The Price of Free Listings

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Yellow pages

When the Yellow Pages directory came out once a year, if your business’ phone number was printed incorrectly, you were screwed. It was the same with local business listings on the internet, except that instead of one or two books, there were thousands of websites carrying your bad data. Even when you fixed your phone number, there was a good chance that a few months later it would get unfixed by some mysterious algorithm. To top things off, in 2008, some SEO types proclaimed that citations were the new link, meaning that having consistent — or inconsistent — NAP (name, address, and phone number) data across relevant local listing sites could significantly affect a business’ Google rankings. All of this added up to a serious headache for multi-location brands and a serious opportunity for solutions providers that could bring some order to the free business listings chaos.

Pre-2012, the only way to solve the business listings data problem was to try to claim and update as many business listings as you could find and pay the main local business data aggregators, Acxiom, InfoGroup, and Localeze (now part of Neustar), for the privilege of cleaning your data in their systems. This was an imperfect solution thanks to legacy business technical challenges and misaligned incentives between all parties involved. Things were still a mess.

In 2011, Yext introduced PowerListings, a service that provided businesses with the ability to claim and update a business listing on top local search sites like Yelp, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, and MapQuest in real time. (Disclosure: Yext is a Local SEO Guide client.) Although it was not a complete solution for all of a business’ location data issues, Powerlistings was a huge leap forward in solving many of these problems. The key innovation was its ability to “lock” a listing so the publisher was unable to overwrite it with bad data from other sources. Yext’s technology-driven solution, combined with an aggressive go-to-market strategy, enabled it to sign up more than 100,000 locations by the end of 2012.

Yext’s success lead to the emergence of several competitors, including companies like Brandify (formerly Where2GetIt), RioSEO, SIM Partners, Connectivity, MomentFeed, Placeable, Local Market Launch, Local Site Submit, SweetIQ, and UBL, which had previously been selling data aggregator updates. Many of these companies started out by providing related services such as store locator software, but quickly adapted their offerings when they saw the potential market.

Most of these companies couldn’t offer a real-time updating/profile-locking solution and instead focused on providing manual listings claiming across hundreds of websites, including Google My Business, and the main data aggregators. In 2014, Moz, a popular SEO software company, launched Moz Local, to focus on helping businesses get their data to the main data aggregators and a handful of local search sites. Local listings management had gone mainstream.

The pricing of these services typically ranges from $20 to $40 per month per location with discounting as the number of locations grows. Pure data aggregator submissions range from $60 to $84 per year per location. But with more entrants in the market, pricing has started to get more aggressive. Some providers reportedly have been willing to do deals at about $100 per location per year.

Thanks to increased competition and the rapidly changing demands of local marketing, the space has evolved where listings management providers are expanding their services to offer a variety of local digital marketing services. Many providers now also offer some variety of store locator software and basic Google My Business bulk management.

Yext recently rolled out a store locator product for iOS’ new Spotlight Search and an in-store beacon service called Xone. Brandify is offering “Local Advertising.” “As Google squeezes more and more businesses out of organic, we have to provide local advertising services to insure that our clients can successfully reach their customers. Our clients want outcomes as opposed to rankings or clicks,” said Brandify CEO Manish Patel.

As the space gets more complex, many marketers may throw up their hands and just focus on Google My Business and whichever local sites send them the most traffic. But as we know in the local SEO space, ignoring NAP issues throughout the local ecosystem can be a recipe for Google disasters and managing Google My Business issues is certainly no picnic for large multi-location brands.

Multi-location businesses need integrated solutions to the challenge of local marketing. Based on my discussions with various players in the industry, it’s clear that customers increasingly are looking for a single solution that covers location management software, listings, pages, local social, reviews, analytics, and more. We’re a far cry from the time when a digital marketing manager would have to explain to the C-suite why the company needed budget to manage location information.

With the rise of Apple Maps, Yelp, Facebook, and a slew of local mobile apps, what used to be an afterthought is now becoming one of the basics of a good local marketing plan. At a minimum, given the complexity of how local data makes its way throughout the web, making sure each of your locations has the right NAP info has become a critical component of local brand management.

The growth of the listings management business has shined a bright spotlight on just how valuable it is to control location information. In a sense, it’s the foundation of a business’ local marketing efforts. No wonder there are so many players trying to get a slice of the pie.

andrew shotlandAndrew Shotland is proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a leading local search engine optimization blog and consultancy.