Local businesses are often mystified as to why they don’t appear prominently in local search. Yet, when their online marketing is audited from a local SEO perspective it becomes clear that their lack of search optimization has effectively cloaked them — they’re invisible!
So, how is it that these businesses have made themselves invisible?
To answer that question, we only need to look towards one of the most basic, foundational elements of a company’s online identity: the Category.
I’ve written about business categories a few times previously (see Double Your Traffic Using Optimal Category Names, and Leveraging Business Categories for Local Search), because a company’s categorization is so influential for its presence in local search results and its rankings for queries for types of businesses and keywords closely related to the category.
A great many businesses are miscategorized — they’ve accidentally been lumped under the wrong industry classificiation, causing them to not appear in the keyword search results where they ought to be present. This is a form of invisibility, although this isn’t the variety I’m focusing upon in this article.
Still more businesses are under-categorized, failing to take advantage of the fact that they may appear under multiple categories in most directories and local search engines (Google Places allows up to five).
In yet other cases, businesses are inadequately categorized — if you’ve failed to include some of the more specific classifications for your business listing, you might be missing a great many potential customers (for instance, an eatery would be correctly categorized under the generic “Restaurants” category, but they would have far less competition and more directly interested referrals if they got categorized under more specific variants such as “Italian Restaurants” or “Chinese Food”).
But, the most serious issue of all is invisibility! By “invisibility”, I mean the millions of business listings which have no category associated with them whatsoever.
These businesses pretty much won’t be found via the queries of greatest worth to them (category searches) conducted by consumers seeking their types of companies.
They can be found via their business name searches, but name searches are usually done by existing customers who already know who you are and are just looking for a map, phone number, or other information. These are the already-converted — what you really want are new customers to add onto the already-converted ones.
Uncategorized Listings In Google
By my cursory estimation, Google’s database of local businesses may contain from a few hundred thousand listings with no category up to over a million. (This could explain in part why Google hasn’t compared well against online yellow pages companies in terms of accuracy of information lately, since IYPs have been doing data quality improvement work for a lot longer than the relative newcomer.)
You can see many examples of listings without categories if you know how to search for them in Google Maps.
For example, a search for “nonclassified establishments” in New York, NY, returns over 11,000 results:
Some of these listings are relevant for “nonclassified” searches because some other online directory has them pigeon-holed in this catchall noncategory and Google has harvested data from those sources to enhance their listings.
You can see that Google has Forbes Inca and the Museum of American Finance both listed under “Nonclassified Establishments”, although if you click into their Google+ Local pages, you’ll see that Google does have proper categories for each of them.
Google apparently does not have any category information in other cases. Check out the Google+ Local page for “Mysticom Inc”, located right around the corner from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California:
Here’s another example — the Local page for “Unicom Capital” in Denver, Colorado:
This problem, along with the other types of categorization problems, is fairly widespread.
Local search optimization consultants commonly attempt to insure that a local business’s “N.A.P.” (name/address/phone) information is consistent across all sites, directories and local search engines, but they should also be auditing the business’s categorizations in all of these places as well.
Businesses like the Forbes example may have good categories in Google, but could still be hampered by the fact that their unclassified status elsewhere may not be helping to reinforce their algorithmic relevancy as much as having properly related categories would.
Businesses in the “Nonclassified Establishments” limbo within Google, like the Mysticom and Unicom examples, need to claim their listings and add in proper categories or they will continue to miss out on a huge amount of potential opportunities.
You might be asking how these business listings came to be uncategorized in Google to begin with. Google obtains business data from many different sources. Some of their data providers likely supplied them with uncategorized listings. Those data providers often assemble business listings from many sources as well, such as new business phone customer lists from the phone company and new companies recently registered from government tax authorities, etc.
Regardless of how it could have happened, it’s vital to make sure your business hasn’t been rendered invisible in search through lack of categories. Review your local citations carefully to insure that this hasn’t happened to you, and fix any sources where your company shows up under “nonclassified” or “unclassified” or “noncategorized”.
Stop playing hide-and-seek with your target audience online and you’ll come out a winner!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.