“Supersize your business profits with Local SEO”. That’s the buzz words these days, and you will struggle to find a business, irrespective of its size, not using local SEO to drive visitors to its physical location/s, as well as, increase online traffic. The reason why your neighborhood mom and pop store comes up in your SERPs while searching for grocery stores in your neighborhood is local SEO.

With local SEO, your business has better chances of being found by 85% of consumers who use the internet to search for local goods and services. Nobody, in their right minds, will want to miss out on these customers and you will find most businesses setting aside a substantial budget for local SEO.

Now, you would think that every business making use of local SEO must be raking in the big bucks.

The TruthThat’s not happening.

ReasonNot paying attention to local business listings.

Your local SEO campaign cannot survive without local business listings. One can even go so far as to say that it can’t exist without business listings.

Local listings are the great levelers of SEO.

This is important for businesses who cannot hope to compete against the marketing muscle of big players in their niche. These ‘big boys’ have the resources to leverage any and all tactics to come up trumps on SERPs, while small businesses usually walk a tightrope between their SEO budget and SEO strategy. Many times, it is the budget that wins hands down.

For these businesses, a local business listing is like a gift that keeps giving. Unfortunately, people (read internet marketers) see these listings as just another SEO tactic that needs to be implemented; but it’s time we change the way we look at local business listings. They are not an important part of local SEO; they by and large are THE lifeline of a solid SEO strategy.

Before we get deep into the workings of local business listings, it is important to see them through the prism of local SEO.

Who is Local SEO For?

If you want local customers to find your business, huge helpings of local SEO are a must. Local SEO is for everybody. You could be a local restaurant, dentist, plumber, electrician, mom and pop store, web design firm, law firm, home based business or something else. If you have a physical address at a particular location and you want people to go there, local SEO acts like a “transport” that gets people to this location.

  • So you are a tattoo store owner in the SF Bay Area….lots of competition….don’t fret…with local SEO you can own your geographical niche.
  • So you are an interior designer with a studio in Central Ottawa… trample local competition with local SEO.
  • A mom and pop store in Anaheim, CA….. Can’t attract enough customers… Local SEO will help you attract more customers than Disneyland… just kidding…. but it will work.
  • A rock band in New York….. the locals will queue up to hire you for “gigs”… courtesy local SEO (provided you are actually good)

You get the drift.

Local SEO = Business Success.

Local business listings are an important subset of local SEO, think of them as the glue that holds Local SEO together.

Local SEO takes customers closer to your brand. Remember the six degrees of separation? Well those degrees all but disappear with local SEO.

How does this happen?

Greater visibility in local search results

The search for ‘burger places in Manhattan’ yields the following results (when I wrote this piece, results may be different now, but I trust Shake Shack’s ability to stay at the top of SERPs):

Shake Shack has really done a good job with its local SEO and by extension its local listings.

  • Directions to Your Business

You get those directions and you can’t miss Shake Shack for the world, yes, even if you are really bad at following directions.

  • Useful Business Information

When it comes to a local business nobody really wants to know who’s running the place; they want to know its operation times, the reviews it’s received, price and any other relevant info to make sure they’ve hit upon the right local business for their needs.

I am sure this has piqued your interest in business listings. Great! Now we can begin exploring this facet of Local SEO in earnest.

What is a Local Business Listing?

The phrase ‘local business listing’ is self-explanatory. It is your business’s listing on a range of online directories that contains every bit of information relevant for your business.

Through the course of a consumer’s search for locally available products and services, if a search engine finds your listing appropriate, it will be displayed on SERPs showing the physical location of your business on a map along with other critical information that will help this consumer get in touch with your business such as website URL, information about products and/or services, phone number etc.

Why is this necessary?

One name – Google

Google wants to make search results even more relevant and wants to satisfy the requirements of users who want to find and compare local businesses and their services offerings from standard SERPs. The data on your business listings tells Google whether your business, its offerings and its location is in sync with the users’ search query. If it is, the listing will be displayed on SERPs showing the physical location of your business on a map accompanied by all relevant business information.

Who decides whether your business listing is the first thing that a user sees when they get results for their search query? Google Algorithm of course, but it’s the quantity and quality of your local business listing that determine, in large part, whether your local listing is top of the heap or bottom of the barrel.

Irrespective of the fact whether you are a local business or a multinational corporation that wants a local footprint, in order to rank on Google’s local search results, you need to maximize the use of local listing.

But for this to happen, you must know how Google Business Listings work. No don’t go elsewhere to look for an answer, just read on.

How Local Business Listings Work?

For most businesses, the journey towards high ranking on local search results begins with Google, to put it more specifically, Google Places and Google+. They tell Google about their business, for example if you are running a pizza place, you’ll tell Google about your business, the kind of pizzas you offer, location of your restaurant, hours of operation, post pictures and offer any and every information to help the search engine get a better idea about your business.

But, there’s a surprise in store for you. Even before you start entering business information, you’ll find Google is already aware about your business. It’s not magic.

The truth is, Google is not just getting information straight from the horse’s mouth, which is the business owner; it is also finding business information from business data aggregator sites such as Infogroup, Neustar and Acxiom (US); The Local Data Company, Market Location and 118 information (UK) and others. Google will either buy or lease data from these companies and this goes into a massive server cluster.

Is that it? Not by a long way it isn’t.

Google can also pull data from various citation sources including industry specific sites, business directories, internet yellow pages, government entities/institutions (local, state and federal), etc.

This tells us two important things:

  • Your business information must be on as many citation sources as possible.
  • This information across all sources must be same.

Google is pulling data from everywhere across the web, if your business information is incomplete or erroneous on the sites that Google trusts, there is a chance that this could lead to misleading information coming up in the search results. You must make sure that its only correct business data that is pulled into the Google index.

A mention of your business name, address, phone number etc. on an online source like Yelp, Ask Local Pages etc. is called a citation. The idea is to gather as many citations as you can to boost your business’s visibility on local SERPs. Google indexes all this data; the more citations you get, the more chances of your business being listed at the top.

Another thing – The next time you get a call where the caller says he/she is calling from Google don’t hang up. There is a chance these are Google’s human reviewers verifying your business’s information with the information they’ve found online. This is Google’s way of validating information and improving local search quality.

David Mihm the Director of Local Search Strategy of Moz has come up with a revealing infographic that gives a visual overview of the complex local search ecosystem.

While this ecosystem is complex, you don’t have to worry. The brains at Google are taking care of it and they are doing a pretty good job. You just focus on listing your business on prominent online directories and yellow pages.

Here’s a re-plug of an old article on Yext about the Most Important Business Directories for Local SEO. It’s a huge list but your business needs to be on this list to get Google’s attention.

Advantage of Local Business Listings

  • It’s Affordable: It brings down your spending on SEO services. Most local directories are free, so what you are essentially paying for is the talent and time of the SEOs.
  • Protect Your Business Identity: Internet offers miscreants the kind of anonymity that allows them to wreak havoc with your business. It is very simple for somebody to pretend to be your business on the internet. A customer might think he is contacting your business, but will actually be getting in touch with someone else. Claiming your local business listing allows you take control of your business address, content, products & services and a whole lot more.
  • Prominent Placement in SERPs: Local business listings can drive rankings northwards. At the end of the day, SEO is all about creating valuable backlinks to your websites. By listing your business in high authority citation sources, you are also creating the ideal links juice to rank better on SERPs and at the same time improving your search authority.
  • Enhanced Reputation: Plenty of factors go into the making of your online reputation, this includes business listings. The more information you add on your listings, the more it helps your reputation. Adding rich content like photos and videos will do wonders for your reputation because it gives more information about your business, which jacks up its credibility. On the other hand, inaccurate brand listings mean people can lose trust in your brand.
  • Seamless Integration With other Online Marketing Efforts: Internet marketing is all about synergy. All online marketing activities need to blend smoothly with one another to deliver the results you are looking for. Everything is connected. So local SEO cannot exist in isolation and this is true for business listings as well. Both are linked at many different levels to the business’s other online marketing efforts.
  • Business Listings are Mobile Friendly: Business listings are crucial to mobile SEO efforts. You can find two great reads on the subject here and here.
  • Enables your Business to Show Up on Google Maps: Put your business on the map figuratively and literally. This is one of the best ways for letting people know where your business is located and getting customers to your store.
  • Better Deliverables: Local SEO exposes your business to people who have immediate need of your products and services. This immediacy leads to better conversions, sales and profits.
  • One of the Easiest Way towards Local Visibility and Business Profitability: Finally, do it because it’s easy. Do it right and you get disproportionate results to the amount of time you spend in creating these business listings. And we are talking positive results here.

But if your business has to experience these advantages, it needs to start building local listings.

So, the first question that needs to be answered is,

How do you find Sources for Local Citation?

Before you begin creating a business listing, you will need to find the right citation sites. How do you go about doing this? No, this activity won’t ask you to invest a lot of time and effort into the proceedings, far from it actually.

Two names will simplify things for you – “Yext” and “Moz Local” (called Get Listed in the previous life)

Let me first clarify this isn’t a plug for Yext or Moz Local; I just think they are two great services that are simplifying the process of building listings.

Yext: Yext answers a problem that most people have with business listings. If all directories need similar information, why is it necessary to submit to each one of them separately? Good question, Yext thinks so too and offers you services that allow you to submit business information to more than 50 directories at the same time. These include all the big guns out there and the great benefit of Yext is that submissions happen immediately and you can even update information quickly. Just make the update once and see it reflected across all your listings.

Moz Local: With this service, you can submit or update business listings to the biggest data aggregators, Foursquare and 3 business directories. The biggest benefit of Moz Local is that you can run a listing audit to check where you have listings, where you don’t, their completeness, incompleteness and duplication.

The service helps you take charge of your listings.

Other services along the same lines include BrightLocal, Whitespark and Universal Business Listing (UBL). Yes, I know what you are thinking, why Moz Local and Yext, why not the other three? You are right, compare the various services on offer, and pick the one that suits you best.

What else?

Mix the old methods with the new. You’ve already tried the newer methods for finding sources for citation, so how about going back to the good old days of searching for services on Google.

Enter phrases like ‘ local business listings sites’, ‘competitors names and/or address’, ‘a business name, phone, address or anything else that you believe will help you zero in on names of local business directories.

If you have searched for local business listing sites, SERPs will display a list of listing directories; if you have searched for business names or phone numbers, SERPs will display business names which are listed on local business directories.

Say you are a Burger joint in New York, trying to looking for the right citation sources. Who’s your competitor? Burger King is one of them. So enter ‘Burger King, New York’ in Google to find the right listings.

All you need to do is scroll through at least 10-20 pages to get a list of sites that you can add to your citation database.

Something else you can do is take the help of one of the most famous Google operators in the “history of the search engine” – ‘RELATED’. Use this operator before the name of a listing directory and it will show you a list of directories similar to the one that you have entered.

By now you must have found tons of sites for business listing, but if that’s not enough, here are a few links that will complete the job for you:

There are plenty of such lists that you can find on the web and many of them are updated regularly. Keep adding to the directories your business is listed on, the more the merrier. We’ve already talked about how Google fetches data from all high quality listings and uses it to rank your site. Missing out on a reputed directory for local citation is simply not an option.

(Important note: Once you are done collecting your business listing resources, arrange these sites in increasing order of importance based on their PR and DA.)

How do you build a business listing?

Here’s what you need to do to create a listing on all the sites you have found:

Validate Accuracy of Existing Information: Do you really have all the information about your business? Sounds like a stupid question, doesn’t it? But, bear with me for a bit.

Your business will already have the necessary information up on its website, Google Plus page and various online and offline resources. The information on your business listings must co-relate with information already available about your business. The accuracy and consistency of your Name of Business, Address, and Phone Number (NAP format) is critical for making the most of your business listings. It should be consistent and accurate everywhere that such information is available.

Why is this of utmost importance? The reason is most directories display information in the NAP format.

This is step 1.

But, while you are creating business listings, you will realize they’ll ask for more information than just your NAP information.

So move on to Step 2

Start Creating an Information Doc: This document will contain all information about your business that most citation sources will ask for including:

  • Name: Name of Business Owner.
  • Email Address: The business’s email address that helps customers get in touch with the business.
  • Company/Business Name: Exact name of the company, especially as it appears on Google Plus.
  • Address: Complete address of the company.
  • State: The name of the ‘State’ that the company resides in.
  • Zip Code: This is the five-digit code that marks the geographical location of your business in the U.S. It’s also known as a postal code in other countries.
  • Phone Number: The local phone number of your business as per the location.
  • Landing Page for Specific Location: Link of the landing page of a specific office at a particular physical location.
  • Category/Sub Category: The category your business belongs to; get into the specifics – work out your sub category as well.
  • Services or Products: The service industry your business belongs to/ products it is selling.
  • Year of establishment: The year when your business was founded.
  • Short Description: A succinct business bio.
  • Long Description: Information about your business that describes your business in detail.

Additional information,

  • Toll Free Number: Also known as the ‘800’ number, if your business offers toll free services.
  • Logo URL: Some business directories ask for the URL of the company’s logo.
  • Facebook URL: The URL of your company’s Facebook page.
  • Twitter Handle: Information about the company’s Twitter handle.

Preparing a comprehensive document means you don’t have to go looking for the information a directory wants, you have it all worked out in your document.

Now, I know what you are thinking, or at least what some of you are thinking. The process of building a citation is so complex, can it be simplified?

Yes it can.

One of the tools you can use for simplifying the process of accurately filling information in a business listing is the popular ‘form filling’ tool – RoboForm. It’s an easy-to-use tool that enables you to create an identity for each of the different business locations you have. Spend a few minutes to fill out all the information you want to build citations and use RoboForm to ‘autofill’ this information across plenty of submission sites.

Another tool that you can use is InFormEnter, an add-on for Firefox that does the same job as RoboForm, but the former is free. Get InFormEnter add-on for Firefox here.

InFormEnter adds a small clickable icon next to every input field; you only need to insert the item you want in the field, without typing. Configure it to display business information that you will be required to regularly enter while creating a listing.

While this might not be as comprehensive as RoboForm, it serves the purpose. InFormEnter will appear every time you open a citation site, when you click the field that you need to fill.

It’s simple, straightforward and speeds up form filling.

Creation of local business listings is made quicker with the use of these tools, especially if you go about it in a well-planned manner. But, as a business owner, it’s your duty to optimize these listings. Optimizing in this case refers to making sure your listings are as accurate and as complete as it is possible to make them.

What Google expects you to do to Optimize Business Listings?

No, Google isn’t your enemy. Perish the thought.

But this is only if you do what it wants you to do. And, it makes a better friend than an enemy, so make sure you’re always on the right side of this search engine. Yes, even when it comes to business listings.

To understand the need for optimizing your listing, you must understand Google’s need for quality. It wants to make the world of search a better place for users by providing the most accurate results possible. Your job is to offer potential customers (not Google) the most complete, accurate and meaningful information about your local business. When you are doing it for your customers, you are essentially doing it for Google.

You need to make your listing as compelling to searchers as possible so that Google is able to retrieve relevant data and display it to your customers, right when they’re searching for services or products that you are selling.

This boosts traffic and sales, both online and in-store.

So, how do you optimize your listings? It’s not rocket science, and that’s precisely why people take it easy.

Take a look:

(*To get a clearer idea of optimizing listing, let’s focus on ‘Google Places’)

#1 – Follow the Guidelines

Make no move before you read the quality guidelines for Google Places. They are quite comprehensive and tell you everything that you need to know about creating a good listing. It makes three important points, namely:

  • You must be authorized to manage the listing.
  • Make sure your business information is accurate both online and offline.
  • Location information is the hero of your business listing – Make sure it’s precise.

#2 – Add as much Information as Possible

More information on the places page means better experience for the user ergo, a pat on your back from Google; so go ahead and fill up all required text fields and go a step ahead and make sure you don’t leave the optional fields empty.

Think of it like a question you are answering in an exam. The more the data, the more marks you earn, provided the answer is packed with facts, figures and relevant information. Google and its search algorithm will compare your listing with a similar places listing; if your listing contains more information, it will be ranked higher in SERPs.

So make sure your website URL, physical address, hours of operation, business description and every piece of information that makes your business more appealing to the shoppers is mentioned in the listing.

#3 – Categorize your Business

This is a tip that will make you go, “Duh!” Yes, it sounds so hackneyed, but the reality is businesses actually fail to choose the right category that describes their business best. This damages the relevance of their listing, which drives home the importance of picking the right category for your business. Don’t take the easy way out and pick a general category, zeroing in on specific categories will serve your needs best.

#4 – Describe Your Business

Your business description is the single most important factor that can determine CTR, so don’t give it the short shrift. Your business description is your opportunity to talk directly to your customers, convey your value proposition and convincing them your business and its products/services are best suited for their needs. So how does business description square up to choice of the right categories in terms of importance? Can’t say really, but if you want to conquer your local market, you can’t afford to ignore both of them.

#5 – Presence on High Quality Listing Sites

Google Places is good but so is Yelp and so is Yahoo Local and so are all sites in this list. The key is to get local search citation from all relevant high quality sites out there. Google will aggregate information about your business from all over the web, so making sure your business is listed on as many listing websites as possible makes sense.

And yes all those tips about optimizing your listings, you need to follow these tips on all sites. Think of them as listing best practices.

So, that’s it then. That’s local business listings defanged, totally anatomized and hopefully, simplified for everybody who wants to leverage their immense, and quite often, hidden potential for business benefit.