Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Prevalence of geography in SEO & SEM

I witnessed a discussion on a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Marketing (SEM) message board that just didn't sit right with me. The self-appointed SEO and SEM experts were holding sway, that important business-related search terms are almost exclusively searched without appending a geographic qualifier. That is, far more people will search for "barber shop" than "barber shop cincinnati".

Well, of course this is true, as a specific example. However, by so dismissing geographic qualifiers, the "experts" are missing a couple of really key points.

(1) I would contend that at least half of the people who type in "barber shop" and hit "Search" will almost immediately see the millions of results returned, slap their forehead, then re-enter a modified search, such as "barber shop in Beverly Hills" or "barber shop 90210" or even "barber shop on wilshire boulevard".

(2) If you're a barber on Wilshire Boulevard in the 90210 zip code, you may be resigned to have your web page come up 478th in a Google search for "barber shop", but you damn well better not be satisfied if your website comes up 478th if the search is for "barber shop in Beverly Hills".

I say to ignore the impact of geographic specificity in search engine strategy is to ignore your best prospects.

Take a look at this spreadsheet I created, examining the most frequent searches related to "plumber", "real estate agent", and "landscaper", according to the Yahoo! Overture keyword selector tool. This data tracks how many Yahoo! searches (in February 2007) were conducted with these words as part of any search phrase. The results are ranked by frequency.

The data shows that, admittedly, the majority of searches for these terms are just for the term alone. However, remember my point (1) above -- many of these searches were likely modified in the next couple of seconds to include more descriptive objectives, such as geographic reference points.

The evidence is equally clear that locational modifiers play a very big part of business-related searches in this manner:
  • 27% of searches with the word plumber included geographic qualifiers
  • 17% of searches for real estate agent were narrowed by location
  • A whopping 44% of landscaper searches specified a locale (most of them in California)

How does the business manager (or owner) responsible for search engine optimization address this matter? Well, for starters, make sure that your website contains textual references that relate your enterprise to all the possible ways your location might be defined. Depending on a graphic image or a Flash animation to display your address may look cool, but it would be folly as far as the Google spider bots are concerned. To go back to our Beverly Hills barber once again, his website should be decked out with text references not only to Beverly Hills, but to "90210" (the zip code), "Los Angeles County", "West Hollywood", "Wilshire Boulevard", "Wilshire Blvd", and "Southern California"!

Furthermore, there's one more secret to optimizing search results for businesses -- especially those that service a finite geography. It's called "semantic tagging". Semantic Web is eventually going to be the golden egg, as far as search engine algorithms are concerned. While incorporating semantic tagging into an existing, non-semantic website is quite a challenge, there's an easy shortcut to getting your company semantically tagged for amazing search engine results. List your company on the business directory that I am developing, called MyWikiBiz. If you don't believe MyWikiBiz can help your business with search engine performance, just read this for a bit of proof.

I'll see you soon on MyWikiBiz!

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