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How Local Search and SEM Relates – and How it Doesn't

By Paul Jahn

There are many questions regarding “Local Search” marketing and how it relates to search engine marketing (SEM). Many think of Local Search as a subset of SEM. Optimize your site with geographical locations, run some PPC advertising designated to your area, get some decent site conversions, and you’ve done your job.

There’s a little more to it than that.

The opposite is actually true. SEM is a subset of Local Search marketing. The difference between the two lies at the core. Proper SEM brings targeted visitors to your Web site. Local Search brings people to your door.

The crucial beginning factor for SEM is to produce a search engine friendly Web site from the start. You can then further enhance optimization, and different marketing and advertising channels.

The crucial beginning factor for Local Search is to ensure your proper physical address and profile information is listed correctly and consistently in Internet Yellow Pages data, and anywhere else online that your business information appears that local search engines can pull from. You can then further enhance optimization, and different marketing and advertising channels.

They’re two very different concepts, but two important core points. In fact, many local businesses get great (in-person) traffic from online users, simply from running a great business that people appreciate, Web site or not.

To put it in perspective, here are a few examples:

A month or so ago, I wrote about a lucky experience finding a San Jose Chiropractor. I searched online, found a CitySearch profile with a testimonial, and the rest was history.

6 days after I came back from San Jose, I broke an axle/screw set on my inline skates and desparately needed to fix it. Since I recently bought some wheels from Pierce Skate & Ski by finding them on SuperPages, I went back to them and they hooked me up in 5 minutes. I’ll be a repeat customer.

Quite some time ago, I was switching up some furniture. Since I was moving things around, it seemed like a good enough time to rent a rug doctor. I found this company just a couple miles away while doing a search in Google Maps. They had a few available, and I picked it up within a couple hours. Next time I need a rug doctor, I know where to go.

I found all of these businesses through search engines, but didn’t find their respective Web sites until after the fact. It wasn’t important for me to find their sites. I wanted local companies who had what I needed, and perhaps a nice user review written about them for the trust factor.

Welcome to Web 2.0, where users now collaborate and share information online more than ever before. This concept surely isn’t new. Online review sites have been important e-commerce shopping sources for a long time. When it comes to localized user reviews, it’s more personal. Instead of giving reviews for an online purchase, users can post reviews for local businesses they have visited in person. Just a few popular sources are:

Insider Pages
Yahoo! Local
Judy’s Book

This doesn’t mean that an optimized and advertised Web site isn’t needed. It’s definitely recommended. If I was looking for a long-term chiropractor, a new pair of skates that can handle larger wheels, or a place to rent a rug doctor on a regular basis, I would definitely want to find their respective sites to find out more information about them.

Plus, consider the branding factor. This is a case where a locally optimized site can be more effective than just for ego-surfing. If your site is visible in the main search engine results in addition to the local and sponsored advertising results, and even user reviews on sites that are naturally optimized, this can give you tremendous trust as users can see your business multiple times on one search result page.

Just like in search engine marketing, it’s crucial not to throw all your eggs in one basket. Some only try to optimize their site for Google, and too many only focus on rankings without batting an eyelash on measuring traffic. In Local Search, this can be from only optimizing and advertising your own site. There are so many other channels out there for local consumers to find you online. It doesn’t just have to be about your site.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

Author: Paul Jahn has been involved in Internet marketing since 1999, search engine marketing (SEM) since 2001 and focusing on local search since 2003. As founder and owner of Localmn Internet Marketing, Paul has helped many local companies gain business through this medium. This includes a combination of local search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, local media advertising and integrating these efforts with their traditional marketing campaigns.
Prior to being involved in Internet Marketing, Paul worked as an educational sales director in Tacoma, Washington by recruiting interest in school music programs. Having a bachelor’s of music degree as well, he enjoys the Minnesota Orchestra, local bands and Minnesota winters (snowboarding).


Camilla Todd
Camilla Todd is Head of Digital Marketing at WNW Digital and manages Search Engine Optimisation, PPC, Social Media campaigns and Brand Awareness for WNW Digital SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at or phone on 01392 349580