Your Google My Business Page in 2017: How Hard Is It to Mess Up?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/51764518@N02/14550044470/

Google’s local-business pages of yore offered many ways to blow up your rankings – in the good sense or the bad sense.  Lots of customizable fields you could stuff full of keyword powder and watch go “boom.”

In recent years, though, Google has childproofed businesses’ pages.  Usually, when you don’t fill out your page quite the way Google wants, Google simply changes your info for you.  In that way, with the glaring exception of not keeping an eye on what you put in the “business name” field, Google has mostly eliminated the ways you can hurt yourself.  The edges are rounded, the paint doesn’t taste good, and the candy doesn’t make you look cool.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pandora_6666/3079557294/

That’s why I say the term “Google My Business page optimization” is a misnomer at best and deceptive at worst.  There’s very little to “optimize.”  Generally, it’s very easy to get your Google My Business page(s) squared away and then to move on.  (That’s not a good reason to hire a local SEO person.)

In the days of Play-Doh-knife Google My Business pages, getting your GMB page right is mostly a matter of not messing it up.  To that end, here’s my 12-point quasi-checklist of things you should look into:

More-obvious stuff

1. Basic eligibility. Are you taking liberties with the Google My Business guidelines (like using a fake address, or using employees’ home addresses)? If so, you’ll probably get away with it in the short-term, if not longer-term.  But even if your scheme works, you’ll check your rankings every morning to make sure they’re still there.  It’s not worth it.  Play by the rules – and remember that there’s plenty of local SEO without the “map,” and that most of it is just organic SEO anyway.

2. Correct and complete info. Don’t be concerned about minor formatting quirks in the “address” field. Do use the real, official, legal name of your business.  Do make sure your hours are listed on there.

3. Claimed page. An unclaimed page can still rank well, but you want to be able to make changes easily, and you probably don’t want other people’s public edits to be approved easily.

4. No duplicate pages. What constitutes a “duplicate” Google My Business page – especially one that’s harming your rankings – is tricky. Generally, my rule is that if you can (1) pull it up on the Maps tab and (2) it’s not a page for a specific licensed professional (e.g. doctor or lawyer or agent) in your organization and (3) you don’t want it to be the page people see in search results, you should mark it as “permanently closed.”  If you really want to bury it, claim the page and strip out as much of the business info as you can (particularly the phone number and site URL).

5. Categories. Which categories you should pick is a tricky question, but I suggest you pick as few as possible and don’t include any that seem to be a stretch or seem broader than other categories you might pick. Note: Google may change your categories for you if they don’t like them.

6. Accurate service-area settings. If you indicate to Google that you always travel to your customers (rather than meet all of them at your place of business), Google won’t show your address on your Google My Business page. Google used to be touchy if you owned a service-area business and didn’t hide your address for any reason.  Now, whether or not you “hide” your address is not a big deal.  If Google doesn’t want your address showing on your page, they’ll simply change it for you (rather than whisk your page off the map).

7. Map pin in correct place. It should be on your building, and preferably on the specific part of the building your business is in.

Less-obvious stuff

8. Best landing page URL. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if your Google My Business landing page is your homepage, rather than another page on your site. If you’ve got multiple locations and want to point each to a city-specific landing page, that’s fine, but you’ll probably need to rustle up some good links to those subpages.  If you’re not willing to go to that effort, you’re probably better off using the homepage on all your Google My Business pages and on most or all of your other local listings.

9. No overlapping service areas. Let’s say you’re a contractor with two valid addresses 10 miles apart. Both locations probably serve customers in some of the same cities, because those locations are pretty close together.  Fine, but don’t include any one city in the “service area” settings of both your Google My Business pages.  Google has a strange rule about that.  You’ll want to carve up the service area between the two locations, or simply not “hide” your address on one of your pages.

10. Google Street View indoor photo shoot. If you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar store or office, it’s bigger than a closet, and doesn’t look like hell inside, consider hiring a Google-trusted photographer to shoot a virtual tour. If you’ve got multiple locations, consider getting a photo shoot for each.  It’s smart marketing and may be a ranking factor.

11. “HTTP” vs. “HTTPS” in the “website URL” field. If you’ve got an SSL certificate for your site (not necessary for most “local” businesses), it’s probably a good idea to update the “Website URL” field of your Google My Business page and maybe your important other listings (e.g. Yelp, Facebook, YP) to point to the “https” version.

12. Transferred Google reviews. Do you have Google reviews showing on an old page, or on an otherwise incorrect page? Ask Google to transfer them.  (In my experience, they’re pretty good about it.)

Did I forget any important checkup points?

Any points you learned about the hard way on your Google My Business page?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Do You Really Need to Clean up That Local Citation?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/donwest48/27214819893/

Local SEOs excel at nitpicking, trading in superstitions, and billing for busywork.  Nowhere is that more true than when it’s time to clean up local citations.

You’ve got dozens (or hundreds) of local listings online, and not all of them have the correct business info.  You’ve heard it’s important to have correct and consistent info on those listings.

Do you have to take the time to fix all of them – or do you need to pay someone else to?

No.  Not all local listings matter.  Having the cleanest listings doesn’t mean you’ll outrank anyone or get any more customers.

The danger of going overboard on your listings is that you feel burned-out after doing a bunch of work that doesn’t matter, and don’t have the time or the energy or the will to do the steps that do matter.

When should you bother to correct or to remove a business listing on a given site?  If you answer yes to any of the following questions, go ahead and clean up the listing.  (Skip it if you can answer no to all of the following.)

1. Do you see the listing on the first page (or first couple of pages) of Google’s results when you search for your business by name?
If the incorrect or duplicate listing shows up prominently for a brand-name search, fix it or remove it.

2.  Do you see the site on the first page of Google’s results for a search term you want to rank for?
Maybe your incorrect YellowPages listing (for example) doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but if YellowPages.com ranks for a local search term you care about, it’s worth bothering with your listing(s) there.

3.  Is it on InfoGroup, LocalEze, Acxiom, or Factual?
Google and other sites in the local-search ecosystem trust these four sites – known as “data aggregators” – as sources of accurate business info.  Make sure your listings there are accurate.

4.  Is it on a government site?
It’s likely that Google Maps and the data-aggregators (see point #3) trust the business info on government sites (e.g. State Secretary of State).  It may be a pain, but make sure your “official” record is accurate.

5.  Have you heard of the site?
If so, I’d fix it.  Unless it’s Yahoo.  Yahoo is for the birds.

6.  Do you have reviews on another listing on the site, or plan to ask for reviews on the site?
You don’t want customers to review the wrong listing.

7.  Has a customer ever seemed confused by info that’s on the listing?
Easily the best reason to fix or remove an incorrect listing.

8.  Is it clear that you can update the listing with relative ease, and for free?
If it’s controlled by Yext or otherwise requires you to pay to make any changes, I would say it’s not important to fix or to remove.

But let’s say it’s a free listing, and you can fix it or remove it easily if you want to.  Should you?  If it passes the other 7 tests I’ve described, I wouldn’t say you need to – at least not for citation-consistency purposes.  Do it if it’s just gnawing at you, and if fixing one won’t cause your OCD to flare up and compel you to fix 100 other rinky-dink listings.

Do you have a local listing you’re not sure whether to clean up?

Can you think of criteria for deciding when to bother with a listing vs. when to skip it?

Leave a comment!

How to Change Your CitySearch Business Categories without Breaking a Sweat

The categories you pick for your non-Google local listings also matter.  They influence your rankings within those sites, and seem to influence your Google Places rankings at least a little.

I’ve already nagged you to pay attention to your categories on Yelp, Apple Maps, and other sites.

But don’t forget about creaky old CitySearch.  It’s not a cool, up-and-coming site, but it still matters to your local visibility.  Start by making sure you’re listed under the right categories

The trouble is that the part of the site that business owners have to deal with has been half-broken for several years now.  Local SEOs have had to rely on the support staff for help with listings that need fixing.  Complicating matters is that if you email support you’ll get an auto-reply email that implies all you have to do on CitySearch is to square away your ExpressUpdate listing.

Maybe oddest of all is the fact that even if you’ve claimed your CitySearch listing you’ll have to call the support line (800-611-4827) if you want to change your categories.

The other day, fellow LocalSparker Gene Maryushenko and I were discussing a client’s case, and looking for every worthwhile tune-up we could make.  CitySearch had our client listed under the overly broad category of “Attorneys,” but we wanted to get it changed to the more-accurate “Criminal Defense Attorneys” category.

Turns out it was real easy, according to Gene:

Phil,

We discussed updating [client’s] category on CityGrid and you said you’d be interested in hearing how that phone call to support went.

As soon as I got off the Skype call with you, I gave them a call. Pressed option 2 for non-paying customer, pressed 2 to change listing info and got a rep on the line.

I told the rep I’m interested in changing the categories and he said sure, no problem. I asked to have the primary category set to Criminal Defense Attorneys and removed secondary. He said it should take 24-48 hours to process and that was it.

Call lasted less than a minute. I’m writing this the next day (10:22am my time) to let you know the change was processed.

Again, the CitySearch/CityGrid support-line number is (800) 611-4827.

I’m guessing this would work even on an unclaimed CitySearch listing, too.  Sometimes CitySearch can be buggy when you’re trying to claim or log into your listing.  Haven’t tried it on an unclaimed listing yet, though.

Any tips on dealing with CitySearch listings in general – especially the categories?

Any category-related tips on other sites?

Leave a comment!

Latest Local SEO Labyrinth: the New ExpressUpdateUSA

If you want your business to rank well in the local search results, it needs to be listed correctly on ExpressUpdate.com – AKA InfoGroup, formerly ExpressUpdateUSA.

You probably knew how important your ExpressUpdateUSA listing is.  (If you didn’t, read this and then come back here.)

But you might feel jarred by three extremely recent changes to the site and to the process of adding or fixing your listing:

Change 1.  The new layout.  It’s a little easier to find the area where you can check your listing.  Unfortunately, this is the only change that makes things simpler.

 

Change 2.  You now have to verify by phone if you want to claim and make changes to your listing.

Even if you already have a listing that you created and owner-verified by email and that InfoGroup published, you can’t simply log into your account to make changes.  You can’t simply click the big green “Login” button and enter your trusty login info.

You must phone-verify – before you can create an account, before you can log in, and before you can make any changes.

 

Change 3.  The area where you can add your listing for the first time (in case you’re not already listed) doesn’t seem to require verification – by phone or email.  If you search for your business (see point #1, above) and nothing comes up, scroll down and you’ll see the “Add a listing” option.

Or you can just go straight to http://www.expressupdate.com/place_submissions/new

By the way, when it comes time to pick out a category to list your business under, you might find InfoGroup’s category-picker to be slow and frustrating.

It’s easier if you go to OSHA’s Standard Industrial Category search tool and find the most-appropriate category for your business there, and enter that into the “Primary SIC” field.

Next steps

So what do you do now?  Depends whether you’re a complete do-it-yourselfer business owner or you’re having a friendly local-search pro help you out.

If you’re going it alone:

1.  Check up on your ExpressUpdate listing now.

2.  If your business is listed 100% correctly, you don’t need to do anything –  although it would be smart to take 2-3 minutes to claim your listing anyway.

3.  If your listing isn’t 100% accurate, make sure you’re by the phone so that you can claim and then correct your listing.  Do it now, or the incorrect info will come back to bite your local rankings in the rump.

4.  If your business isn’t listed at all, add it and follow whatever instructions you get.  Because InfoGroup’s policies just changed, I haven’t had the chance to confirm whether they’ll tell you exactly what to do, or whether you just have to check up on your listing again later and claim it by phone once it’s approved.  In any case, you will need to claim the listing personally, sooner or later.

How about if you’re working with a local SEO?  In that case, there’s only one difference: now ExpresssUpdate requires a little teamwork.

It used to be that your friendly local SEO-er only needed access to your business email address in order to do anything that needed to be done with your listing.

Now if your local-search consigliere says that you need to claim your listing in order to make changes to it, you two need to nail down a time when you’ll both be by the computer and you’ll be by the phone, ready to follow the instructions for verifying your listing.

By the way, if you need to, you can actually reach a human who can fog a mirror.

Final thoughts

If you run a business in the US, the changes at InfoGroup matter to your local rankings and visibility.  As a local SEO, I’m not wild about the changes, because they’re extra little hoops to jump through with my clients.

But I can totally see why InfoGroup made the changes: It’s harder for bad information to enter their system (which helps their new Data Axle offering).  Ultimately, that means the local search results in Google and elsewhere will be a little more accurate.  If your competitors are doing stuff that’s not kosher, life might get tougher for them.

I doubt that ExpressUpdate is moving to a freemium model, the way LocalEze did recently.  But who knows.  My advice is: square away your listing now, while it’s still free and relatively straightforward to do so.