As businesses become more virtual in organization and structure, and more workers become digital nomads, the question of whether having a physical, real-world address on your website will have any effect on your rankings becomes more important. In this article I’ll take a look how a real world address can have some impact on your sites organic listings.
Let’s look at the auto repair sector. We’ll be looking at national chain/franchises, whether they have a corporate address in the footer or on the site, public or private whois data, does the whois data match and do they have a crawlable/indexable location directory. Below is a matrix of all the data:
|Company||Home Office||Address in Footer||Address on Site||Public Whois||Whois Match||Crawl- able|
|Firestone||Nashville, TN||no||yes (PO Box Chicago)||Public (Bloomington IL)||no||no|
|Midas||Itasca, IL||no||yes (Itasca, IL)||Public (Itasca, IL)||yes||Yes *|
|Meineke||Charlotte N.C.||no||yes (Charlotte, NC)||Public (Charlotte, NC)||yes||no|
|Tilden||Hempstead NY||yes (Hempstead NY)||yes (Hempstead NY)||Public (Herndon, VA)||no||no|
|Sears||Hoffman Estates, IL||no||no||Public Hoffman Estates, IL||n/a||no|
|Goodyear Gemini||Akron OH||no||no||Public Akron OH||n/a||no|
* – on subdomains
With all of the possible cities in place we’ll look at searches for [ciytname auto repair] we’ll be looking at two separate issues: the local/map onebox listing and the standard listing in the normal SERP’s.
|City||Onebox SERP Listing||Organic Rank|
|Nashville Auto Repair||Midas (3), Goodyear (4) Firestone (5)||none|
|Chicago Auto Repair||Midas(1,2,7), Firestone (4)||Midas (7)|
|Bloomington Auto Repair||Midas (1), Meineke (2), Sears (7), Firestone (9)||none|
|Itasca Auto Repair||Midas (1)||none|
|Charlotte Auto Repair||Goodyear (1,3) Meineke (2)||Meineke (7)|
|Hempstead Auto Repair||Meineke (3)||none|
|Hoffman Estates Auto Repair||Midas (2,5,7), Meineke (6), Firestone (8,10)||none|
|Akron Auto Repair||Goodyear (2,7,9) Midas (3,4,6),||none|
|Herndon Auto Repair||none||none|
Data for Google local onebox results comes from a variety of sources including telephone listings, so having an address on the site provides very little benefit to getting your website to appear there.
At the surface it would seem that having an address on the site has very little or no influence on organic rankings, as Meineke and Midas are the only websites that are showing up in the organic listings. Looking back at the first chart we can see that while everyone had public whois data available, the only two who had matching on site addresses and whois data where Meineke and Midas, are the only two who showed up in the organic listings.
But look at the SERP’s for Chicago Auto Repair and Charlotte Auto Repair. Midas and Meineke are the only websites that rank—but they are also the only ones that don’t have the city name in the title—nor do they have the address or city name anywhere on the page.
The key point is not to think of having an address or having a matching address as an on/off switch for ranking. Instead think of it as part of a websites overall trust score. Having a private registration, no address, or non matching addresses may not act as a negative, but having matching on-site addresses seem to act as positive. Again it’s not required for a website to rank, but it does seem to help.
It’s also important to note that Google was able to attribute the city data to the home page, when in this case that information was only present on about us and contact pages of the site. Trust has been a component in Google’s algorithm for some time even before Eric Schmidt’s comment about the internet being a cesspool and brands were the key to sorting it out. If you go back to the Google Librarian newsletter of 2006 , you’ll see Google gives some advice on things to look for when determining if a site is trustworthy. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to assume some of these factors are probably already built into the algorithm.
How can webmasters and site owners take advantage of this to help their websites seem more trustworthy to Google? Using fake or false whois data is not only risky but put you at risk of losing your domain as it’s against ICANN regulations. Additionally if you’ve spent any time testing Google maps you’ll also know that Google recognizes real address, or least those it has never seen before, identifying them with “did you mean” response. Using a post office box isn’t a viable solution either as Google isn’t able to locate them on a map.
Another option is using a Mailboxes, Etc. or UPS mailbox location. In a post 9/11 world the postal regulations have required these companies to stop using the “suite” designation for mailboxes. They are now required to use PMB # (Personal Mail Box) for all addresses. In practice if you put suite or just # you would probably get your mail. How closely ICANN regulations are in line with 9/11 postal homeland security restrictions is uncharted territory.
If you’ve come to the realization that Google is all but forcing you to create a profile , you might have learned something in the account verification process. One of the two methods Google uses to verify profiles is via telephone. I’ve had several phone numbers, many of which have been around for almost 5 years, however the only one Google was willing to verify was the listed one in the phone directory. Is Google using the same or similar technology to verify address data that’s on your site or listed in your whois file, only the folks working at the Googleplex know for sure. However I’ll firmly grab the ear-flaps on my conspiracy theorist tin foil hat and say at the very least it’s plausible, and it wouldn’t surprise me if address information worked it’s way into the algorithm in the next 3 to 5 years.
In conclusion, putting a real world verifiable address on your website appears to increase its chances of looking more algorithmically trustworthy to Google. The effects may not be immediate, but in my opinion, are forward-looking steps to give your website a bonus your competition may not be getting.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.