Local Listings: Stop Overthinking It

When consumers hear of a business but cannot recall the domain name or address, what do they do? Simple, they Google it.


Long gone are the days of those heavy phone books, which are now often better used as door stops and step stools. Google My Business (formally known as Google Places), Bing and the online YellowPages now rank among some of the most popular online channels leveraged by consumers to find local businesses. While many are aware of these outlets, taking steps to get listed and maintain an accurate representation is frequently neglected.


Often an unknown territory for many professionals, crossing the starting line and finding the time to dedicate to the activity presents a stressful situation, because they are overthinking how consumers access information and how that information needs to be presented. When, in reality, there are strategies, tools and steps that simplify the process. By staying focused and working efficiently, business owners are much less likely to be overwhelmed.


Primary Evaluation


While physical businesses, like retail stores and restaurants, may see a larger benefit to obtaining listings in online directories, the strategy contributes to increased online and offline traffic for all types of companies. To start simplifying their approach to local listings, brands should identify which platforms are best for their business to make the time and monetary investment worthwhile.


Responsible for 68 percent of U.S. search queries (according to comScore, 2014), Google should be the highest priority for all businesses. Strategically placed keywords alone are not enough to influence search rankings however; increased visibility can only be achieved by embracing all of Google's services. By getting listed on Google Places, businesses can dramatically increase the likelihood their listing will be found by customers across Google's properties, including Search, Google+ and Maps - whether at home or on-the-go.


Some other directories to consider include Bing, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, YellowPages.com and Yahoo. Check out our list of essential local directories.


Asset Collection


Business owners should think about the various individual elements of a listing and compile them into one location or document. First, the primary avenues for contact should be identified: physical location, phone numbers (main office line, customer service and technical support), business hours and domain name. Next, some directories (like Facebook) will allow for accompanying visuals. As one of the most powerful tools on the Internet, static images and videos should be leveraged whenever possible to better attract and engage consumers. Corporate logos or a photo of the facility are often common options for listings. If the directory allows for more than one image or a video, including a variety of images is a smart move. If allowed, regularly contributing fresh and rich content can also improve the value of the listing (although social networks are likely the only ones that allow this). Mentions of current and upcoming promotions and sales can be integrated into the listing during a designated time period (when the offer starts and ends). Having all of these details assembled in one document will help speed up the entire submission process.


Inclusion and Consistency


Each directory exercises a different process for getting listed. Some require an application verification process, while others allow details to be submitted and published immediately. With so many different options, it often requires quite a bit of time on a marketer's or business owner's part to ensure every listing is comprehensive and accurate.


To streamline the local listing process and safeguard against inconsistent information, there are tools available on the market that allow users to input business data once in a centralized location. These systems then distribute the information to various directories for publishing. By managing all listings from one single platform, users can update the listing once (for example new hours or promotions) and changes are simultaneously pushed out to every directory in the database.


Once submitted to the directory, the job is not complete. In fact, it is never complete. Often, free listings can be edited by the directories themselves or, worse, competitors. With so many listings available through search engines, review sites, mapping services and social networks, it becomes a challenge to not only remember them all but also to ensure all content is consistent. Management tools (see sidebar) can help businesses ensure all their company data is not only accurate, but also consistent across platform.


Response Management


Word of mouth remains one of the biggest influencers of purchasing decisions. If a friend, colleague or even stranger speaks highly of an experience, the general consumer trusts his or her word over that of a company's marketing message. Possessing so much impact, nearly every listing directory is now making reviews a part of their platform. While positive reviews are of great value to a business, it is important to remember that the public platform leaves the company vulnerable to negative comments. This potentially harmful feedback cannot be controlled or deleted by the business (on most platforms), but it can be defused if responded to immediately and correctly. Illustrating concern, making a sincere apology and taking initiative to resolve the issue will speak volumes to both the displeased customer as well as potential customers reading the comments and reviews. Ignoring the situation, on the other hand, can convey a lack of care for customers.


What's more, search engines include local online listings within their search results. By being listed, the business can communicate that they are a real, genuine business - traits which search engines including Google, Bing and Yahoo value in determining the best search results.


What Will They See?


With the majority of mobile searches having local intent, it's more important than ever for businesses of all sizes to ensure the information that is delivered to potential buyers is accurate and consistent. While it doesn't need to be overwhelming, managing the basics of local listings can make a company seem more trustworthy and accessible to the average consumer.


Next: Local Duplicate Listings Disappear with Moz