Google gives local businesses another reason to update their local business information.
Just a few weeks ago, Google announced the addition of a new analytics dashboard for local business owners. You can only see it if you log into your Google Maps profile, which means you must first claim and verify the Local Business Listing associated with your enterprise.
As people have moved online in their searches for local business information, Google has done a spotty job of providing it. Google Maps has come under criticism for having incomplete and inaccurate local business data. Ideally, every local business owner would claim, verify, and enhance information about their enterprise within Google Maps, serving to make the data much more trustworthy and up to date.
A couple of summers ago, Maps began a program to help with this by offering a few bucks to anyone who could get retailers and service providers to sign up for Local Business Listings. I don't have the numbers on this. Since it was discontinued, I suspect it was not very successful.
It appears that Google's main motivation behind its new analytics dashboard is to entice more business owners to claim their listings. However, aggressive intervention to control the worst of the spammers is needed, as well. It's difficult to get people to play by the rules when competitors are gaining an unfair advantage by obviously thumbing their noses at them.
Maps' new dashboard is similar to others we have seen from some online yellow pages, profile distribution services, and private enterprise solutions. The statistics it provides are rather basic and simple to understand:
It's very likely that Google will continue to add useful features to its dashboard, similar to the way it's expanded the value of Webmaster Tools over the years.
Google's official blog post and video introducing the dashboard offer some suggestions as to how businesses might use what they learn from the dashboard. Resourceful entrepreneurs will undoubtedly find other ways to leverage it to their advantage.
Owners also gain other advantages by claiming their Local Business Listings. They are likely to get a bit of a boost in the Maps algorithm by providing this indicator of trust to Google. They are also assured that they are controlling the information displayed about their business, rather than leaving that up to someone else.
People seeking local business information are very likely to be in a buying mindset, but until now, it has been impossible to show business owners any meaningful data on this. As a marketer, I find the new dashboard's greatest value to be the way I can use it to visually impress local business owners with the impact that search is having on their bottom line.
We've always said that people were searching online and buying offline. This data gives us a way to prove it. Few people are likely to ask for driving directions unless they are serious about getting in their vehicle and going to the location. With enough numbers about different cities and niches, we may eventually be able to come up with some meaningful metrics to use for benchmarking the impact of local online search independent of what happens on a company's Web site.
What About Profile Distribution Services?
Go ahead and use one of the profile distribution services designed for local businesses. It will feed your data out to many places across the Web that you may not have the time to attend to manually. Most of the local platforms they push to will send you a bit of traffic and, when considered all together, they may send a nice chunk of targeted visitors to your Web site and/or your location.
Profile services make it easy to update your information in these places, as well, and will probably give you a few more citations that can help you to rank better in Maps. However, these should only be used to supplement your local efforts and not be your main avenue for local search marketing. In other words, don't just pay your money, build a profile, and call it done. Most of you still need to do the work of managing your own profiles in Google Maps and Yahoo Local. This is where most people are searching for you, so it's definitely worthwhile to put in the effort to get it right.
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Mary Bowling has been involved in all aspects of online marketing since 2003. She has a special interest in Web site usability and in search engine optimization, including optimizing all types of media for search engines. Mary has also developed specialized expertise in promoting brick-and-mortar businesses on the Internet through local search marketing. She is currently doing independent consulting and working with seOverflow and Maia Internet Consulting in Denver, CO, optimizing and marketing a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits online.
Her accomplishments include speaking at Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences on a variety of topics, conducting trainings and webinars for Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Workshops, authoring popular white papers on local search and SEO for WordPress Blogs and speaking at SEMpx' s Searchfest.
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