From local print ads to a spot in the Yellow Pages, to mailers, brochures, coupons, and handouts, analog resources were the key to driving new business. Today, local businesses still use these methods for reaching their target audience.
It doesn’t matter if you primarily conduct your business in the physical world, if no one can find you online, you may as well not exist.
In this article, I’m going to look at one of the core basics of local marketing–local business listings. You’ll learn what they are, why they’re important, and how they impact your online and offline success.
What You’ll Learn:
- What local business listings are and the different types
- Why local business listings matter
- Key Elements of a local listing done right,/a>
- How to keep consistent with your listings
- Which directories you should target
What Are Local Business Listings?
Local business listings, also known as local citations are any online profile that mentions a business’ name, address, phone number, and other key details for brick-and-mortar businesses.
Listings can be found on local business directories, social media platforms, apps, and websites, and are used to help end-users discover nearby businesses.
They also play a major role in local SEO performance, helping physical businesses grow their rankings when searchers enter location-specific search queries. More recently, local listings can be marked up with structured data, allowing companies to further increase their visibility.
Structured vs. Unstructured Local Business Listings
- Structured Citations. Structured citations are listings on business directory sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, YP, Facebook, MerchantCircle, etc. Typically, these sites allow businesses to submit their information and receive a citation after reviewing the information provided.
- Unstructured Local Business Listings. Unstructured citations also feature a business’ name, address, and phone number (NAP) but these listings aren’t part of an official directory. Examples of unstructured citations include blog posts (say, a roundup of the best local pet stores), press mentions, wikis, etc. While there is some debate in terms of what qualifies as a citation, most experts agree that it must contain NAP details and a link.
Why Do Local Business Listings Matter?
First, this video will really help. Next, get the explanation.
Local business listings have long been an SEO staple for local businesses. They remain an important part of any local strategy, even in the wake of the many recent Google algorithm updates.
Local business listings are an essential tool for helping users find businesses in their area–be it a “Mexican restaurant near me” or the “best San Diego dentist.”
For business owners, local listings are a powerful SEO tool that allows them to build credibility with search engines and potential customers alike.
It’s also worth mentioning that local listings have a direct link to SEO rankings. Crawlers scan local listings and use them to validate the legitimacy of local businesses to determine how to rank them for location-based keywords.
What Does Google Look for in Local Business Listings?
Google still ranks its local results by looking at the following areas:
- Relevance–Relevance refers to how well the search results reflect the user’s query. Taking the time to complete your local listing profiles (particularly GMB) helps Google better match your business to the right audience.
- Distance–Google also considers proximity when determining local rankings. If users don’t specify an exact location, Google will use existing data about your business to “guess” where your business belongs on the map.
- Prominence–Here’s where citations start to enter the mix. Prominence, per Google, refers to how “well-known” your business is. More entries on more (reputable) directories can help improve your rankings, but the effects are even more pronounced on directories with local review features.
For a deep dive into local ranking factors, I recommend checking out this Moz post, which breaks down the top ranking factors for the Local Pack, Maps, Organic, and other local-specific features.
Local Business Listing-Specific Ranking Factors:
- Number of citations–the number of structured and unstructured citations associated with your business.
- Consistency and accuracy–checks that NAP info matches across all listings and that the information provided accurately represents your business.
- The quality of the domain where your citations are listed–looks at the domain authority on sites featuring both structured and unstructured citations (similar to how Google might evaluate backlinks).
Structured Markup & Local Business Listings
Local Business Schema Markup offers brick-and-mortar businesses the ability to use schema to enhance the appearance of their GMB profile and highlight specific website features.
You can find the complete list on Schema.org, but here are some of the more common local markup options:
- Postal Address
- Ratings & Reviews
- Business Hours
Key Elements of a Local Business Listing
Whether it’s Google, Facebook, Yelp, or any of the countless niche directories out there, submitting to business directories is a tedious process.
Each NAP listing will likely ask for the following information–and it’s in your best interest to be as detailed as possible while filling out your profiles.
- Business Name
- Physical Address
- Phone Number
- Business Description
- Social Profiles
- Images of the interior, exterior, and products/services you provide.
- Additional media–videos, testimonials, etc.
- Brands Offered
- Payment Options
- Alternate Phone Numbers
Consistency is Huge with Local Listings
In addition to providing all of the information I’ve just rattled off, it’s also super important that every citation you submit contains the same information.
Pay extra attention to maintaining consistency in your business’ name, address, and phone number (NAP) across every listing.
A few things to keep in mind:
- A slight discrepancy such as a typo in your address or business name can result in a confusing search experience for your users–as they may see multiple listing with conflicting information.
- It’s also worth mentioning that consistency extends to the use of variations such as “Street” vs. “St.” or “Suite B” vs. “Ste. B.” Or whether you use an “LLC” or “Inc.” after your business name.
- Another thing you’ll need to be aware of is, that inconsistencies between your Google My Business (GMB) listing and your social pages can have a negative impact on your rankings–and hurt your chances of appearing in the knowledge graph for local queries.
If you’re manually managing your citations, you’ll want to make sure that you keep track of your activities using a detailed spreadsheet.
Spreadsheets should include at least the following information:
- Date submitted.
- Email and password associated with the profile.
- Listing status.
- Links to profile.
- Any subsequent updates.
Which Directories Should You Target?
So, most local business directories are free, so it makes sense that you might try to create a profile anywhere you can. That said, there aren’t enough hours in the day to add, monitor, and maintain hundreds of local listings.
As such, you’ll want to be strategic about selecting directories to deliver the most ROI for your time investment.
In other words, you’re better off seeking out directories with high domain authority that are relevant to your audience. Hubspot offers a list of 57 business directories with high DA scores, which you can check out here.
Your Google My Business Account Should Be the Priority, Here
It doesn’t matter if you own a gym, a restaurant, or you’re the local handyman–any business with a physical address needs a Google My Business (GMB) account.
Why does this matter? Well–for starters, an estimated 88% of users performing local searches from their smartphone visit a business they found there that same day and 97% of people go online to find local businesses.
Google, of course, has over 90% of search market share, which means that local businesses must learn the ins and outs of optimizing for GMB to drive traffic both online and off.
A GMB account is required for any business that wants to appear in the local 3-pack, Google Maps, the Knowledge Graph, and other SERP features that increase your visibility to local users.
Then Target the Rest of the “Big Ones”
As mentioned, you’ll want to get your Google My Business account up and running before diving into say, Thumbtack or the Better Business Bureau.
From there, you can set up accounts on Apple Maps, Facebook, and Bing. These directories all carry high domain authority and are more general places searchers might look for local services.
From there, you can select more “niche” options like Lawyers.com or Psychology Today, and so on.
In case you’re curious, you can find niche citation opportunities manually by searching for the following:
- (niche) + directory
- (niche) + business listings
- (niche) + business directory
Why Non-Google Local Listings Are Important for SEO, Too
Creating citations with high-ranking business directories like Yelp, TripAdvisor, the BBB, etc. is a great way to build backlinks to your business’ website and improve your SEO performance.
While these sites are far from exclusive, Google considers many of these platforms to be trustworthy websites. As such, many of these directories often show up on the front page of Google, which offers more opportunities to reach local searchers.
Let’s say I run a basic Google search for “restaurants in Los Angeles.”
At the top of the page, you’ll get a handful of popular options, per Google’s rankings, and then, there are several posts like “10 Best Restaurants in LA” or “X Best Restaurants for Celebrity Sightings.”
However, you’ll also see front page results coming from online business directories–TripAdvisor and Yelp come up first since we’re looking at restaurants.
Consider Automating Your Citation-Building Efforts
There’s a reason our brightest minds are working hard to make manual tasks like data entry a thing of the past.
It’s boring and prone to human error.
Traditionally, SEOs were stuck filling out every local directory page manually–a process that can eat into time better spent on other activities.
Automated solutions you might check out:
- Moz Local.
- SE Ranking
While each solution offers a slightly different suite of tools, each of these options allows you to maintain consistency by filling out a single form and distributing that data to the directories and websites that matter to your business.
If that still sounds like more than you can handle, you may want to look into working with a local SEO company.
Bottom line: local business listings continue to be an important part of local SEO. There’s a direct link between the quality, consistency, and reach of your citations, and your search engine rankings–which in turn drives more foot traffic, sales, and if you play your cards right, reviews.
Because local listings are so critical to the local SERPs, it’s worth the effort to ensure that every listing is complete, accurate, and when appropriate, marked up with local schema.