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Blending local with universal search can help boost marketing visibility

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In May, Google announced that 20% of all the searches going through its engine are local search-related; that statistic jumps to 40% when a mobile device is involved. Around this time last year, Microsoft said 53% of Bing's mobile searches have a local intent. This focus on local search has changed the definition of universal search, said Adam Whippy, director-SEO at interactive company 360i. “Local has become a big part of universal search,” he said. “In the past six months, local results are appearing as part of nongeospecific search queries.” This melding of local and universal search comes at a time where paid search spending is on the rise—it will comprise the biggest part of the overall interactive advertising market, according to Forrester Research—but its overall share is shrinking. The upshot, said Shar VanBoskirk, an analyst at Forrester Research, is that search is changing and marketers must adapt or be left behind. “Search engines are getting better at deducing the intent behind search, which is why there's less of a separation between local and universal search,” VanBoskirk said. People have also changed the way they search, she said. So, for instance, if someone is searching for a particular part, they might want to see a photo of the part as well as where they could purchase it, requiring both local and universal search results. Marketers can make inroads with local and universal without having to spend too much time or money on their efforts, said Jason Tabeling, associate partner-search and media at Cleveland-based interactive marketing agency Rosetta. “Even if you are limited in scale, you are going to get a huge reach just focusing on what Google and Bing have available. If you can do nothing else, focus on Google Places,” he suggested. There are other things, too, that can help boost visibility on both universal and local search results. Here, according to experts, are the top seven you should focus on: 1) Start thinking about function instead of channel. Right now, interactive teams are fairly understaffed; but that's not a long-term model, said Forrester's VanBoskirk. As teams add staffers, the most successful will stop thinking about search in terms of local, paid and universal and start thinking about function, she said. “You'll likely have a retention or win-back group focused on people you want back and one for new customer acquisition that will look at search cross-channel.” This requires a change in mindset since universal search elements are typically focused on brand or educational research and local search is more action-oriented, such as finding a venue or reseller or making a purchase. 2) Go back to the basics. Something as simple as tagging a video posted on YouTube with both local and more traditional search terms is going to boost search rankings, said Stephanie Faskow, digital analytics manager who directs the BGT Partners' search analysis Also, make sure you've created a Google Places profile that includes pertinent information, such as address, phone number and hours of operation; adding content such as a photograph of your building or products is a good strategy as well. One big mistake people make is having incomplete or conflicting submissions, said Ben Finklea, CEO at Internet marketing company Volacci. “Just writing "street' on one submission and "St.' on another can damage your rankings. You need to be very, very consistent across your local Web presences.” 3) Strategize regionally. When you are selling to someone in the Southeast, your strategy may be very different than it would be if you are selling to someone in the Northwest. This difference should be reflected in keywords and messaging, said Andrea Fishman, VP-global strategy at BGT Partners, Chicago. Likewise, your target customers may be completely different in different markets, she said. “We're seeing people do things with weather, traffic and recruitment that's very local,” she said. 4) Work with—not against—channel partners and distributors. Partners doing your work locally should have a highly localized search strategy that also takes into account universal search. They might have videos that show their locations or other customers in a particular city and be purchasing local search terms. (And if they're not, they should be.) It is important to start a dialog with them regarding their search strategy and how you can augment it without competing with them, especially when it comes to paid local search, said 360i's Whippy, who suggested marketers encourage their partners and resellers to register their addresses and—if they can handle it—provide a Google product feed so searchers can gain access to inventory levels. 5) Get techie. The W3C's Semantic Web Interest Group is a group serving Web developers. Its Web Schemas Task Force has created a list of schemas (also known as HTML tags) that can be used to mark up pages in a way so that they are better optimized. Some of these schemas include place, local business, review and offer. These can help boost local and universal search rankings, Whippy said. “It encourages webmasters to put as much information on the page as possible. There is rich vocabulary in the schemas to give [search engines] better meaning as to what a business is,” he said. 6) Don't forget social media. Inbound links are still important in boosting search rankings; if those links include positive commentary or reviews from bloggers, that's all the better. Consider offering guest posts on industry blogs or provide assets that have been search-optimized with links back to your site, said Jen DeGiovanni, manager-marketing and communications at search company Impaqt, a Merkle Co. 7) Create local mobile content. Since so many people are searching for local content via mobile devices, marketers that optimize for the platform can gain a competitive edge, said Neg Norton, president of the Local Search Association. “Images should be sized right; they should avoid Flash. With the growth of mobile it's imperative to have a presence that mobile users can actually find and navigate.” And make sure all your mobile pages are connected via links to your main site. Said Impaqt's DeGiovanni: “You don't want to have orphaned pages.”
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