5 Keys To Making Local Listings Count

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mobile-phone-map-searchLocal listing sites have mushroomed in recent years, sending small and medium-sized businesses scurrying to get their digital houses in order. In a Street Fight webinar Thursday sponsored by YP, David Mihm of Moz and YP’s Deepak Thakral discussed the growing impact of listings in local search, and outlined a handful of steps that merchants can take to improve their presence online.

Every month, consumers in the United States make over 7.6 billion searches for local information using a desktop browser or the mobile web. In addition to those searchers, countless others rely on applications from companies like Yelp and Foursquare to find local information on their mobile device. And often, these applications provide a much better mobile experience than a small business can offer with a basic website.

UntitledGoogle still accounts for the bulk of local queries, but the local search space is far more fragmented than the general search industry. Sites like Citysearch, Bing, and Yelp as well as social players like Facebook and Foursquare have emerged to take a meaningful chunk of the market, which means businesses need to make sure that consumers can find compelling and accurate information about their business across every property in the ecosystem.

But it’s the impact of listings on the way Google ranks results that can make the biggest difference for a brick-and-mortar businesses. The search giant’s local algorithm analyzes a business’ footprint across a number of key data aggregators and hundreds of these local listing sites, looking at a variety of factors to determine which results to show to a user.

“The important thing is that almost half of the algorithm ranking local businesses is related directly to local listings,” said Mihm. “The more times your business is mentioned across this local search ecosystem, the more times Google will pick it up this information and include it in its local algorithm. It’s almost like Google views all of these sites that list your information as voting for your business.”

The key for small businesses, said Mihm and Thakral, is to make sure that the information included in each of these sites is robust, accurate, and consistent across the entire local web. Here are five things they think SMBs should do today:

1) Above All Else, Be Consistent.
The cardinal sin in local search is inconsistency. Make sure that your name, address, and phone number — the effective fingerprint of a business online — is consistent across every site. The more inconsistencies there are in these pieces of information, the poorer the ranking Google will ascribe to your business.

2) Photos
Half of all mobile searchers include local intent, and mobile searchers love photos. As consumers increasingly use tools for local discovery (above and beyond finding businesses’ information) it’s critical to provide rich content that helps customers make a decision.

3) Beware of Call Tracking
It’s one of the hot button topics in local search: do call tracking numbers hurt businesses in the long run? In certain cases yes, says Mihm. By using custom numbers for organic and paid search, businesses clutter their place in Google’s index with multiple versions and effectively hurt their ranking. What’s important is to work with a provider that understands how to keep those phone numbers out of sight from Google’s all-seeing eye.

4) Hit the Big Aggregators
Some of the largest search players siphon local business information from four main data aggregators: Infogroup, Axiom, Neustar Localeze, and Factual. It’s not only a way to distribute business information quickly to an array of sites, but it’s also the only way to manage business information in Apple Maps, which is quickly gaining steam in mobile search irrespective of its early troubles.

5) Use a Technology Partner
For business owners that have more cash on hand than time, it’s worth hooking up with a technology partner to manage their business’ local listings. Companies like Yext offer services which allow business to publish business information as well as rich content (like like photos and specials) across hundreds of sites including social properties like Facebook. As consumers increasingly come to the web learn and discover, rather than just to find, new businesses, it will become more and more important for business owners to populate these sites with compelling and timely content — not just data.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.