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Credit: Photo: iStockphoto.com/Christos Georghiou

The homeowner in a certain ZIP code types "window replacement," "roofing replacement," or one of dozens of possible keyword combinations into Google's search engine. Up come the search results including, of course, pay-per-click ads on the top and right-hand side of the page. But what's likely to catch the user's eye these days is below the pay-per-click ads, in the organic search results, where 65% of online searchers will ultimately click: a Google map with a list of local companies next to it.

The map pushes everything else on the page below it. And, depending on how many search results there are, it is the list of company links next to the map that searchers are most likely to click on.

In the last few years local search engine optimization (LSEO) has emerged as a valuable online shortcut for consumers looking for information about a product or service in their area. And for companies doing online marketing, it's important to be there. Internet marketing expert Tom Audette, of Three Deep Marketing, in St. Paul, Minn., says that "you don't even exist" to someone actively searching online if you're not in local search.

Be Seen On Local Search

So how do you get there? Just having a well-optimized, keyword-rich site will not do the trick in many cases ? although it helps. Google "matches the computer doing the searching with the physical address of the businesses to deliver the most relevant mapping," Florida marketing consultant Marty Gould explains.

A sure way to get on the local listings map is to claim your listing with Google Places and other sites that specialize in local search. This involves filling out an online application. Getting listed is free but takes "time, effort, and knowledge," says Mike Rosenello, of Rosenello Windows, in Philadelphia, where Rosenello Windows turns up frequently next to the Google maps of online searches for windows or roofing.

Audette says that it helps to enhance your Google page with photos, video, and other content. Consumers can also, of course, be directed to a landing page instead. Inbound links and reviews on sites such as Judy's Report, Bing, Yelp, Best on the Web, etc., are important to your placement within the list of local companies. "Reviews drive this thing," Audette says. Those companies with the most reviews are more likely to be on top, but not always.

Check Your Listing Status

Think you can't get listed in local search? Type in some keywords and a ZIP code and see which companies come up. In many markets the biggest home improvement players have ignored local search in favor of pay-per -click advertising. Audette suggests that it's well worth it for home improvement companies to take the time to claim their listing on as many sites as possible or to hire an Internet marketing company that can help to get them listed and make sure they continue to be listed.

A site called GetListed.org will show you how to get your company listed and, if you are already listed, will let you know where you rank in search results. "It's not enough to do pay per click," Audette says. "[Being on local search] will make it almost impossible not to get called."