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Treasure MapLocal Search is a goldmine for small business, and the major local listing services have become a big part of the equation. Those that do not take advantage of it are among the majority of small business owners (for now).  A full-on search engine optimization campaign is time consuming, intricate and expensive. However, there are some SEO related things anyone can do to increase a business’ online presence. This means, if as a small business, you can look beyond your daily tasks and spend just a little bit of time seeing to these basic 6 steps (listed below), you will be far ahead of the competition in local search, or at least keeping up with the top players in your niche online.

1. Claim your company’s profile(s)

It is likely that somehow somebody (or something) created a listing for your business on one of the major local search listing services out there already. As a business owner, you must own and control this. If your business is newer or just not listed online at all, this is even more important. Either way, simply log into Google Places, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local and create or claim the listing profile that is rightfully yours.

If it already exists, chances are that some information is incorrect, or that a lot of information is missing; at best. Additionally you may find reviews attached to your listing–not necessarily good ones.

Your company’s online reputation is at stake.  If it’s bad you need to improve it, if it’s good you need to build on that.

2. Add Pictures

The local listing sites love to offer an enhanced experience to their users above and beyond what a phonebook would offer, so it makes sense that when you add more interactive features like pictures and video, they will bump you to the top. Photos are an absolute must, and you can start with your company logo. From there photos of your staff, your storefront, inventory, or happy customers can go a very long way toward enhancing your listing. Do not worry if you think your storefront, staff, or anything else is not commercial-perfect. People want to see the real side of your business. Yes, it is a good idea to look your best, but don’t be fake and overdone either.

3. Add Video

Video is seen by most users as not better or worse than pictures, but just another addition that gives more legitimacy to the user’s experience. Video also shows the listing services & search engines that you are serious. If pictures are an enhancement, then video is an above-and-beyond bonus feature. The video you upload doesn’t have to be a professionally produced television-style advertisement. In fact an informative narrated PowerPoint presentation uploaded to YouTube and embedded into your local listing is more effective than an advertisement on many levels. Explainer videos are short and sweet and get your message across quickly.

Other small businesses have found success in embedding customer video testimonials taken with a simple hand held video camera or webcam. I say do it all. At this point in the game, you can’t go wrong with video for local search, nor do too much of it. Just be sure to keep each video under 60 seconds. The “now” mentality of people on the Internet is a strange dynamic; while they can never make time to watch one 20 minute video, they seem to have more than enough time to watch twenty 1 minute videos in a row.

4. Control information about your business online

You are what you publish, especially online. If there is a local search listing on one website with incorrect information about you, it is a certainty that other aggregation websites will pick it up and republish it. If this happens, it will make it more difficult for potential customers to find your business, and it is a mess of time and energy to track this stuff down to the source and clean it up. So start with the big directories (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) and get the information in correctly and claim the listings by verifying with these services that they belong to you. Then track down all the other listing services you can (Yelp, Best of the Web, Foursquare,Merchant   Circle, etc.) and start claiming those as well.  You can do this yourself or hire a professional company like Silk Shorts, Inc. to first give you a quote.

5. Lots and lots of customer reviews

Ask customers to review your business on different sites (start with Google Places and then expand). Ask on your website, on your Facebook Page, and on email signatures of outgoing customer emails. Not only do the reviews (good and bad) make you more credible to future customers, but the search engine based listing services love reviews. With all other variables being equal, if you have more customer reviews in your Google Places page, Yelp and Superpages than your competition, you are much more likely to be listed in local searches above your competition.

Keep in mind that there are customers that are not so happy with you and your business, and they are online too. A few bad reviews can be counteracted with good ones, and you can have the whole process managed for you by professionals to save your time and blood pressure.

6. You need to have a local phone number and local address

Yes, I said need. Toll free numbers are cool looking, but if you are playing the local business game, the search engine based listing services look on your website to see if the information you submitted is correct. So, if you have toll free number on your website, and not a local number, the credibility of your Google Places profile just went down. It is also not a bad idea so prospective patrons of your local business can see you are indeed a local company.

Additionally, a clearly listed local address at the footer of every page of your website is a must. People want to be able to see that you are a real business and not a start-up-dreamer running things out of your garage. Also, the local online directories want to (again) be able to validate the information you submitted to them as correct.

Local search is the incredible evolution of the phonebook. While “yellow page” type companies have tried many incarnations of migrating their services to the web, the fact is, they are dinosaurs waiting to become extinct. It is because of the advent of the Internet itself that you, the small business owner, can publish yourself and promote yourself, by yourself and grow your business without any need to rely on traditional forms of mass media from the yellow pages to television and radio. The power is in your hands to gain as much exposure as you would like to have. You just have to go out there and do it. Here is to your success!