Local search is a huge opportunity for many businesses, particularly those with hundreds (or more) of locations. In this article, we are going to cover one of the most difficult aspects of that – getting your data to show correctly in the search engines. This turns out to be an extremely important thing to do. In David Mihm’s recent Local Search Ranking Factors report the top two items listed where:
- Local address in City of search (e.g. a user search on “boston rental cars” will favor rental car companies located in Boston)
- Citations from major data providers, IYPs, and other local information sites
Since you cannot control what the user types in for a search query the only way to impact the #1 ranking factor is by changing your location. The #2 factor listed is also incredibly important, and something that businesses should strive to address. This is actually much more difficult then you initially might think. Let’s explore why.
The search engine’s challenge
Let’s take a look at the problem from the perspective of the search engines. Here are some of the basic challenges they face:
- There are 15 million or more small businesses in the US. Tracking them all down is an extremely difficult task.
- While there are mechanisms for the businesses to provide data to the search engines directly, very few businesses realize that they could (and should) do this.
- Even if you track down all these businesses, the data the search engine obtains for them could be wrong. Here are are few ways that this can happen:
- The data obtained could have been entered in incorrectly in the first place (e.g. typos)
- Businesses close their doors, leaving the search engine with a listing with a place that no longer exists.
- The business changes location. This is also a frequent occurrence)
- New businesses open their doors. Search engines need to track these down and add them to their data.
- Businesses acquire other business, or get acquire by other businesses.
- Businesses change their name.
To underscore how difficult this is, consider the fact that data provider InfoUSA conducts 30 million phone interviews every year (source: my recent interview with infoUSA’s Pankaj Mathur. The search engines are not likely to want to replicate this expense given the structure of their businesses where they use algorithms to build their indexes instead of people.
One thing that the search engines do is draw data from as many sources as possible. This includes obtaining data from data providers such as infoUSA, Localeze, and Acxiom. They also crawl the web to see what listings for businesses are listed on various web sites, with special attention to Internet Yellow page (IYPs) sites, such as YellowPages.com, or SuperPages, just to name a couple, and other local information sites such as CitySearch and MapQuest.
This is helpful, but there are still many problems that they face. For example, the data between these disparate sources do not always reconcile. They all have different methods for verifying data accuracy and updating their data, and the differences can be quite significant in number. So the search engine must decide what to do when the data from Localeze differs from the data from CitySearch, and so forth.
Worse still, these disagreements in data reduce the confidence that the search engine has in the data. As a result, it can and does impact your ability to rank in the search results — the search engine would rather show something where all the data agrees because their confidence in the data accuracy is higher. The bottom line is that you want to help them out, by getting as many data sources as possible in alignment.
What you can do
Imagine a world in which all data sources, IYPs, and other local information sites provide the search engines consistent data. It would certainly make their job easier to do. But since these data sources are competing businesses, they will not solve that problem for you. You have to do that, and getting all the data sources, IYPs, and other local information sites to agree can be a sizable chore.
The best thing to do is prioritize. You definitely should take advantage of opportunities to provide your data directly to the search engines. Using the Gooogle Local Business Center is a must. In addition, Google makes active use of location data provided to it in KML files (Martin Beijk covers how to this in this guide to KML and SEO). In short, these are files that you place on your server with information on all of your locations. You then point to it in your site map file. The fact that it is referenced in your site map files helps Google identify it as being from you. You can read more about this in an interview I did last year with Carter Maslan.
Once you have taken care of these basics, go as deeply as you can through the various data sources, IYPs, and other local information sites. Here are some of the top ones to target:
Note that currently Acxiom does not have an operating program for businesses to update their data with them directly, so it may be hard to accomplish that update. But make sure you work with infoUSA and Localeze, both of which have such programs. If Acxiom does offer such a program in the future, make sure you jump on board!
Internet Yellow Pages and other sites with local information
- Best of the Web Local
The IYP and local information sites generally pull data from the major data sources, much as the search engines themselves do. However, it is still best if you can take control directly with the major ones. If you have to choose between spending time on the IYPs and the data providers, the focus should be on the data providers.
The goal is to get as much data consistency as possible! It is not all there is to the art of local SEO, but it is the foundation of local search optimization. It is hard for the search engines to know where you really are, so do everything you can to make it easy for them. There are many other subtleties to this such as what type of data you provide. For example, local phone numbers for each location works better than one 800 number for all your locations. You can learn more about these other types of factors relating to your data from the David Mihm report referenced at the beginning of the article.
Special thanks to Stone Temple Consulting’s local search guru, John Biundo, for his help with the article.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.