Local Business Listing Optimization Guide
Why would you optimize for “Google Local” ?
Yes, now you’re going be hit with a bunch of numbers. Some newer than the others, but all screaming the same message – The search is local.
OK, not all of it. But most of it.
According to Google, 73 % of all online activity is related to local content. This was 2 years ago.
Judging by how Google behaves today, serving local results in universal SERPs for queries that semantically have nothing local in them, that number is obviously higher. How higher nobody can tell, but high enough for Google to presume local search intent for non local queries (like pizza, or furniture)
Importance of local search optimization is only magnified by the existence of cross channel shoppers who “shop online and buy offline”.
According to Big research from 2007,“89% of consumers making in-store purchases in key retail categories have conducted online research prior to purchase.
This number does not have to be accurate to make you question the focus of your marketing efforts if you are a small business (or any other business for that matter).
But why should you start with “Google Local” ?
Because Google dominates search, and uses their position to push their local search platform every chance they get. It’s as simple as that.
What makes Google Local Listings zing ?
Location location location….
True story. Not so many moons ago, I woke up uttering these words: “You have to change your physical address”.
It wasn’t my fault, my dream was interrupted, I didn’t sleep enough . Laugh it up.
Sure, I was obsessed with the way local search algorithms work (still am), and sure I was under pressure to knock a competitor from the authoritative onebox, but the point of this little story is not my obsession with the algorithms nor my crazy dream. The point is the huge relative importance of your/your client’s business location in local search.
This can be easily demonstrated by typing in “new york restaurant” in Google. If you have done it, you saw a nice 10 pack with a place called “Becco Restaurant” at the first spot of the ten pack.
What is so special about that?
With a staggering number of reviews “picked up” by Google and 917 web references, this remarkable restaurant can’t get into 10 pack for “restaurant newark” even though it is only about 22 minutes away from Newark.
It is easy to say that there are thousands of restaurants between “Becco Restaurant” and Newark and a few hundreds in Newark itself, but if you look closely, you will find that a vast majority of those restaurants doesn’t have the listings nearly as “powerful” as “Becco Restaurant”.
This brings me to one of the most important local search factors.
Proximity of business address to city centroid.
The good news is – it doesn’t have the same relative importance it once had. The bad news is – it is never going to be irrelevant. Why? Because of the fact that location is the paradigm of local search.
Can you optimize your listing to leverage this ranking factor?
Some business can’t because they are bound by location, meaning that they provide their services at a certain location. Restaurants are the prime example of this category of business.
There is literary nothing they can do to harvest the power of proximity of business address to city centroid as a ranking factor. Except moving closer to the centroid of the town city.
On the other hand, businesses that provide their services of “of-location” can do a lot without being, or even looking, spammy. Businesses with service areas (such as plumbers, roofers, remodelers etc) which serve areas not only towns/cities they are located in, can create listings in each town they serve and not brake the quality guidelines. But only if they have employees in towns they serve. Before I go any further, we must revisit the quality guidelines.
Besides being very thin and somewhat abstract, Business Listing Quality Guidelines offer legitimacy for what I am about to tell you.
You can create listings for every town that you serve as long as you have employees there, because their home addresses are your de facto business addresses (it probably doesn’t take much effort to make it de jure also)
By doing this, you are representing your business exactly as it appears offline, all while expanding your reach.
Title of Local Business Listing
LBL title is arguably the most important “on-listing” ranking factor, as well as the most abused one (next to “address spam”). More often than not, people use “title spam” to supplement their address spamming efforts. Just like these guys:
What does Google have to say about this?
Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords into the title field.
Google doesn’t say much, but they are very clear about keyword stuffing. Unfortunately, they also don’t do much. I would highly recommend avoiding this practice even if it works because it will not work for very long.
The only thing that belongs in the title of your LBL is your official business name, maybe your location/locations and a single keyword that describes your business the best, if it makes sense. The rule of thumb is – if it looks spammy to you, it is probably spam.
“Roofex Inc. Roofing,Roofers,Omaha,Contractors,Roofing Contractors,Roofing Services” would be very spammy.
“Roofex Inc: Omaha Roofers” is OK
Category optimization is probably the most overlooked element of LBL optimization, and at the same time a vital part of your listing’s success.
Google currently uses categories in a way similar to the way all search engines once used meta keyword tags. One of the differences is time needed for optimization to take effect.
With “Google Local”, changes made on your Local Business Listings may change your local search visibility in hours, often not more then five. This is a blessing we should all feel good about, as it gives us the opportunity to see results of our tweaks in real time.
What do you need to know or have to do before you start creating categories ?
- You can create up to 5 categories including the predefined ones.
- Your keyword research has to be completed before you start “categorizing”.
- Knowing your customers searching habits is essential.
- Avoid keyword stuffing the category fields. It is still spam.
- Be specific but leave the granular level for the additional the details section.
- Keep your categories short, but ultra- descriptive.
- Do not repeat yourself.
- Do not spam
Search engine optimization is a process, not a project. This is also true for local SEO. Recently, Google made our lives much easier by adding reporting to their Local Business Center. Thanks to this addition, we can allocate time spent on measuring our Google local search metrics on actual optimization.
This part of the listing is your listing’s copy, and should be treated as such. With only 200 characters at your disposal, your goal is to convert the searcher into a buyer. While having your keywords included in this patch of text is very important, your first concern should be searchers.
Making your listing trustworthy in the eyes of the searcher is one of the most important goals that a great description can help to achieve.
If you can make your description clear, trustworthy, “to the point”, keyword rich, and under 200 characters, you have a winner. If not, don’t sacrifice your message for keywords. It is not worth it.
How can you create such a description ?
Even with 200 characters you must use a human voice. To inspire trust, you can mention your awards, certifications, maybe even patents that you may have. If you have a business that has been around for a long time, be sure to mention that fact in your description.
What you type in this field should be unique. Remember to use the words potential customers would type in to find your listing.
Having keywords in this field is important, but not as important as using them in categorization. Incorporate keywords in your descriptions if it makes sense, but not to chase ranking. There are many other things you could do for local rankings without damaging conversion rates and trust, as you will read here.
A word about the phones and addresses
Consistency and trust are the main principles of local search optimization. I know that this has been said a few times before, but you have to validate your listing either by mail or by phone, because the days when you could rank without a validated listing are long gone. After that has been done, you have to track and “consolidate” all listings you have with the same address, even if you haven’t created them.
A large number of businesses who never even heard of Google’s Local Business Center have two or more listings associated with the same address. This is not a very serious problem right now, but as Google improves their local search platform, I can see them doing more than just merging the listings.
What if there is more then one business sharing the same address ?
Well, there is still no guarantee that your listing won’t be merged with another, even though Google is actively working to solve this problem algorithmically. However, there are actions you can take to avoid the merging problem. Here is what you can do:
- Start by claiming your Local Business Listing. This is, without a doubt, the most important trust indicator in “Google Local”.
- Tweak your address to emphasize the uniqueness of your business.
- Make the title of your listing considerably different than the other businesses at the same address. This is not easy in some cases, but it can be done.
- Use every element of your listing to differentiate it.
- Make sure that you have your own phone number.
Phone numbers are very important, too. Up to 50% percent (data from more then a 100 sites I am dealing with) of people will contact a brick and mortar business using the phone number on the site. I am not sure what is the exact number for local search, but the point remains the same.
Sorry for being a parrot, but if you don’t claim and validate your GLBL, your customers might end up calling a number that you don’t answer. Fortunately, most of us will never face this problem. However, there are things you should do to avoid phone number problems.
- Do your best to disallow the same number to be associated with more than one listing.
- Opt for a local number for your listing instead of a 1-800 number, if possible.
- Make sure that numbers you use for your local listings match numbers associated with your businesses in third party data provider’s data bases. If they don’t match, you can, in most cases, request changes. (consistency, remember).
Every local search platform, Google’s in particular, relies on third party data providers to “improve search results”. This means that inconsistencies kill local search campaigns, and addresses and phone numbers are your weakest spots.
Hours of operation
If left un-optimized, this element can only hurt your conversion rates. So don’t forget to set your hours of operation accurately and be consistent across all your business listings on the web.
When Google started “listing local businesses”, they used data from what they call “trusted partners” to create millions of local listings in every vertical you can imagine.
In addition to that data, Google also crawls the web for information about local businesses which they use to “shape” local listings.
Using data from their trusted data providers and crawling the web, Google creates virtually every element of the listing, including the business details.
However, this information might not describe your business accurately or it might not be up to date.
Good news is – Google trusts information provided by the business owners the most.
How to use additional details section to drive local search visibility and conversion rates up?
Create custom attributes that allow you to include additional information that you’d like customers to know. For example, you can list what brands you carry, or if your business has parking.
Google was short as usual, but they said enough. Including as much additional information about your business as you can is good for at least two reasons:
- Improved local search visibility
- Improves conversion rates
These fields are not a licence to spam and shouldn’t be trated as such. Instead, you can come up with all the services or products and put them there without being spammy. It would be helpfull for the users if you could properly categorize your details.
Pictures and Videos
Pictures and videos can not only differentiate Google Local Business Listings, but help you with your local search visibility and conversion rates.
This is not equally important for all verticals, but there is no industry represented in local search that wouldn’t benefit from images and videos in local listings. YouTube videos with business information in their descriptions often count as web citations.
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