 3rd-party review sites (see below).

Explanation of timing – If you haven’t claimed your Places page, or if your business has a bunch of duplicate Places pages floating around, it’s possible Google will erase your reviews.  It’s best to hold off on requesting reviews until the Places pages aren’t being created, claimed, deleted, and otherwise jockeyed around.  Plus, you’ll have your hands full anyway during the first couple of weeks.

 

 Getting 3rd-party reviews

What you’re doing – Asking customers to write reviews on non­-Google sites.  CitySearch, InsiderPages, JudysBook, etc. (and Yelp, but Yelp has rules against requesting reviews).  I’ve found that having reviews on a variety of sites helps your Places rankings, and of course it’s a great way to attract the users of those sites.

Explanation of timing – You can start asking for 3rd-party reviews even while your Places page is up in the air.  But I suggest focusing on the other steps first – namely, having accurate and plentiful citations, a tuned-up website, and no duplicate Places pages.  On the other hand, getting 3rd-party reviews is another ongoing task, which means it’s worth starting fairly early…hence why I say start around week 3.

 

You might be wondering a few things…

What if you’ve been wrangling with Google Places and local search in general for a while?  I suggest you still follow the timeline.  If one of the steps no longer applies to you – for example, if you’ve already submitted your info for the data-providers – then cross that one off and focus on the others.

What if you already have a bunch of citations or reviews?  Keep racking ‘em up.  Sure, don’t pour as much time into them as you would if you were starting at Square One.  But don’t stop at “good enough” – especially if you’re in a competitive market.

What should you do after the 12 weeks?  Given that you’ll likely be much more visible to local customers, it’ll largely be a matter of maintaining your visibility by continuing to work on all the steps (except red and yellow), but at a significantly slower pace.  (For more, see my post on how to maintain your Places rankings.)

How does this action plan stack up with yours?  Leave a comment!

Best Local Search Tools – 2012

It’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.

 

 

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!