Local directory listings are the best thing to happen for small business since the birth of the Internet. Yes, business directories have been around for a long time but I mean the directories currently offered by the major search engines. As they continue to be refined they just keep getting better and better. They give small business the chance to build their brand and to reach potential customers in their local area at the exact moment when they are ready to purchase their product or service. And they do it for free!
I am amazed at the number of small businesses who have not yet taken advantage of this opportunity. Many of those who have are not utilizing their local directory listings to their fullest potential. Just a cursory entry of your business name and address in the required fields is not enough. Local directory listings have so many awesome features built into them today that they can actually replace your website and do a better job of getting your product in front of buyers. I’m not saying that you should cancel your website. I’m just saying you could. Or, if you are one of the many business who still don’t even have a website, local directory listings can give you a web presence.
I run a digital ad agency. So why would I promote something that is free? Because I believe in giving my customers the best value that I can. Part of that job is to make sure that each customer’s assets on the web are optimized for search so that they are getting the most organic (free) views possible. Also, because having a properly search engine optimized (SEO) website adds to the effectiveness of the ad campaign that I run.
Back in the day (not so long ago) doing business on the Internet was pretty much like having Wal-Mart build a store next to yours. Every national or international corporate behemoth had access to your local customer base like they never had before unless they had a brick and mortar store in your town. All of the talking heads were committed to the idea that soon all shopping would be done on the web.
They told everyone that all you had to compete was build a web store. So you did and not much happened for you. Why? Because you had to compete against companies with multi million dollar ad budgets. They had teams of people doing SEO on their sites to make sure they were on page one of search results.
Local directory listings have changed all that. They give local businesses a real chance to compete on the we for market share in their own area. And it is working.
Local Directory Listings Give Prominence
All of the major search engines now offer their own local directory listings. There are many independent directories as well. Sites like Yelp which focuses on customer reviews or Mapquest that has GPS tie-ins. For the purposes of this article though I want to focus on the ones offered by the search engines. Many of the other directories populate their directories from the search engine directories anyway.
Most small businesses will be fine if they start out by claiming or creating their listings on just five sites. I recommend creating local directory listings on Google, Bing, Yahoo, Apple and Foursquare For Business. It would be nice if you could just one listing and be done with it. Unfortunately it just isn’t set up that way.
Each of the search engines has their own devoted users. Each also has its own directory service and the results that they provide are based on their own local directory listings. If you are not present in their listings then you won’t show up in their results. Its that simple.
What Local Search Directory Listings Offer
When someone searches for a product or service on the internet there is always an intent behind the question. Google’s recent Hummingbird update is a good example of how search engines are trying to build awareness of a users intent into their algorithms. Search engines want to give users the best possible answers to their queries and understanding the intent of a question goes a long way toward doing this.
For example, if someone asks how fried chicken is made the search engine might return informational articles. Probably something from Wikipedia and a few recipe sites. Finally it might provide links to purchase cookbooks on Amazon or even a local bookstore. The search engine understood that the person asking the question was looking for information, not a restaurant.
If the same person asked the question in a different way; “Where can I buy some fried chicken?” The search engine would return a different set of results. It would try to provide some options from its local business directory. If you are in that directory and you mention fried chicken as a menu item you could appear on the first page of results.
Google Voice and Siri on mobile devices seem to be the best examples of context related search results. Siri relies somewhat on customer reviews to find menu items so a Yelp listing will help you appear as a result on Siri. Google on the other hand relies more on the local directory listings and other web results.
Your free local directory listing just put you on page one of the search results of any major search engine. It put you there at the exact moment that a potential customer was looking for a product that you offer for sale. You are able to compete head to head with national chains for your local customers.
No other advertising medium can offer that kind of precise targeting. Radio, TV and print newspapers all have their own audience. When you buy advertising from them you must pay to target the entire audience. Most of the people in that audience who see or hear your ad won’t be interested in your product at that moment so it is a bit of a waste when you think about it. Before the internet that was the only game in town. Even on the internet for a long time search and display ads were doing something similar with a little better targeting by topic or interest or search terms.
Data shows that 76% of shoppers who search for a product or service on a mobile device like a smart phone or tablet computer end up buying that product. That is a really incredible advertising opportunity for local business. Since local directory listings are featured on page one of search results of every major search engine and voice assistant that means you can be suggested to potential customers at the exact moment they need you. No matter where they are, at breakfast, stuck in traffic or sitting at their desk at work, you can be right there with them.
Having your website optimized for mobile devices is necessary these days. Local directory listings have the added advantage of being already optimized for multiple devices. With your own website you still have to compete with every other site on the web for page rank in search results. With local listings you only have to compete with other results from your own area.
Local directory Listings And SEO
Big companies spend millions of dollars on search engine optimization (SEO) so they are more likely to appear on page one of search results. With local directory listings small businesses can achieve that coveted page one spot in their local area for free. Where but your local service area do you need to be number one?
That is not to say that good SEO practices are no longer useful. I’m sure that most businesses have competitors in their local area in addition to national chain stores. The number of results that search engines return from their local directory listings vary by device used. On a PC you might see 3 – 5 local results. On a tablet it might be roughly the same. On a smartphone only 2 – 3 results and Siri usually only gives you one local business result per query. Obviously it is to your advantage to be in those first few listings (ideally #1) and this is where SEO comes in.
When I create free local directory listings for clients I build good SEO fundamentals into them. The right keywords, the right number of characters in the title, the right frequency of usage of a keyword and more have a big effect on your position in search results. With only 1- 3 results being the average number displayed it is obvious that SEO is still important.
Additional Features of Google Local Directory Listings
In this section I want to focus on Google’s local directory listings because I feel they are somewhat ahead of the rest. They have more services and a different kind of integration of various services into a single, seamless package. Your listing on Google Places For Business has now been linked with Google+. If you already have a Google+ page for your business you will now have 2 separate pages for a while. Google says that they are going to allow you to merge them into one page before long though.
With your Google local directory listing you can add your basic information of course (business name, address, phone number, ect.). You can also add photos of your business or products and videos from Youtube. In addition you can add links to your website and social networks. In these ways Google is very much like the listings on other search engines.
Local directory listings allow other information to be entered such as your business hours, payment methods and services or products provided. Remember, if you want the search for fried chicken in the earlier example to find your business and suggest you then you have to add fried chicken to your list of products and services in your listing. All of these features make these listings into stand alone websites for your business that get priority page one placement on all of the major search engines.
Backlinks are very important in terms of SEO. Backlinks are links on the web which point back to your website or social network pages. The search engines see the fact that other people link to or mention your site as a way to gauge your importance on various topics. Shares and mentions on social networks now count as very important backlinks. This is another area where Google local directory listings are in the lead.
One way that Google+ integration with their local directory listings helps to put you on page one of search results is by featuring your posts on Google+ on the first page of your customers search results. But you have to include your customers in your circles on Google+. For example, if you do a post on your Google+ page about a special offer or a new product, when your customer searches for that product your Google+ post will appear in their results. This is the case even if they weren’t searching for you in particular or a local vendor.
Now let’s look at Youtube. Video marketing is rapidly gaining in popularity and it is something anyone can take advantage of. The price of the technology required is well within the reach of a small business owner. Youtube hosts your video for free and video is simply the most effective way to connect with new customers and engage and inform existing customers.
Another way that Google now integrates their products into local directory listings is through Youtube. As of the end of September of this year (2013) the Youtube comments system was changed. It is now based on Google+. Here is a video I made to explain all the cool stuff this will let you do and how to set up your channel page in order to take the best advantage of it.
Ad campaigns on Google Adwords also allow you to incorporate a Google+ button right in the ad that links to your Google+ account. This potentially allows you to gain social notice from across the web from people who just like your ad design or from people who want to give you a thumbs up in passing. Google is the number one site in the world and Youtube is number three. You can take advantage of all that this offers with a simple, free local business listing as the basis.
Hopefully you now understand why local directory listings are the most important thing to happen for small business on the internet…ever. Also, I hope I have shown you that creating and maintaining a local directory listing properly involves a lot more than just typing your business name, address and phone number in a couple of fields and hitting enter. To make the most of them they need to be set up according to good SEO practices and maintained as part of your overall digital marketing strategy.
People ask me why I waste my time building local directory listings for clients or improving their existing listings. The answer is because I believe they are a necessary foundation on which to build a business presence on the web today. The benefits of having them far outweighs the cost of having me set them up properly.
I think that digital advertising/marketing agencies who don’t perform these kinds of services for their clients are doing them a disservice. That doesn’t mean that advertising is dead. Far from it. But having an online presence today is very different than it used to be and you really have to have a digital marketing strategy in place for your business in order to be as successful online as you could be.