Local listings, citations, indexes, online directories… intriguing and romantic stuff, the very essence of modern poetry, the old printed Yellow Pages expanded exponentially in the virtual world. And you probably want nothing to do with it.
However. If you have a local business and you aren’t managing your local listings, go Google your business now – you’re almost certain to find incorrect or incomplete information that’s been posted without your knowledge… misspellings in your business name, missing or broken website links, old or missing phone numbers, the wrong location(s) to your storefront or office, or hours of business that aren’t really when you’re open. How does this stuff get there? And how can you fix it?
The Difference between a Local Listing and a Citation
Let’s get the vocabulary out of the way first.
- Citation: any mention of your business name online, often in a news article, on someone’s website or blog, or in a customer review (with or without a link to your website).
- Local Listing: a structured citation, formatted so it’s easy for Search Engines to recognize, including your business Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) – and sometimes your business hours, website link, and more.
So Local Listings are a subset of Citations. They can be found in Google search results, in the online Yellow Pages (YP), your local Chamber of Commerce, Foursquare, Yelp, Avvo, Angie’s List, and on and on and on. And these are what you can fix and manage.
The Double Weight of Inaccurate Listings
The intended purpose of a listing is to make your business visible online. Each listing is an avenue a potential customer might follow to find your business, so every additional listing increases your chances of being found. That’s all well and good, unless they contain inaccurate information that keeps potential customers from contacting you.
The other way inaccurate listings can harm you is with search engines – inaccurate and/or inconsistent listings drop your business in search results. Citations (including Listings) are a key component of the ranking algorithms of search engines. The more places your business is listed online with consistent & identical data, the more search engines like Google trust the accuracy of the data in your profile. Both quantity and quality matter and are weighed. The more citations you have, the better your ranking. The more established and highly ranked the online directory or website that you appear on, the more having a citation on it contributes to your own site’s ranking. Citations on a local Chamber of Commerce website, or in an article posted by a local online newspaper or blog, also validate your business as part of your local community. It helps search engines confirm you are who you say you are.
How important are citations to Search Engines?
According to Moz, the top three negative ranking factors for local searches (criteria used in search engine algorithms that if met, will lower your search result ranking) are all related to online listings and citations:
- 1. Incorrect Business Category
- 2. Listing detected at false business location
- 3. Mismatched NAP / Tracking Phone Numbers across data ecosystem
These factors have all been determined to be more “negatively important” than the number 4 Negative Ranking Factor… the presence of malware on your website.
Where do Your Local Listings Come From?
Local businesses can appear on thousands of websites and directories. So who found the time to research your company, find your information, and include it in their index of Local Listings? For the most part, it’s done by robots that pull from numerous resources to create online indexes that contain aggregated information: giant databases of businesses and their NAP. Many of these local business indexes share data, with the goal of creating an all-encompassing list of business categorized by the products they sell and the services they offer. The problem lies in the inaccuracies in many of the sources of information that can quickly spread when the inaccuracies are shared over and over again. Just one bad apple can spoil the ever-expanding bunch. And all this can be done without you doing anything to cause it.
What Can You Do About It?
The good news is, you can fix inaccurate and incomplete listings. The bad news is, you have to keep up with it or the inaccuracies will start to reappear. Many indexes require you to verify each listing you create – there’s a different verification process for each directory. To make edits to these listings, you need to claim them as the authorized business owner. Yes, you have to go through a verification process to correct your business phone number that a robot inaccurately created for you. Obviously, you don’t want just anyone to be able to edit the information, so you can see why it’s necessary – even if it takes up time you hadn’t planned on spending.
You can manage your listings manually, fixing them one by one and checking to make sure new inaccuracies don’t appear. It’s drudgery, but the only cost is your time. Alternately, an agency or service such as Yext can verify 50+ listings on your behalf – and “lock” them in so the listings don’t change without your acknowledgement. This can be a huge time-saver – especially if you ever move your business, add a location, switch to an 800 number, or update a web address. A listing manager also buffers you from fielding calls from each directory that will try to sell you additional services (some even before your correct profile is up and running).
Internet Marketing Strategies Start with Local Listings
Managing your local listings is a foundation for any other Internet Marketing strategies you decide to pursue. It can be time consuming and tedious, but online marketing is designed to draw more attention to your company and give customers the opportunity to learn more about you online – or at least provide them with your contact information. If your website link is wrong, they may not find you (and will start to doubt your credentials). If your hours are wrong, you might have some annoyed customers outside your locked storefront. And if your phone number and address are wrong, well, you’ll probably never know they ever were a potential customer.
So to wrap this up, the main reason for managing your local listings is to ensure accurate and consistent basic information about your business can be found across the Internet so that:
- 1. Potential customers find correct information about how to contact you directly via your listings,
- 2. Your business performs better in search engine algorithms so potential customers have a better shot at locating you when searching for products and services your business offers.
Advertising through Local Listings
Local listings can also serve as channels for more proactive and direct advertising. For example, with Yelp you can create additional content that describes your business and services on a landing page, designate the order in which reviewer-supplied photos (and branded photos you upload) appear to visitors, create timely call-to-action ads, and remove competitor ads from appearing on your listing. (If fixing inaccurate information someone else published about you without your knowledge or removing competitor ads from your listing don’t sound to you like things you should have to pay for, well… refer back to the title of this article.)