As SEO rapidly becomes a core task for local business owners, there’s a new temptation to build advertising messages or tracking mechanisms into business listings on the web. Typically, this might mean adding a slogan or campaign tagline to a business name or changing an office address to appear local to more customers. Unfortunately, this misguided enthusiasm can negatively impact the way search engines rank local business listings based on variations in company name, address and phone number (NAP, for short).
Business listings—name, address, phone number—are a company’s fingerprint and single unique identification point—much like an individual’s social security number. If businesses don’t manage their listings consistently across the web, a company could be walking into an identity management problem.
Although some might think adding multiple names or phone numbers to a business listing will increase real estate space on the web, the truth is variations can have an acutely long-term and far-reaching negative impact on a businesses’ online presence. It can even result in a business being delisted by a search engine.
Here are a few important rules for you to remember about your online business listings. These rules are for local business listings, but you can find broader SEO tips for your web site on SearchEngineLand’s Local’s Only columnist Andrew Shotland Local SEO Guide.
Rule #1: Don’t change a phone number in your business listing to evaluate metrics. Do not change your company phone number within a business listing. Although call tracking measurement is important for advertising, remember that your online business listing is not an advertising channel. If a business modifies or adds a different phone number to the foundational layer or the index of local search, search engines will view the business differently and the company will risk being delisted by search sites, including Google’s Local Business Center.
What some businesses do not realize is that if Google finds duplicate listings for a business, they may be deleted or merged with a “similar” looking business listing within the index until further verification takes place to identify the accurate listing. This can take several weeks. Again, a business listing should be a brick or foundation piece and you should layer your marketing on top of it. If you have to add an alternate phone number to your business listing, make sure it is clearly marked as a secondary number so that a duplicate listing isn’t created.
Rule #2: Do not add seasonal keywords to a business name—or any keywords for that matter—to a business listing. A leading financial services company recently tied seasonal keywords to their business name, changing their corporate name for online listing and SEO purposes. The company suffered disastrous results in Google Maps as well as other search engines because duplicate business listings were detected. They were delisted from Google’s Local Business Center for a lengthy period of time because of this change, hurting their local search web presence, fragmenting their reputation and compromising their identity in the long run.
Adding or changing keywords is similar to Google finding various phone numbers for a business at a single mappable address. Changing or adding to a business listing can disturb the linking structure that puts a businesses’ name in the search engines’ rankings, which ultimately puts a company in front of potential customers.
Also, if you are hiring branding agencies, SEM marketers or public relations agencies to raise online visibility, make sure that they understand that your NAP is your local search identity and should remain unaltered in their promotional efforts. Seasonal keywords, products carried, services offered and the keywords that describe your business are essentially important, so provide appropriate keywords within your listing by adding them below your NAP to help drive search results.
Rule #3: Do not add a duplicate address to a business listing to appear local to more consumers. Some businesses trying to market to multiple areas in a region might think that by adding additional addresses to appear uber-local will generate more customer calls.
Not so fast—this seemingly smart trick can create confusion in local search by creating multiple identities for your business location making it difficult for search engines and your customers to find you. It also fragments your reputation by allowing conversations, ratings and reviews about your business to be stored and distributed with a “fabricated” location. It is crucial to have one business address so that the major search engines—especially when dealing with long tail queries—can find all relevant information about your company. Multiple locations appearing within a single listing will only create noise and fragmentation that search engines choke on.
It is crucial that a business owns its name, address and phone number in as many places as possible and keeps listings consistent for all search engines and data providers. Don’t confuse business listings with advertising. Instead, create a solid foundation. Give search engines the ability to aggregate as much consistent content as possible about your business. That in turn, will give your business maximum online visibility.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.