A curious paradigm shift has occurred in the visibility of local businesses. There was a time when people would drive through their city, know of particular shops, visit them regularly, and consult phone books for any services they were not already privy to. Visibility was as much determined by literal, physical visibility as it was by listing in the yellow pages. With ubiquitous GPS, the desire for information and pricing prior to leaving the house, and the availability of customer reviews to help determine the destination, visibility now has infinitely more to do with search index ranking than with well-lit signage.
Fortunately for local businesses, gone are the days when appearing in online search results meant battling the big boys for traffic. Google has made extensive inroads in the construction of solutions for local businesses. We specifically mention Google for a reason. Bing and Yahoo may have local search results built into their platforms, but Google’s high traffic volumes and tie-in with Google+ afford unique tools for local businesses that will ultimately determine quality and impact of listings as the connections develops.
It bears emphasis that, while these eight factors are of great importance, any measures that can be taken to improve the relevance and quality of online listing is worth implementation. There are plenty of fish in the pond, so having the biggest hook is a goal worth pursuing. For more information on additional factors, consult Moz’s extensive 2013 Local Search Ranking Factors survey. For now, let’s take a look at the top contributors to search relevance.
1. Proper Business Category
When listing your business on Google’s platform, you’ll be asked for everything from your street address to the name of your first-born child (kidding). It is easy to assume that this information is just a formality, but this data constitutes the totality of your business record in the search index. Highest among the entries factored in is the business category. Initially, you will be asked to provide a primary business category according to Google’s current taxonomy. This is the single most important piece of information you can specify to make your business searchable. For example, in order to be included in a search for architects in Toledo, you must list your business as an architecture firm. Failing to do so will result in a great deal of missed traffic.
2. Physical Address in City of Search
The second component of that search for Toledo architects is the city. This entry affects your listing in two ways. The first involves including it in the collection of business listings within a certain city. By this system, if someone in City of Industry, CA is searching for Toledo architects, the street address of your business will assure that your firm is in the results. The second way that your physical location makes a difference is by returning results to devices within the city specified. This means that someone with a cell phone in Toledo who searches for “architects” will see your listing. This does pose potential challenges for businesses just outside of city limits and service businesses that travel to perform work, but remedies for these, including Google Plus association, will be discussed later.
3. Consistency of Structured Citations
In listing the physical address, phone number, or name of your business, consistency across multiple citations is essential. When we say “citations”, we are referring to listings on services like the Yellow Pages. Smaller discrepancies like St. versus Street are less important than typos or outdated information. Since search ranks depend on collections of reputable links and references, any inconsistencies in listing devalue the authority of the primary listing and lead to unnecessary confusion. Make a habit of checking structured listings and updating/correcting information on a regular basis.
4. Quality of Citations
Of course it is not enough to simply be listed on Bill’sBusinessBlog.com. The quality of structured citations plays an equal part in the authority of search results. Focus first on getting listed on local business indexes before scrounging for less reputable associations. Tools like GetListed.org provide checks and tools for making sure that listings are numerous and of sufficient quality.
5. HTML and Plus Place Page Information
Here we see one of the more explicit Google+ tie-ins to benefit local businesses. Plus offers businesses a chance to make a free local page that shows their information, allowing for customer engagement and distribution of marketing materials, much like pages on Facebook. The bonus of a Plus connection is the consequent bump in search relevance offered to incentivize the social media platform. The key is to keep an eye on the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of your Google Places listing and Plus Local listing and make sure they are consistent. The association will certainly pay off for Toledans looking to build a new house.
6. Quantity of Structure Citations
After you have established a solid foundation of structured citations at reputable businesses indexes and online associations, focus on the quantity of your citations to improve your authority. A good rule of thumb is to keep in mind that the more competitive your market, the more structured citations you will need. An easy way to find places to get cited is by typing business category terms into Google and seeing what pop up. A query of “architects” lists at least half a dozen opportunities for citation on the first page alone.
7. Domain Authority
The strength of a website also plays a big part in determining its rank in local search results. The collection of metrics that determine that strength, including the profile of inbound links, is referred to as “Domain Authority”. All technical definitions aside, the score is an approximation of the competitiveness of a website in Google search rankings. By improving domain authority through effective search engine optimization, businesses can put themselves closer to the top of the pile.
8. Verified Google Plus Local Page
The fact that two separate Google Plus tie-ins reside in the top 8 local search factors should be a great big green light to businesses considering hopping on the platform. In this case, a local Plus page (with matching NAP), verified by the user, will strengthen the authority of your place page, your website, and your local listing. The triad of connections makes a potent combination in the fight for local attention, but it is important to take this network on your own shoulders. Outsourcing the traffic optimization job is acceptable on a temporary basis, but the tie-in of each of these outlets with your own Google Plus profile will help make your business even more relevant.
As stated before, these are only some of the considerations local businesses need make to stand out from the crowd. However, with each of these in place, Davis and Davis Architects of Ohio will be off to a great start. Focus on quality-structured citations with consistent name, address, and phone listings and utilize Google Plus assets to improve search rankings. Be sure to list your business in the right category and don’t be afraid to get a little technical and optimize your search engine keywords. Through a little digital sweat and elbow grease, you may be the next random dinner destination for out-of-towners and locals alike.