Effectively Managing Local Search

At this point, you don’t need to be convinced that local search is a critical element of your marketing mix. What you may not know, however, is how to effectively manage local search and avoid many of the pitfalls your peers commonly make. As practitioners firmly entrenched in the local search industry for many years, we’re happy to share with you insights we have gathered on the top Local Search mistakes and how to fix them.

You shouldn't need to be convinced that Local Search is a critical part of the marketing mix.

— NextLeft

Local Search Mistakes

10 Most Common Local Search Mistakes

1. Ignoring data aggregators

“Google has 80% or more of the search market share. Why would I bother setting up location listings accounts anywhere else?” That is the attitude of many advertisers, and it’s easy to see the logic in it. However, keep in mind that Google’s mission is to catalog the entire world’s information and determine its relevance. And the process of doing that includes crawling and indexing everything and measuring that against its existing index.

So if you submit listings for your locations to Google, you’re contributing to its index. But Google isn’t going to just take your word that the data you’re providing is the most accurate or relevant. It uses its access to all the rest of the web’s data to compare what you submit to what others have on file, particularly in regards to your business’ NAP (name, address, and phone number) data.

Instances of NAP data on other web sites are referred to as “citations.” Search engines want to see A) as many citations as possible and B) consistency among citations.

Trying to establish listings individually with the hundreds and hundreds of local search sites and mobile directories that exist would be unbelievably time-consuming and not necessarily successful. So how can you appeal to search engines’ desire for voluminous, consistent citations?

The answer lies in data aggregators (like Yext, Neustar Localeze and more). These are data clearinghouses in which you take your accurate, optimized location data, drop it into the top of a metaphorical inverted funnel, and have it projected out to those hundreds of local sites. Aggregators have direct relationships with local search sites that allow them to make data available to publish alongside or in place of data they already have.

So, by integrating aggregators into your mix, you can satisfy the need for citations while also picking up incremental traffic from the smaller sites that will publish your data.

2. Not measuring your results

Would you ever launch a PPC campaign without tracking tags and success metrics in place? How about SEO? Display? Of course not – yet we continually see local search programs that have no tracking mechanism in place. One of the challenges in measuring the effectiveness of local search is undoubtedly the local searcher’s predisposition to converting offline. While we have some interesting approaches to address that problem, there are online metrics that offer immediate solutions.

For example, measuring the traffic coming to your web site is a valuable tool in gauging local search performance. While it does not tell the story of customers who found your information and converted offline without clicking to your site, we routinely see valuable, actionable data for our client partners in terms of local visits, conversions, and even sales.

Additionally, tracking the accuracy of your listings over time is an important way to measure success. While a variety of factors involved in the creation and maintenance of location listings make it difficult to achieve a perfect 100% accuracy score, setting a benchmark of pre and post-program implementation scores, and then updating those on a quarterly or semi-annual basis, will help you understand if you are making progress.

3. Implementing call-tracking lines

While we are strong advocates of measuring local search performance, one area we recommend staying away from is call-tracking line implementation. It seems like a perfect fit – local leads to phone calls, and call-tracking lines can count calls and give us insight into post-call activity, so why not use them? The answer lies in the fact that a call-tracking line is likely not a permanent solution. So if you implement call-tracking lines, but do not maintain your subscription to them in perpetuity, then getting them off the web after canceling could be extremely difficult.

You are then faced with a scenario in which your potential customers are calling your locations, only they’re ringing up dead lines and never being connected. Do you think they’ll have the patience to go search for an alternate phone number or do you think they’ll remove you from their consideration set and move along to your competitors?

Additionally, citation consistency is important to consider in the call-tracking line debate. As mentioned earlier, local search engines want to see consistency in the appearance of citations. When you implement call-tracking lines, there will likely be a period of time in which the lines are rolled out and begin appearing on some portals but not others. During that period, which can last indefinitely, local engines will be confused by your inconsistent citations, and you may pay for that with lower visibility.

4. Setting the wrong expectations 

Just as it is important to know what a local search program can do for you, it is equally as important to know what it cannot do.

It is not an overnight solution. Once you have submitted location data to aggregators, it will take them several weeks to verify the data and make it available to local search sites. There is a certain amount of patience needed in the process.

And once the data is made available, it is still incumbent on the site itself to pick up and publish the new data. So you may be making updated location data available to aggregators on a monthly basis, and they are pushing their data through at that same frequency, but if local search site X chooses to update its listings on a quarterly basis, you’re in for a longer wait to see data improvement.

In addition to that, every site behaves differently in regards to new data. Some may replace what’s already on their site. Others may publish it alongside old (and in many cases outdated and inaccurate) data.  And others may ignore it in favor of paid ads that they already have on their site.

In this respect, a local search program is very much about simply enhancing the chances of success. A good program will follow best practices and in most instances successes will follow, but there are factors outside the control of local search practitioners and data aggregators alike.

Setting the right expectations will help you better evaluate the value of local.

5. Not leveraging images 

More often than not, when looking at a prospect’s location pages on Google, we will notice they have 1 or fewer images. There are multiple reasons this may occur: the advertiser in question may not know how to provide images, they may have provided images but done so incorrectly (it can be trickier than you realize… check out this Google My Business Optimization guide for tips), or they may not realize the value inherent in doing so.

There are two main reasons you should provide images in your location listings. First, and most obvious, providing images is going to lead to a stronger brand experience. Would you create a web site that is text only? Or worse yet, a web site that was text and a mix of blank placeholders for images? The answer is obviously not, but that is how many advertisers treat Google Places listings. Why overlook such a powerful branding opportunity – especially in front of high-intent local searchers?

Second, looking towards optimization factors, it’s generally believed that the more completely one prepares their location listings on Google, the stronger their visibility will be. So not only will leveraging images deliver a better brand presentation, it will also help you compete for this valuable SERP real estate.

6. Overlooking categories 

Search engines need to know how to assign your location listing to a set of search results, much in the same way they do your website. And part of that process is reading the content of the listing itself. Google, Bing, and data aggregators provide the opportunity for advertisers to select relevant categories to place listings in, and these categories tie directly back to semantically-related keywords.

You need to not only be sure that you have categories in place, but that you are exhausting all relevant category opportunities. For instance, let’s say you’re a pizza restaurant. You’re creating your location listings and you notice the category “pizza delivery.” Seems like a great fit, so you select it and move along. However, Google also offers “pizza restaurant” and “pizza takeaway.” By adding these categories to the mix, you’re tailoring your listing to some very specific, high-intent types of search queries. Why limit yourself by overlooking these opportunities?

7. Gaming the system

 Just as with any other component of the search results, crafty advertisers have tried all kinds of tactics to improve visibility. With local real estate being so valuable, those tactics may veer towards the black hat realm from time to time. If you are considering creating a fake address, advertising a P.O. Box as your location, or listing your home as your business address just to gain visibility in a valuable part of town, think again. Many of these practices are prohibited and you’ll be prevented from pushing your listing live. In the event that you are able to get your listing live, you’ll be endangering the status of your other listings should the fake listing get caught.

8. Not linking to location pages

Put yourself in a potential customer’s shoes. You have searched on Google for local business information, you have passed on the paid and organic listings to select a location listing, you have consumed that information, and you have been compelled enough to click through to that location’s site, only to be landed on a national home page. Is that the experience you are looking for?

Probably not. You’ve been searching local and clicking local, so you want to land on something locally-focused. And the customers aren’t alone – Google wants the same experience. By landing your visitors on a store-specific or even region, state, or city-specific page, you will be delivering a more relevant experience that will please your customers and lead to stronger visibility from Google.

9. Spending on redundant data aggregators 

Leveraging data aggregators is an important step in managing local search, but a big part of the equation is working with the correct mix of data aggregators. Each aggregator will offer its own set of sites, navigation devices, and mapping databases that it pushes data to, and when comparing them you’ll find some overlap and some unique distribution. Knowing which unique distribution points are worth paying for can help you save on the costs of managing your program. When you compare distribution lists, you’ll find that some providers are simply redundant to others, and that subscribing to them is merely driving up your costs.

10. Not centralizing program management 

You may find that as a multi-location business, you may have franchisees, store managers, or other personnel who wish to take an active role in marketing efforts. As such, they may seek to claim control of your location listing pages themselves. While this effort is admirable, there are many problems which might arise from this. First of all, their vision of good branding may not align with corporate standards. The descriptions, taglines, and images they incorporate into their pages may not be up to par.

Second, they are unlikely to maintain the pages and keep up with shifts in the local landscape (new page layouts, new fields to fill out, etc.), as a dedicated local search agency will. So the next time Google updates the layout to its location pages, as it frequently does, the page may no longer have the elements needed for a good aesthetic experience or for proper optimization.

And what if the person who owns the page leaves the organization? This may leave you without direct access to make updates to the page content.

Making an investment in a centralized program will help ensure that your listings are kept up-to-date and up to brand standards. Having this conversation with local stakeholders may be difficult initially, but it is vital to explain the risks of decentralization and the potential benefit of maintaining a unified approach.

Making an investment in a centralized program will help ensure that your listings are kept up-to-date.

What Does Local Search Provide

  • A direct opportunity to win over high-intent searchers
  • The chance to win valuable SERP real estate from your competitors
  • The best mechanism for updating location information like openings, closings, and address/phone number changes

But if you’re making the aforementioned mistakes, you’ll miss out on these three big potential wins. So consider these when crafting your campaign, or consider turning your efforts over to a local search agency with experience in avoiding these pitfalls and capitalizing on the opportunities local search presents!