If you run a small business that primarily looks after people in your town rather than internationally, you want your business to appear high up in Google (… Bing, Yahoo etc.) search results when someone types in your town and your service.
This is termed local search and there are some SEO tweaks that even the smallest business with no more computer skills than the ability to type their name into the search box of Google, can do to help improve their local search results.
A quick lesson on Google Search
Have you ever wondered how Google finds your website and works out how important you are? At the simplest level it sends out little web crawlers or spiders that scour the net, jumping from link to link like an ADHD adult dosed up on Red Bull. Eventually, the spiders follow the links and get to your site.
The other way it finds you is by looking for all mentions of your business on other website pages. These mentions may or may not include a link to your site, and Google draws conclusions about who you are, where you are and what you do based on what it finds.
But what happens if your name is spelled differently in different sites? Or you moved address a few times? Or you changed your phone number because you lost your mobile?
As clever as Google is, this type of thing confuses the heck out of it, and it thinks that there may be either more than one of you, or that you have a number of different branch locations, or that each location is a totally different business.
This sort of confusion can impact on the perception of how trustworthy is your business to your clients and to Google.
It can also confuse Google. The most common response from a confused Google is that it bumps you down the rankings because it hasn’t the time or inclination to work you out. Words really DO matter and can hurt you if not used correctly!
Consistency is Vital
The big message here is don’t confuse the robot. You need all of your details to be 100% consistent across the web. Small businesses need to make sure that your:
- Business name is spelled consistently (no abbreviations)
- Your address is correct
- Your phone number is correct
- Your web url is current
- Any descriptors or categories for your business are consistent.
The more stable and consistent you can make it, the better Google likes you.
How Messy Citations Happen
So how consistent are your details across the web? Most businesses have their websites correctly updated with their current details (some even have their addresses in the correct schema mark-up for extra certainty), but the problem starts when they get off their website.
The internet is filled with different social media sites, review sites, and directory sites. These sites get their content by direct entry of a business; addition by a well-meaning (or seriously ticked off) customer; entry by the directory site owner; or mechanically scraping the content (borrowing without the intention of giving back) from someone else’s site.
When you start to look for your business across the web, you will trip over a Hydra’s head of listings – most of which you have never seen before and had nothing to do with.
With local search, your first job is to seek out all directory listings & regain control of your digital real estate. Sounds simple enough. However, this process takes time, loads of coffee (or wine) and extensive patience!
Step 1: Get organised
If you are going to go to the hassle of claiming and updating everything, it pays to make your job easier in the future, so the first step of any local listing audit is to create yourself a spreadsheet. One column will be for the URL for your listing. Another for your username on that site. Another for your password. Another for any comments/details of what you have found or done.
One last column is for you to note if the site allows reviews of businesses and if reviewing is common on the site – just so you can watch & respond to any reviews that are there or are added. Actively responding to reviews is a positive both for your customers and for Google. Be active!
Step 2: Get Googling
Head to Google and search for all and every possible permutation of your business. I search using the “exact match” approach – quotes around what I am looking for.
Search for your name; your business name; your address; your PO box; your old address; your phone number; your mobile number. Copy each URL of your listing or mention you find into your spreadsheet, with a short note on whether or not the details are accurate.
Step 3: Stake your claim
Most sites have a method on the site for you to “claim your listing.” Usually there is some form of verification process where you need to confirm you are the owner — generally via clicking an email link or via a phone call.
One word of warning. Doing this process will bring down unlimited Indian call centres on your head trying to upsell your listing. Be polite and stick to sorting out the details at this stage. Only put $ out if this was part of your marketing plan and budget for the year (… being blunt, it rarely is for small business so don’t get talked into it).
Step 4: Update your details
Once you are the verified owner of your listing, go through and update your details, remembering that the core details need to be consistent across all sites.
Problem children & special cases
If you turn up duplicate listings for the same business but with different locations or slightly different spelling – then try to get the listings merged, or have the one that is blatantly wrong deleted. Each duplicate listing is diluting your Google juice – so it’s time to get focused.
One of the other sites to check is Google Mapmaker (not to be confused with Google Maps). http://www.google.com/mapmaker. Edits here seem to be quicker to get fixed. They have a Wikipedia style review process to ensure you are not getting too enthusiastic with your listings.
Extra bonus points for effort
If you have finished claiming what is, you can then move onto what is not. There are heaps of other directories out there for you to list your business on.
The trick here is not to go crazy, but to just pick directories that are well-established, that are seen as important and high-value by Google – even if they are a bit short-sighted by not currently including your details.
The other trick is not to add them all at once as that can raise flags for our gloriously confused Googlebot. A couple a week looks more natural.
How do you choose a high-value directory to list your business in?
Go for industry relevant directories as your first preference. Choose ones that specialise in trades if you are tradie.
Choose directories that are relevant to your town (Brisbane), state (QLD) or country (Australia). There is no point in listing your business in an Armenian directory unless you are in Armenia.
Check to see if your competitors are listed in that particular directory and you are not. They may know something you don’t.
I also look at where that particular directory is being returned in search results when someone looks for your industry or service. If they are not on the first three pages, you can probably look away.
Fruitful Online in Brisbane has a great blog post of Australian directories to list in, and offers a service to do all of this mucking around for you. (I only do this on behalf of selected long-term clients).
One last thing …
Google always has to fiddle with things, so we are seeing an increase in what is termed “neighbourhood algorithm” returns as compared to local listing returns.
Here’s an article explaining neighbourhood algorithms: http://searchengineland.com/ready-googles-neighborhood-algo-194161
To make this a bit more tangible, in the past returns would be for North Brisbane Copywriter. We are now seeing returns for Brisbane northside copywriter starting to appear. What this means for your business is to make sure your website has a teeny tiny smattering of neighbourhood words – just in case.
Let me know how you go. Can you beat the record of one of my clients: 42 listings found of which only 1 was correct?