Every day, thousands of people search for product and service providers in their area. Whether you’re a sushi restaurant, a dentist, or a plumber, being found when people are searching is crucial for generating new business in the 21st century.
So here’s the question: How can business owners improve their appearance in local search? In this guide, we will help explain the ins and outs of the local search world, how to improve your local listings, how to generate reviews, and how to handle bad ones.
What exactly is a local listing?
A local listing is a page or section on a directory which displays pertinent information about a business to searchers. Typically, these listings contain names, addresses, phone numbers (often called NAP data), as well as descriptions of a business, pictures, and reviews from customers. Often times, search engines will pull data from local listings and make it available directly in search.
For example, when searching for a good place to find ice cream in St Petersburg, I might pull out my mobile phone, and do a search for something like “ice cream near me”, (known as an explicit query). The search engine will take several pieces of information—such as the device I’m searching on, my location, and time of day (known as an implicit query)—into consideration before it gives me a result which looks like this:
There’s a lot of information about local listings we can unpack from this image, but these are most crucial:
1. The first key piece of information is the stars under each listing, which refer to ratings given to the location from previous customers. Clearly, a search engine doesn’t want to serve up bad suggestions to users, so it found the ice cream shops with the highest reviews from other users and prioritized them.
2. The distance from the user is important. Since the search engine realized I’m on my mobile phone, and I’m trying to make a decision right now, it only displayed ice cream places close by, not highly rated places that are three hours away
Proximity and quality are the most critical elements of your local listing.
For local listings, these two elements of proximity and quality are the most critical. You can’t move your business closer to people, but you can encourage customers to leave reviews in order to improve appearance in a local search.
Why are local listings important?
Local listings help potential customers learn more about your business, understand what you have to offer, and help them make a decision as to who to purchase goods and services from. Most local directories include sections for you to add a menu of services or products, images from inside and outside your business, description fields, hours of operation, website info, and much more. The more information you can provide in your listing, the more clarity you will give to searchers, and the better the visibility will be for your business.
Make sure your information is accurate and consistent on each directory, as this will help the search engine gain trust in the data provided.
What businesses benefit most from local listings?
All businesses have a lot to gain from building local listings, in terms of making important data easily accessible to customers, but the ones that benefit the most are businesses which service customers at their location (like a jewelry store or restaurant) or those that service customers within a radius (like a plumber or repairman).
How do I build local listings?
There are several ways and places to build local listings, but we’re going to focus on the 3 most important sources: Google My Business, Bing Places, LocalWorks and 3rd Party Aggregators.
Google My Business is the direct way to add your business for visibility in Google. Straightforward and easy to set up, Google My Business pushes your NAP data directly into Google Search, Google Maps, and other Google Products & partner products (like Waze) for discovery. You will need to verify the business’ information before it goes live, by answering a phone call, or receiving a postcard in the mail.
Much like GoogleMyBusiness, Bing Places feed your NAP data into Microsoft products and search engines like Bing, and Localworks for Yahoo products. The interfaces for these tools are similar to GoogleMyBusiness, and verification works nearly the same way.
The last source for local listings is with 3rd-Party Aggregators. We are Yext partners and prefer it to competitors that do not have as robust a dashboard, reporting, or ability to share more data about your business with people who are looking for you right now. Yext allows us to quickly syndicate business information to its partner sites (usually 100+ sites). Verification isn’t needed, as this is done when paying for the service. With this powerful aggregator, we can quickly make changes, update imagery, and manage reviews across multiple sites.
How can I improve my local listings?
Besides making sure you’ve included all pertinent data in your listing, there are a few ways to help your business appear more prominent in search.
The first is by using structured data. Structured data is code that is wrapped around certain key pieces of information on your site, which helps search engines understand the value of that information. There are a number of types of structured data markup languages that you can use, with the most popular being schema.org.
How do I get reviews?
The next thing you can do to improve visibility is to gain reviews from customers. The best way to get reviews is to make it part of your offboarding process. As you take payment, or give a receipt, let the client know that their reviews can help others find out about your business. Include simple instructions on a receipt or create a flyer with instructions that you can give to clients as they leave.
A few pitfalls to avoid: Avoid having a tablet in the reception area, having a lot of reviews coming from one computer may cause search engines to disregard them entirely, as they feel it could be gaming the system. Also, avoid telling people they can get a discount for a review, or any type of compensation. This is discouraged by Google & Bing, as they prefer people give an honest review.
How should you handle a bad review?
While getting a bad review can make you so angry you could scream, remember to be professional. In any reply you give, be attentive, try to make it right, and take the issue offline by asking the person to call you or revisit the store. Many times, this might be enough for someone to change their review.
If you can’t make it right, ask a few more happy customers to leave a review. The negative review can give you a chance to show off how you handle a bad experience, and demonstrate to future customers that you are a reasonable businessperson.
Local Listings Key Takeaways
Seeing success in local search requires a little work but if you can make these part of your daily or weekly process, it isn’t so daunting. Here’s a short recap on how to move forward with local search visibility:
- Create and verify listings on big search engines, and use an aggregator for smaller sites.
- Fill out the local listing completely, and use images, text, and logos to enhance the listing.
- Be consistent with all information you provide.
- Markup key pieces of information on site with structured markup.
- Ask for reviews from happy customers, while avoiding review pitfalls.
- Address any negative reviews respectfully.