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White Paper - Local listing optimisation - Why it is important for Local SEO

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Local listing optimisation or local citation building is an integral part of local search optimisation and Local SEO. It is where your business Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) need to be consistently listed in multiple local on-line directories or listing sites. The trouble is, not many people explain why... this white paper explains why LLO is necessary and what you can do to maximise your local search performance by following MiShop.local's 7 Cs of local listing optimisation.

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White Paper - Local listing optimisation - Why it is important for Local SEO

  1. 1. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 2 Local Listing Optimisation – Why it is essential to Local SEO. A growing number of articles talk about the importance of Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) on local listing sites as part of a Local Search Strategy, however very few actually mention why it is important and how to avoid or fix common mistakes as part of a local listing optimisation strategy. This paper covers the key attributes of local listing optimisation using MiShop.local’s 7 Cs of LLO and the dos and don’ts for ensuring high performing local search. It is based on 5 years’ experience in dealing with local listing sites for thousands of business locations for national chains, franchises and SMEs. Background: For local search, Google, Bing and other search engines look for NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) data on local listing sites to verify that a business exists in a given location. The more consistent your NAP and Category details on local listing sites, the greater your chance of appearing higher in local search. Inconsistent NAP and Category data on listing sites confuses search engines (and customers) and undermines your search performance. As well as NAP and category details, rich content such as photos, logo, business descriptions, opening hours, web links, offers and promotions etc. can be added to many listing sites to further enhance your search performance. Finally, customer reviews written in Google + Local and other local listing sites (associated with your NAP) can enhance your search performance still further. Why is NAP and Category consistency so important in local search? Businesses come and go, but the address doesn’t change! Everything about a business premises can change over time except the address: The business name can change, the phone number can change, what the business does can change, but the address will always be the same. Imagine you are a search engine trying to make sense of NAP data that is spread across hundreds of directories associated with the same address. You find different names listed, some are similar, and some are completely different. Which one’s correct? Then you look at Phone Numbers. You find the same number associated with the same address, but also potentially other addresses and even other businesses or people! Which one’s correct? Then you look at Categories, and so on. The result is groups of different NAP details spread across different listing sites. Which one would a search engine prioritise in local search results? Logically, it would choose the NAP details which are listed most consistently. However, what if that listed NAP is out of date? What if a business has been in the same premises for years, but recently changed its name? What if a new business has taken over the
  2. 2. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 3 premises and kept the old phone number? etc. etc. There are many variations, but ultimately the search engine has to make a decision…Which one is correct? Consistent NAP data on multiple local listing sites provides an “anchor” on to which the search engines can hook. We call this the “NAP Anchor,” as together the Name Address and Phone number provide a unique identifier for your business location. The cleaner and more consistent the NAP across multiple local listing sites the more authority it has and the more confidence the search engines have. Why do you need to take control of your listings? There are hundreds of local listing sites in the UK. If you are an established business, the chances are that you are already listed on many of them, but not in a controlled way. Local listing sites work in mysterious ways. There is no one authority listing site to which all listings defer. Instead, sites get data from different sources, some of which are more important than others. Some listing sites distribute NAP details to other listing sites, whilst others aggregate (or scrape) NAP details from various sources. Some sites are more diligent than others in verifying the quality of their data, for example by calling the business to check that their information is up-to-date, or conducting an ‘activation’ call when claiming or activating a listing. Understandably, these sites have more authority than sites which just buy data. There are small directories which buy NAP data on an ad-hoc basis, however it is not uncommon to find them listing data that is several years out of date! Coupled with this, listings can be ‘hijacked’ accidentally or deliberately, meaning that your listing data can be corrupted. The consequence of this listing ‘ecosystem’ is that outdated and incorrect information can continue to be listed in multiple places unless you take control of it yourself. Ultimately your business data is being compiled and distributed by people and machines that do not know you. Only by taking control of your listings can you ensure that your NAP details and brand are represented correctly. What is Local Listing Optimisation? Local Listing Optimisation (LLO) is the process of claiming and cleaning local listing sites to ensure that business NAP, category, content and branding is consistent and correct and that the site itself is used to its full potential. It is an integral part of an effective local search strategy. Think of Listing Optimisation as Good Housekeeping with SEO benefits.
  3. 3. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 4 The 7 Cs of Local Listing Optimisation The 7 Cs of Local Listing Optimisation is a simple structured approach to claim and manage local listings sites whether it is one location or thousands. It outlines the key components of local search, whilst providing a framework in which to prepare and manage the process. The 7 Cs of Local Listing Optimisation are: 1. Consistent NAP 2. Categories 3. Content 4. Customer Reviews 5. Coordinate 6. Control 7. Continue 1. Consistent NAP NAP is king! Ensure your branch Name, Address and Phone number are listed consistently across local listing sites and that they match the NAP details published on your website store finder. Name: Use the same business name in all listings for a given location. Do: Use the brand name above the door of your shop or on your printed literature! Don’t: Use key words in the name unless it is part of your registered business name. Address: List the address fully and consistently, including post code. Don’t: Make up addresses or use addresses that are not yours. Guideline: If you can’t collect a letter sent to an address, don’t use it! Phone Number: List one number per location across all listing sites. The number should ideally be a local number. Avoid sharing the same number across multiple locations. If you have a call centre that serves a number of locations, consider having a local number that routes to a central number. This can be done very cost effectively with local VOIP numbers.
  4. 4. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 5 Avoid changing telephone numbers in local listings. Once listed, try to keep it. Although tracking numbers are important, for the purpose of Local SEO, it is strongly recommend that you use the same number for all local online listings*. *Using the odd tracking number for specific paid listings should be okay, but avoid multiple tracking numbers across multiple listing sites. Off-line tracking numbers (on printed literature for example) can be used as normal. Do: Ensure the listed number matches the one on your store landing page on your website. 2. Categories Correct and consistent categorisation is essential, in fact it is more important than key words. Unfortunately there is no category standard between listing sites so you will need to select the category that is nearest to your business on each listing site. Some sites allow you to select up to 5 categories, whilst others provide “Tags” where you can list your own categories. Do: Use the category that maps to Google + Local categories. Tip: If you cannot find a category that clearly fits your business, look at a selection of similar businesses in your sector to see how they are categorised. 3. Citations Local citations are mentions of your NAP details on other webpages. The largest source of local citations is Local Listing Sites, of which there are hundreds in the UK. Local Listing Sites are not the same as conventional link building sites. Very specifically, they contain NAP details and at least one business category. The amount of information listed can range from very basic to extensive business information with an opportunity to add rich content. Do: • Identify the local listing sites most relevant to your sector and location. • Claim your listings (if you are already listed) and optimise them with rich content • Add listings to relevant listing sites that don’t have you listed already. • Fix incorrect listings o If you find an incorrect listing about your business, do something about it. Either claim it and fix it, or tell the listing site. Don’t leave it. Don’t: • Add a new listing if there is already an old listing on the site that may be wrong. o As mentioned, you need to tell the listing site what is wrong with their data. Don’t assume that if you add a new listing for the same address with a subtle difference in Name or Phone Number that they will automatically remove the old listing. They won’t!
  5. 5. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 6 4. Content Many listings can be enhanced with rich content including: • A logo o Protect your brand. Use correctly sized logos for each site. Incorrectly sized logos can be cropped, pixelated or distorted. • Photos o Use images of the branch and products and services sold. o Save images with key word descriptions, for example pizza_restaurant_brighton.jpg • Business descriptions o Prepare engaging and meaningful key-word rich descriptions to fit different listing sites. o There is no evidence to suggest that duplicate business descriptions are penalised. For example, there are only so many ways to say “I’m a plumber. I fix taps”, however there is value in preparing different lengths of business descriptions to fit different sites. These can range from 2000 characters down to 200 characters. • Opening Hours o Opening hours are a major attribute of local searches – make sure they are correct. • Web links – this should link to the branch-specific landing page on the website • Social media links (Google+, Facebook, Twitter etc). • Products and services o Some listing sites enable to you to list products and services in considerable detail. • Email Do: • Prepare engaging content that presents your brand in a positive light. o Listings improve your local search performance, but they are also adverts in their own right. LLO should not be an SEO activity in itself, it should ensure that your brand looks good wherever people find you, or choose to look for your services. Don’t: • Start the process of claiming listings sites until all content is signed off.
  6. 6. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 7 5. Coordinate & Control: Coordinate with key stake holders. In companies with a large local presence, it is often the case that the people responsible for local listings are different to the people responsible for branches, the brand, and SEO (for example). The right stake holders need to be identified and involved in the decisions for listing optimisation and for content sign- off. The business case for fixing listings should not be driven by SEO alone. There are brand, customer service and customer satisfaction implications for ensuring the accuracy of NAP data. Coupled with this, for really big chains, it is not practical or feasible to update everything in one or two months; a roll-out schedule and communication plan is required. Coordinate with the branches to ensure staff cooperation. Some listing sites may call, email or even send a letter to the branch to verify or activate NAP changes. Branch staff need to be aware that the process is under way, why it is being done, what to expect and what to do if they get a call, letter or email. Failing to make branch staff aware can result in listings not being activated, and the old data remaining. Do: • Prepare a communication plan to explain to branches what is happening, why, and what they need to do in the event that they receive a call, letter or email. Don’t: • Start the process until you have confirmation that relevant branch staff are aware of what to expect. Control login details. Lots of sites, lots of logins! Keep everything under control. Most sites require a login email and password to claim the listing. You need to ensure that you keep these under control in one place. Losing control of a listing site is not a disaster, it’s just very inconvenient and often frustrating to try to get control back from the listing site. Far better to enforce suitable controls from the outset. Do: • Designate an owner in the business for login details. • Use a common Admin email address for each branch listing. Don’t: • Let local branches use their own login details unless they adhere to strict guidelines and follow the same procedures.
  7. 7. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 8 6. Customer Reviews Customer reviews written on local listing sites have a big influence on your local search performance. Fundamentally, reviews are written by customers that are either happy or unhappy with your service. No amount of SEO activity can fix that! You need to focus on delivering the service that customers are paying for and encourage them to write reviews. Do: • Encourage customers to write reviews in Google + Local and the listing sites. • Provide printed guidelines or prompts to remind customers to write a review, where to go and what to do. • Get into the habit of asking for reviews (ideally you want a steady stream of reviews rather than a surge and then nothing). • Monitor the reviews and respond to them; it shows that you care. Reviews can also provide valuable feedback and insights into what customers think about your business. • Think of reviews as a positive force. You can’t stop people writing about you, so go with it and use them to your advantage. • Explain to staff the importance of reviews and to encourage customers to write them. Don't: • Ask customers to write reviews in store – or on the same device. Multiple reviews written on the same IP address will be penalised. • Absolutely do not write your own reviews. • Pay for, or reward customers to write reviews. 7. Continue Continue to monitor listings and refresh content periodically. Occasionally refresh the content with new images and wording. Look for new listing sites to add content. A gradual and sustained approach to claiming and optimising listing sites helps to maintain your profile. If you must change any aspect of your NAP, make sure this is done across all the listings. Monitor sites for ‘rogue’ listings. For example, new listing sites using old data files. These simple 7 principles will go a very long way to improving your local search performance.
  8. 8. ©MiShop.local Ltd. 2014 Page | 9 Common mistakes in Local Listing Optimisation Updating listing sites and search engines in the wrong order. A common mistake made by SEOs is to do the Google + Local first and update the listing sites later. Understandably, it is the Google + Local listing which is the most prominent and going to get the client’s attention. However, Google is not a listing site, it is a search engine which aggregates and cross- references information to build a picture of local businesses. The order in which NAP details are updated on listing sites and search engines is important. If you do it in the wrong order you may get duplicate listings (with conflicting information) in Google, Bing and the listing sites. If you change the NAP data in Google and not in trusted listing sites (or you leave it too late), you may get duplicate listings appearing in Google + Local for the old NAP details. Additionally, if the old NAP data remains, it will have more authority than new NAP data, resulting in the old Google + Local listing returning and possibly outperforming the new Google + Local listing. To avoid duplicates you need to fix NAP details in the major listing sites first, leaving Google and Bing till last. For chains, this is easier said than done (Call MiShop.local if you need help). The best order in which to clean NAP listings is to update the ‘parent’ distributor listing sites first, then the ‘child’ listings that take this data, then the search engines. About MiShop.local MiShop.local specialise in Local Listing Optimisation for national chains, franchises and agencies. We help companies control their brand in local search by ensuring their branch level information is consistent and correct and looks good wherever people find them or choose to look for them online. We tailor solutions for clients ranging from 1 location to thousands. We have optimised more than 2,000 locations for more than 300 companies across the UK. www.mishoplocal.co.uk info@mishoplocal.co.uk Tel: 01273 987498