This post is written by our colleague Patrick Hogan in Florida, USA and is applicable to Search Engine Optimisation in any country. Here is his take on SEO.

In some ways search engine optimisation (SEO) in South Africa used to be pretty simple.  First, you created a great looking site full of quality content that people would like to read and find informative.  Then you would find other sites across the web that are relevant to that site and would agree your content complements their site in one way or another and agree to create a link to you.  Eventually, Google see all this activity and rewards you with a number one ranking and you begin to generate search traffic and then new customers.

To some extent, that is still a very good basic strategy, but in the case of SEO for local contractors, the numbers of factors that affect your ranking have exploded over the last few years.  We recently worked with a roofing contractor in Tampa, FL where we really explored all the avenues you need to optimize to get the most for your online marketing investment.

Google Places

Google Places is the newest variable that greatly affects the ranking of a local business search result.  It is Google’s free directory listing for every company in the world.  It used to (and still does sometimes) appear with an assortment of other companies for a certain area for which the search was relevant.

Back in October of 2010, Google introduced a “blended” search result for most searches they deem to have local business intent.   The use of a blended search is intermittent, depending on the industry and the geography, but is slowly becoming more and more prevalent, most likely until it is universal.

Here is an image of current search results for the Google search “roofing contractor tampa”.  As you can see, most of the top results contain the red Google Places page marker along with the traditional Title Tag and Description.  A few sites are powerful enough to outrank everything even without connection to a place page listing, but those are becoming more and more of an exception.
New Factors That Affect Local Search Results

So it is now established that your Google Places rank greatly affects Organic (those that aren’t pay-per-click) search results.  We have to look at all those factors that affect “Places” rank with equal importance as the website size and number of links that, prior to the blended results, solely determined results.   Here are the factors most commonly recognized to determine your ranking on Google Places:

  • Location – Since the rank of a business’ place page was largely determined by it’s proximity to the IP address of the person searching or the geographic term they used, a business’s location (most importantly, the city in the address) is a big determining factor.  For instance, we have seen very few businesses able to rank in a city not contained in their address.  One of our customer’s offices, a Ft. Pierce, Florida roofer, will have a difficult time ranking in a very close city because it is not part of their address.
  • Citations – Google keeps track of how many times a business is mentioned across the entire internet.  Any time the name of a business along with its address or phone number is mentioned, Google takes note and applies a certain value to each one depending on the credibility of the site the citation is located.   Each one strengthens the company’s Google Places result and raises their ranking.
  • Reviews – Google wants to see reviews for a business by their customers on a variety of directory type websites.  Positive reviews by real people greatly enhance the credibility of a company’s reputation.  A few of the sites relevant for a local contractor business are:
    • Insider Pages
    • Google Places
    • Citysearch
    • Yahoo Local
    • Bing

These are just a few of the major factors determining the “new age” local search results and there is constantly more emerging.  With all these changes affecting the search results and online reputation of companies, businesses would have to dedicate a great deal of time learning the dynamic landscape changes and taking new actions based upon them to optimize their company.  WSI has a team of people that will do it for you, resulting in the greatest return for your marketing value.