Local Search and Invisible Wineries

Ninety-five percent of the respondents in BrightLocal's 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey reported using the Internet to find a local business in the last twelve months. Using a mobile device to search for local businesses is now ubiquitous, and search engines use searchers' location (when enabled) to provide the most relevant results possible. Businesses listed in the top ten local results for highly competitive, general terms such as "winery" can expect to see significant traffic - both web and physical.

The challenge, of course, is knowing how to rank highly and then effectively taking advantage of that knowledge. Fortunately, Moz's Local Search Ranking Factors survey does a great job of identifying the factors most likely associated with local search rankings. According to the survey, map search results (the results returned when potential customers search for a business from within Google Maps) are primarily influenced by the business' category and location, the consistency and prevalence of business contact information on the business' website and on the Internet, the business' website authority, and customer reviews. Localized, organic results (searches from the Google.com search box with location detection enabled) are primarily influenced by business contact information on the businesses' website, domain authority, and the quantity and quality of inbound links. For all the juicy, wonky details you can see the full report here.

The result of not investing sufficient time in local search optimization can be near invisibility. For example, on a recent trip to Stafford, Virginia, I used Google on my iPhone to search for local wineries. The five nearest wineries (all within 30 miles) were Potomac Point, Hartwood, Rogers Ford Farm, Oak Crest, and Morais; the results of a Google Maps search matched this physical reality when the results were viewed on the map. When I switched to list view, though, Oak Crest was listed in the 40th position! The Google Web search, which relies less on location factors, resulted in both Rogers Ford and Oak Crest being listed outside the first fifty results. The bad news for wineries such as Rogers Ford, and especially Oak Crest, is that in two of Google's three primary local search views, they are listed so far down in the search results that potential customers won't know that they exist, even if they are located a couple miles down the road.

Fortunately, preventing your winery from suffering the same fate doesn't require technical prowess or huge outlays of time and capital. The actions listed below can greatly increase the odds that customers 1) know that your winery exists, 2) know that your winery is located nearby, and 3) know that other customers have visited your winery and have had an enjoyable experience.

Consistent, Accurate, and Prevalent Name, Address, and Phone Information
1. Ensure that your business name, address and phone number are prominently displayed on your website and that old business information is updated throughout the site. One fairly common issue is that the contact information on the homepage is updated but contact information on other pages, such as the "contact us" page, is not.
2. Claim or submit your business profile on local business sites and major business aggregation sites and ensure that your data is accurate. The leading data aggregation sites listed below provide the ability to submit or claim your business information free of charge.
- Infogroup (www.infogroup.com/small-medium-businesses/claim-your-business-listing)
- Localeze (www.neustarlocaleze.biz/directory/understanding_your_identity.aspx)
- Acxiom (mybusinesslistingmanager.myacxiom.com)
- Local.com (advertise.local.com)
- InfoUSA (www.expressupdate.com/search)

Incoming Links
Links from online versions of national news and print publications carry the most weight but are also the hardest to get. While, or instead of, pursuing high-value links, develop relationships with local news sources and local wine bloggers. You can find lists of local wine bloggers here and here (by clicking on a particular state). Local news articles usually provide a direct link to your site which will help your search placement, and articles are often re-published on news aggregation sites which can result in even greater visibility for your winery.

Update or claim your profile on popular review sites such as Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, CitySearch, foursquare, and American Winery Guide. Reviews submitted via Google likely have the biggest impact on Google search rankings; you can claim and update your Google Places listing here. To further improve your Google rankings, create a Google+ Local page and associate it with your Google Places listing. One of the additional benefits of a Google+ page is that your Google+ content is displayed in Google search results when followers search for information, e.g. Napa winery, that is contained on your Google+ page. If you're already maintaining a Facebook page, adding a Google+ Page doesn't have to be much additional work (i.e. copy, paste) and has the potential to significantly increase your winery's visibility. For more information about Google Places and Google+ Local, check out this informative Search Engine Watch article.

To take full advantage of review sites, you'll need reviews, and the best way to get them is by:
- placing "review-site logos" on your webpage
- Placing "review-site information" in your tasting room (front door, counter, etc.)
- Including a review request card with each purchase
- Requesting reviews from mailing list subscribers.

Mobile search is on the rise, and the importance of location and social factors will only increase. Prior to location-based search, wineries had little chance to rank highly for general terms such as "wineries." Now, depending on the searcher's location, every winery in the U.S. has the potential to have their winery listed at the top of Google's search results. Wineries that invest time into the activities listed above will benefit from this new era of personal search, while those who don't risk virtual invisibility.

Published: Oct. 20, 2013

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