"Local Search" is a special mode that kicks in when a user enters not only a topic ("restaurants") but a geographic location, such as the name of a city or town. It uses its own rules to decide what restaurants it will list in the results, based on a large number of factors. The most important, however, are those we discuss here. They are listed here generally in order of their importance.
Local Search is used by all three of the major search engines: Google, Yahoo, and Bing. They all work in pretty much the same way. Google is the most sophisticated, but the other two are rapidly developing their technology.
If you have been in business with the same name and location continuously for the last few years, Google and the other search engines will almost surely know about you. If you are a new business, or have changed your name, Google may not know about you, however.
Google allows you to provide a considerable amount of information, including a description, hours open, what payment types are accepted, and the categories of business you are in. They will also allow you to upload photos and even videos for your business. It's in your interest to provide a lot of information, because the more information Google has about you that it considers reliable (and if you comes from you directly it is considered reliable), the higher it will rank you. Google wants to point its customers to reliable information.
You should look closely at your Google Places page to verify information that it has about you. Google will in many circumstances (especially if a business owner hasn't "claimed' his or her listing) allow anyone to add new information about your business, and this is often incorrect or becomes outdated.
A particularly important piece of information is the selection of several "Categories" that your business is in. You should include "Restaurants" as one of the categories, even if a subcategory you choose ("Mexican Restaurants") would seem to make this obvious. This category will be used in matching queries typed in by users ("mexican restaurants"), so you should choose as many categories as are appropriate.
The search engines want to provide guidance as to the quality of the restaurants they list, and they use the multi-star user ratings as a way of gauging quality.
Google will list an overall review for your restaurant in the search results (one to five stars). If it is less than five stars, you will likely be listed lower than other restaurants because of it.
Google uses reviews people post on Google itself, as well as reviews from tripadvisor.com, yahoo.com, insiderpages.com and urbanspoon.com. Bing uses reviews from tripadvisor.com and urbanspoon.com. Yahoo uses reviews from itself and from insiderpages.com. If a review is obviously bogus, you can probably get it removed, but otherwise you have to live with bad reviews. You can ask your best repeat customers if they will post a review.
The most important information in these databases about you is your business name, address, and phone number. There are three major "feeder" databases that feed information to other databases, and not being listed in these key databases means that your business listing is not being propagated to other databases. Worse, if there are errors in the name, address, or phone number, they can be propagated to other databases. Errors in these databases are very common.
Consistency in the name is very important. If your business is listed in some databases as "Pete's Cafe" but in others as "Pete's Coffee Shop", you have a problem. Google doesn't know if this is simple inconsistency or if there are two different businesses. Because they like to provide reliable information, they will downgrade you (display you lower in the list) when they show results. Similarly, errors in data entry can result in "Pet's Cafe" rather than "Pete's Cafe". We have seen both of these kinds of errors.
In general, in all of your public communication about your name, you should pick one version of your name and stick to it.
Address errors are also common. In a town we are near, a certain street is known both as "Parrott's Ferry Road" and "Broadway", and we have seen a certain restaurant on this street listed in databases twice, each with a different street name. It is apparently believed that there are two locations for the restaurant.
The primary phone number listed with your restaurant should be one with a local area code. Numbers with an 800 area code are distrusted, as are out-of-the-area-code numbers that you might get with a cell phone.
Pay particular attention to the accuracy of your listing with your local telephone provider and with any Yellow Page listings you have. You can look up your Yellow Page listing online at yellowpages.com. When a new business starts up, the first information provided to the major databases and thus to the rest of the web is typically from the business phone listing and Yellow Page listings. Errors are quite common.
We can help with assessing your situation, getting you listed in databases and correcting errors in databases. See our page describing Local Search Optimization Services.
There are many factors involved in getting your web site listed high in Google. Our design of your web site will have optimized your site for most of them. The one factor we can't easily provide is links to your web site. A link is a reference in a web page to the home page of your web site. For example, Little Cottage Cafe is a link from this web page to the home page of the web site for the Little Cottage Cafe. If you click on it, you will go to that web site. More imporantly, for our purposes here, the number of links from other web sites is a very important factor in Google's determining the quality of a web site and thus its ranking.
As important as the number of links to your site is the quality of each link and the relevance of each link. If one of the web sites that links to yours has itself a large number of (hopefully quality) links, it is a quality site. (This measure of quality, in the case of Google, is known formally as "PageRank" and more colloquially as "link juice".) Also imporant is relevance. If you have two links to your site that are from sites that are equal in quality, but one is from a hotel down the street from your restaurant, while the other is from a dry cleaner across the country, the one from the hotel down the street will be more valuable because it is more relevant.
In general, you should try to get links from web sites in your city or town. Nearby lodging facilities are good, because most lodging web sites are reasonably high quality (lots of links to them) and they are highly relevant. Also, it is in the interest of a lodging facility to put web sites of nearby restaurants on their web site, because it helps motivate guests to stay at their lodging facility. Joining a local Chamber of Commerce or visitor's bureau that will link to your web site from theirs is also a good way of getting links to your web site. These links will also get traffic to your web site.
Not every link, even from a quality site, will help you rank higher in Google. If you are a customer of our Menu Based Web Site Service, we will get both Yelp and Urbanspoon to provide a link to your web site. However, because of the way that they link to you, they typically don't pass PageRank/link juice. You'll get traffic from these links, and thus they are worth having, but they won't help you in Google.