Business Categories Lists for Major Local Search Sites

Categories are the forgotten child of local SEO.

Though they don’t get much attention, categories do get respect: “Proper Category Associations” is the #1 “Foundational Ranking Factor” listed on 2013’s Local Search Ranking Factors study.  (I was one of the people who ranked them up there, and I’m glad other local-searchers agree.)

Picking as many relevant categories as you can is probably the easiest way to make progress on your Google+ Local, Bing Places, Apple Maps, Yelp, and other rankings.

Choosing the right ones is sometimes easier said than done.  Google no longer allows “custom” categories.  That’s nice in a couple of ways: You can choose up to 10 categories, and it’s nice that it’s much harder now to get penalized by accidentally specifying a custom category that Google doesn’t consider kosher.

Still, the categories you want to pick are either on Google’s list or they aren’t.  Which may leave you feeling hamstrung if your business is specialized or “niche.”

Fortunately for us, the categories you can pick on other sites seem to help Google determine what type of business yours is – and what terms you should rank for.

They’re also a huge factor in your rankings on pretty much every other site worth being listed on.

The name of the game is to know your options for categories, on as many sites as possible.  Most of them don’t make it easy to browse all your options.  That’s why I’ve rounded up a bunch of category lists, so you can find the relevant ones easily.

Check out these lists and see if you’ve listed your business under the best categories possible:

Search engines

Google – Browse Mike Blumenthal’s Google Places Category Tool

Bing Places – See my list of Bing business categories (new)

Apple Maps – Dig through this monstrous list put together by Andrew Shotland

Data-aggregators

ExpressUpdate – Pick from OSHA’s Standard Industrial Categories

LocalEze – See my post on LocalEze categories

Factual – Refer to this list when submitting your Factual listing

IYPs

Yelp – Dig through Yelp’s somewhat-buried list, or see my post on Yelp categories

InsiderPages – See this

AngiesList – Here you go

Those are just the category lists I’ve found so far or put together myself.  I’m sure you or I could easily find full lists of categories for rinky-dink sites that nobody’s ever heard of.  But there are a few category lists I’d still like to have.

The sites on my wish-list at the moment are CitySearch, YellowPages, Local.Yahoo.com, and Acxiom (MyBusinessListingManager.com).  Please let me know if you find or make a list of all the categories allowed on those sites!

BrightLocal Webinar on Local Reviews

Today I had the pleasure once again of speaking on a webinar put on by BrightLocal.  It’s part of the InsideLocal series of webinars that’s been going since July, and that will continue through the end of the year.

The one today was all about reviews.

Here’s the video, and below it is the slide deck.

Enjoy!

 

Thanks again to Myles Anderson for inviting me, and to Don Campbell (fellow speaker) and Linda Buquet (Q&A moderator) for a great job.

Any questions?  Thoughts on review strategy?  Feel free to leave a comment on Linda’s forum, or right here.

An Overlooked Way to Report a Crooked Local Competitor

A recent conversation with my buddy, Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca, led me to wonder: what is the best way to report a business that’s using a fake address or fake DBA to get ahead in the Google+ Local results?

 

The question came up because of a comment I made in this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors study, about how you’re doing the right thing if you report a competitor who’s using questionable means to eat your lunch in the local results.

(If you want to check out my original comment, it’s the third-from-last one – and my last comment – in the LSRF, down near the bottom of the page.)

Google would have you believe that the only way to report a competitor is to use the “Report a problem” feature.  My experience never has been that “Report a problem” is particularly effective.  But what’s made me lose faith recently is that the competitor of a client of mine has been using a UPS store as his address – and you can clearly see the UPS signage from Street View.  The boneheads at  Google have done nothing.

Which made me think: is Google’s “Report a problem” the only way you can even try to level the playing field?

No: you could also report the offending business on MapMaker.  If your edit comes to the attention of a good Regional Expert Reviewer (RER), you may be in luck.  But MapMaker is still a roll of the dice.

Then it occurred to me: what if you flag down the business at other important sites in the local-search “ecosystem”?

I’m talking about alerting sites like Yelp and YP to the fact that your competitor is using fake info.  That’s the stone I forget to turn over – and that other people probably also forget to turn over.  (If you frequently report crooked competitors this way, I tip my hat to you.)

Which sites should you go to?  By my count, the only important local-search sites with some semblance of a “report inaccurate info” feature are Yelp, YP, SuperPages, InsiderPages, ExpressUpdate, and Yahoo.

 

As for ExpressUpdate.com, I think you just have to contact them personally (from the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of the site).  No idea how helpful they are, though.

What should you put in your reports?

  • You competitor’s real business info;
  • The inaccurate or fake business that your competitor is using instead;
  • How you know the fake info is fake, and how you know the real info is real, and
  • Your contact info, if possible.

I wish I could say exactly how well this type of reporting works.  I don’t know yet.  For whatever reason, unethical competitors usually aren’t a problem for my clients, so I don’t have too many occasions to flag them down.

As far as I can see, there are 3 possible outcomes of flagging down dishonest competitors on sites like the above:

1.  Nothing happens – in which case I suggest trying again in a couple of weeks, and maybe asking other people to flag them down.  I can’t guarantee that grinding will do the trick, but don’t assume it won’t.

2.  One or more of the sites corrects or removes the offending listing, which could hurt not only your competitor’s visibility on that site, but also his/her NAP consistency and possibly Google+ Local rankings.

3.  Enough of the sites start displaying the real info that Google finally realizes the info on your competitor’s Places/Plus page is fake.  As Bill Slawski has written, Google’s patents describe that this is one anti-spam method that Google uses to police Maps.

Don’t confine your efforts to level the playing field.  Keep flagging down those competitors on Google, but also try it on other sites.  Something’s gotta give.

What methods have you tried to report competitors using fake info?  What seems to have worked – or not worked – so far?  Leave a comment!

IYP Ranking Factors: Getting Visible in Local-Biz Directories

IYPs – short for “Internet Yellow Pages” – get a bum rap.

Some of it is true:

Yes, they’re directories, not search engines.

Yes, some of them are mere flies on the windshield of Google.

Yes, we often harbor murderous fantasies when one of their sales representatives calls us on the phone.

It’s for all these reasons and others that most business owners pay little attention to these sites.

This makes sense on one level: these sites don’t have nearly as much “eyeball share” as Google does.

But it’s a mistake.  If you’re in a competitive local market, you’re going to want every edge you can get.

More specifically: you’ll want every promising eyeball you can get (not to sound creepy or anything).  On the whole, many people use IYP sites – partly because Google usually ranks them above or right below its own local search results.

That’s why you need to know basically how these third-party directory sites rank their business listings: as on Google, on these sites there are visible businesses and invisible ones.  You want yours to be in the first group.

These sites influence your Google+Local rankings, too, but that’s another story.

I recently spent a few hours trying to figure out what separates some businesses from others on 7 of the biggest IYP sites.  I’ve listed the sites in alphabetical order, with the ranking factors for each underneath.

Here are the ranking factors I’ve found for each site:

(Please note: these simply are my observations, based on a few hours of gumshoeing and several years of helping my clients with local search.)

 

1. Reviews (AKA “ratings”).  That’s it.  One ranking factor.

In terms of how CitySearch ranks businesses, there is a very clear pecking order:

-“Best of CitySearch” winners (if there are any in a particular local market).

-Then businesses that havereviews, ranked in descending order of “CitySearch score” and/or number of reviews (more on this in a second).

-Then businesses with no reviews.

A little more detail:

Businesses that win the “Best of CitySearch” award tend to have some reviews, but I’ve seen winners that have 1 or 2, which leads me to believe reviews may not even be a factor in winning.  My understanding always has been that there are judges – AKA “scouts” – who pick the winners, but I’ve always been unclear on the specifics (despite a couple of unanswered inquiries on my part).  Whatever the case, BoC winners get the top spots.

Slightly farther down the totem pole are all the businesses with reviews.  All of them rank above all the businesses without reviews.

How do all the businesses with reviews get sorted out?  Well, that leads us to “CitySearch score.”  It’s the equivalent of an “average rating” (like what you see on Google and Yelp).  100% is perfect.  75% may mean that 3 out of 4 customers gave you a positive rating – which they can do without actually having to string together a couple sentences in a review.

CitySearch ranks businesses mostly by score, but also by number of ratings.

CitySearch usually ranks businesses with 90% above ones with 85%, which in turn outrank the ones at 72%, and so on.  You get the idea.

There are some exceptions to this: Occasionally a business with a 90% CitySearch score will outrank one with a 100%.  In these cases, the number of ratings also seems to be a factor: a business with 95% based on 60 ratings may outrank a business with 100% based on 20 ratings.

But businesses with a score of 50% or more always outrank the ones that have a score below 50%

When several businesses have 100% scores (which is common), it seems that the one with the highest number of reviews/ratings will be at the top.

Given that your local competitors probably don’t include many or any “Best of CitySearch” winners, and that businesses without any reviews rarely are contenders on the site, your #1 task is just to rack up a couple of reviews on the site.  (CitySearch reviews help you out on many other sites, too.)

 

1.  Paid results.  Businesses that pay get the top spots.  Everyone else dukes it out based on:

2.  Reviews.  InsiderPages is similar to CitySearch in this way.  All businesses with reviews outrank all the ones that don’t have any.

Here, too, the businesses are ranked based on the number of reviews they have and by order of average rating (e.g. 5-star average, 4-star average, etc.).  But unlike on CitySearch, here the number of reviews seems to carry a little more weight than how high the average star rating is.  It appears quantity matters a bit more than quality, in this regard.

 

1. Being “Verified by Manta.”  Once you create your Manta profile, they call you up to make sure your info is accurate.  I don’t recall ever having done this with my clients (maybe once or twice…don’t remember), but I believe it’s free.

2.  Business name.  If the name of your Manta listing includes a given search term or city name, you’ll probably rank highly for it.  But do NOT mess with your business name just to grab an extra edge: it may hurt the all-important consistency of your “NAP” info across the web.

By the way, there’s no such thing as a “Manta review,” so reviews aren’t even part of the equation here.  Probably all you can do to climb over a few competitors is owner-verify your Manta listing (again, with the caveat that I’m not 100% sure whether it’s free – not that it necessarily would be a bad use of a buck).

 

1.  Paid results.

2.  Business name.

3.  Reviews (?).  This is a bit unclear to me: although businesses with reviews generally seem to outrank ones that don’t, sometimes I’ll click on a listing with a star rating next to it and the actual listing page for the business won’t show any reviews (I have a theory about this, though).  I do know, though, that MerchantCircle is no stranger to the occasional shenanigan.  It’s definitely a good site to be on, and you’ll want to make sure your listing is complete and accurate.  I just don’t really know the extent to which MerchantCircle reviews help you on the site (or in your Google+Local rankings).

 

1. Paid results.  SuperPages seems to have a ton of businesses on-board with “sponsored listings” – to such an extent that the “basic” listings often are halfway down the page or lower.

2.  Business name.

3.  Categories.  SuperPages has an unusually wide range of categories you can list your business under, but you can’t specify any custom categories.  You can pick up to 5.  It’s really worth taking a few minutes to make sure you pick them wisely.  (One good practice is to check out which ones your competitors are using.)

4.  Reviews.  Relative to other sites, SuperPages doesn’t have an enormous amount of review activity – though certainly it would be smart to make sure you get a couple reviews on it.  In effect, this makes the other 3 main ranking factors I’ve identified a little more important.

 

I did a whole post on Yelp ranking factors, as you may have seen.  But here are the CliffsNotes on what seem to be the biggest ranking factors:

1.  Existence of reviews.

2.  Keyword-relevance of reviews

3.  Categories.

4.  Name of business.

5.  Number of reviews.

6.  Reviews by “Elite” members.

7.  Check-ins via smartphone.

8.  Quality of reviews.

(For more detail, check out the post.)

 

Let’s start this one off with some great observations by my good buddy Darren Shaw of Whitespark.ca:

I looked at some businesses ranking in yellowpages.ca a while back and it looked to me that the #1 thing was just to get a couple reviews. Any reviews. Most businesses didn’t have any reviews on the site, and the ones that did tended to rank. The trouble with yellowpages.ca is that they randomize the rankings on every page load. Refresh this a few times: http://www.yellowpages.ca/search/si/1/plumbers/Edmonton+AB

The items in blue are paid, and the items with pins are paid as well but a lower cost package. It looks pretty random.

I’m pretty sure that if you phone and talk to a sales rep at most directories, they’ll tell you exactly how the rankings are generated. Typically it’s paid level 1, paid level 2, paid level 3, then random non-paid with reviews possibly playing a role. They seem to randomize the various paid levels as well so that each business gets equal opportunity to rank #1 in their section.

 Just for the sake of comparing notes, here are the YP ranking factors I’ve noticed:

1. Paid results.  They’re everywhere.  The only randomized results – the ones Darren mentions (above) – seem to be the paid results.  The “basic,” free listings appear to rank the same way consistently – based on some of the ranking factors we’ve seen elsewhere.

2.  Business name.

3.  Categories.

4.  Reviews.  YP is an important site to your local-search efforts in a lot of ways – certainly if you’re in the US, but especially if you’re in another country.  Even if you don’t give a hoot about how visible you are on YP, I do recommend getting at least a few reviews there.

Even if some of specific factors I mentioned were news to you, the takeaway messages from all of this shouldn’t be news:

1.  Make dead-certain you’re listed on each of the above sites, spend a few minutes picking out the most-relevant categories you can for your listings, and try to get reviews on as many of the sites as you possibly can.

2.  Although many ad packages are a waste (or an outright scam), don’t necessarily dismiss them out of hand.  For instance, if there’s on IYP site where you have a ton of great reviews, getting more people to see that listing may pay off.

3.  Whenever there’s an often-ignored to-do item that can set you apart on one specific site (like verifying your Manta profile), do it.  Most of your competitors would rather kick back and shovel Pringles into their faces than take a few minutes to pick low-hanging fruit.

Do you have any thoughts on / experience with the sites I mentioned or with others?  Any advice or suggestions?  Leave a comment!

The Local Business Reviews Ecosystem

In the offline world it’s hard to figure out exactly how your business gets a certain reputation, or exactly how “word gets around.”  But online this is something you can actually figure out pretty well.

How?  By knowing which online review sites are the most influential and “contagious.”  (Not “viral” – that’s an overused, exaggerated term.)

There are two kinds of online local-business reviews: ones that have “legs” and ones that don’t.

Many IYP (“internet yellow pages”) sites share reviews with other sites.  For example, the reviews in Bing local say “Powered by Yelp.”  CitySearch feeds 14 other major review sites – possibly more.  The same reviews that appear on CitySearch and Yelp appear word-for-word on other sites (often with attribution to the original source).  That’s what I mean when I say one site feeds reviews to or shares reviews with another site.

Customer reviews written on Google+Local pages pretty much stay at home and eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in their bunny slippers.

I bet you can’t ask customers to review you on 20 different sites.  You probably can’t even easily monitor what’s said about you on the dozens of sites where customers might drop you a review.  But if you know the few linchpin sites that feed the others, you can focus your review-gathering efforts on those sites.  It’s the 80/20 rule.

I’ve mapped out which major (and some not-so-major) US sites share reviews with each other.  Check out the Ecosystem:

(click to enlarge)

Wrapped your head around all of that yet?  No?  Well, I’ll move on to a few notes on the Local Business Reviews Ecosystem anyway:

  • If you’ve ever seen David Mihm’s unfairly awesome “Local Search Ecosystem,” you’ll notice the resemblance.  I’ve always liked that layout, and I thought it would be a good fit here.

 

  • Not every review on a particular site always gets fed to other sites.  For instance, even though InsiderPages feeds some reviews to JudysBook, it doesn’t seem that every InsiderPages review for a given business finds its way onto the JudysBook reviews for that business.  I haven’t figured out the rhyme or reason, but I do know that the transmission usually isn’t complete.

 

  • Reviews don’t seem to “trickle” too far.  Even though InsiderPages shares with SuperPages and SuperPages shares with YellowBot, I’ve found that you won’t necessarily see a bunch of InsiderPages reviews on YellowBot.

 

  • The Ecosystem doesn’t include certain types of sites.  It doesn’t include paid review-management sites like DemandForce and which sites their reviews are fed to.  Nor does it inclue include industry-specific sites like UrbanSpoon or Fixr: the focus is on “horizontal” directories that any business can be listed on.  Last, it doesn’t include really little sites: for instance, I know that InsiderPages feeds Goby.com, but I’m not sure that many people here in the States use Goby, nor would that fact change your review strategy a whole lot.

 

  • Don’t feel like looking at the arrows again, and just want to know which sites I think are the ones you really need to pay attention to and (ideally) get reviews on?  I’d say it’s a three-way tie between Yelp, CitySearch, and Google+Local (although it doesn’t really feed reviews to other sites, it’s Google, so it’s essential).  Then InsiderPages, then JudysBook.  Not only are these sites the biggest and most popular, but they’ll also spread your reviews all over creation.

 

  • Yelp reviews will be feeding Apple Maps pretty soon.  So in the not-too-distant future Apple will trot into the Ecosystem and start eating some of the other critters.

 

 

  • These are all the sharing/feeding relationships I know of.  I just know there are others out there.  But these are the major connections, from what I’ve been able to tell.  If you know of any sites that share reviews, please let me know!

Cold Hard Numbers on How Third-Party Reviews Help Google Places Rankings

Customer reviews are crucial to your local rankings and overall success in Google Places, as you may know.  You need reviews that customers write directly on your Google Places page, and you need customer reviews on third-party sites like InsiderPages, CitySearch, etc.

We know that the first type of reviews—“Google reviews,” written directly on your Places page—have a strong influence on Google Places rankings.  That’s well-established, and I’ve seen it to be the case throughout the 3 years I’ve been specializing in Google Local.

But what about reviews written on third-party sites?  Yeah, they’re important.  But what else do you know about third-party reviews and how they relate to your Google Places rankings?  Probably not much more or less than I did before I did a little fact-finding on the topic.

I took a “core sample” of 200 local markets and 1400 businesses in Google Places, in all different industries and cities in the US.

(Back in July of last year I did similar research, but that was on “Google reviews” and third-party reviews collectively.  This time I’m focusing on the third-party ones.)

Obviously this wasn’t exhaustive research—if it was, I’d be using my break from collecting data to  shop around for some glass eyeballs. However, I’ve got enough figures to answer some specific questions about how third-party reviews tie into first-page Google Places rankings.

 

“How many different third-party sites does a top-7 business have customer reviews on, on average?”

When you’re on a given Places page, how many distinct sites are shown as having reviews for that business?  For example:

How many sites are top-7 Google Places rankings typically reviewed on?

What I wanted to know is how the number of third-party review sites corresponds to Google Places rankings.  Here’s what I found:

Top-7 Places rankings typically have reviews on 1-2 third-party sites

Here are the naked numbers for the chart (that is, how many different third-party sites each ranking has customer reviews on):

A = 1.52

B = 1.46

C = 1.29

D = 1.06

E = 1.095

F = 0.99

G = 0.955

What do these numbers tell us?

First of all, there is a correspondence between the Google Places ranking of a business and how many third-party sites it has customer reviews on.  Maybe you intuitively knew that already, but now you have some numbers.

The top-3 rankings have customer reviews on more sites than rankings #4-7 do.  The difference is even clearer between A-B and F-G: rankings A-B generally have reviews on 1-2 third-party sites, whereas the lower rankings tend to have reviews on just one third-party site.  That’s a ratio of 3:2.  Put another way, the businesses at the top of the Google Places “7-pack” typically have customer reviews on 50% more third-party sites than the businesses at the bottom of the 7-pack have.

The numbers also tell us that if your business is in the top-7 of Google Places, chances are you’ve got customer reviews on at least one third-party site—meaning a medium other than Google Places or Yelp.com (because Yelp reviews no longer show up on Google Places pages).

This helps affirm what I’ve told my clients for a long time, and what Mike Blumenthal has suggested for quite a while: that you can’t simply rely on the reviews that customers write on your Places page.  If you’re serious about getting a top-7 Google Places ranking, one good place to start is with asking  some of your customers to write you reviews on at least one third-party site (InsiderPages, SuperPages, YellowPages, CitySearch, or another).

 

“How many third-party reviews does a top-7 business have, on average?”

Here’s what I found:

Top-7 Places rankings usually have 5-8 reviews on third-party sites

And again, the plain numbers for how many third-party reviews each ranking has (on average), between all the third-party sites where customers have posted reviews:

A = 8.255

B = 8.335

C = 5.87

D = 4.71

E = 4.235

F = 5.515

G = 4.325

What does this tell us?

The top-2 rankings have significantly more reviews than rankings C-G (3-7).  Once again, we’re seeing a difference of 50-100% between the top of the “7-pack” and the rest of it.

Again, this doesn’t count Google Places reviews (which obviously aren’t “third-party”) or Yelp reviews (which Google Places no longer uses).

Most of all, we’ve got a couple more handy ballpark numbers that you can work into your customer-review strategy:

  • If you’d like to get into the Google Places top-7, you should probably try to get at least 5 customer to write reviews on at least one third-party site.
  • Or if you’re already in the local top-7 and trying to get to the very top, your strategy should include getting at least 30-100% more customer reviews on third-party sites than the other top-7 businesses have.  In terms of reviews, there’s a big gap between #1 and #7.

 

“So how should I change my reviews strategy?”

Time for a recap.  Use the following as rules-of-thumb as you move forward:

1.  Don’t just focus on Google Places reviews; ask customers to review you elsewhere, too

2.  There’s a correspondence between your ranking and how many third-party sites you’re reviews on.  You’ll probably need reviews on one such site in order to get into the top-7.  But the more different third-party sites your customers can review you on, the better

3.  There’s also a correspondence between your ranking and how many total third-party reviews you have.  Ranking in the top-2 will probably require that you get 30-100% more customer reviews than your page-one local competitors have.

4.  If you’re trying to get into the Google Places top-7, a good initial benchmark is to get at least 5 customer reviews on at least one third-party site (SuperPages, CitySearch, etc.

5.  If you want to climb higher in the Google Places 7-pack, shoot for a total of about 8 reviews on at least 2 different third-party sites

By the way, you can download my spreadsheet with all the data, in case you’d like to roll up your sleeves and handle some numbers.

Of course, I’d appreciate your weighing in—leave a comment!