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Lets say Hugo is in wholesale restaurant supplies - Hugo sells all over the world.
Pots and pans, stoves, cooking supplies etc.
Hugo has 1 website, has been in business on the web for years and wants to be found on keyword + many city names - and he should be found on this as he does a tremendous amount of specialty business in some very special restaurants in those cities through his on-line ecommerce site.
Does local search ruin his business and make Hugo's site dive in the SERPS to some local retail cook shop (or silly affiliate) that sells similar stuff?
Sure local search helps the local retail shopper - but what about the wholesale customer?
Thanks for dropping by the Local Search forum. Before I try to answer your question I should say that some of the following may seem a little harsh, it's not meant to be - it's just that there's so much more to think about than how to gain organic/free Google traffic (which I think is the thrust of your question).
This type of problem pops up a great deal, especially as people are becoming more accustomed to adding a locality to their searches - sometimes to the detriment of search results if the term isn't truly local.
There are a few points that should be considered:
Is PPC being used to bring in highly converting traffic for this specialist retailer? If so, what proportion of searches include a locality? Is it significant?
Assuming that location is used often, it infers that people expect to find the product locally - it's important to establish how much local competition there actually is (as it will effect the number of local company websites and directory pages covering the terms). That might seem like an impossible question to answer, but finding out the number of businesses in the whole country that are likely to sell the item will give you a good idea of local availability.
If there are not many local companies offering the items then a few simple ways of expanding the geographical terms on the site should help (many manufacturers include local distributor directories and catch a bit of traffic that way - whilst driving people to the place where they can find their products). Maybe a client list or coverage area page/footer could help a little - but without local branches it's inevitable that you'll have to look at how far you can go without entering webspam territory.
If there is actual local competition then it's a whole lot more tricky. You are not only fighting local websites and directories on Google but also facing difficulties such as the mere fact that local companies offer the items may indicate that there are valid reasons why people would want to source them locally (need them now, need to try things on/out, maintenance/repair/return issues, need services that go with the item...). You'll need a pretty good USP if you are selling nationally against thousands of local companies, and you'll need to address the reasons why local companies exist. Another, closely related, thing to consider is why should Google send people to your site when there are many local alsternatives?
Local search does not ruin Hugo's business, not catering for the needs/expectations of potential customers will though. For example, I'd go as far as saying that the messaging on landing pages should be different based on whether a locality was included or not (in the case outlined) - that could help increase conversion and pay for additional PPC/advertising. I'm not suggesting that these things are not being covered, but if you can't confidently say you have addressed the reasons why local companies exist and why you are better than them I'd say time invested in that would be wise - then you might give Google (and others) good reason to look upon your site favourably.
Cooking supplies is a highly competitive term, no doubt about it - that is why I selected it as an example.
What I'm trying to learn about is what strategies work in this particular situation.
subdomains vs subdirectories?
creating local pages for well known high traffic terms that are known to be searched upon with local identifiers?
the business is such that local distributors work fine in some situations but not all as the product listing is very specialized but also wide and varied - and often the searcher is looking to go around the local distributor for whatever reason.
obviously putting city names / testimonials etc help significantly
the question is really how to continue to compete as the local search stuff increasingly dominates the SERPs
and how national / international wholesale (generally mail order e-commerce) businesses can continue to compete without having to work with affiliates targeting the same words but entirely different customers.
Hugo couldn't possibly hope to have a million pages to cover every location on the planet. He isn't competing with local suppliers, at least because his customers will search for "wholesale pots and pans", "wholesale stoves", "wholesale cooking supplies" and variations of these, e.g. restaurant supplies wholesaler".
Perhaps a single page of "shipping charges" listing major countries and US states might serve as a hook to pick up some of the location based searches.
A brief, global AdWords campaign will help to identify the locations from where such searches are made most of the time. He can then build a handful of pages to mention those locations.
How do they get placement in local SERPs which require that one have a mapped pinpoint?
Some Google personnel previously stated that one could rent a mailbox for this purpose. However, they've since come back with the policy that if one doesn't have a storefront, one shouldn't get a rent a mailbox just for the sake of ranking in local SERPs.
Still, it might be possible to rent a mail box in order to obtain a street location, and set up a website around it in order to get imbedded in local SERPs. UPS stores might be ideal for this, since they provide actual street addresses, not just P.O. box numbers.
One would really have to go to some trouble to do this, however -- setting up a standalone website for each business and managing the mail store relationships and such.
Plumbers, electricians, and other tradesmen get more business than they can handle and tend to be slow to going online. If they do, they earn enough to afford to make a micro site for every suburb they care to be found in, or at least four or five major parts of a metropolis. Get different companies to build such sites. This is more reliable than setting up multiple accounts in Google Local Business Center.
OTOH for a low-competition website in a small town, a drop-down selection box in an enquiry form that lists numerous suburbs has a good chance of ranking for each of those suburbs. I discovered that when I found that one of my sites was showing up for <occupation> <country> even though I wasn't in those countries. :)
It's increasingly important to appear in those local search results for businesses. What you describe works to a degree in the regular keyword SERPs, but not in the increasingly important local search results.
To appear in Google Maps currently, one needs to have a local address.
I was implying a single, real physical address for the OP's wholesaler in Google Local. This gets it into the OneBox for one location, depending on the competition.
But he would like to be "everywhere". Can't be done ethically via Google Local, as you know.
I auggested additional micro sites for several locations. They won't get into the OneBox unless the owner wants to cheat, e.g. by asking friends if he can use their physical addresses. I have seen small-time operators doing this, but cannot condone it and isn't an option for the wholesaler.
Perhaps the wholesaler has some distribution depots in other cities, or agents, which can be the focus of the micro sites. They can contain lists of local place names.