Google’s addition of local search results has given businesses a new type of fruit to reach for in their search engine marketing efforts. While the concept didn’t even exist just a few years ago, local search now captures 20% of all searches, displacing organic search results.

In Google, local search results are those that appear next to a map when you search for a service or particular type of business in your area. For example, a search for Thai food in Portland returns the following results:

google local search

In order to take advantage of this new ranking opportunity and make it into the local search results (know as the “seven pack”), businesses need to adopt a holistic approach to search marketing, said Portland local search expert David Mihm at the October SEMpdx meeting. He discussed a number of strategies for getting into the seven pack. One of the first steps to take is to optimize your business listings on Google Places, Yahoo! Local and Bing Local.

Claim or verify your listings. One of the first things to do is to claim your Google Places page. Not only does this allow you to customize the page and keep your business info up to date, but it sends a clear signal to web crawlers that your business has a real, physical presence in the location you’re optimizing for.

Max out your profile. When a user clicks on your business from Google’s local search map, the click now takes them to your Google Places page rather than to your home page, which means it’s important to make your listing as informative and engaging as possible.

  • Use 1-2 keywords in your business title.
  • Max out all five categories. Choose the first category from Google’s drop-down menu, but don’t be afraid to add custom categories for the rest.
  • Add photos and videos. Include a link to your YouTube channel, and submit at least one geo-tagged photo to Panoramio, which is Google’s geo-targeted version of Flickr.
  • Fully describe your products and services. Use keywords, but don’t stuff your description.

Keep all of your business listings consistent. When Google crawls your various business listings across the web, you want them to be identical in order to build trust and authority with the search engine. Use an identical business title, address and phone number on every listing. Clean up any old listings that have outdated information.

Get listed in lesser-known directories. All major online business directories pull from three main sources — InfoUSA, Acxiom and Localeze — so it’s important to get listed in these. Localeze is especially hot right now because it will feed Facebook Places, which just rolled out, as well as the upcoming Twitter Places.

Utilize on-page optimization techniques. There are a few changes you can make to your website to optimize for local search.

  • Make sure your essential contact information — name, address, phone number — is in HTML and not an image, so it can be crawled by search engines.
  • Include city and state terms in your title tags.
  • Submit your contact page, instead of your home page, as your URL in Google Places.
  • For businesses with multiple locations, consider a flat site architecture utilizing a store locator page, and cross-link nearby locations.