For those who don't yet know me, let me first state that I get web sites listed on page 1 of Google for relevant search terms. I can do this in as little as a few days, so I hope that qualifies the information I am about to share.
When listing on directoies, you want to be on Google and Yahoo Local, then do the yellow pages and any local search engines in your area. Free listings usually suffice. Next, Google some terms relevant to your business and look for directories in the results. Get listed on those directories. The obvious ones like your local HBA or trade association should also be included.
Beyond that, don't waste your time with directories. The value is not worth the investment of time.
The starting point is what I call the foundation, that is the site itself. It should use good coding practices and take full advantage of "on page" optimization. This includes good, unique page titles for every page, headings, alt text for images, etc. There is a lot of info already here about those issues. In addition, it needs to have useful and unique content which is directed at the visitor, not something full of sales speak, or just telling the world you operate with integrity.
The reason I mention this one first and with such emphasis is that if you get that one wrong, nothing else will matter much.
Next, you want links. Link exchanges, I recommend staying away from. But relevant directories, yes. Forums, yes. There are many ways to get links. If your content is useful, you will gain links without even asking; it just takes time, but those links are the most powerful. Find relevant blogs you like and leave comments (not spammy ones). The comments in blogs will not likely get you any search engine boost, but if other blog readers or the owner likes your content, they can link to it and then you get a search engine boost.
If your writing ability is not good enough to capture the attention of a web audience, you have a lot to gain by hiring a skilled writer. There are informational sites for every subject who want fresh content. Many of these are very high ranking. But they won't accept sub par writing. If you get published on these sites, look out. I once had an article picked up by a major site where I literally could not keep up with inquiries. That's a good problem to have, but I was actually glad to get back to normal. Fame really is short lived, but that's fine by me. BTW, I still get occasional inquiries from that and it was over 2 years ago, so the benefit never really goes away.
Since you are most interested in winning the locals, look offline too. Does your local paper have an "Ask the Contractor" section? If not, would they be interested? Many papers publish their material online too, so there you would get another link.
That's pushing the limits of brief, but it should illustrate that your goal is to get quality links that add to your credibility.
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