Elise Redlin-Cook: There are many local search sites out there. Do you see the market continuing to grow, or narrowing down to a few key players?
Chuck Reynolds: I’d lean towards growth. Local search is still fairly new and with location-based services being the new gold rush, expect it to grow. Originally there are a few data providers for business information but with the boom in LBS and human-edited and human grown biz databases the old school names are getting pushed out for things like Foursquare, Yelp and SimpleGEO etc. Big key players will still be there for years to come but with newer better competition don’t expect to hear much from them down the road.
Elise: What are the best free local search sites today?
Chuck: There’s a little site called Google, and they offer a product called “Places”. It’s free and awesome, do it!
Best of the Web Local (free version)
Manta.com has been popping lately pretty good too
Also any industry specific (to yours) directory or blog listing is great. Those are a great start.
Elise: Great advice, so what are the best paid local search sites today?
Chuck: I don’t do much paid stuff but any industry-specific directory or blog is something at least worth looking at – not all are great but they’re a targeted link.
Google Local just added “Tags” – get in on that, it’s fairly cheap and not many people are jumping on it yet. Once you have your business setup and verified in Google Places you can highlight photos or your URL for about $25/mo.
Also spending directory buys on http://dir.yahoo.com (after you purchase make sure to edit as you can add a 2nd category), business.com, botw.org (better than the free mentioned above), joeant.com…
Elise: What local search sites would you recommend for businesses with multiple locations?
Chuck: First off if you have multiple locations, remember that good SEO starts on your site with good architecture and clean code, so make sure you have independent pages for the locations – turn them into landing pages for that local search market. Google Places is key, also if you’re service industry put all the locations into Yelp. Optimize each location not just the main site.
Elise: Merchant Circle allows you to add coupons, reviews, blog posts, etc. Will the other local search sites continue to adopt this trend of allowing more user generated content?
Chuck: Yes and no – blogging on Merchant Circle is pointless – they tried to create some “social media” site and failed horribly. Coupons and deals are gold, so are reviews. So yes in the fact that user generated brings the public some addition from business owners, but SMB’s don’t have time to do blogs and stuff on 15 different ‘local search sites.’ Google and Bing are watching reviews of businesses even though people spam them but keep good reviews coming in, they’re not going anywhere.
Elise: Is it more important to be listed on niche sites that are specific to your industry, or the big sites with lots of traffic?
Chuck: Both I’d say niche for conversions and the “big sites with lots of traffic” to get traffic and do virals, which can maybe lead to conversions. Niche sites are very targeted, focus a little more of your attention on those but don’t ever forget about the big guys with lots of traffic to send your way.
Elise: Do you see value in the paid listings versus the free listings?
Chuck: Some of them are okay but I don’t focus too much on paid inclusions too much, free is good and there are more of them to makeup for the one big paid link.
Elise: There are mass distribution sites that blast your listing out to various search sites. Are there any that you’d recommend or that you’d recommend staying away from?
Chuck: I’m not going there, usually not safe for people to mess with because they get out of hand. Twenty thousand links in a few weeks sounds cool, in theory, but that’s bad lol. For the purposes of this questionnaire - stay away. Focus on niche and local biz info sites and focus on making your site better – it works.
Elise: If a business doesn’t actually have a brick and mortar location, should they still try to list themselves on local search sites?
Chuck: That’s a little more limited in what you can do as all the sites focus on the assumption that all businesses have an office, which most do but this isn’t 1980 anymore. Cool thing with that issue is Google Places, earlier this year, allows service-based businesses to set up an “area of service” where you set a radius from a central point and Google will list you when your keywords are searched in those areas. They also allow you to input a bunch of zip codes if you want that, too.
Elise: What would you say are the top local search ranking factors right now?
Chuck: Standard info here, have a good clean coded site with well-written fresh content with your local keywords, make sure if you have addresses that they’re searchable and different locations have their own page. Claiming your Google Places page and setting that up in the right category with the right keywords. Get good real customer reviews on Yelp, Yahoo and Google.
Elise: So, lets wrap up with my favorite question…tell me, are you driven by any great passions outside of the business arena?
Chuck: You mean something that’s not work? Like hobbies? Hah… what are those? To be brief: mountain biking, motorcycle rides, anything to do with racing vehicles, hiking/trail running and camping. I really don’t know – my passion is my work honestly – I love what I do, just perhaps need to take more time for myself one day.
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