It takes a bit more effort than just having a web page in order to ensure that your small business is found when someone does a location search for your town, but if community developers and business leaders can get local businesses and organizations on board with a program of mutual linking between their websites, they can increase the chances that more of their small town and out-of-the-way places are grouped together in the search engines and mapping platforms when people search by location.
For example, in a Google search using my own small town of “Brunswick, MD” as the keyword phrase, the first local business in the results is the florist at 13th place. Double that at number 26 is the fitness center. The third is my veterinarian, who has a part-time office in town, at number 34, followed a few spots later by the hair salon. Over the next few pages of results, there are scant few other local businesses.
Not seen for as many pages as I clicked were some of the most notable locations in town such as Beans in the Belfry, a unique cafe in a refurbished Lutheran church. Of the stores that make up the heart of our “antique district”, Cripple Creek Antiques is not in the results, while the others do not have websites. King’s Pizza, one of the oldest businesses in this historic town and a favorite stop for cyclists on the C&O Canal path, also has no web presence at all.
While there are many ways to optimize websites for search engines, here are a few relatively easy yet important places to start in building a local business link network.
1. Choose a Website Hub
Select a central website built around your town name that provides easy to find information on local businesses. Give this link to the local business owners and ask them to link back to the hub from their sites. If you do not already have a page that lists all of your local businesses with links to their websites, make one and keep it updated. If you cannot afford to maintain one, you could use an existing directory such as a chamber of commerce or local government, but make sure you can rely on the administrator of that page to keep it up to date.
2. Band Together
Encourage businesses to rally around the town name and link to each other. Explain that by using the town name as a keyword and linking to other local businesses, organizations and events, the increased number of links will also increase the chances of their own business being found when a general search is made for the town. The results will not be instant, but over time more local businesses will appear in a simple search on your town name.
3. Five Must-Haves
In order to make a local link network, at the minimum each of your local businesses needs to have:
- A website – even a modest billboard – to add to your local link network.
- The town name and state in their website Title bar. The county also does not hurt.
- Their full address displayed in text (not in a graphic or Flash, and preferably not within a frame) on every page of their website.
- A page with an embedded map link to their location.
- A link to your local business hub page.
Like many niche markets, small towns and local business are among those who stand to benefit from internet and location-based applications. While there is much more that both community developers and business owners can do to raise their location’s profile for search engines, with this start and given some time for the search engines to adjust, more of your local businesses will coalesce near the top of the search results for your town.