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:
= Extremely user-friendly tool.
= A tool that’s good to use repeatedly—both before you’re visible and after, as part of a maintenance routine.
= 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
In 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.)
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
Beautifully 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.
Getting 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
You 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.
I 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.
A 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.
Google’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.
The 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
Even 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
An 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
A 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.
Is 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.
A 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.
Want 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!