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Attract Customers by Optimizing for Local Search

With Google announcing the transformation of Google Places to Google My Business a little over a week ago, we thought this would be the perfect time to talk about local search optimization for local business owners.

If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, even if you haven’t provided your local information to Google, Foursquare, Facebook, or Yelp, chances are, it’s already there. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Free exposure, right? What you may or may not be aware of is that information such as your name, address and phone number (NAP) may be leading potential clients astray.

How does my business get listed in online local directories without me knowing?

Oftentimes local listings are automatically generated without the actual business owner knowing. For example, Facebook creates a new Page to represent a location when someone checks into a place that doesn't already have a Page, so it’s important to make it clear to users which listing is the correct listing. Otherwise, before you know it, you have listings being created for your business in Cancun, when really you’re in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. An exaggerated example, but you get the picture.

Google collects data related to your business from a variety of resources that pull into search results. According to Google, sources include third-party providers, user edits, and verified business owner records. If the sources Google gathers data from are inaccurate, then the information that appears after a person enters a search query pertaining to your business may be as well.

What is local search optimization?

Local search optimization ensures information about your local business is discoverable, accurate and consistent, so prospects and customers searching for you can easily find you and your NAP on sites and search engines with local listings.

Why should I care about local search?

According to Google, 97 percent of consumers search for local businesses online. If your business has a physical location customers can visit, you should care if you want new customers to find you.

Your local presence can also impact search engine results on Google, Bing, Yahoo and how much you stand out. On many local listing sites, customers are also able to provide a review about your brand. You want to ensure you’re maintaining these reviews along with your listings.

Google search results page for Howe Heating & Plumbing, Inc. with review.

See how much more the listing with the stars stands out in search?

If you are a new business, recently moved, made changes to your contact information, or have never searched your local listings, now is the time to look at your online local presence.

Where can I find and maintain my local listings?

Here’s the one, two, punch of local search optimization: The first step is to do a local audit to find out where you are and are not appearing. Next, claim and submit your information to directories. Finally, maintain your local presence, whether it’s deleting duplicate listings or keeping information current.

With hundreds (if not thousands) of directories, social media and review sites on the web, how the heck do you find and maintain your business listings? Luckily, amazing tools exist to help you do this in addition to agencies that specialize in local SEO. Score!

MOZ Local

MOZ Local offers simultaneous listing management for all major U.S. data aggregators: Infogroup, Naustar Localeze, Acxiom, Factual and Foursquare. This tool helps local businesses maintain a consistent name, address and phone number, which is vital to ranking in local search, according to a study done by MOZ.

Instead of actually hitting the end points (the actual listings on sites), MOZ Local talks to the databases behind those sites to pull information and directly fix the source. It also comes with a free research tool to help you find categories you should be listing your business in. This pay-for-play service can provide big bang for your buck. The downside is if you stop paying, all of your listings will revert back to their prior state.

Note that your Google My Business and Facebook Places listings have to match before your business can utilize MOZ Local. More on this below.

The Moz Local distribution network

Image courtesy of MOZ Local

Yext

Yext is another location software company that allows businesses to update and sync location data. Yext costs significantly more to claim and manage your listings, compared to Moz Local. Yext manages those pages through their system, but when you stop paying, all managed listings go away. Yext also has a tool to help you deactivate duplicate listings. Unlike MOZ Local, Yext (and similar companies like White Spark) go after the end points and charge per site registration helping you directly claim directory listings.

PowerListings scan results

Yext will also show you some of the places you’re appearing online, and where you have potential issues. You can view this information without paying.

Google My Business

As of June 11, 2014, Google Places is now Google My Business. Google My Business is your one-stop-shop for managing your online business presence on Google. Through a new dashboard, you can edit local information, reviews, see metrics from local maps, post directly on your Google+ page, pull in Google Analytics, and Google AdWords Express. If you’re creating a local My Business from scratch, you’re now creating a Google+ as well.

Video Glimpse of Google My Business.

Old Dashboard

The old view of Google Places for Business

New Dashboard

New dashboard for Google My Business

Of all local listings to verify, Google My Business is arguably the most important because it has such a significant impact on search. With Google, you have to claim your listing separately through phone or postcard verification. You also get a Google+ page with it automatically (Read more on Google Plus). The following outlines the proper method to claim a Google My Business Page. Steps may vary slightly.

  1. Create a new Gmail account or use your existing one.
  2. Go to google.com/mybusiness.
  3. Click Get on Google (if you don’t have an account).
  4. Find your business (will return all listings that could be your business).
  5. Say you’re authorized to claim this business listing.
  6. Google then asks if you would like to verify your listing via phone or postcard. Typically phone is easiest.
  7. You’ll be given a verification number to enter in your dashboard.
  8. Once you’ve verified, you may see a banner asking you to review your information and make any final changes.

Violà! Your account is ready to use.

Make sure all of your information is filled out. Add a relevant, eye-catching photo. Ensure you’re listed in all appropriate categories available, and complete any other missing information to improve your listing. Remember, every time you register a local business on Google My Business, you automatically get a Google+ page to share updates as well. You can also look at reviews from around the web and reply to Google reviews as the authorized contact.

Now, not only will you have a current and viable Google My Business page, but you’ll also have access to insights like times and places your business can show up, including top search queries, number of clicks, people getting directions via Google Maps, and more so you can see where potential customers are coming from. All of the fun nerdy stuff.

Google Map Maker

Before last year, separate databases powered Google Maps, Google+, and Map Maker, respectively. So when changes were made to one database, they did not always carry over to the other. Last year, Google merged all databases into one, so Google Map Maker is now the most direct way to communicate with the official Google database.

Google Map Maker allows members of the community to suggest edits to places, roads, and more on Google Maps. Changes aren’t immediate, but the more people that edit a map feature, the more Google adds weight to the change. “Think of it as the Wikipedia of maps,” as Professor Prendergast once said.

Google Map Maker

Google Map Maker will also ask you if Places should be merged. If there are two Places, claim the one you want to keep, go to Google MapMaker, report the duplicate and see if it fixes duplicate listing issues.

Facebook Places

As previously mentioned, you may have Facebook Page listings that are collecting check-ins that you didn’t even know about. Wouldn’t you rather have your potential customers interacting with your actual page? If you do a search and find duplicate listings or haven’t claimed your Places page, you can verify that you’re the owner in two ways: 1) Claim if your businesses domain is in your email address (i.e. sylvester@clickrain.com); 2) Scan in a bill or official documentation that has your business name and physical address on it. It may take up to a week, but once you’ve claimed a Page, you should be able to merge it with duplicate pages (although this is not a guarantee). However, since you can’t prevent the auto creation of pages, it’s best to claim all of the duplicate pages and shut down bad ones as it’s not always clear which page will be absorbed when you try to merge them.

Verifying Other Local Listings

If you’re manually claiming your listings, as you may have guessed, each site is a little different. Here are two other sites you may wish to consider manually updating.

Yelp is a popular local listing site in larger cities. Yahoo is also partnering with Yelp to pull in Yelp reviews. Yelp uses phone verification. Once you’ve decided to verify your listing, yelp will display a PIN on your screen, which you’ll then enter on the phone once they call you. Yelp is especially worth considering if you’re in the hospitality industry.

Foursquare is an app people use find the best local spots and share with others what they’ve found. As of May 2014, Foursquare claimed to have 50 million users worldwide and over 6 billion check-ins to-date with millions more every day. On Foursquare, you can do postcard verification or pay $20 for immediate access to your listing. Foursquare used to power Instagram as well, but this changed a little over a month ago as Instagram now uses Facebook Places database.

What else can I do to improve my local search optimization?

Monitor your locations. Be consistent with what is listed on your website. Don’t abbreviate in one listing and not another as duplicate listings may be created.

Connect with your customers. Share photos, special offers, updates on your listings where possible, especially Foursquare and Google+.

Perform on-page optimization. On your website, ensure your address is listed and talk about where you’re located. If you’re developer savvy, you can also do some Schema Markup, which is a code put on the back end of your website that can really help local search. Essentially, this makes it clear to Google that this is my location and this is what I’m about.

Ensure you’re in the right category for local searches. You want to show up if someone is searching for products or services you offer! Upload photos and list of services. If you’re a law office, you’ll want to appear under local attorney listings.

Respond to customer reviews online. Offline, encourage your current customers to review your business. Google doesn’t allow anonymous reviews anymore as you have to have a Google+ Page or personal profile to review other pages.

Remember completeness matters. Fill out all of the information fields in your local listings and keep it consistent.

Now go and take control of your business prescence online. Your potential customers (and bottom line) will thank you.