RIP LocalEze Free Business Listings

Is your business listed on LocalEze.com?  I hope so: If you run a “local” business in the US, the site can indirectly help or hurt your local search rankings.

On a tight budget and want to list your business for free?  You’re out of luck.

As of just this month, LocalEze no longer allows businesses owners to add their listings to the site for free.

I’ve heard this from a couple of people now – including one of my clients and the guys from FireGang– which prompted me to go in and take a look for myself today.  I’ve come to the same conclusion.

Apparently, you can still claim your listing for free if it’s already listed on LocalEze (more on this in a minute).  It’s just that now you can’t add a listing (for free) that’s not already in the system.

I’m not wild about this change.

As I’ve written on several occasions, LocalEze is a very important site to list your business on if you want to rank well in the local search results – particularly in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) results.  Being listed there and listed accurately is a huge step in making sure your citations are consistent.

I think the paid package is a good deal, but business owners shouldn’t have to fork over just to have basic control of their own business information.  Especially given how many other websites LocalEze feeds your business information to.

That’s what I know so far.  There are also some things I don’t know at this stage:

  • I’m wondering whether LocalEze will remain as important a data-provider, at least as far as Google’s local-search algorithm is concerned.  No doubt it will remain important, but the move toward pay-to-play ultimately may mean fewer businesses and less-fresh info in the database – which is the last thing Google (not to mention Apple Maps) needs at the moment.
  • If you’ve already got a claimed listing, can you only update it once annually (for free)?
  • Will (and should) LocalEze continue to appear in GetListed.org scans?
  • What will we be saying a year from now?

Anyway…

What should you do now?  At least one of four things:

  • Join me in pouring a fohty for the free listings.
  • If you’re listed on LocalEze and if you haven’t already claimed your listing, claim your listing while you still can do so for free.
  • If you’re not listed and you’re not on a particularly tight budget, consider adding your listing by forking over for the paid package ($297 / year).  You can also add and gain control of your listing if you’re on Yext (which I believe is $397 / year for a single-location “small” business).
  • If you’re not listed on LocalEze but you are on a restrictive budget, you can still get listed, but it’s going to take some work and patience.  You’ll have to list your business on pretty much all the other important directories (AKA “citation sources”).  LocalEze “trusts” some of these sites, and if your business is listed on the latter, it will probably be listed on the former after some months.  You’d have to list your business on these other third-party sites anyway if you’re serious about your local SEO.  The only difference is that now – if you have more patience than money at the moment – you may want to list your business on those sites first, rather than do LocalEze first and wait for it to feed your info to the other sites

Questions?  First-hand observations?  Not sure which plan of attack might be best in your situation?  Leave a comment!

InfoGroup Category List

Your InfoGroup listing matters - and so do the business categories you choose for itThere are two business listings you absolutely can’t screw up if you want to get visible in Google’s local search results: The first one is your Google+Local listing (duh).  The other is your InfoGroup listing.

InfoGroup – AKA InfoUSA – automatically feeds your business info to sites all over the local search ecosystem.  If your InfoGroup listing has info that’s inaccurate or that differs significantly from what’s on other sites, the chances are excellent your local rankings will be lousy.

The data InfoGroup has on your business also gets piped right into Google.   Ever wonder what causes duplicate Google listings to show up?  Or how a business can have a local listing on Google even though the owner never created a listing?   That’s usually because of InfoGroup.

The bottom line is you need to take two steps with your InfoGroup listing:

1.  Make sure it exists and that your vital info (name, address, phone number) is correct.  Do this at ExpressUpdateUSA.com (which is a site specifically meant for building / managing your listing).  Create your listing if it’s not already there.  If it’s in the system, claim it and make any necessary tweaks.

2.  Beef up your listing with as much relevant additional info on your business / services as you possibly can.  This additional info matters to your local rankings.  This includes the “description” and “services” fields you’re allowed to fill out – and that are easily to fill out.  But most importantly it means you have to pick out relevant categories to list your business under.  The categories can be a little trickier.  That’s what this post is for.

As I’ve commented before, picking the right business categories is crucial not only to your rankings but to the range of local search terms you’re visible for.  This is true of the categories you pick for your Google listing, and of the categories you pick for your third-party listings – of which InfoGroup is arguably the most important of all.

Everything I recently wrote about categories on LocalEze is also true of InfoGroup: you have literally thousands of categories to choose from, but they’re not easily searchable and sometimes aren’t called what you think they’d be called.  With InfoGroup it’s hard to know if you’ve even found the most relevant ones.

Many of the categories aren’t even relevant to “local” businesses.  They have categories for bologna makers and yurt manufacturers alike.  If you’re an alpaca farmer, they’ve got you covered.  Wholesale zipper seller?  Yup.  Uranium dealer?  No problem.

That’s why I’ve put all 9,854 InfoGroup business categories into one list.  The benefit of this is you can search it using CTRL+F or Command+F, or even browse it if you must.  You could find the right categories using InfoGroup’s search feature, but it will take you a bit longer.

Plus, you can even edit or process the categories list if you use the Excel or .txt versions – if you wanted to get all fancy.

But all you really need to do is find the 5 most-accurate categories for your business – or at least however many are relevant to your business and what you offer.  Add those categories when you create or edit your InfoGroup listing.

By the way, I highly recommend you use CTRL+F to search the list, at least to narrow down your options at first.  I hope you were planning to anyway.  I suppose you could read through the list from top to bottom, but your head may explode and you’ll have eyeball prints on your laptop screen.

Happy category-hunting!

View or download the InfoGroup category list:

  PDF

  Excel

  Text

LocalEze Category List

Pick your LocalEze business category wiselyLocalEze is one of the most important sites to list your business on if you want to rank well in Google’s local search results.  I’d put it in the top 5.  It’s important because it feeds your business info to a ton of other influential third-party sites, which in turn influence your Google local rankings.

All you need on LocalEze is a free listing (though in some situations a paid listing isn’t a bad investment).

Meanwhile, picking the right categories to list your business under is a make-or-break step – both on your Google+Local (formerly Google Places) page and on major third-party sites like LocalEze.

Essentially, it’s your chance to tell Google what search terms you most want to be found for.  You don’t want to blow the opportunity.

But in order to select the right categories, you first have to find them on the list.  This is very easy to do on many major sites (like Yelp).

However, LocalEze has 1742 categories to choose from.  You’re required to choose one for your business – but no more than one.

They have an OK browse feature, but it can still take a while to find the right category, and it will take you forever if you first want to see all your options.  I’ve also found that the system can be very slow (it tends to “crunch” a lot).

That’s why I’ve rounded up all 1742 business categories in the LocalEze directory and put them into one easy-to-search list.

Kind of like Mike Blumenthal’s ultra-handy Google category tool, it’s meant to save you a few minutes of frustration and help make sure you pick out the right categories for your business where it really counts.

More specifically, the LocalEze category list is meant to remedy the following problems / nuisances:

  • You can only pick one category for your LocalEze listing (for reasons I don’t know).  You want to make sure it’s the single-most relevant.  It’s much easier to find the right one if you can see all your options at a glance.
  • If you’re not sure which category to pick, you need to be able to browse a list easily.  But isn’t not always quick or easy to browse through LocalEze interface.
  • If you manage listings for several locations – whether you’re a business owner or a local SEO – you’ll probably get tired of searching around for the right category every time you create a listing.

This post would get huge and bloated like 1970’s-era Elvis if I tried to stuff 1742 categories into it.  So – as you can see – I didn’t go that route.

You can view or download the LocalEze category list right now:

  PDF

  Excel

  Text

If you have any suggestions for how I can make the list more useful or just better in general, please leave a comment!

12-Week Action Plan for Google Places Visibility

Action is awesome - but smart action is even betterUnless you’re Arnold, furious bursts of action alone probably won’t get you very far.  You need a plan for the action.

This is especially important if you’re trying to get your business visible in local search – and particularly important if you want to boost your visibility in the ever-finicky Google Places results.

That’s why I’ve sketched out a 12-week action plan you can follow to climb up a little higher on the local totem pole.

This is a timetable that’s worked really well for me and my clients, though I recognize there’s more than one way to skin a cat (figuratively speaking, of course…I like cats).

12 weeks may sound like a long time.  But I’ve found that’s about how long it takes to implement everything you need to implement – especially if you have a business to run and have your hands full.

I always have a heck of a time trying to explain this verbally, but, as you can see, it’s actually pretty simple.

(Click below to see larger version of the timetable, or download it as a PDF)

 

Here’s a little more detail on each step:

 

 Claiming Places page

What you’re doing – First editing your Google Places page to make sure all the info is accurate, and then claiming your page so any edits you made actually stick.  This is also when you should try to remove any duplicate Places listings for your business, and it’s when you should do any basic optimization, like picking your business categories.

Explanation of timing – It usually takes 7-12 days for Google to send you the postcard with the PIN that allows you to claim your Places page.  Sometimes there are hang-ups, so it’s best to get started on this ASAP.

 

 Tuning up website

What you’re doing – Making your site at least somewhat local-search-friendly.  Optimize your title tag (with a light touch on the keywords), add a footer with your business name / address / phone number to each page of your site, and make sure your homepage (or whatever you use as your Google Places landing page) contains detail on the specific services you’re trying to get visible for.  Also, make sure your site isn’t “over-optimized.”

Explanation of timing – What’s on your site has a huge influence on how you’ll rank in Google Places, especially in the ever-more-common “blended” local rankings.  Therefore, if there’s even a chance you’re in trouble for keyword-spamminess, bad links, etc., you’ll want to start crawling out of the doghouse ASAP.  Later on (like in weeks 5 & 9) is a good time to do some general housekeeping (like scanning for and fixing dead links), to see how you can beef up your pages with more service-relevant content, to put out a couple of blog posts, or maybe to do some link-building.

 

 Submitting to data-providers

What you’re doing – Listing your business on ExpressUpdateUSA and LocalEze, or – if you’re already listed there – making sure you’ve claimed those two listings.  If possible, also claim your listing at MyBusinessListingManager and make sure it’s accurate.  If you’ve got a few extra bucks, consider listing yourself on UBL.org.

Explanation of timing – It generally takes about 2 months for these data-providers to feed your business info to Google Places and to third-party sites (CitySearch, SuperPages, etc.).  Because your rankings really depend on how consistent your business info is from site to site, it’s important to deal with these sites at the very beginning.

 

 Gathering citations

What you’re doing – Getting listed on as may directory sites as you can.  Start with the most important sites (like all the ones you see when you do a GetListed.org scan) and eventually try to get on some of the sites nobody’s heard of (like some of the sites on my Definitive Citations List).  If possible, also try to list your business on (1) “hyperlocal” sites that are specific to your city/town and on (2) directory sites that are focused on your industry (i.e., your “vertical”). You can find these citation sources with the help of the Local Citation Finder, or by doing it the old-fashioned way.

Explanation of timing – You’ll be dealing with dozens of sites.  Not only does it take time on your part to list yourself on them, but it also often takes weeks for these sites to list your business or process any edits you’ve made.  You’ve got to start early.  Plus, the more citations you can rack up over time, the better.

 

 Fixing 3rd-party data

What you’re doing – Checking the data-providers (see yellow) and at least some of your citation sources (see green) to make sure all your business info is 100% accurate – and fixing any inaccurate info you find.  You should also check to make sure no duplicate Google Places listings have popped up – and remove any that have.

Explanation of timing – Making sure your citations don’t get FUBAR is an ongoing task, but there’s no need to check on them every day, because many of them take a while to update.  Just check on them every few weeks (at least during the 12 weeks).

 

 Getting Google reviews

What you’re doingAsking customers to write reviews directly on your Google Places page.  As you probably know, they’ll need Google / Gmail accounts to do this.  I suggest you ask about half your customers to write Google reviews, and ask the other half to write reviews through 3rd-party review sites (see below).

Explanation of timing – If you haven’t claimed your Places page, or if your business has a bunch of duplicate Places pages floating around, it’s possible Google will erase your reviews.  It’s best to hold off on requesting reviews until the Places pages aren’t being created, claimed, deleted, and otherwise jockeyed around.  Plus, you’ll have your hands full anyway during the first couple of weeks.

 

 Getting 3rd-party reviews

What you’re doing – Asking customers to write reviews on non­-Google sites.  CitySearch, InsiderPages, JudysBook, etc. (and Yelp, but Yelp has rules against requesting reviews).  I’ve found that having reviews on a variety of sites helps your Places rankings, and of course it’s a great way to attract the users of those sites.

Explanation of timing – You can start asking for 3rd-party reviews even while your Places page is up in the air.  But I suggest focusing on the other steps first – namely, having accurate and plentiful citations, a tuned-up website, and no duplicate Places pages.  On the other hand, getting 3rd-party reviews is another ongoing task, which means it’s worth starting fairly early…hence why I say start around week 3.

 

You might be wondering a few things…

What if you’ve been wrangling with Google Places and local search in general for a while?  I suggest you still follow the timeline.  If one of the steps no longer applies to you – for example, if you’ve already submitted your info for the data-providers – then cross that one off and focus on the others.

What if you already have a bunch of citations or reviews?  Keep racking ‘em up.  Sure, don’t pour as much time into them as you would if you were starting at Square One.  But don’t stop at “good enough” – especially if you’re in a competitive market.

What should you do after the 12 weeks?  Given that you’ll likely be much more visible to local customers, it’ll largely be a matter of maintaining your visibility by continuing to work on all the steps (except red and yellow), but at a significantly slower pace.  (For more, see my post on how to maintain your Places rankings.)

How does this action plan stack up with yours?  Leave a comment!

If I Had 1 Hour to Get Visible in Google Places

What would Bond do if he had 1 hour to get visible in Google Places?If I were James Bond and a dumpy little guy with a monocle and a white cat kidnapped me and demanded that I get his business visible in Google Places in one hour…the first thing I’d say is “You’ll never get away with it, GoogleFinger!”

After his henchmen handcuff my feet to a portable nuke suspended over a tank of sharks, the second thing I’d tell the bad guy is that it takes weeks or even months to get a business visible in Google Places—and that there’s no way I can do it in an hour.

The bad guy knows that.  As he walks away, he tells me that I have one hour to do all the things that will allow him to triumph…or I become shark food and the nuke goes off.

Bleep.  59:59…59:58…59:57…

OK, sorry if that’s a bit unrealistic (even for Bond movies).

However, if I were in the all-too-realistic situation of being a business owner who’s not visible enough to local customers in Google Places, who has no time, and drinks black coffee and Pepto-Bismol instead of shaken-not-stirred martinis, one lousy hour might be all the time I can (realistically) spare.

I assume you’re a business owner who has no time.  I also assume the reason you’re frustrated is you have created a Google Places listing, you do have a functioning website—but you’re still not connecting with local customers.  You’ve tried to get visible, you’re not visible, and you have very little time to change that.

Therefore, my suggestions aren’t the place to start if you’ve never heard of Google Places and have never even tried to get your business to rank well there.

But if you have tried to get visible, and feel you only have about an hour to spare for Google Places optimization, here’s how I’d use that one hour:

 

First 5 minutes: 

I’d log into my Google Places listing to double-check that all my info is 100% correct, and that the name of the listing exactly matches the real/official/legal name of my business.  I’d make sure I have at least one photo uploaded, and that I’ve chosen as many relevant “categories” as possible (perhaps with the help of the Google Places category tool).  Finally, I’d delete any duplicate Google Places listings that show up in my account.

 

Next 40 minutes:

I’d submit my business to the main data providers:

Acxiom

InfoUSA

LocalEze

I’d then list my business on just a handful of the most influential third-party directory sites:

AngiesList

CitySearch

SuperPages

Yelp

Obviously, I’d make sure to complete whatever owner-verification processes these sites ask me to go through.

If you want to do these submissions as quickly and easily as humanly possible, I suggest you follow these tips for fast citation-gathering.

 

Next 10 minutes:

I’d make two changes to my website (if necessary):

(1) Tweak the title tag of my homepage until it meets the following criteria: (a) contains 1-2 of the specific terms that best describe my business/services, (b) contains the city I’m located in and two-letter abbreviation of my state, (c) contains my website name, (d) makes sense to a human reader and doesn’t read like gibberish, and (e) is 70 characters or fewer in length.

(2) Add my business name, address, and phone number to the very bottom of every page of my site.  Also known as “NAP,” this needs to be crawlable text—as in not an image.  Here are some examples of what to add to the footer of your webpages.  Ideally, do this in hCard format.

 

Final 5 minutes:

I’d whip together a short email that I could send my customers to ask for Google reviews.  The email should be a polite, no-pressure request for them to leave you a customer review.  It should include a link to where they can go to set up a free Google account (if they don’t have one already) and a shortened link to your Google Places page.

I’d then blast off the email to every customer I could before the hour hand strikes.  By the way, make sure you personalize the emails and don’t lead off with a cheesy “Dear Valued Customer.”

Or if I didn’t have my customers’ email addresses, I’d print out or scribble down some instructions and mail them to my customers, Tweet to them, Facebook them, blast out a quick telegraph, or send them a homing pigeon.

If I didn’t have any customers to contact during the last few minutes, I’d spend that time putting together a really good email or materials that I could use to request reviews when some customers do come around.

You’re done.  Of course, more time would be nice, and Bond could certainly get even more accomplished if he had more than an hour.  It may take a while for Google to digest the changes, but in the course of just an hour you did what you had to do to get visible.

Well done, 007.  Now you can hit the martinis and the baccarat table.