If you perform a search in Google that includes a geographic location (and even sometimes if you don't include a location) Google will display local business results for your search keywords. For example, a Google search of "books boston ma" returns the list of businesses below, featured prominently at the top of the search results.
Whether you are a bookseller in Boston or a florist in Albuquerque, the benefits of being in the list of local results in Google are obvious. Ideally your business would be near the top of the list. Fortunately the factors Google considers to create this list are fairly well understood, at least by Google standards.
Here are the big ones:
Google Local Business Center
Make sure that your business is listed here, and that your listing is accurate and up to date. Some changes to your Google LBC profile will need to be verified by phone (from the number listed for your business) or by mail (a card sent to the address listed for your business). Google will only acknowledge unverified changes if they are corroborated by a large number of people (for example, if fifty people report that a restaurant has closed).
Google has a small collection of databases that it considers trusted sources. Because the great majority of businesses aren't listed in LBC, Google relies pretty heavily on these sources to fill out their local index. Among these sources are InfoUSA, Acxiom, and Localeze. You'll want to make sure that your business is listed on all three of these sites, and that your listings are very consistent in company name, address, categorization, etc. Google puts a high value on consistency when selecting local business results. The good news is you can edit your company data online on InfoUSA and Localeze. Unfortunately there is no easy way to edit your listing in Acxiom, but because this site pulls from other online directories, you should make sure your business appears in other directories and yellow page-type sites (this is a good practice anyway).
Google places a high value on its own business directory, and its trusted sources, but don't think that Google won't turn to their index for additional assistance. The more directories in which your address and contact information appear, the more Google will trust the accuracy of that data. The more industry-related sites on which you appear, the more relevant Google will think you are in your industry. This stuff is good advice for regular ol' SEO too, so you should be pursuing these links anyway.
Last, but certainly not least, your own website will play a role in your local search ranking. Make sure your address and contact information appear on every page of your site (the footer is the most common place). Make sure your site is easy for search engines to find and crawl. There you have it - the four key factors that will impact your rank in Google's local search results. Google's implementation of local search results provides an amazing opportunity for small, local businesses to reach the first page of Google's search results. Optimize your efforts in the four areas above to take advantage of that opportunity.
For more information on how you can go from zero to hero in the search engine rankings, feel free to contact our experts.