You can't escape the studies and predictions about local search that establish it as an essential marketing task for businesses that want to increase sales:

  • Local search is one of the fastest growing categories of online advertising, expected to increase as much as 10% per year through 2015.
  • By 2015, 30% of all searches will be local, compared with 12% in 2009.
  • 80% of all searches conducted via smartphone are for local products and services.

Local search is a dynamic and evolving area of search, and it's drawing increased focus from major search engines as they strive to provide more user-friendly information. Google Places, for example, allows consumers to easily and quickly find relevant results and compare listings when they conduct a search for, say, "Chicago life insurance" or "San Diego car rental."

Consider a local search program that our firm created for a global hotel and resort management company. The program was piloted at 18 properties and showed such success that another 25 jumped on board within the first year. Participation in the program has expanded to 175 properties after those initial 43 recorded an average of $17,000 in incremental bookings per month, or $4.3 million in additional business, during the first six months of 2010. The return on investment (ROI): $84 in bookings for each marketing dollar invested—3-5 times greater than the ROI from either pay-per-click ads or traditional directory (e.g., Yellow Pages) advertising.

You don't need to have the deep pockets of a business like the hotel management company to capture the potential of local search and give yourself a competitive advantage.

Here are five steps to help you reap the most benefit from local search.

1. Get your SEO in order

Make sure your basic search engine optimization (SEO) is in order, paying particular attention to long-tail, geo-specific keywords throughout your website. Those are specific phrases that tie together your industry name and location, such as "Chicago life insurance agent" or "car rental in San Francisco."

Proper usage of keywords on your website is vital to enhancing your presence on major search engines. If you have more than one location, create a unique, optimized location page for each store location.

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Jon Schepke is president and founder of SIM Partners, a full-service digital marketing agency that combines technology with marketing to create innovative digital strategies.