Can the first, least expensive and most effective steps to promote a business online all be the same solution? Even with or without a website? Surprisingly, the answer can be “yes” for many types of businesses, particularly those who look for customers locally. The method is to do the 21st century equivalent of hanging a sign above your door by making sure your business is properly added to the free listings on numerous search engines, social networks and portals that allow it.
This also sounds extremely easy and obvious, which is only contradicted by the fact that every audit of local presence on these sites for businesses show over 40% of listings are either inaccurate, incomplete or missing altogether. So there is some knowledge and persistence required if you are to take advantage of what effectively is free promotion with potentially hundreds of free links on the largest sources of traffic on the internet today.
This field of online presence or marketing is known as Local Search because results are returned based on the addition of a location in the search query – e.g. “Attorney Dallas”. However, the reason this is one of the most rapidly growing areas is that the major search engines, such as Google and Bing, now show these business listings on top of the standard (organic) results if they can infer your location from a login or IP address. Top of page means top of user action – a position that you would have to pay dearly for in the advertising section. The second factor for the prominence of local search is the growth of Mobile – where at least one-third of all searches have a local intent, according to Google; and those phones generally are smart enough to know where you are.
Who is this not for? Local Search is designed typically for brick and mortar businesses, versus virtual ones like Website-only efforts. However, assuming a Website is operated by a business with a home somewhere, why lose the opportunity even here for good citations or links? They all add to the online reputation for a business.
So what are the steps and best practices to maximize a business’s visibility?
1. Submit and claim
Claiming your listing on Google is a basic identity-protection action today, given its prominence and that it syndicates search results to many locations. Likewise, the other major portals such as Bing, Yahoo, YellowBook, YellowPages.com and SuperPages.com also take user submissions. However, since there are hundreds of national and local sites used by consumers, it becomes burdensome. This includes dozens of online directories, GPS navigation devices, 411 directory assistance, mobile phone applications and social networks. There are some Agencies that will do some or all of this for you for a fee and maintain the listings SNIP
An alternate or additional method is to also submit to some of the underlying databases that are the sources used by such publishers, including infoUSA, Acxiom, D&B and Localeze. However, if you rely on this method, you need to make sure you are covering all the databases, as publishers such as Google mix and match data, and unless you get the right “anchor” sources, uncorrected data will continue to overwrite good data that you might have provided.
3. Avoid common mistakes
A caution on claiming listings is that you need to maintain the information and passwords – this is an increasing problem for such sites as fresh data from database sources is locked out. It may sound obvious, but businesses are advised against using non-standard name, address and phone numbers.
a) Businesses should use the “street name” – not stuff it with key words or locations.
b) You need to provide a physical address that matches what the underlying databases are likely to use – which is typically post office-defined. Some businesses try to reposition their address to a better neighborhood, or to their service area. Google now allows a special tool to define the places where you service customers (versus where your office is) – and this is the only advised method to make such a change.
c) Use the main local phone number – preferred over 800 numbers and certainly over call tracking numbers that Ad agencies like to use to monitor performance. Listings are not ads!
Publishers are actively looking to add details about your business to improve the accuracy of their results. So it is greatly to your benefit to provide such details as hours of operation, payment methods, descriptions, services and logos and photos. Categories are the single most important factor in visibility after the location. These are not keywords, but define the field of industry. You can have every other detail wrong or missing, but if you are listed in the right category in the right location, you will get results.
Several publishers now include video links or uploads in their business listing description fields and these can provide increases in the listing status. Posting a video to YouTube and sites such as MotionBox or Vimeo can also increase the citation value of the listing, as the publishers cross-reference matching information. Such a video does not have to be a Hollywood production; even a slideshow of the site will have a positive effect if it has a good description and keyword list.
You should first check your existing status – or quality of listings – and then periodically audit the accuracy. Of course, you can do this on the major sites yourself, but there are an increasing number of tools available to help you: GetListed.org, AmIVisible and ChatMeter provide free lookups, but they and others will often have premium versions that become full “reputation-monitoring” services that actively alert you to changes, references, reviews, ratings and so forth. Larger businesses might find it great value to spend $100 a month to have all this available in one place.
Perhaps the biggest mistake businesses make is assuming they can manage all this themselves, only to find they weary after five postings, forget passwords or forget to update. At SNIP we estimate it takes at least 40 hours of work to get listed properly in 30% of the sites we distribute to SNIP. So people need to be realistic about the amount of time they need to devote to what is a specialized area of marketing. But the rewards are significant when compared to the equivalent advertising value. SNIP