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How To Canonicalize URLs As Backlinks In Local Search & Online Business Directories
If you read my previous Link Week entry, Why Canonicalization Matters From A Linking Perspective, you know that canonicalization – the process of selecting and using one specific URL for each page on your website for indexing in search – is vitally important for consolidating potential link juice. This is because search engines index URLs to get content, so when multiple versions of URLs point to the same content, that content’s Page Rank is diluted across those URLs.
Today, I want to advance that concept a bit more. Let’s look at how the external world of the Web views your business. If your business is like many others, there may be a fair bit of confusion out there about the business, among the most common questions:
- Where is it located?
- What is the website URL?
- How can I contact the business?
- Why are there conflicting or duplicate listings in different directories?
If that confusion is severe enough, a legitimate profile for your business in local search or on a business directory might not be attributed properly by the Web search engines to your business. And when that confusion affects the backlinks to your website (not to mention your potential customers!), you lose.
There’s little doubt that a little clean-up effort of your online business profiles will help you get more link juice and get found by more customers.
Many Brands, Many URLs
To start off, what is the URL of your company’s website?
Many companies will ask, “Which website?” Oftentimes companies own several brands and/or registered trademarks, and if they are smart, they will reserve those terms as domain names. After all, it’s better that you own your brands rather than leave them to your competitors.
When a company owns multiple domain names, it is best to select a canonical domain name and configure the rest to redirect to the canonical domain using an HTTP 301 redirect, which passes any link juice earned by the alternative domains along to the canonical domain. That’s a good thing for SEO.
However, often companies acquiring multiple domain names over time end up having several domain names listed within their company’s business profiles on the Web (if any are listed at all!). This is particularly true for businesses that don’t actively capture existing or establish new business profiles for their company on the key business directories.
This is where the confusion comes into play. And you’ll never benefit from a confused search engine.
Canonicalize Your Business Listing, Starting With The Business Name & URL
Just as it’s important to be consistent with your URL canonicalization within your site, it is important to be consistent with your business profile listings on the Web.
One of the best ways to do basic link building among small business directories is to make sure the big business directories have accurate and consistent data. The data from the major sites often trickles down to the lesser sites.
You need to go out there and check out how the most important directories list your business.
No doubt you’ll find inconsistencies between sites, not only with your canonical URL, but even across your business name (are you officially called XYZ or XYZ Company or XYZ, Inc. or something else?), as well as your business postal address, your main phone number, even other data in your business profile.
Your goal should be to make that your business profiles between various local search and business directories are identical. That way, the search engines know that when they see a profile for your business, the citations count toward your business (especially that exact canonical URL, which is a backlink!).
Gathering Your Canonical Business Data
Create a list of the canonical data you want your all of your business profiles to contain. I suggest these for starters:
- Business name (use the exact same words in the name with consistent spelling and punctuation every time)
- Business address (look up your business address on USPS.com to get the exact postal service format)
- Phone number (if you have a toll-free number, use that as your primary, otherwise use your local number with area code)
- Fax number (include area code)
- URL (the canonical one, typically including the “www.” prefix and the trailing “/” forward slash)
- Email (a general address is best for generic listings, such as firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Social media links (the full URL for your account pages, typically for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn)
You may have additional data to add to every profile, such as business hours, payments accepted, brand names carried, languages spoken, even product images. The more data you can add to your profile, the better it is for all, customers and search engines alike.
Start With Local Search
To kick off this campaign, let’s start at the top: Google Places (aka, Google’s local search service). But first off, make sure Google Preferences settings has your correct location registered (that way, you’ll get the right local search results). Then see what’s already listed for your business by typing your business name and your city in the search bar.
When you see the Google Maps push pin icon in the search results, that’s the local listing result. Review the data for inconsistencies from your canonical data list, especially the company URL. (Also check the map shown in case there is a discrepancy between the address and the map location.)
Just as important, look for duplicate local listings (this often happens with companies that have relocated in recent years). Unless you already have captured your Google business profile, most likely you’ll find some data to update, and you’ll certainly have more data to add to make the profile complete. If by chance your business is not listed, you need to get it added right away.
I recommend that you check the status of your business profile listing, then capture ownership of the profile (or create one brand new if needed) in the following local search venues:
- Google Places
- Bing Business Portal
- Yahoo! Local
- Mapquest Local Business Center
You’ll start with the local search portion of the top US-based search engines, then move on to the major telephone directory guide sites, and finish up with a site that hosts local information in 23 US States. Each one offers an extensive business profile, which most of the time is barely populated with data. To capture or create a business profile listing, create a login account with the above sites, then search for your business.
In the results, each site offers its own way to claim your business listing, so follow their on-screen instructions. You may need to set an option to indicate, as you did with Google, where you are located so you get the local results you want.
Note that the above list or graphic is not complete, but it’s a good start. Be sure to do some research for other local search venues specific to your area.
Continue With Business Directories
Once you have your local search business profiles nailed down, it’s time to move on to capturing or creating business profiles in relevant business directories. Depending upon the nature of your business, you might consider some of the following directories:
- Better Business Bureau Online
- Best of the Web
Note that many of these directories offer both lightweight, free business profiles as well as richer, more highly promoted directory profiles for a monthly fee. I am not affiliated with any of these entities, and I am only suggesting that you register for the free business profile options so you can create a detailed business profile with a canonicalized backlink. If you want to pay for more services, that’s your call.
Wrap Up With Social Media Profiles
It’s also important to make your business profiles on your most important social media sites consistent. Some of them expose only a little business data, whereas others allow you to create a full-blown business profile for free.
Where you can, add your canonical business data, including your business URL, in your social media account profiles, such as in those listed below:
- Facebook (create a Facebook Page for your business and complete the profile)
- Twitter (Be sure to list your business URL, but there’s little else to list here)
- LinkedIn (create a Company Page and complete the profile)
- FourSquare (capture or create your business listing)
- Gowalla (capture or create your business listing)
Forced Data Inconsistencies
Note that the business profiles between directory and local search sites are not perfectly consistent in what data they request or in how they display it.
Don’t fret over such inconsistencies (for example, when the URL displayed in the profile omits the “www.” URL prefix despite the fact that you carefully included it in your canonical URL).
If a site has done this to your data, it’s done it for everyone, and the search engines are smart enough to recognize that the inconsistency here is not your fault. And since you added all of the other canonical business data consistently between profiles, the search engines will still be able clearly recognize that profile still represents your business.
Your business is described on the Web in a number of venues, such as business directories and local search. The listings these sites have were either created by you the site owner or by culling together random bits of odd information from potentially dubious sites around the Web. These business profiles are usually incomplete, often contain erroneous data, and are unreliable.
By taking the effort to capture or create accurate and complete business profiles using consistent, canonical data, including the ever-important URL (which serves as a nice backlink to your site), you make your site stand out from the crowd, you ensure the data is valid, and you make the listings useful to all Web visitors, humans and search engines alike. Get those backlinks and the rest of your verified business data out there for the world to see.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.