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As iPhones, Android phones, and other smart phones make it easy to search for things nearby (Google just announced its “Near Me Now” service), you can expect mobile search usage to increase dramatically in the next few years.

Recent changes in how search engines work are suddenly making your location every bit as important as your specialty. Every day it seems, you hear of another advance in search, whether it be, queries that provide different results based on the searcher’s location. In the old days (12 months ago) you had to type in a location to get valid local search results (“dentist in Corona CA” or “oil change 90028”). Then the search engines started using IP Addresses, and targeted paid ads and later organic searches based on where you are now, without you typing anything special into the search box.

But now it is getting even more interesting. As more and more searchers are using their mobile phones, the kinds of searches they do are changing. Now they are likely to search for “coffee” or “office supplies” or any number of things that they need while driving or walking around. This makes being local again the most important thing, without any need for specialization at all.

So how can local businesses make sure they are found? Start by trying out some searches yourself. Start first with your computer, but then try your phone, too. Ask your tech savvy friends to help you by searching on their phones when they are near your location so you see what they see. Different phones have different apps; different carriers have different default search engines; different locations will provide different results. And as personalized results become more common, different people will get different results, too.

Here are some tips to help you:

Use location words. It doesn’t hurt to make sure your address is in your footer of every Web page and that you use other location words to describe your business (“Orange County” or “Inland Empire” or “dentist 90028”.
Use local listing resources. You should make sure you are listed in as many Internet Yellow Pages directories as you can (most are free) but you can also use a free service such as GetListed.org to quickly show you how your business fares in local search, and help you make the moves needed to improve.
Ask for reviews. Yelp and other review sites have long been consulted by the savvy local shopper, but you should expect reviews to be increasingly built into the regular search experience. Google might have been rebuffed in its attempts to acquire Yelp, but you should expect every search engine to provide reviews in its search results.

So, while that car repair shop still needs to trumpet its specialty (classic car repair) to draw customers from a wider area, focusing also on very local search might attract the motorist whose car just broke down a mile from the location of the shop. For that customer, it’s still location, location, location.

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