Nick Bernard // Sep 20 2012
For the second installment of the Portent Local Series, I’ll go over why and how directories affect local search visibility and where business owners should focus their time and energy.
Local search is like a gyro sandwich: it’s delicious when it works, but the process and criteria for the result can be mysterious. What exactly is the spinning mass that guy is shaving slices from? Is this pita gluten-free? How old is this tzatziki sauce?
Like the myriad meat products in a gyro sandwich, directories are one of the primary ingredients that influence local search results.
At the core of local search is your company’s listing on each of the major search engines’ local platform: Google+ Local, Bing Business Portal, and Yahoo! Local. It’s essential to claim and verify these listings in order to ensure your brand and business details are complete and accurate.
Business owners, however, will be the first to say it’s not always that easy. Making changes to your listing can be a long and frustrating process—especially if your business has more than one location.
You can do this through the local dashboard but, for Google, another option is Map Maker. Google allows users to update information about places they know through Map Maker, and updates are reviewed and approved. You can also see the history of changes to the listing. This could be a faster way to correct information if your local listings are in bad shape.
If the end goal is visibility in the major search engine results, it follows that you could claim your listing and be done. But that’s not the case. Believe it or not, search engines can’t do it all themselves.
Third party data providers and local directories inform the search engines. The major search engines use this external data to confirm whether your business’ information matches what’s in their own index. If there’s a discrepancy, you could be in a world of hurt. I mean like bad lamb meat hurt.
It’s important, therefore, to ensure the signals from every local directory and data provider are correct and consistent. With thousands of local directories and search engines, however, where do you start? There are a small group of data providers that power the most and most influential services:
Other sites that feed the major search engines include Yellow Pages, Superpages, Citysearch, and Yelp. There are, of course, hundreds of other local directories that, even if they aren’t direct data providers, are still crawled by the major search engines. Your information should be accurate there too.
The deeper you dig, the messier it gets. Here in Seattle, for example, we have KING5.com, a local news website. The site has a business directory named LinkTown, which is powered by MojoPages—a national business directory. MojoPages, in turn, gets their data from Yellowbook and Localeze. So, the listing on LinkTown could potentially be influenced by 3 separate sources.
It’s great if they’re in concert, but what if your business moves and you need to change your address? You edit your MojoPages listing to correct the LinkTown profile, but MojoPages is getting conflicting data about your business from other sources, which also sends search engines mixed signals.
Knowing the source of the data can help you keep your listings accurate across the entire web. If you need to alter your business details, start with the major data providers first, then work your way down to the smaller directories and search engines. I recommend tracking the sites and dates you submit changes in order to keep everything organized, as it will often take weeks for changes to take effect and be indexed.
In addition to third party data, search engines use the citations in their index as a ranking factor. Citations are mentions of the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of a business across the web.
Depending on your vertical, there are plenty of niche directories to get citations. Whether you’re a plumber or a lawyer, there’s a directory for that. If you own a Greek restaurant, for example, you’ll want to be listed in sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp.
In general, the more citations your business has across the web, the more confidence the search engines have that the information is accurate. Unlike links, however, the difference in value between one site and another isn’t necessarily quantifiable. Should you shell out for a premium listing on a dubious directory like www.bestnumberonedentistlinks.com (a fake example, by the way) just to get another citation? Probably not. Search engines won’t trust it as much as a well-established and authoritative site like the Better Business Bureau or Best of the Web. Use the same discretion you would for being associated any website.
Maintaining your business listings can require a lot of time and energy. The most important thing is to keep your information consistent. The good news is that relatively few business owners have even claimed their listing.
Complete listings on search engines and relevant local directories are only one component of local SEO, but it’ll help put your business far ahead of the competition. Stay tuned for more in the Portent Local Series on other vital areas of local SEO.
Have any questions about local directories? Let us know in the comments and we’ll answer them in our Local SEO Q&A blog post on October 2nd!
By day, Nick helps make websites better for users and search engines. By night, he's learning all he can about front-end web development so he has something to talk about with the cool kids at work. Read More