If you’re looking online for a restaurant that delivers pizza, are you more likely to order from a pizza maker based in your city or one based in, say, Kazakhstan? The answer to this question is, of course, hilariously obvious. That’s why search engines such as Google take into account the searcher’s location when serving up results for products and services for which it makes sense that users would prefer to buy from somewhere nearby. In fact, U.S. census data shows that 75% of consumer spending happens within 15 miles of home.

The search engines started doing this just a couple years ago. Yet a huge proportion of companies seem not to have noticed this. That’s an opportunity for your firm to get a leg up on the competition. If you have one or more physical locations, you can leverage local search marketing to attract more business. And the fact that so many businesses aren’t doing this opens up an even greater opportunity for yours.

Google and its key rivals such as Bing and Yahoo! don’t require users to include their location in their search terms. Instead, the search engines automatically list businesses with local locations in categories where users are likely to prefer that. For example, because I live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), if I search for the generic term “plumber” I’ll get these results for plumbers in the GTA (results will differ slightly depending on various factors):

Click here for results from a sample search for “plumber” by someone in Toronto

These are blended local search results. Within these results, the user is provided with options to visit the business’s website, see its location on a map or visit the business’s Google+Local page.

As you’d expect, search engine optimization (SEO) is key to getting your firm’s locations to rank highly in a local search. But local-rankings optimization requires tactics that are distinct from those in traditional SEO. Here are eight steps you should take in order to get your business noticed by local searchers.

Claim Your Google+Local Page

Google+Local is Google’s own business directory. If you have an established business—that is, it you’re in the phone book—you’re probably already in the directory. However, in order to rank highly in searches, it’s crucial that you claim your company’s Google+Local page.

To do so, go to Google+Local and click “Get started now.” Then enter your business phone number to see if your site already exists in the database. If it does, you can edit this data and then ask for a verification call or postcard from Google. If it doesn’t exist, you can create the listing yourself. For step-by-step assistance, watch this video about how to add a Google business listing.

And when you’re done with Google+Local, you should also claim your business’s local page on Bing and Yahoo!

Use Your Local Area Code for Your Primary Phone Number

One important, but not always obvious, way to improve local search rankings is to ensure that the area code of your business phone number for each location matches the area code used for that location’s business address. So don’t use your out-of-town cellphone number or a toll-free number as your primary business phone on Google+Local or other local search directories. You can add those phone numbers as secondary contact numbers.

List a Consistent Address and Phone Number

Consistency on the Internet is important. Remember that Google and the other local search engines are just software programs that are easily confused and base rankings on trust. The more consistently Google sees your address and phone number information, the more it will tend to trust it and therefore give you a higher ranking.

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