From the May 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

Less than a year after signing on with LocalBizNow.com--one of the growing number of local search engine optimization firms that include HubSpot, Local.com and others--Rocky Ricelli, 45, started getting calls from chain stores and property managers who operate in other states but need his services in the Detroit-area market he serves. They found his $5.5 million paving maintenance company, A & R Sealcoating Inc., by searching for some combination of his company's services and the town it's located in. "They never would have found me if we didn't pop up near the top when people search locally for someone who can repair potholes or fix [parking lot] striping," he says.

If you're ready to be the big dog in your local search segment, Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin, partners at Gravity Search Marketing and co-authors of Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day, offer this advice:

 

Get to know the locals. Free tools offered by Google Maps, Windows Live's Live Search Maps and Yahoo Local offer powerful local business listings. They evolve and improve regularly, so keep reviewing their new offerings. Some require a verification process for the business owner, but completion of that process lets you write additional information and correct mistakes. Grappone says it's important to check your listings for accuracy on a regular basis.

 

Find the influencers. "Local search results can be dramatically influenced by consumer reviews on sites such as Citysearch and Yelp," says Grappone. "A single nasty review can make or break a sale--and online reviews have longevity and search engine presence that make them very powerful." Look for similar influencers like Insider Pages and TripAdvisor, and ask happy customers to write reviews of your business. You can even offer to help walk them through the process.

 

Go local in your content. You can enhance your local image by including your address on every page of your website, filling out all available fields on business listings, and uploading photos. Also, include intuitive phrasing in your website copy, such as "best lamp store in Philadelphia," which someone might use when searching, says Couzin. While such phrasing can be awkward to fit into traditional copy, it can easily be included in customer testimonials. Creating locally focused content--articles about the area you serve, maps, information and links to other local businesses--can also boost your ranking because search engines will weigh your site as more heavily focused on your region.

Gwen Moran is co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans. Reach her at gwen@gwenmoran.com.