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The “little guys” at the local level are generally obscured in both the “organic search” and “paid” rankings of the search engines. A search for “home improvement” in “San Diego,” for instance, yields just two local contractors in 10 slots. The rest are “aggregators,” like ServiceMagic, that grab the top slots and essentially resell them, at a markup, to others.

But speakers at a client-only session at Local ’07 emphasized there is a business to be had in working with small local layers. “The little guys have the advantage on these (organic) pages” if they work at it, said Andrew Shotland, formerly of Insider Pages, who now runs Labitat. Shotland’s magic “to do” list includes publishing articles in multiple sources, updating information on the Internet Yellow Pages and search engines, gathering links from friendly local sites, and ensure you have “five star” reviews on all the social networks.

Shotland said the fight for pole position on the search engines has become the equivalent of the fight for top placement in the Yellow Pages, where companies may call themselves “AAA Plumbers,” and then “AAAA Plumbers” (I know about this. At one point, there were 27 variations on “Krasilovsky Safes” in the New York Yellow Pages, as different branches of the family duked it out with competing safe companies, a battle chronicled on an NPR feature a few years ago).

With the rise of proximity search, the most successful Realtor, plumber or landscaper would simply open an office in the center of every town. “We’re opening a new business. It is called,” Shotland joked. “These are the kinds of things people are doing every day.”

Uzi Eliahou and Dorab Patel at Matchcraft added that companies should focus more on developing vertical site traffic. They said that vertical sites, like Lawn and Garden Yellow Pages, now get about 25 percent of all searches, and the share of traffic is creeping up on horizontal sites every day.

The Matchcraft guys also said organic search is where much of the focus is moving for local businesses, which increasingly find themselves shut out of paid search by high prices and a “lock” by the aggregators. Their research indicates that local businesses only make headway on paid listings in certain, under-leveraged categories, such as landscaping and nail salons.

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