How do you measure the success of a website?

Is it the number of hits the website receives, number of subscribers it has or who is tweeting about it?

The correct answer is - amount of conversions or sales.

Number of hits and the traffic received is just a vehicle to reach your final destination. Vanity metrics, if you will. If your website never converts, it would be useless to maintain a site which receives millions of visitors daily.

A lot of small businesses have good rankings for specific keyword phrases, but they wonder why their website is low on conversions. They do all sorts of on page and off page optimization, but their conversion level never crosses the average line.

The secret here is that most of these brick-and-mortar businesses don’t spend time on local search engine optimization and online local business marketing. Local search is extremely important because local search traffic is more likely to convert both on-site and with driving customers to your physical store, and Google and Bing continue to personalize search results based on location and past searches. Your neighbors are badly looking for your product/service, and when they find your listing through a local search result, your close proximity provides convenience and you receive validity from Google.

So how do you optimize your website for local searches? Here are some tips to consider:

Add A Local Color - Country Specific Domains

First off, if your website sells products for a specific geographical location, it makes sense to register a country specific domain. Country specific domains tells Google and other search engines that this content is specifically for users in this country. Hence, it is much more easier to rank for a local search if you use a country specific TLD rather than a .com or a .org or any other top level domain.

For example: If you export or sell beer steins in Germany, grab a .de domain and create a country specific website specifically for German users.

Some things to take note of:

  • Do not register country specific domains in bulk, auto translate all the content from your main website and throw away a bunch of pages on those domains. This is spam and it won’t help.
  • Your country specific websites should have unique content and it should not sound like a blindly translated copy of your main website.
  • Make sure it reads well. If possible, hire local writers and let them write the content for you.
  • You may also create subdomains on your domain e.g de.yourdomain.com or fr.yourdomain.com and offer localized content.

It is a lot more easier for search engines to recognize that this domain or subdomain is related to this language or geographical location. At the same time, it is a lot more easier for users to remember the address of your website.

Lets hear what Matt Cutts, the leader of the web spam team at Google has to say about optimizing localized content.

Add your Business to Google Places

Go to Google Places, sign in with your Google account and register your business. You will be asked to enter your phone number, geographical location, office timings amongst other details. Google is the most heavily trafficked search engine (obviously) so it makes a lot of sense to start there.

Add a meaningful description that describes what your business is all about. It is very important to precisely pinpoint every aspect of your local listing, which includes zip code, state, city, street address, payment options and so on. Additionally, upload some photos and videos, as media elements can really aid in user engagement and show your value.

GeoTargeting in Google Webmaster Tools

As the webmaster of your site, use Google Webmaster tools to tell Google that you want to target users in this specific country.

If you only sell goods in a certain country, this is a must-do. Your website is all about garments in London or light bulbs in the United States? Then, target your respective country right away.

Adding Your Website To Local Directories

Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz has a very useful article on gaining better rankings in Google Local search. In the article, Rand shows how to find the sources and local directories where your business should be added, such as Yelp, Urban Spoon, and many obscure sites (links and potential opportunities!). Some key points from the post:

  • Do an extensive research about the keywords users actually use in your business and region. [Tip: Use Google Adwords keywords tool]
  • Identify the top players - check their listing first. Following the footsteps of those who are already successful is a good idea.
  • Brainstorm the local business profile of these businesses; check their links/reviews section and find the directories that link to them.
  • Go to those local directories and get your business added.

Great User Experience Is a Must

It goes without saying that your website should provide value and a good user experience. You can optimize with all sorts of keyword variations, varied anchor texts, links from multiple web directories, but if your service is not very useful and the checkout process has a lot of friction compared to your competitors, you will eventually lose the battle.

Why? The logic is simple. They will go elsewhere.

Businesses that offer great customer value and service convert sales, generate repeat customers, and gain referral traffic (from an SEO point-of-view, attract more links!).

Users will visit these sites, enjoy their service and spread the word on their own. They would tell their friends, tweet about it and write reviews on their blogs. You can never compensate this “user generated goodwill” by buying tons of links or asking fake users to write a review of your business.

You should focus on the following:

  • What are people in this location searching for? How can I solve their problems?
  • How can I make my website more attractive and compelling for users?
  • Are there any barriers in my conversion or checkout process? Ask your grandma, see how she is using your website in the first place. Note the stumbling blocks, the exit points and work on the areas which needs improvement.
  • What are my competitors doing? How can I make sure my website offers something unique which nobody else has done before?

At the end of the day, if your website offers value, it will stand the test of time and rise above the noise on its own. Focus on the user and its just a matter of time when everything else shall follow.

I highly recommend reading this excellent article by David Mihm on Local Search Ranking Factors or our “abridged” version on the Ultimate Local Search Ranking Guide.

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Have you followed these “rules” or executed some of our tips above? If so, how has it worked? Do you have any other tips for us to add?