Not only are we far past the time when local businesses did not need much of a web presence, but we have entered an era of online search being truly crucial to local commerce. A full 97% of shoppers use the internet in their hunt to find and interact with local businesses.
The market for businesses on local can seem like something of a game. In some cases it seems that advertising dollars do the most work in determining a business' reputation and placement on search results. In other cases it seems to have more to do with the amount of effort put forth by the business owner to manage their rankings.
Reviews sites hold the real key to great local search for businesses. Modern consumers see through advertising so well that word-of-mouth, or word-of-web, as it were, holds the most sway. Here are the top five sites for local search for businesses.
It's comes as no surprise that having information and reviews embedded into Google's search results is easy and helpful for both customers and proprietors. For the consumer, this Google Places (formerly Google Local) compiles key details near the top of the search results page. Public reviews are immediately available when you search for a specific business. For broader searches, Google places a link to the reviews right in with the phone number and web address. For business owners, verifying details on Google Places for Business is very straightforward and easy.
A big draw of Google Places reviews is the fact that the reviewers are publicly named through their Google+ account. This brings a certain air of accountability and honesty, rather than the cheeky and very millennial approach of sites that use personas or anonymous reviewers. Google Places reviews are also handy and convenient for everyone involved, not requiring much of an investment of time and clicks in order to get information.
Beloved for both usefulness and entertainment value, Yelp has also drawn some ire from critics. Some small business owners fear that failing to buy advertising with Yelp leads to punitive action. Still, there's no denying that Yelp!'s reviews cut right to the point: when you're going to spend money, you're willing to listen to another person's experience at that business. We have become savvy enough consumers these days to be able to roll our eyes at unnecessary complaining or to see past one-time bad experiences.
For local search, Yelp serves two especially important functions. First, fledgling businesses need to get their name out there, in as positive a light as possible, with youthful early adopters. Yelp is still more trusted than for local reviews among the younger crowds. Second, Yelp's system of promoting keywords and repeated phrases from reviews helps establish and manage a business' image and reputation.
Easily the most famous and used reviews site with paid membership, Angie's List has grown in membership and impact greatly over the years. Once thought of as merely a leader for big-ticket services like home repair and doctors offices, Angie's List has grown to cover quite a range of local businesses.
Paid membership does two key things for Angie's List. Customers can expect quality information from the site, knowing that reviews will be coming from truly legitimate sources. Businesses can benefit from managing their Angie's List reputation because doing so means pooling resources to focus on serious customers who want a great transaction take their search seriously.
Around for quite a few years now, CitySearch has updated its branding and curb appeal in recent years. It has also placed a pronounced emphasis on interacting with its users, especially through coupons and social media. A mainstay of search results pages, CitySearch offers verified info and staffers in major cities that check in on businesses.
Similarly to CitySearch, MerchantCircle has been around the block found its place in the local search game. With a focus on advice from experts and special deals through the site, MerchantCircle leverages their quality and breadth of information, along with healthy traffic in the millions each month, to maintain a helpful and impactful place in local search.