1) Please give me your background and tell us what you do for a living.
Hopefully most people reading this blog have already met me…but if not, I am a web designer and a local search consultant based here in Portland. Moved here from the Bay Area about a year ago & absolutely love it.
2) Why does a small / medium sized business need to control their local search profile?
There are a couple of major reasons to claim and verify your profiles across a whole bunch of local search platforms:
a) to make sure your business information stays consistent across the internet (this will help you rank well in the major search engines like Google Maps & Yahoo Local)
b) to make sure no one is able to hijack any of your listings
c) claiming your listings increases the trust that search engines have in your business & can help you rank better.
3) What steps should a small / medium sized business take to track their online reputation and how should they deal with any “blemishes”?
Definitely set up a Google Alert for your business name and website address. Bookmark your presence on popular review/community sites like Citysearch and Yelp and check it frequently. Make sure that you’re proactive with requesting reviews, though. If you get emails or notes from customers about how much they enjoyed the experience at your business, respond to them and ask if they wouldn’t mind leaving you a review on their favorite local search engine. Include a direct link to three or four of your profiles in your response email.
I think our launch statement (http://getlisted.org/launch-statement.aspx) sums it up pretty well…we just hear from a number of small business owners that a) they don’t even realize the opportunities available to them on major search engines b) even if they’ve SEEN their business in a Google 10-pack or a Yahoo 3-pack, they don’t understand where the information is coming from, and that they can improve it and verify it to increase their rankings. All kinds of snake oil salesmen prey on SMB’s because this confusion makes them ripe for “search engine submissions” and other kinds of scams. So far we’ve had almost 25,000 business queries in just under two months of existence. So we’re pretty pleased with that adoption rate & are looking forward to growing it.
5) Many small / medium sized businesses wish to purchase search marketing services but don’t have the budget to work with an agency? What should they do and what services should they prioritize?
Continuing my point from #4, there ARE companies who do a great job with what these snake oil salesmen try to do. Universal Business Listing (http://www.universalbusinesslisting.org) and Localeze (http://www.localeze.com) both do a great job of syndicating and feeding your local search profile to a number of key sites. They’re both free or darn near free (UBL is $30/yr; Localeze has a free option but their $99/yr product is much more powerful). We also list a number of qualified providers on our ‘Enhance Your Listings’ page (http://getlisted.org/enhanced-business-listings.aspx) with great Local Search expertise for under $1000 a year.
6) Paid search can now be targeted very precisely geographically. Can you talk more about the local opportunities in paid search?
I don’t focus on the paid side nearly as much as I do on the organic side. But, I believe that this Local PPC article (http://www.seomoz.org/blog/google-local-ppc-ads-box-out-your-onebox-competitors) I wrote on SEOmoz a while back still holds true. So if you have the time, but not a large budget, for Paid Search, and you’re very focused on geographically-relevant traffic, this can be an excellent option for you. Beyond that, it’s all about long tail PPC for small business owners — let the Fortune 500’s fight over the generic keywords. You should go after geo-targeted AND geo-specific phrases to minimize your spend but maximize your exposure to relevant customers.