If you’re a medium to small business, you need more than just SEO — you need local SEO. That’s because your business can really standout when in front of a local audience, and most likely, the majority of your customers and potential customers live in your general vicinity. Also, Google is increasingly providing searchers with location-based results, so if want your website to appear in the rankings, search engines need to know your location. One way to do that while simultaneously building brand awareness is through local business listings.
What is a Business Listing?
Local business listings, or business citations, are mentions of your business anywhere on the web — other than your own website. These “mentions” consist of your basic business information, such as your name, address, phone number, and they may or may not include a link.
Unfortunately, the information on your own website doesn’t count as a listing. Google and other search engines need more than just your good word to trust you are who you say you are. So, they rely on outside sources to verify the details on your site are correct and you’re indeed a real business.
Also, Google uses the amount and quality of your citations as factors in its ranking algorithms, so again, it needs other websites to attest to your value.
Most searchers go to online directories when looking for business listings. These directories make it easy for users to find businesses quickly as well as get extra information like reviews or maps. Directories are a great place to secure listings, since they help your SEO and provide another way for people to find you. There are hundreds of directories, so start by registering for a few that best suit your products or services. Some of the most popular ones are:
- City Search
- Urban Spoon
- Open Table
- Yahoo Local
- Yellow Pages
- Trip Advisor
- Merchant circle
How do Local Listings Help?
When it comes down to it, having the ability to connect with more customers is the main reason you need local business listings. Citations connect you with people in several ways, such as:
Help You Rank Higher in Search Engine Results.
Assuming all other variables are equal, your local business can outrank the competition by having more citations. Of course nothing’s quite so cut-and-dry with SEO, which means you also have to pay attention to other things like the quality of your citations (not just quantity). It is best to have citations from respected, well-indexed cites like Superpages.com or Merchant Circle, since such sites have more authority to convince search engines you’re a legitimate business.
Create More Opportunities for People to Find You.
The more your information is out there, the easier it is for folks to find you (makes sense right?) So, even if a searcher doesn’t stumble on your website directly, they may find your listing somewhere else and become interested in your brand.
They’re the Modern Day Telephone Book.
We hate to consider it, but let’s say your business doesn’t have a website. You still need to have some sort of online presence, as the internet has become people’s go-to source for finding business contact info. Just think, when’s the last time you picked up the phone book? If you’re like most, probably not lately. Therefore, at the very least, business listings make it possible for consumers to know your business exists and how to get in touch with it.
How to get Started with Business Listings?
Now that you understand the importance of business listings, let’s dive in on how to get started. As mentioned, there are all types of listing sites, but there’s no better place to begin than with Google’s Places for Business.
Setting Up Google Places for Business
What is Google Places?
Google Places allows business owners to create an online listing containing their physical business location information. You can use it to make sure your data appears correctly in Google Maps, associated Google properties, and search and display network sites. And, most recently, Google integrated its business pages with its social network, Google+, which means these “listings” are way more than just static information pages but are now destinations where customers and businesses can interact.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, millions of users search for businesses on Google each day. This tool allows you to manage you company’s presence on this enormous engine and helps your customers find all your business information in one, convenient place. Also, folks who participate in Google+ can simply use the Google+ Local tab to search for your business or to see reviews from their friends and family.
Essentially, Google Places makes it possible for your listing to appear first when local people search for your product or service, and it makes your brand more accessible to everyone on the Google+ network.
Enables You to Compete Locally
If you’ve searched for any products or businesses on Google lately, you might have noticed Google Places listings take up a good portion of the screen. This is because Google wants to give searchers local results, since companies within close proximity are deemed more relevant. Fortunately for small business owners, this gives you the opportunity to take advantage of your local appeal and get front and center on search result pages.
Not to mention, Google+ is a combination search engine/social network. In other words, users can use the network to find businesses and simultaneously get opinions about those companies from their friends and other Google+ members. You need your Business Page set up and active if you hope to get noticed and stay a part of the online conversation.
Still, even competing in the smaller, local arena is highly competitive, which means it’s extremely important to give your business an edge by optimizing your Google Places page.
Steps to Optimizing Google Places
Make sure your Google Places page is absolutely, 100% complete
Google may seem to know everything ever known to man, but in reality, it only knows what it can find. So, your very first, and most important step, is to claim your listing and make sure all the information is spot-on correct.
Upload as many photos as you possibly can to places other than Google Places
Google Places only allows you to upload ten photos, but there’s a way to view more. How? By uploading photos to third-party sites (Google loves those) such as CitySearch, Yellow Pages, or Yelp. It’s worthwhile to upload as many as possible because Google will actually pull them and put them on your Google Places listing.
Reply to EVERY customer review
It is essential to respond and be friendly to every person who leaves you a positive review. It shows customers you genuinely care about their experience, you value their opinion, and it also looks good to potential customers. Consumers generally want to buy from reputable companies, so having that positive communication will show people you’re a business who cares. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to add in extra little snippets about your offerings which may not fit in other places.
Have customers give a review on third-party sites
Google Places allows users to link to several other third-party listing sites where customers have left reviews about your business. Convincing your customers to do this may take some sweet talking to, but it is well worth it in the end.
Ask your loyal customers to post photos to your Google Places page
This is a secondary approach to getting around Google’s ten photo limit. Also, it gives the impression you have customers who actually care enough to take the time to upload photos of your business. This looks impressive and may possibly earn you a new customer.
Add as many different offers as you desire
This option is left totally up to you — go as crazy as you want with this. Now, that’s not to say you should set your offers as ten random things. Make sure they make sense, are decent offers, and are enticing enough to draw customers from the internet into your physical establishment. Adding photos of your offers and things like printable coupons are great ideas and can really draw customers to your business.
Snag an award
This one is a long shot, but if you can snag an award from something like “Best of CitySearch” it will look superb on your Google Places page. Again, it’s a long shot, although it might be worth the hassle.
Have at least five Google reviews from customers
This will allow you to have an average rating that shows up on your Google Places page.
Get a double set of average reviews
To accomplish this, take the best customer review from your Google Places and add it to your website in what’s called “hReview microformat.” This is an open, simple format used for embedding reviews of products, services, and businesses in to HTML, XHTML, and RSS code. By embedding it into your source code, the customer review data you present on your website is more easily discovered by search engines that support this integration. Basically, it takes the user review you embedded into your website, pulls it out, and gives it to search engines for use on location based searches.
In simple terms, hReview microformat is a type of code that tells Google, “Hey! I’m a user review! Pay attention to me!” Even just one average rating will boost your click-through rate, and having two sets of average ratings will make it even better.
There are a few different properties to use when implementing a hReview microformat. Google has a very helpful guide which explains the properties Google will recognize. They are:
- Itemreviewed – The item being reviewed.
- Name- The name of the item being reviewed.
- Rating – A numerical quality rating for the item (based on a scale of 1-5).
- Reviewer- The author of the review.
- Dtreviewed- The date and time the item was reviewed.
- Description – The body of the review.
- Summary – A short summary of the review.
Once you’ve embedded hReview into your website, you might feel the need to test and tweak the code using Google’s Rich Snippets testing tool. When you’re happy with the results, submit your site to Google using their rich snippets feedback form.
The ability to have reviews on your website show up on your Google Places is such a fantastic benefit for any business. So, continue putting reviews on your website and tag them with hReview.
Use business domain Email
If possible, use an email account under your business domain (especially if there will be multiple users for the same account).
Use your exact business name
Make this appear exactly as it would in the offline world. Trying to add your business tagline or using extraneous keywords to manipulate results will only make your listing confusing and more difficult to find.
Have an accurate business location
Be as accurate as possible. Again, do not include information that does not pertain to your actual physical location such as URLs or keywords. You’ll be given options for these elements in a different part of the listing.
Have up-to-date website & phone details
Provide the most direct phone number to your business and the most accurate URL for your website. Make sure you are linking to a website that accurately represents your brand.
Categorize your business
Provide at least one category that precisely describes your company. Try and avoid location based information here.
Create other citations
Citations strengthen your Google Places in the same way inbound links increase the chances of your website ranking on the first page of Google search results. While they don’t necessarily have actual links to your website, they attribute your Google Places page with information that matches your NAP. When it comes to your directory listings, consistency and accuracy are paramount. That way, search engines can accurately match citations with directory listings.
Naturally, as Google collects citations throughout the internet, it gains more and more confidence about the information on your Google Places page. This is important because if it doesn’t trust your information then it won’t be able to rank your listing in the top spots.
Using Other Business Citations
Although outside citations are helpful in boosting your Places page, they also heighten your web presence in their own right. There are four major categories of citations:
- Local Social Profiles – Use social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.
- Industry Specific Directories – Find an industry specific directory to submit your listing.
- Geographically specific business directories – Join geo-specific directories to submit your listing.
- Major Business Directories – Use resources like Yahoo! Local, Yellowpages, Yelp, and Bing Local.
Let’s take a look at how you can get started using some non-Google citations:
Work with directory listing distributors
This will increase the chances of the citations affecting your rankings.
Work with local establishments
Register with local, community-based places to get listed. Places such as the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, local news outlets, and local blogs.
Keep accurate listings
Having extremely accurate information is the key to everything, because it gives you consistency across the net and ensures potential customers find the right information.
This is a fairly obvious move, but make sure you are claiming your listings on places such as Google Places and Yahoo! Local.
Submit info to local directories and newspapers
Consumers especially trust listings they see in local directories, such as a chamber of commerce site or the online version of their hometown newspaper. Such citations have a way of seeming more “real,” because they are from sources people recognize and can actually visit. So, register your business with as many local-specific directories in your area as possible, and take the time to submit all your business’ events to your newspaper’s calendar listing, complete with your business name and contact info.
Include contact details on social media pages
Google isn’t the only search engine with a mission to provide local, personalized results. In fact, nearly all the major search engines have put great emphasis on both location and social activity as a weight in their ranking algorithms. With such a huge emphasis on social media, it’s vital you display your contact details on all your social sites (Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, etc.) and, just as you did on Google Places, completely fill out your profile information.
Contact local bloggers and websites
Local bloggers are known for keeping mini “directories” of their own where they list recommended local businesses. Contact some of the more frequented blogs and see what you can do to get a citation on their page. Additionally, connect with other small businesses related to your industry, but not in direct competition, and see if they are interested in adding a listing for your business somewhere on their site. (Make sure to reciprocate the favor.)
There are also some national blogs, such as The Knot, The Business Journals, and GalTime, which accept info from relevant outside brands in an effort to provide lists of helpful businesses to their local readers.
When setting up your listings, pay special attention that you use the same exact information on every citation. Having mismatched phone numbers or addresses will only confuse search engines and human searchers and reduce your overall success. And always remember to complete every available field (just as you did with the Google Places setup).
Once you get significant numbers of listings you may find that a web listing manager tool will make it easier to keep track of all your citations.
As with everything an SEO does, citations require tracking. However, this isn’t always easy with citations. While there are third-party programs which can make your life a little easier, with some fancy search operations we can find citations right in Google results. To do this, search for the business name and phone number while excluding results from the company’s website.
So, you would type in the search engine something along the lines of “Business Name “123-456-7890” –site: yourwebsite.com.” Another benefit is you can also use this to analyze a competitor’s listing that outranks yours. This will let you see if you are missing any citations they happen to have. For more broad results, look for competitor listings by simply searching for their name along with any combination of their phone number, address, or city. Try experimenting with different searches to discover more citations.
Be Patient and Stick with It!
Like anything related to SEO, building up your online listings is not particularly easy nor a quick fix to optimizing SEO. Don’t expect immediate results, and always keep in mind this needs to be balanced out with other SEO aspects such as quality content, quality links, etc. Having reviews on Google Places and other sites will make a huge impact on citations, so never forget the importance of reputation management.
By following the tips above and then sticking with the process, you’ll begin to see your brand reaching far and wide across the internet and potential customers stumbling onto your site like never before.