Archives for category: Local Search

Your mid morning meeting over coffee has been going great. The prospect, soon to be client, throws one last question on the table; “Can you get my business in that map thingy on the Google?” You say; “You know it!”. Shake hands, you’ve picked up a new local business client.

A few days have passed and legal matters have been tended to. Everyone has agreed to the terms and payment is now obligated. Its time to get to work. Unfortunately, you aren’t sure where to start for getting your new client’s local business profile in ‘that map thingy on the Google’. Thats where the Words Go Here team is going to help you out – with detailed instructions. Lets get started:

Local Business Center Punch List

Please, oh please, before you start claiming listings, be very sure you are using an email login for which your client owns and knows the password. Though you are uber awesome at what you do, businesses tend to change SEO vendors every so often. Making sure that their Local Business Listing (LBL) stays with them and not with you will make the breakup much easier and respectful for both parties.

We often suggest having an email alias setup on the business domain that points to the main operations person(s) within the organization. This is often the owner. (ex. lbl@coollocalbusiness.com -> opspeeps@coollocalbusiness.com). If this is not possible, creating a trusty gmail account will work fine. Only use a new gmail account when you have the approval of your client.

For the other details, please read the Words Go Here post Local Business Listing Guidelines. This will outline all the remaining bits and pieces of information that you should collect before getting started.

Claiming the Local Business Listing

Now its time to get down to business. Pop open a tab in your favorite browser and find your way to Google’s Local Business Center. Login in using the client owned email address. You will be greeted by ‘the form’.
(please note, client info is being masked intentionally)

Local Business Center | Main Form

Local Business Center | Main Form

The top portion is straight away, business name and address etc. When you get to the bottom of the form, you have the opportunity to assign the business to up to 5 categories. When choosing the categories, try first to match with existing categories. While there is nothing particularly wrong with creating a custom category, a single rooftop style business will typically be better served using existing categories. If you are in doubt about which categories to select, take a few minutes to explore what categories competitive businesses have chosen.

Once done with the data entry portion of this process, it is highly likely that Google will have an existing listing for your business. This existing, unclaimed listing is most often informed by local directories and the aggregation of the search engines traditional web crawl. More times than not, this is the screen that you will get:

Local Business Center Claim or Add New Listing

Claim or Add New Listing

As you can tell, Google offers you the chance to merge the information you have entered with an existing listing in their databases or to just add fresh. In this case, as is most often the case, merging is the better idea. When you click merge, a confirmation pop-up greets you:

Merge Confirmation Pop-up

Merge Confirmation Pop-up

Now you have the chance to enter additional metadata about the business you are serving. Hours of operation, parking, is pet friendly etc. Additionally, Google’s Local Business Center has been playing with an offer of pay for content for $25. This content is visual in nature, like more photos and videos to showcase the uniqueness of said business. As a general rule, we’re finding that any business that relies on a customer visiting for a positive experience will benefit from this new pay for offering.

Enter Business Details

Enter Business Details

The final step in this process is to validate the listing. The search engines have to know you are who you say you are. They do this by giving you a four (4) digit PIN number to enter. The Local Business Center offers two ways to receive the PIN.

One is by phone. They will call the main business number as listed to tell you your PIN. Be sure someone is prepared for this call on the other end. It usually sends off in about 3 seconds from the time you hit go. The awesome automated voice will tell you what you need to know.

The other is by pony express – snail mail. This seems so archaic, but it is functional. Typically when merging a listing, the search engines want to verify that you are physically where you say you are in addition to being who you say you are. Because of this, they will mail a postcard to the address as listed. Again, be sure that you have someone checking the mail and watching for a letter from Google (and the fact that it is not mail spam).

When using the mail to option, there are two screens:

Confirm Contact for Listing Validation

Confirm and Commit Contact for Listing Validation

The other is the description of the parcel:

Parcel Description

Parcel Description

At this point you are basically done. Pass your time diligently working on the other commitments for this engagement for about 2 – 3 weeks. When the PIN shows up, log back in to the Local Business Center and enter the PIN. Once complete, its on to developing local business citations to help manage their presence in the maps pack. More on that in a future post.

Without question there is a lot of mystery surrounding Local Business Listing (LBL) management. If we consider Google’s LBL, it would make sense that there would have to be some series of criteria that would constitute your listing as high quality, right? After all, knowing best practice usually doesn’t hurt. But where, oh where, do you find this type of information? Google’s Local Business Center section at maps dot Google is a great resource to gain better understanding of what will and won’t make the grade. Let’s explore:

Ownership

Perhaps the most critical of the criteria is that of Ownership. By definition, only a business owner or authorized representative may claim the listing. While this should be obvious for most, it is worth noting. Per our experience, its also critical to consider how an authorized rep is claiming a listing for you. LBL management not being the most user friendly thing, its important to know and document the email and password associated with the listing. Don’t let your listing fall victim to an agency.

Business Name

In the same fashion that you would not try to cram extranious info into the yellow pages listings of old, you want your registered business clean of debris. Do not try to put the phone number in the URL or stuff a bunch of keywords in your business name in an attempt to influence the rankings. It does not work. Your business name for an LBL should be registered as you are known in the offline world.

Physical Location

While the temptation exists to spin up a few accounts and list your business a few times, don’t bother. Google is ahead of you on this. Only claim a listing for locations where your business actually exists. PO Boxes are the local Post Office, not your physical business. You should have a single listing per rooftop (read: location).

There are a few special things to note on the Physical Location guidelines:
If you cover a service area, the best practice is to claim the listing for the central office. While this can be a challenge to you if you cross state lines with your service, it is still best to keep your listing associated with the central office and let organic optimization or paid search cover the further service areas.

If you are a law firm or a medical practice, please do not create multiple listings to cover the specialities of your practice. You have an office, where you practice. That is what belongs in a business listing.

URL & Phone

An LBL allows you to enter a URL and a phone number. Keep these precise. Be considerate to the user as this could potentially be their first exposure and experience to your brand. Use your homepage URL and main business phone number. It is not recommended to get into trying to use fancy pants redirects to landing pages or masked phone numbers.

So, what about tracking phone numbers? Well, things get a little challenging. The best case we’ve been exposed to involved a client that had been using a tracking number for years. They had been using this number as far back as their yellow page listings. In this case, its fair game as all of their business’s citations support this phone number. The thing you don’t want happening is listing a number that all of your web citations do not match. This would cause harm.

Custom Attributes

You also have the opportunity to define the things that are unique to your business. You are allowed the following custom attributes to assist users in understanding your business:

  • Defining the categories to which your business belongs
  • Hours of Operation of your business
  • The payment options a customer has at your business
  • Photos of your physical locations
  • Video of your business
  • Additional Custom Information about your business, like the fact that you allow pets

Best Practices

There are a few other notes you should consider. Use a shared business email account. Make sure people (and IT) keep up with it. People leave businesses and you need your listing to stay with you. Think this through a little.

Its also advisable to try your best to use an email address with your primary domain. If you claim www.cyclingnews.com, your contact email would benefit from being you at cyclingnews.com

Now that you have the idea, go claim your listing!

Local Search is evolving! Thanks to the great engineers over @ Google, the mobile version of Google has become immediately more useful than before. The have added a new “Near Me Now” mobile feature. In typical Google fashion, it is a simple and relatively discreet feature that is intended to make our day to day lives a little easier, while helping them gain an ever better understanding of their admitted deficiency, your neighborhood.

The feature is simple. Open up a browser on you iPhone 3.x or Android 2.0.1 phone and head to Google.com. Once there, you will notice a new bit of text under the main search field. Click the link and agree to let Google use your current location. Then it will locate where you are. It will display the name of your local area with a link for “Near Me Now” next to. By clicking “Near Me Now” a selection box appears that is categorical in nature. Whether you need food, coffee, a stiff drink or an ATM for cash to pay for said drink, you now have a chance to rapidly discovery what is near your current location!

NearMeNowScreenshot

The feature is also leveraging directions and click to call technologies. These are definitely good value adds.

Watch the demo: (it’s queued up)

I must admit that I think this is awesome. It does however raise some interesting questions/concerns for me relative to Local Search management. Foursquare, in particular has been getting tons of user-facilitated business listing management (read: higher accuracy) where as Google has been relying on mainly IYP style directories and business specific citations from web crawl to validate its LBLs (read: reliable, but…). Though Google’s LBLs often gets it right, it has created dismay, frustration and prolific profanity when the listing is wrong.

So I’m curious, how do you think this will influence how we as SEOs approach to Local SMB-centric Search? What will the distribution of responsibility for listing management look like? Does it stay strictly on the SMB owner, or does the user have the ability to recommend an update on the spot? How will we approach the rules and policies by which we as practitioners will write with our clients to best serve their LBL profile management needs? (Do we claim the listing on their behalf or require that they do it?) What of tracking phone numbers?

Feel free to share your thoughts with the Words Go Here team on this move by Google that is sure to bring a lot of new attention to the scene.