In May 2012, Google partnered with Ipsos OTX Media CT to get a better understanding of U.S. smartphone usage. Their study revealed that 94% of smartphone users have looked for local information, and 90% took action as a result (called the business, walked into a store, redeemed a coupon, etc). Also, 96% have researched a product or service on their phone.
At around that same time, Myles Anderson discussed key findings from BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey – one of which was that 85% of consumers use the Internet to find local businesses.
It’s more important than ever for local business owners to vie for better SERP visibility, both in desktop and mobile search. Your prospects are usually on the go and are looking for details on products to buy, places to patronize, events to attend and so forth. Mobile users in particular want the information they need at their fingertips, and they’ll select from the business with SERP visibility.
What follows here is a roadmap for listing your business on search engines to increase sales in your niche.
Hundreds of Internet directories act as a verification sources (by providing citations) for business data on Google, Yahoo! and Bing. When these search engines can match specific business data from a webpage or business directory to the info they have on file, this serves to verify the information, which in turn makes your data more authoritative. That’s why it’s so important for your business to have consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone) information across search engines and directories.
Enhancing Your Listing
Although your NAP information is the most important in terms of consistency, many online directories (as well as Google+ Local) allow you to include a wide variety of information about your business. You can often enhance your listings with a description, store hours, payment types accepted, products, services, images, videos and even a logo. Generally, you can also select one or more categories under which your business might fall.
These fields give search engines a better understanding of your business. Understanding the format types and optimization opportunities for each individual directory is key to your brand’s performance in local search.
Top SERP Placement
Search engines rank the businesses they know more about in their top listings. Their aim is to deliver a good user experience, and to do that, they constantly crawl for other sources of business information on the Web to verify your data. Gathering your local business data while keeping this data updated and current is therefore critical to high rankings.
In addition to providing search engines with a way to validate local business data, directories often link back to the business’ website. This natural, trusted backlink provides a local and relevant link that enhances your local SEO results in the SERPs.
Updated Information & Data Consistency
Consumers will find your business first when all of your business data is updated, optimized and linked naturally on the Web. Search engines and directories rely on updated optimized local business data.
Local listing management, or business listing management, starts and ends with your providing:
- A consistent data source for ALL of your data feeds
- Providing properly formatted and optimized feeds for each individual directory based on their specific and accepted fields.
This is time-consuming, detailed work.
Case Study: Doing It Right
Below is a local case study from December 2012 involving Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The campaign objectives were to:
- improve search engine rankings,
- be found across a majority of online directories, and
- stand out from its competitors.
A business listing management firm, Local Market Launch, provided their listing management service. The target audience was anyone searching for a hotel in the Council Bluffs, Iowa area. According to Google’s keyword tool, approximately 5,400 people search for [Hotel in Council Bluff Iowa] each month.
The hotel’s business data was manually submitted to directories to ensure accurate and consistent business listings information would show up in local searches.
When uniform and correct business data is distributed across hundreds of directories it creates data fidelity. Search engine algorithms reward data fidelity with higher-ranking search results.
A crucial step in the process was making sure the hotel’s NAP (name, address, and phone number) was accurate across all sites. Also important was completing the appropriate field types (e.g., categories, logos, hours, and photos) to further enhance the business listing. This provides useful and relevant information for the consumer, something that is also valued and rewarded by search engines.
To ensure that no incorrect information was linked to the hotel’s online presence, each business listing was manually claimed, and any unclaimed listings had new business profiles created.
Within three months, an incremental 270 unique website visitors were finding the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This was recurring every 30 days, demonstrating the critical role “business listings management” plays in local visibility.
I personally wonder about the wide-spread effect this could have. For instance, Holiday Inn Express is a multinational brand of hotels and one of the world’s largest hotel chains, with 2,200 hotels globally. When you spread the effect of enabling an additional 270 monthly unique visitors (MUVs) to 1 location across a network of 2,200 hotel locations, it could potentially generate a significant amount of local U.S. traffic from search engines and directories — if done right.
Managing An Enterprise Level Local Search Presence
Below is a priority list for a systematic approach to managing an enterprise local search presence:
- Claim each business location and locally optimize for major search engines Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Include a local landing page URL when appropriate.
- Optimize and submit to one or more of the big three data aggregators (LocalEze, Infogroup and Acxiom). This is done through paid agreements; make sure to include a local landing page URL for in-car GPS, mobile apps, Apple maps, niche directories and Yellow Pages. This provides data validation for Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
- Submit to Facebook, Foursquare, Superpages, and Yellowpages (free) and include your local landing page URL. Social citations are generated from an active presence on the networks and may boost ranking in search engines.
- Target any smaller niche directories based on industries served and include a local landing page URL. These might include Angie’s List, Merchant Circle, Local.com or others.
Following a systematic approach will provide the in-house marketer or agency with the best chance to optimize and manage a complete local search presence across the Web. It also allows each directory to understand the content a brand is communicating when each feed is optimized and reviewed by the stakeholder prior to submission.
In some cases, transparent, automated software may be required if you rely on scale and constant updating of optimized local business data for multiple locations.
Throw Caution To The Wind
One size does not fit all when it comes to Local Search. Local Search vendors vary significantly in their capabilities and quality of service. There’s a significant need for consumer education in this area.
Thousands of companies, large and small, are being under-served because they don’t understand all the detail work they should be requiring within their Local Search campaigns. There is a huge opportunity for vendors to step up and provide quality, in-depth, meaningful local search deliverables.
I know of several trusted local search vendors, and since I’m not associated with the three below, I’ll pass their information to you for further investigation if warranted.
Local Market Launch is a new business listing management start-up in Santa Barbara, California. I was impressed with their attention to detail.
Rio SEO offers a local enterprise level software solution for multiple location business with more than 100 locations. I was impressed with their scalability.
Sycara Local is a new local search analytics start-up company located in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was impressed with their local data and analytics dashboard.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.