Locus Pocus

What’s with the name?  It’s a portmanteau of local and hocus pocus.

Just my way of referring to semi-common local SEO practices that I think are superstition.

We talked about “Local SEO Myths” in 2013.  But there’s even more to say.  In that post, I and other local-search geeks focused on myths that lead business owners way off-track.

Now I’d like to talk about what I see as practices that just waste time and effort.  They won’t kill you, but I can’t say they’ll help you.

Probably worth emphasizing now rather than later that this post is my opinion.  It’s based on a big ugly pile of first-hand experience.  But it’s still an opinion.  Let’s argue in the comments.

OK, now that my lawyer’s meticulously worded disclaimer is out of the way…

There are the local-rankings factors I’ve seen move the needle for clients and others, time and time again.  I’m talking about things like accurate categories, consistent citations, many reviews, good title tags, and meaty sites.

Then there are the factors that may matter to your local rankings.  These are steps I usually suggest to clients, because they’re good to do even if they don’t help rankings in the slightest: using Schema markup for your NAP, picking good H2 tags, embedding a Google map on your site, adding lots of photos to your Google listing, etc.

And then there’s the Locus Pocus.

These practices have done little to deserve my wrath.  I’ll spare you my theories about why I don’t think they matter.

My best indictment of them is simply that in 5 years I haven’t seen a whit of evidence that they help your local rankings in Google or anywhere else.

Here’s the stuff I wouldn’t suggest spending any time on:

  • “Geotagging” photos.  Sure, pick relevant names for the files, and try to pick relevant alt tags when appropriate.  But metadata?  Fugettaboutit.
  • Including city names in the “keyword” fields on your various business listings.  If MerchantCircle asks you to stick 10 keywords in a box, put in 10 services you offer (and maybe their synonyms).
  • Getting hundreds of structured citations.  Lots of unstructured citations (e.g. newspaper mentions), great.
  • Giant blocks of text where you mention all the towns you serve.
  • Keyword tags.
  • Making cheapo slideshow videos and uploading them to every video site you can find.
  • Setting a large “Service Area” in your Google Places dashboard.
  • Putting your “target” city in the Google Places address field, for fear that you won’t rank well there if you enter your real city.  If you want any shot at ranking where you want to, you need to help Google understand where you’re really located.
  • Seeking that extra edge by trying to outsmart all the sites where you can list your business. Just five more little keywords in your description, writing just one review for your own business, etc. Thanks to Aaron Weiche for mentioning this point (below).

Maybe these practices aren’t so harmless after all.  Spending your time and energy on them and expecting results just means it’s longer before you’re visible in the local rankings.

Hat tip to Darren for weighing in on several of the points.

What have you found to be “locus pocus”?  Did you ever have some miraculous experience with any of the practices I mentioned?  Leave a comment!

How to Troubleshoot: Good Organic Rankings, No Google Places Rankings

Do you rank page-one in the organic results, but seem locked out of the Google Places (AKA Google+ Local) results?

If this situation looks something like yours…

…then you might have what I call “detached” local rankings.

In other words, you’ve got an organic ranking right above or right below the “7-pack,” and you’re wondering why you don’t also have a ranking in the 7-pack.

It used to very difficult to have both – long story – but now you usually can have the same page rank both organically and in Google Places.  (Emphasis on “usually”: something may be busted, or it may not even be possible in your case.)

It’s a common problem.  Business owners ask me about it all the time.

Here are what I’ve found to be the most-common explanations for why you may have good organic rankings but no Places / + Local / “7-pack” rankings:

Explanation 1:  Your business is too far from the city where you want the Places rankings.  There may be nothing you can do about this except to apply the best-practices I’m always harping on.

Explanation 2:  You show up in the Places results for other queries – just not the one you typed in.  This one’s complex: Why you’re showing up in Places for some queries but not others depends on factors like point #1, whether you include the city name in your search term, where you’re physically sitting when you’re searching, and how many local competitors you have.

Explanation 3:  Your Google listing has been penalized.  Make sure you’re kosher.

Explanation 4:  It’s too soon.  If you just created your Google Places page, just wait a couple weeks.

Explanation 5:  Your Google listing may have the wrong categories.

Explanation 6:  You may not be presenting your NAP info correctly on your site.

Explanation 7:  Your site may have no NAP info at all.

Explanation 8:  The “URL” or “website” field in your citations may be empty on some of your listings, or it may contain wrong or inconsistent URLs.

Explanation 9:  Your business may have no citations – or too few.

Explanation 10:  Duplicate Google Places listings.  Often these are caused by having messy citations.  (Hat tip to Linda for bringing up this point in her comment, below.  Also, check out this forum thread.)

Do you have any experience with “detached” rankings?  What worked for you?  Or do you have them now, and you’re stumped?  Leave a comment!

Should You Hire an Industry-Specialist Local SEO?

A few local SEOs I’ve consulted for have asked me whether they should specialize.  In other words, should they offer their services only to business owners in a specific industry?

 

Here’s what I said to them:

Know exactly why you want to specialize – and be able to explain it clearly to potential clients.  If you can’t articulate it or think the reason would sound bad if you did, now isn’t the time to specialize.

Figure out how you’ll get into a position where you can offer something to your clients that “general practitioner” local SEOs can’t.

Now I’m going to flip the question upside-down to get at the real issue:

In what cases might you – a business owner – want to work with a local SEO who specializes in your field?

By the way, keep in mind that I’m not an industry-specialist (although I’ve worked with some types of businesses more than others).  I think being an all-industries local SEO guy is the better fit for me, so in one sense I’ve already voted with my feet.  But I want to present a balanced view here, and part of doing that means you know where I’m coming from.

It might be a good idea or a bad idea to work with a local SEO who specializes in your industry.  Here are the factors worth considering:

(Please excuse all the “he” references.  Just makes for a smoother read than “he/she,” or “they.”  Some of the very best SEOs are women, but this industry is still like The Expendables, unfortunately.)

 

Pros

1.  He may have a lot of experience in helping businesses just like yours.

2.  He may have been an in-house SEO for a big company in your industry – which might be good to the degree it means he knows what works on a large scale and can either repeat it or scale it down.

3.  He may have worked in your industry.  He might the same ins and outs you know, and speak the same lingo you speak.

4.  He probably knows the regulations and restrictions that apply to your industry.

 

Cons

1.  He may not have the wide range of experience that a non-industry-specific local SEO would be more likely to have.  He hasn’t necessarily helped business owners in all sorts of situations.

2.  He could have been an in-house SEO for a big company – and that might not be such a good thing if he’s only had success with tons of budget and HR at his disposal.  He may not know how to bootstrap, which could be an issue if you’ve got limited resources.

3.  If you hire him to help with “content,” there’s a chance you’ll get boilerplate, non-unique stuff that’s been used on others’ websites (maybe even on your competitors’ sites).  Not only does your site

4.  You may discover that he only specializes in your industry because he thinks there’s “lots of money in it.”  He doesn’t have a particular affinity for business owners like you, and has no special ability to help them.

 

How do you figure out the pros and cons of the specialist local SEO you’re thinking of ?  I’d ask as many of the following questions as you feel like asking:

“Why are you a specialist?”  Get a concrete answer.  If it’s “I’m good at helping businesses in this niche,” ask how.  If it’s “I like this industry,” ask why.

“How many businesses in my industry have you worked with?”  There’s no “right” answer here, as long as the answer is straightforward and not mush-mouthed.  If you’re the first one your SEO will have worked with as a specialist, hey, that’s fine if he comes out and says so.  If the answer is “oh, hundreds,” you need to ask, “Why so many?”

“How are you better-equipped to help my business (better-equipped than a local SEO who doesn’t specialize)?”  Again, you’ll want to drill down until you hit specifics.

“What’s your exclusivity policy?”  Has your potential SEO-er worked with business you’d consider competitors?  Under what circumstances would he work with or not work with them in the future?

“Do you have a ‘core’ list of citation sources that matter in my field?”  The only bad answer to this: “What’s a ‘citation source’?”

“Where can I see some stuff you’ve written on local SEO for my industry?”  This one could answer many of the other questions.  Here’s an example of the sort of thing you’d want to see.

“What do you know about marketing in my industry that I might not know – or that my old SEO guy maybe didn’t know?”  This is a toughie.  You’ll know a good answer if you hear one.  Personally, I’d say something like, “Well, you probably know a lot more about your field than I do, but here are some things I’ve learned about your field over time….”

“Are there other local SEOs who specialize in this industry, too?  If so, how are you different from (or better than) them?”  It’s OK if the answer is, “Well, we’re not fundamentally different, but I think we’ve invented a better mousetrap, and here’s how….”

You should scrutinize anyone you hire, for any kind of work.  An industry-specialist local SEO doesn’t necessarily warrant more questions on your part – just a slightly different battery of questions.

Local Citation-Building Workflow (in a Nutshell)

A smart dude once said that “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I have as many questions as anyone else about local citations, but I can explain in pretty simple terms my suggestions for how you can get yours to help your local rankings rather than hurt them.

The post I did on Whitespark in August was all about the nitty-gritty details.  This one is bigger-picture.

I’m talking about the rough sequence of steps for building local citations, which you need to do if you want to rank well in local search (Google+ Local and elsewhere).

(You might consider it a continuation of my 12-week action plan.)

This post is for you if you citation-building seems like a jumble of tiny steps without any rhyme or reason, or if you have an employee who’s handling it but seems confused by the process.

By the way, I’m making a couple of assumptions here:

1.  Your business is located in the US.  (If not, I suggest the same workflow, but you’ll be dealing with different sites.)

2.  You’d prefer to have free listings.  (If you have paid versions of any listings – like LocalEze – great: Things may go a little faster.  But I’m not assuming that.)

What to do for a new business/location

Basic principle: start with the sites where it takes a while to get a listing, do the ones where it’s quick to get a listing, wait, and work on the stragglers.

Step 1.  Submit to the sites that take a while to process your listing: ExpressUpdate.com, MyBusinessListingManager.com, and CitySearch.  (You may also want to start Bing and Yahoo now.)

Step 2.  Do the listings that you can do in a few minutes each.  I’m talking about pretty much all the sites you can name, except for the above.

(Note: Around the time you do those first two steps is when you’ll want to create your Google+ Local listing, if you haven’t done so already.)

Step 3.  Wait a month or two.  Work on other stuff.

Step 4.  See if your listing has finally appeared on LocalEze.  If so, claim it and make any corrections.  (Read this first.) If not, check back in a month, after you’ve done the next couple of steps.

Step 5.  Check on the sites you submitted to in step #1; make sure those are complete.

Step 6.  Do any straggler citations – that is, listings you couldn’t or didn’t create or fix earlier, for whatever reason.

 

What to do for a business/location that’s been around a while (a year-plus)

Basic principle: stop the spread of incorrect info on your business by fixing your existing listings, then build new listings on sites where you’ve never been listed.

Step 1. Claim and fix your listings on or submit your listings to the slow-to-digest sites (the ones I mentioned in steps 1 and 4 for a “new business,” above).

Step 2.  Fix any listings your business already has.  Remove the ones you can’t fix, or that are duplicates.  (See this and this for more detail.)

Step 3.  Now you can finally build new citations.  There are several ways to find sites worth listing your business on for the first time; you could use my list, or you could use the Local Citation Finder, to name a couple ways.)

Step 4.  Wait a couple of months before checking on all your citations and making sure they’re all correct and complete.

Questions?  Workflow tips?  Leave a comment!

8 Questions to Ask Local Citation Builders (Before You Hire Them)

Citations can make or break your local SEO campaign, and they’re deceptively tricky.  If you want to hire people to help with your citations, how can you be confident they’ll do a good job?

I like Andrew Shotland’s post on what to ask a customer-review-management service before you hire one.  In the same spirit, I thought I’d bring up some questions you should ask anyone you’re thinking of hiring for citations work.

By the way, I’m not even talking about what to ask some goofball on ELance or Fiverr.  Don’t.  I’m talking about what you should ask people who seem to be specialists in citations or who offer a broader local SEO service that you’re considering.

I suggest you ask these 8 questions (in no particular order):

“How much do you charge?”
If it works out to less than about $3 per citation, you may be paying for sloppy work, or for the work to be done by someone who doesn’t speak the language you do business in.  If money is so tight that bottom-dollar actually sounds attractive, you’re better off working on your citations yourself.  At the very least, ask them the rest of the questions and see what they tell you.

“Do you let me pick which citations I’d like?”
You probably won’t have to hand-pick all of the citations from scratch (although you can).  But you will want to make sure that you see the list of citations before your builders work on them.  If they plan to submit to 100 sites but you’ve only heard of 10 of them, most of the citations are probably junk.  (This post can help you determine whether the citations are any good.)

“Will you keep track of my login info for each site and send it to me as soon as you’ve created my listings?”
If the answer to either part of this two-part question is no, find someone else to work on your citations.  You need control of your listings long-term.  You’re paying for those citations to be built, not rented to you.

“How do you plan on handling sites like ExpressUpdate.com, LocalEze.com, CitySearch, YellowPages, and Yelp?”
If you want to claim and fix your listings on those sites, you (the business owner) or an employee will have to verify ownership by phone.  It’s quick and easy, but a third party can’t do it for you.  The honest answer from your citation-builders is “We can’t do those sites for you.”  The honest and helpful answer is “We can’t do those sites, but we can walk you through the verification processes, if you’d like.”

“Will you show me exactly which sites are all set versus need work and which of them require me to do something?”
You need to be able to see at a glance where each site stands, and if there are any lingering to-dos.

“Are you only ‘building’ citations, or can you also helping me claim and clean up existing citations?”
It’s OK if the answer to this is “Nope, all we do is build the citations.”  You just need to know up-front so that you can either find someone who can work on your existing citations, or plan on doing it yourself.

“How do you plan on handling any listings that don’t ‘stick’?”
You’re fine as long as they give you some idea as to why a given site just doesn’t have your listing 100% correct.

“Do you research the citations that matter in my local market?”
Again, it’s OK if the answer is no.  But it’s nice if – in addition to working on a “core” list of citations that are pretty much always important – your citation-builders try to find the citations that seem to matter most in your particular industry and in your city or region.

Update – “bonus” question: “How many citations do you plan to work on?”
See Nyagoslav Zhekov’s great comment, below.

My personal recommendations for citations work are NGSMarketing or Whitespark.  I’ve also heard that BrightLocal’s Citation Burst is good.

Any other questions worth asking up-front?  Any questions you wish you’d asked your citation-builders?  Horror stories? Success stories – of citation-builders who did a good job for you? Leave me a comment!

Boss Jobs in Local SEO

I’m talking about the specific tasks in a local SEO campaign that the boss of the company must do personally.

boss-jobs

The boss: the one person who can’t quit or get fired, who most wants more customers, and who ultimately has to fix any problems that keep customers away.

The tasks: few in number and pretty easy stuff, but stuff that only one person can do.

Everyone wants a 100% hands-free solution to getting visible in Google’s local search results and beyond – a way to get the phone to ring without his/her involvement.  I offer something mighty close to that, but it’s 95% hands-free; there’s that little 5% that the person in-charge must do, or there’s a logjam and the crucial to-dos don’t get done.

I walk my clients through that 5%, and I’m going to lay out those tasks for you right now.

If you’re not the boss, I suggest you saunter over to the corner office now, interrupt your boss’s mini-golf, and have a read-aloud.

If you’re the boss, read on.  Because if you don’t personally do the below, you’re hurting your local rankings and visibility, limiting your ability to attract new customers, and letting down any employees who depend on you for a paycheck.

Boss Job #1:  Understand how long a good local SEO effort can take to bring results, and work on growing other sources of visibility/customers in the meantime, if necessary.  I’m the biggest local SEO advocate there is.  But building a business on one source of visibility is like building a chair with one leg.

Boss Job #2:  Be or hand-pick the person at your company who will do the phone-verifications for the really important listings.

I’m talking mainly about ExpressUpdate, LocalEze, CitySearch, YellowPages, and Yelp.  (And FourSquare, if you’re gung-ho.)

Those sites require someone who works at your company to pick up the phone at the number you use for your local listings and enter a spoken PIN into the site where you’re trying to create/claim your listing.

If you use call-forwarding, that person will need to disable the forwarding so that he/she can pick up the phone at the number that’s displayed on your listings.

If you can do the phone-verifications personally, great.  But if not, hand-pick the person who will.  You’ll want to know exactly whom to take out to the toolshed if it doesn’t get done.

Boss Job #3:  Buy the domain name and hosting of your site(s) personally.

As in not through a third party, even if you pay that third party to do work on your site.

Same reason as for Boss Job #2.

Boss Job #4:  Have personal control of the Google account used to create/claim your Google+ Local listing, your Bing listing, and your citations.

If someone quits or is fired, you should still have access to all your listings.

Boss Job #5:  Oversee the process of asking customers for reviews.

Nobody outside of your company can or should do it.  It’s a question of who in-house should do it.  It should either be someone high-up – so that the customer doesn’t feel like a non-priority – or it should be the person who actually performed the service for the customer.

If you aren’t that person or pick the person who will ask customers, either the reviews won’t come because it’s “someone else’s” job to ask for them, or the results won’t be good.

Boss Job #6:  Oversee the writing of any blog posts or “content” that’s put on your site.

I do NOT mean you should write each piece (or any) personally, nor do I mean that you should even critique or proofread more than a few of them from time to time.

What I am saying you need to do is make sure the person who does the writing (1) won’t pump out keyword-stuffed drivel that’s laden with anchor text and that might win you a black eye from Google, (2) won’t plagiarize, (3) won’t incur photo-copyright violations, and (4) won’t write stuff that’s so bad that would-be customers hit the “back” button.

The good news is everything else you can delegate to employees or to people with the necessary skills.  Yep, I’m referring to that other 95% of the work that goes into a good local SEO campaign.

Any other “boss jobs” that you can think of?  Questions about how to do any of them?  Leave a comment!

"Will Google Devalue Local Citations?" My Short Answer

Hendrik Vos of Online Business Builders asked me a great question yesterday:

“I wonder how far off 100% is the probability that Google eventually ends up treating all these manufactured citations/ links in the same way they did manufactured backlinks to websites.”

The question came up because of the giant post on citations I did on the Whitespark blog the other day.   It’s come up before.  Mike Blumenthal wrote a post on this question last year, and hit the nail on the head.

But because citations have been on my mind – and on others’ minds, apparently – I just thought I’d share my off-the-cuff reply to Hendrik:

“I’d say there’s about a 5% chance that will happen.  I say that for many reasons – but just to rattle off a few:

“First of all, there’s nothing sneaky or below-board about listing one’s business on a directory of businesses.  It’s not an attempt to “game” Google, partly because there are very tangible reasons to list your business on various IYPs: you want users of those sites to be able to find you, and you want reviewers on sites other than Google to be able to review you.  As opposed to link exchanges and the like, where the links have no purpose other than to try to puff up one’s rankings.

“Second, Google needs the data that’s on the most-important sites (where you can get citations).  It relies on them in order to populate its results.  Without them, Google’s local-business data would be incomplete at best, or – more likely – an absolute train-wreck.

“Third, most businesses have citations that their owners didn’t even build: They grow naturally over time.  The citations profiles of those businesses are usually indistinguishable from those of businesses for which someone has been proactively working on citations.

“If it sounds like I’m absolutely certain Google will never treat citations differently, you might be wondering: “Where does the 5% come in?”  Well, Google is full of surprises :)”

Your thoughts?  Leave a comment!

How to Get Good Karma at LocalVisibilitySystem

What other people share with me is the lifeblood of this blog/site, and of my business.

To whatever extent I’ve been able to help business owners and contribute to the local-search “community,” it’s been because of others’ questions, ideas, and suggestions.  They get me to think and to act.

Whether you’re new here, or you’ve read every post I’ve done, or you’ve been on my email list since 2009, or you’re a client, there are many ways to win brownie-points with me.

If you’re inclined to do any of the following, I’d be most appreciative:

  • Give me a fresh idea for a blog post.  (Though I’m already up to the ears in ideas!)
  • Tell me how to improve an evergreen post (like this or this).
  • Let me know how I can improve this site.  (I’m only looking for big-picture suggestions – not “I think your logo should have a telescope instead of a lighthouse.”)
  • Ask me to test-drive a local SEO tool you’ve made.
  • Leave insightful and relevant comments or questions on my posts.
  • Describe for me in-detail a local-SEO “win” or “fail” you experienced.
  • Show or tell me something I may not already know about reviews.
  • Tell me about citation sources that I don’t already have on my Definitive Citations List.  (Note: I’m not looking for city-specific business directories.)
  • Describe to me a service you think I should offer, and why I should offer it.
  • Tell a business-owner friend of yours about any posts or other resources of mine that might help him or her.

I’ll reciprocate.

How to Name Your Local Landing Page(s)

Your landing page matters if you want to be visible in the local search results.

The landing page – also known as the URL you enter into the “website” field of your Google Places page (or Google Plus listing if you’ve “upgraded”).

Most businesses use their homepage for this – which is usually fine.

(No need to read any of this if you only have one business location and know that you want to use your homepage as the landing page for your Google listing.)

But if you have several locations or just want to use a different page as the landing page for your Google+Local listing, one of the first things you have to do is figure out what to name your page.

Or if you’re trying to snag some visibility in the organic rankings for local businesses, you still have to figure out what to name your page(s).

It’s easy to pick a page name that helps your rankings.  But it’s even easier to pick a lousy one that hurts you.

Here are my tips for how to name your page in a way that doesn’t get your site penalized, doesn’t mess up your citations, doesn’t annoy people who visit your site, and does help you rank better:

 

Tip 1:  Make sure the entire URL of the landing page for your Google+Local page is 40 characters or fewer.  The first reason is that Google will cut off your URL after that, and show an ellipsis in the search results.

The second reason – and the-more important one –is that you’ll run into problems with your citations if the URL (without the “http://www”) exceeds 40 characters.  Why?  Because ExpressUpdateUSA.com won’t allow URLs longer than that.

If ExpressUpdateUSA doesn’t give your URL the thumbs-up, the sites it feeds – AKA a bunch of your citations – won’t use the correct landing page, either.  That’s the kind of inconsistency that can hurt your rankings.

It’ll also be a problem at Yelp, where long URLs usually aren’t allowed.

 

Tip 2:  Realize that you don’t need hyphens in your page name for Google to recognize your search term(s) in it, and to display it in bold letters in the search results.  It recognizes that “carpetcleaning” is the same thing as “carpet-cleaning.”  You should still use hyphens if possible, simply because they make it easier for people to read your URL.  But if you’re pressed for space, you can get rid of them.

 

Tip 3:  Don’t repeat elements of your domain name, like location names or keywords, in your page name.  It’s a waste of space and looks spammy to Google and to humans.  Either your domain name or page name should contain a search term you’re going after, and maybe even the name of your city.

 

Tip 4:  Consider using two-letter state abbreviations.  They’re a good use of space, because they may help you snag rankings for search terms that include state names (e.g. “lawyers Orlando FL”).

 

Tip 5:  Triple-check for typos when you create your landing page.  Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen people mess this up – and I’ve done it a couple times myself.

 

Tip 6:  Use dashes, not underscores.

 

Tip 7:  Don’t worry too much about what to name your subdirectories.  If your page name is relevant but your URL is more than about 40 characters, Google will show an ellipsis in place of the name of the subdirectory.

A few notes

Page names don’t matter quite as much in Bing Places, at least from a “user experience” standpoint, because URLs aren’t shown in the local search results.

You won’t see spelled-out URLs if you’re looking at the Google+Local results on a smartphone.

The only way that I know of to get Google not to show “www” in the 7-pack search results is if you specify it with rel=“canonical” on your landing page.

(There seems to be another way to get the “www” not to show up; see comments below.)

But I can’t think of a good reason why you’d want to use rel= “canonical” on your landing page; if your landing page is a duplicate of another page, then you’ve got bigger problems to deal with than the length of your page name.

By the way, I’d also recommend all the above tips except #1 if you’re going after organic rankings and want to get the most out of the names of your city pages.

Any suggestions for how to name your “local” landing pages?  Leave a comment!

Private Local Citations: Where Can You List Your Business But “Hide” Your Address?

You might be thinking that this sounds a lot like my post titled “Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere?

That’s because this is an unofficial “sequel” (for good reason, as you’ll see).

How about taking a few minutes to read that older post.  Then come back here.

Done?

If you just buzzed through the first post because you’re hanging on my every word in this one – or if memory is your weapon of choice today – it’s time for a quick recap of the older post on “private citations”:

1.  Some business owners want to rank well in Google’s local search results and beyond, but don’t want their street addresses to be easily findable online (most likely because they work from home).  Maybe you have these privacy concerns, or know someone who does.

2.  Unless your business is listed on a variety of online directories (AKA citation sources), you probably won’t rank well in the local search results.  But you don’t want your address to be easily findable on those sites.  Now you’re feeling stuck.

3.  Turns out you’ll probably be able to rank well locally after all, because most of the important online directories actually do allow you to “hide” your street address – that is, to keep your address from showing up publicly on your business listing.

Where to "hide" your address on a business listing (as seen on Local.Yahoo.com)

On the last point, notice that I said “most” of the important directories let you hide your street address.  In that older post I did on “private citations,” I only looked at the sites that you see when you do a free GetListed.org scan of your business.  At the time, those totaled 12 sites.  A great start, sure.

But an effective citation-building effort – again, which is crucial to your rankings – takes more than listing your business on even those 12 sites.

That’s why I’ve looked at more sites and have learned even more about where privacy fits into local search.

I’ve looked at a total of 31 of the most-important sites for your business to be listed on, and I’ve seen which sites let you keep your address private.

 

The breakdown: which sites are (and are not) “private”

(You can also get the breakdown on Google Drive, or as a PDF or Excel doc.  Just in case you want to see all the sites at a glance.)

AngiesList.com: yes.  There is not a checkbox for this; the “address” field is optional, so you can simply choose not to specify your street address.

Bing Business Portal: yes.

BizWiki.com: no.

BrownBook.net: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

City-Data.com: no.  The rules specify that the site is “only for brick & mortar businesses.”

CitySearch.com: yes.  (See my instructions for adding or claiming your CitySearch listing.)

CitySquares.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

DexKnows.com: maybe.  If you’ve hidden your address on LocalEze and suppressed your ExpressUpdateUSA listing, your address most likely won’t show up on DexKnows.

DirectoryCentral.com: no.

DiscoverOurTown.com: no.

ExpressUpdateUSA.com: no.  AKA InfoGroup, this is one of three main “data-providers” – in other words, a really important site to be listed on.  As I noted in my post from 2012, “you can’t simply ‘turn off’ the display of your address on your ExpressUpdate listing.  But you can search for your listing on the site and request its deletion, OR you can call up Customer Service and ask them to suppress your listing.”

EZLocal.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

FourSquare.com: no.  (Hiding your address would defeat the main purpose of being listed on FourSquare in the first place: getting customers to “check in” to your business on their phones.)

HotFrog.com: yes.

iBegin.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

JudysBook.com: maybe.  If you pay the monthly fee to claim your listing, you may be able to leave off your street address.  The other way to get your business listed on JudysBook is for a customer to find the hidden “submit” area and then to post a review of your business, although in this option the street address is required.

Kudzu.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

Local.BOTW.org: yes.

Local.com: yes.

LocalEze.com: yes.  (This is a major “data-provider” and an extremely important site to be listed on.  See my recent post for more detail.)

Manta.com: yes.  On one screen you’re made to provide a street address, but on the next screen you can check a “hide address” box.

MapQuest.com: yes.

MerchantCircle.com: yes.  The “address” field is optional; simply choose not to specify your street address.

MyBusinessListingManager.com: yes.  AKA Acxiom, this is a major “data-provider.

Nokia (here.com/primeplaces): yes.  You have to specify your street, but you don’t have to specify your number.

SuperPages.com: yes.

Yahoo: yes.

YellowBot.com: yes.  But only once you’ve claimed your listing.  (See comment below from YellowBot co-founder Emad Fanous.)

YellowBook.com: maybe.  You can only edit the address by calling 1-800-929-3556; they may allow you to hide the address if you ask.

Yelp.com: yes.

YP.com: yes.

 

A few takeaways

Takeaway 1. The biggest directories (e.g. Yelp, YP) usually let you hide your address.  If you do nothing else, make sure you’re listed on these.

Takeaway 2.  The smaller directories (e.g. BizWiki, DirectoryCentral) aren’t as likely to let you hide your address.  Whether you want to add or keep a listing on these sites depends on which you’d rather have: a little extra “citations juice” or a little extra privacy.

Takeaway 3.  Your biggest challenge in juggling citation-building and privacy is to determine how you want to handle your listings on two of the three “primary data-providers”: ExpressUpdateUSA.com and MyBusinessListingManager.com.  The other main data-provider (LocalEze.com) lets you hide your address, so that one isn’t an issue.  But the former two sites make you list your address, and they feed your business info to lots of other sites.  You should be able to strike a good balance of local rankings and privacy if you’re listed on these non-private sites but make sure your address is private elsewhere.  But if you’re really concerned about privacy, you’ll need to contact the people at ExpressUpdateUSA (AKA InfoGroup) and MyBusinessListingManager (AKA Acxiom) and ask them to suppress your listing.  (I know the former allows you to do this, but I’m not sure about the latter.)

 

Some notes

Arguably a good citation-building campaign involves your creating and managing even more than 31 listings.  So does my list only get you only partway down the road?

No, because there are two “buts” that mean now you’ve probably got all the info you need to build citations effectively but privately:

1.  Several of those 31 sites feed business info to other sites, which means that over time the number of citations your business has will grow naturally and without your needing to do anything.  Meanwhile, to the extent you’ve made sure your address isn’t listed on those sites, it won’t get spread all over the web.  Win-win.

2.  If those 31 sites are the only ones you’ve listed your business on, then you’ve got a very good citations profile.  But to take it from “very good” to excellent will probably involve digging deeper (probably with the Local Citation Finder) to find citations that Google places extra “trust” in: either directories that are specific to your industry, or specific to your city/region, or both.  Because there’s an infinity of these industry- and location-specific sites, I’ll never be able to research which ones are “private” – at least before I’m using dentures and a walker.  So I’ll leave it up to you: whether you’d rather be listed on “niche” sites that may or may not require you to list your address.

Still, I want to learn about the privacy levels of even more sites.  That’s why this is an evergreen post: I’m going to update it as I learn about more sites.

 

What about non-US sites?

One obvious limitation of my current list is that I haven’t researched all that many non-US sites.

True: some of the sites (like Manta.com) are available outside the USA, or have a network of “sister” sites (like YP.com) in other countries.

And yes, if you download the list, you’ll notice that I’ve indicated which sites are “international.”  That should help you if you’re located outside the US.

But…if you have some time to spare and want to go through Nyagoslav Zhekov’s two great posts on important non-US citation sources and want to let me know what you find, I’d more than appreciate it (and will cite you here :)).

Once again, here are the download options for the list of of “private” citations:

Google Drive
PDF
Excel

Got any questions or suggestions about juggling local rankings and privacy?  Go ahead – leave a comment.