Local Search for Small Businesses
If you've spent some time poking around Google for local searches, you've probably noticed that a lot has changed recently. Instead of serving up the traditional 7-pack of local results, like many search engines, Google is now serving a wider variety of local results. Further, even for searches that don't, at first blush, have a local intent, search engines are becoming more sophisticated at deeming local intent.
For example, in the past, searches for plumber, florist, or lawyer, probably brought up business directories like yp.com. Today, these searches are likely to serve up Google Places listings. This means that small businesses need to pay much more attention to local search marketing. Fortunately, there are several free, or at least affordable, steps you can take to increase your small businesses visibility within local search results.
First, and foremost, you need to claim your Google Places profiles. I also encourage you to read the Google Places Quality Guidelines. Not all the Guidelines are completley intuitive, and you may make mistakes that could hurt your visibility, or get you banned from Places altogether.
Second, I also suggest you head over to GetListed.org. There is a wealth of knowledge on local search from some people who really know the nuances of the local search economy. There's a lot to learn there. Plus, they have a tool you can use to see what profiles need claiming and updating.
When you boil it down, local search really comes down to your proximity to the search or searcher's location, you businesses prominence, including the number of consistent business citations appear across the web, and sentiment, what people are saying about your business on rating sites, like Google Places, Yelp, etc.
You'll want to increase the number of citations that your business has across the web. You'll also want to encourage your customers to leave reviews and testimonials about the positive experiences they've had with your business. But be careful! You'll want to spend some time making sure you're familiar with the FTC's guidelines on disclosing testimonials. In other words, if you give your customers some kind of incentive for leaving a testimonial, you should disclose that fact on your site.