There is one fundamental element that connects your ability to tap local, mobile, and social advertising: your business listing. That’s right, the simple name, address, and telephone number information that you’ve had forever is key to ensuring customers and prospects can find you and learn what differentiates you from your competitors.
Seems simple, but inconsistent and inaccurate business listing information is a real problem for the local search business. In fact, the problem is so large in social media websites, that one in three abandoned their local search because they cannot find accurate information during the local search process. (Source: 2010 15miles/comScore Local Search Study.)
For many years the print phone book – white and yellow pages – was the most accurate source of listings. But with the breakup of the former Bell companies in 1984, that complete data asset has been diminished. Today, a single database of all local businesses that is completely accurate does not exist. The landscape exists of major data providers that begin with the phonebook data (now fragmented by regional and local providers):
While there are many other providers, but these three companies represent a significant mass of listings and distribution sources to which they push this information.
In addition to the database aggregators, a credible business listing management program needs to feed data directly to a number of sites that represent the largest consumer usage points, including:
These sites have facilities to allow single business and multi-location businesses to submit and update their business listings.
Before you say “Well, that sounds easy… take one source of you listing information and feed it to the above resources and voila, problem solved,” let’s explore some pitfalls to avoid:
Business name: Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world.
- Include marketing taglines in your business name.
- Include phone numbers or URLs in the business name field.
- Attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business in the business name field.
Business location: Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location.
- Create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist.
- Use broad city names or cross-streets.
- Create more than one listing for each business location.
- Form multiple listings for one business that services numerous cities.
- Establish multiple listings to cover the various specialties of a business.
- Include information in the address line that does not pertain to the business’s physical location.
Website and phone: Provide a phone number that directly connects to your individual business location and a website that represents your individual business location.
- Use a call center number if possible.
- Provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or refer users to landing pages or phone numbers other than that of the actual business.
Categories: Provide at least one category from the suggestions provided in the form as you type. Categories should be specific, but brief.
- Supply categories that contain location-based information.
- Submit multiple categories per entry field.
Custom attributes and description: Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing.
While many firms will say that bending the above rules will help you get a better position for your listings, I challenge that the big sites are well aware of these tactics and penalize listing optimization for violators that they detect. In effect, any temporary gain may be offset by long-term purgatory for your listings resulting in low position and hence low selection opportunity for your business.
I am often asked, “What is the formula of importance of the various elements that effect optimization of these listings?” While each situation differs based on listing and category competition or density, there is a hierarchy that can help guide your progression:
- Accuracy and consistency of data across all listings
- Verification or claiming of listings
- Completeness of baseline data
- Enrichment and recent updates
1. Accuracy and consistency of data across all listings
Because most engines rely on multiple data sources purchased from the aforementioned data aggregators, they merge/purge this information they currently have on a specific business (perhaps provided by the business directly). If the sources do not match, they simply cannot gauge the accuracy, resulting in an optimization downgrade. I have seen a data element as simple as a suite number being out of alignment negatively impact a listing’s optimization.
2. Verification or claiming of listings
For single locations businesses, ensure you go to the major sites listed above and claim your business listing. Interestingly, Google has 25 million listings in its database, yet only about 6 million have been claimed.
3. Completeness of baseline data
When claiming your listing, fill out as much of the data points as you can for your business. Features for users we have observed being tested, such as Google Places “Only List Businesses Open Now” rely on the baseline hours for businesses that have been claimed in the database. Simply put, if you do not provide hours for your business, Google and other sites may assume you are not open and de-emphasize your listing.
4. Enrichment and recent updates
Videos, coupons, daily deals, etc., are terrific ways to keep your listing information fresh and provide users with a reason to come back to your listing and business more frequently. This again is a positive optimization point.
The Key to Life Is Timing and Pacing
When applying the above techniques, approach the process with a chess game mentality. Instead of dumping a ton of content and never revisiting your listings, once you have an accurate, consistent, and complete baseline of information on your business, dole it out overtime. Your local competitors will be catching up and at some point will begin adding content on their business. Hold back some content and vary it overtime so that you can move in iterative steps against the rise and fall of others business listings.
Get in the game, claim your listing and start the process of optimizing your business for the changing local search landscape.