How Do You Rank a Phone Book?

This perhaps is the number one question Google thinks about each day since their roll out of Local Search on April 1, 2009 and certainly something that every local business owner in should concern themselves with too.

Google estimates that ten billion searches each month or 20% of all desk top searches or have local intent and Bing reported recently that over 53% of the searches done with mobile devices have local intent.

Because of the increasing growth in the Local Search landscape a dramatic overhaul has been done in the SERPs over the past few months where Local results have entirely displaced organic results by default for certain phrases, something which Danny Sullivan predicted way back in 2008.

A perfect example would be doing a Google search for “auto parts”. Today when I do this search from my desktop the entire first page in the organic listing are for auto parts stores in my neighborhood.

So if you’re a involved in local SEO or if you’re a business owner yourself how does one compete in this new search?

David MihmTonight I got some answers at a seminar presented by AZIMA (Arizona Interactive Marketing Association) where tonight’s guest speaker was David Mihm from who is a nationally recognized expert in Local Search and the CEO of

The following are some of my takeaways from this event that he shared with us tonight.

First you need to understand that Local SEO requires a different mindset then traditional SEO in that;

  • Traditional SEO is about optimizing websites
  • Local SEO is about optimizing locations
  • And you need to be doing both to succeed in this new era of Local Search

Local Search focuses on only three things;

  1. Relevance
  2. Prominence
  3. Distance


Out of these three factors the ONLY one we cannot optimize for is distance.

Today it is essential in local search to have a physical location in the area being searched; proximity to Centroid no longer is the deciding factor as it once was.


Relevance is factors inherent to your business name and what you say about yourself on your places pages.

Claiming your business listings in all the major search engines and the proper categorization of your services are critical and using keywords in your business title is still very important.

Claiming your listing is also important to prevent hijacking of your local places pages and it is recommended that you MANUALLY claim your listings, even if you have multiple locations. The search engines want to be certain that they are displaying the correct information about a business therefore trust and rankings are directly correlated. Manually claiming your listing creates the maximum trust, using bulk uploads is vulnerable to spam.

It is also important to use one or two keywords in your business title and if necessary consider incorporating or re-incorporating your business name using a descriptive keyword.

Be sure to max out your categories on your Places Pages, upload videos to YouTube and properly describe the products and/or services that your business provides.

Consider using the contact/location page of your website as your Places URL landing page. Typically this page is more relevant for the mobile searcher creating a stronger geographic scent which equates to higher local rankings and higher conversions.


By changing the way we think about Local SEO in how we rank a phone book we should be thinking of how we make our business the most popular business in town, at least in Google’s eyes and this equates to Prominence.

The algorithmic signals that are considered to determine a business’s popularity are;

  • Citations
  • Reviews
  • Sentiment
  • Other types of user generated content
  • TBD; The Social Graph

Prominence concerning reviews is what TRUSTED people say about you and your business.

Citations are your fingerprints of your company across the entire spectrum of the Internet. The major factor concerning citations is CONSISTENCY;

  • The authority of the citations
  • Are they vertically relevant
  • Are they geographically relevant
  • And the external title tags and location prominence of the citations

The major citation sources and data providers are;

An awesome new tool to check for citations in your niche is the Citation Finder:

Also when looking for citations for your business check the sites that rank well in the organic search results for your keywords. Look for especially high-authority/high trust sites like neighborhood organizations, non profits, Chambers of Commerce, related organizations, Better Business Bureaus and links from .gov and .edu sites.

Other searches you can do would be for “yourcity, state directory” and “yourindustry, state, directory”

Another factor local search citation factor that is often overlooked are press releases. When submitting press releases make sure that the business name, address, and telephone number match to what is listed on your Google Places page(s).

Also consider linking out to primary industry citations from within your Places landing page/url. This increases the potential for indented listings in organic search with link juice and is referred to “Barnacle SEO” by Will Scott of

Structured reviews are critical to ranking for Local Search;

  • Reviews in trusted industry portals are more important than generic
  • What trusted people say about your business is becoming more important
  • Quantity of ratings are more important than quality (for now)
  • Ratings are becoming increasingly more important for your rankings and conversions

The NUMBER ONE review tip;

Sell an astoundingly good product and offer astonishingly good service!

Some other tips in getting reviews for your business;

  • Offer free Wi-Fi
  • Provide comment cards to your clients and consider holding a raffle
  • Get your customers email addresses and pay particular attention to those who have Gmail/Yahoo/Hotmail email addresses. These customers already have accounts with the search engines and can make comments about your business without having to go through the bother of creating new accounts.
  • Have E-Mail campaigns to your clients
  • Consider the ease of leaving a review of someone without an account
  • Consider the syndication value of your review sources, ie: CitySearch vs Yelp
  • Event Sponsorship/promotion
  • Review velocity. Don’t make the mistake of getting a bunch of reviews over a few months time and then forget about it for a year, this is a spam fingerprint.
  • Feedback should be part of your everyday business process
  • Think of bad reviews as an opportunity, monitor and respond appropriately

Google will probably start incorporating reviews from domains directly that match Places URLs.

Advanced Local Search Factors

MyMaps (KML for the masses)

Any Google user can create a map of their favorite places/businesses/locations

  • Create a MyMap in your Google Places login and include your contact information with a pushpin at your location
  • Embed this on your own website for higher page views
  • Investigate MyMaps in your local area and contact relevant creators

GeoTaged Photos/Videos

GeoTag photos and videos of your business and upload them to Panoramio, Flickr, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and YouTube, encourage your customers to do the same for your business by uploading them to their accounts.

Twitter/Foursquare/Social Applications

These social check in applications will be the wave of the future. Become familiar with them now and encourage your customers with mobile devices to check in at your location(s).

Organic Optimization for Local Search

On Page SEO Ranking Factors

  • Make sure that your address is coded in HTML, at the very least on your location/contact page
  • hCard format is even better
  • Use City, State terms in your Title Tags
  • Use internal geographical anchor text to link to your locations pages
  • This will also help with your Places Pages Relevance

Links that help with Local SEO

  • From Geo-Relevant sites
  • Contain Geographic Anchor text
  • Contain product/service anchor text
  • Links that contain your Places business title, especially if it’s in the Title Tag of the linking page as well

Multi-Location Best Practices

Off site recommendations

  • Decide on a consistent Corporate Business Name
  • Utilize Localeze’s Channel Partner offerings
  • Utilize UBL’s/ InfoUSA’s API
  • Claim all LBC listings in a Corporate Google Account
  • Get your bulk feed verified, the Google account MUST match the URL’s of the Places Pages you are submitting
  • Each Location must have its own UNIQUE phone number, do not submit duplicate phone numbers
  • Spend time contacting vertically relevant portals directly to give them a direct feed

On Site Recommendations

  • Flat site architecture beginning with a store locator page
  • Create each store location its own page
  • Cross link nearby locations
  • Submit a KML sitemap in Google Webmater Tools:
  • Do not use tracking phone numbers anywhere, even offline. If you must do this online make them an image or un-indexable Javascript so the search engine spiders cannot read them

Offiline Analytics

Don’t forget about offline Analytics!

  • Ask your customers how they heard about you
  • Ask your customers what social platforms they use
  • Keep a record!

Uber-Competitive Markets

  • Make sure that your Google account email TLD matches your Places TLD
  • Clean up – consolidate old duplicate listings
  • Use Geographic inbound anchor text
  • Use custom categories for high volume, high conversion keywords and/or align categories with data providers and superpages
  • No Geo-targeted keywords in category fields, think about landmarks or regions
  • At least one citation from a .gov or .edu site
  • Strong industry relevant review profile
  • Strong MyMaps profile. Embed MyMaps on your own website and other high traffic websites
  • Include your location on MyMaps that you help others promote
  • User Generated Content contests via a email newsletter
  • Check in games utilizing social media
  • Groupn/LivingSocail tie-in

The Number One Takeaway

And the number one take away that David stressed at tonight’s Local Search Seminar was:

It is essential to have a holistic local search marketing strategy to be successful in today’s market.

Thank You!

First I wish to thank David Mihm for traveling all the way out to Arizona for tonight’s presentation, it was great!

Secondly I thank AZIMA for hosting tonight’s presentation (even though it was on the East Side of the Valley). If you’re involved in Internet Marketing in any way and live/work in the Phoenix area, I would also encourage you to join their nonprofit organization as I have.

Certified Master SEO Instructor by the Search Engine Academy and CEO and founder of SEO Training SW.
Roy Reyer
Roy Reyer
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15th December 2010 9 Comments

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