Why Local Listing Citations & Accuracy are Essential for Search Marketing

We all know how mobile is changing search. I’ve talked before about the impact this is having and why ‘Wearables’ and smart technology is not only changing the way we search but the way results are delivered. More and more search results are personalised to your specific needs, location and the context of your query. Local is one of the biggest areas this is having an impact.

A while ago Google made changes to their algorithm which meant that your standard keyword based queries were more likely to result in ‘local’ style searches – in other words you were more likely to see results like the above with local, relevant places nearby than nationwide websites.

If you searched for ‘DIY’ store, in the old days you might have seen results for the big stores like B&Q, Homebase, etc. Now you’ll still see those websites, but the search engine results are also heavily dominated by local map listings as well:

Mobile results are even more dominated by these sorts of results:

So what does this mean for business? It means you need to ensure that if you have local stores then your Google+ Local Listings are accurate and optimised.

How do we do this? Well, there are several crucial factors which influence how a website ranks in the local/map listings and whether it’s going to out-perform its competitors.

  1. Reviews – user reviews are equally as important in local listings as they are on your website. Positive user reviews of your business are not only likely to influence more people to visit your business (or your site) and buy but they’re also likely to help your listing outrank that of your competitors. So anything you can do to encourage reviews (without incentivising reviews which is against Google’s guidelines) will help support your listing’s results.
  2. Accuracy – getting results from your listing requires you to be accurate with the detail. It’s logical that the address, phone number, website address and description need to match your business. If you’ve moved location and not updated your listing (as an example) then customers will be frustrated when they turn up with their money in hand only to find you’re no longer there.
  3. External Accuracy – the next factor is what’s known as citations. Think of these like you would back links to your site. Simply citations are other websites which list your business and the relevant contact details for people to find. A good example will be Yell.com or Thomsonlocal.com where your business address and details are listed among others in your area. The problem is, sometimes these listings are incorrect, out-of-date or have been manipulated by others. This is an issue on two levels – firstly users won’t find what they’re looking for if they turn up at the wrong address or call the wrong number. Secondly, Google uses these other listings (citations) as confirmation as to the accuracy of their own. So if the address is one way all over the web on these various business sites, but a different format on Google+ Local then you may find that not only is your listing not ranking as well as it could but the data on Google+ Local might change without your input.

The Problems With Local Listings

Google+ Local listings are either created/optimised directly through Google+ or (if you have multiple locations) Google My Business Locations. The issue is it’s not a perfect system. It’s a free Google product, so there’s only so much complaining we can do about any difficulties we might have with it but there are some. You may have experienced them yourselves.
I’ve dealt with multiple businesses with multiple locations where local listings are managed on a bulk basis. You’ll try to optimise each one individually and just when you think you’ve got it all perfect, Google will change something for no apparent reason – for example changing the address or phone number. This is most likely caused by other (inaccurate) citations across the web but it’s a headache that you need to deal with.
Other potential problems with local listings include things like:

But there’s generally ways you can deal with these problems.

Citation Discovery & Optimisation

So one of the ways to optimise your Google Local Listings and deal with problems is by finding the references to it from other websites and updating them. Depending on the number of stores (and how often their details change) this can be a mammoth task and one that needs regular attention to maintain, but it’s pretty important if you want to succeed.

Finding citations might seem like a daunting task – you can look in the most logical places (high quality business/phone directories) but there may be other websites you’ve never even thought of before which need updating too. Manually searching is going to take time, even with various Google search tricks or advanced search.

The other consideration is where your business changed name or re-branded or perhaps where you bought out another company and renamed all its stores. You’ll need to find the citations for all those variations as well and update them.
Luckily, there are tools available to take some of the pain away and improve the results you’re getting.

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder allows you to search via either a key phrase search or your business name/phone number and find the various citations that you need to update with ease. It’s worth varying the way you are searching, especially as your phone number may have changed over time or you might have re-branded or it could just be that your business has been listed with a misspelling. So trying both sorts of searches should return the sorts of results you’re looking for.

The results appear and can then be exported into a CSV for ease of use or directly dealt with in the tool. Unfortunately, there’s still an element of manual labour on this task. You’ll need to visit each directory/website and check to see if your business contact details are on there and whether they need updating or not. You’ll also need to assess the value of the website (based on Domain Authority but also whether it’s the sort of site you want your business appearing on).

Then the next step is either to reach out to the website owner to get your details updated or registering to manually update the information as necessary. There are three essential elements to update:

These elements ideally need to be the same across the web. Ensure your business name is consistent across the web, both in terms of wording and spelling. For example if it’s ‘Dave’s DIY Store’ but you find it listed as ‘Dave’s DIY Store Ltd’ or ‘Dave’s DIY Shop’ or ‘David’s DIY Store Online’ then there’s an inconsistency here that would confuse both Google and users so we need to update it to ensure it’s both correct and accurate.

The same applies to your address and phone number.

Easy Quality Backlinks?

You now know that citations are important to local search optimisation. Similarly, links are important for your website’s search results. While you’re carrying out this local optimisation you may well find that the citation sites that need updating also have the facility to add a link to your website. Doing so is logical because it’ll help users to find your site but will also help improve your backlink profile – though we certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to get links from the low-quality ‘built for SEO’ style directories – getting a link from 192.com, yell.com, 118118.com, etc, is perfectly logical.

This has just been a quick overview into how and why you need to worry about citations and one small part of their optimisation. There’s a lot more to it and if you’re going to do it properly there’s potentially a lot of work involved but with the changes to search it’s certainly something worth doing.