Your Business Title
Your business title is one of the most important factors for ranking well in the local search engines. Having a title that remains consistent across all data sources is very important; it helps the search engines establish trust in the existence and location of a particular business.
If your business calls itself "Joe's Pizza" in one place and "Joe's Chicago-Style Pizza" in another place, there is a chance that Google and the other search engines might see that as two separate businesses when it comes to indexing your business. You should pick one title for your business, and make sure that you add yourself to whichever directories you choose—including the print Yellow Pages—using the same business title.
The Google Quality Guidelines For Local Businesses make the following provisions regarding the naming of a business:
- Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title.
- In addition to your business’s real-world title, you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers.
- Marketing taglines, phone numbers, store codes, or URLs are not valid descriptors.
- Examples of acceptable titles with descriptors (in italics for demonstration purposes) are "Starbucks Downtown" or "Joe’s Pizza Restaurant". Examples that would not be accepted would be "#1 Seattle Plumbing", "Joe’s Pizza Best Delivery" or "Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas".
Apart from the examples of a single descriptor offered by Google, do not simply add extraneous keywords to your business name, as this can cause inconsistency in your business data around the web.
If you are a brand new business, you may experience some benefits from having a business name that describes your services or geography. For example, "Joe's Chicago Pizza" is a more relevant, descriptive name for a business than "Joe's." If you're naming your brand new company, it makes sense to consider keywords in determining what to call your business.
If you have an existent business and want to go through the steps of changing its name, you can register a new DBA ("doing business as"). You will then need to edit all existing mentions of the old business name so that all listings include you under the new DBA name. While this may have some benefits, be advised that a change in business name will likely cause you to lose rankings and reviews. Consider this decision carefully.
Links and Citations
Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Best of the Web, and other search engines find out about your business in two primary ways:
- Visiting links that point to your website, and tracking sites where those links appear.
- Tracking citations of your business, and on which sites these citations appear.
The search engines use these two factors in determining how to rank a particular business. All other things being equal, the business with the most links from high-quality websites in your area—like a chamber of commerce or a city government—and the most citations from high-quality websites in your area, will rank the highest. So you will want to make sure to get your business name, address, phone number, and website listed as many places as you can.
What Are Citations?
Citations are defined as "mentions" of your business name on webpages other than your own, accompanied by your address, phone number, or both—even if there is no link to your website. An example of a citation might be an online yellow pages directory where your business is listed, but not linked to. It can also be on the website for a local chamber of commerce or local business association where your business information can be found even if their website does not link to yours. You may also see the term "web references" used on other websites—a synonym for "citations".
Many local search engines allow you to place your business into a number of categories—usually between two and five—that help describe the nature of your business.
This is an important step in creating your local business listing. The search engines use category data when deciding which businesses to show for particular searches. The search engines will not display a business that is uncategorized—or even worse, miscategorized—for particular sets of keywords. This usually happens among keywords and phrases that are the most competitive—where there are already a number of businesses associated with a particular category that might satisfy what the searcher is looking for.
In choosing your categories, you may find Moz Local Category Research Tool helpful for learning which categories Google and the other search engines offer for your business.
Reviews and Ratings
Reviews and ratings can persuade prospective customers who are looking for the goods and services you offer. While a bad review can encourage someone to hit their "back" button and perform another search, a good review can encourage someone to pick up the phone and call you! Because reviews and ratings are displayed in so many different ways across different search engines, there is some debate about how much reviews or ratings of a business influence its rank in search engine results—but reviews can definitely influence a potential customer's decision to choose your business.
It's important to engage all of your customers—and especially to get your best customers to leave a review of your business on their preferred search engine or portal. Likewise, it's important to recognize when someone has left a negative review of your business. Reach out to that customer and find out why they had a bad experience with your company, and see if there is anything you can do to change their opinion of you.
Each review platform has its own rules. Some platforms do not have strict or very clear rules, but the two review giants in the industry, Google and Yelp, do have specific review policies to which you must adhere. Yelp, for instance, does not allow businesses to solicit reviews from customers beyond a simple "check us out on Yelp" sticker in their window or icon on their website. Google does not allow suggestions for review content.
If you're thinking about asking customers for reviews, know the rules of the sites on which you're hoping those reviews will appear before you ask.
Photos and Videos
Attractive photos and videos have been shown to increase the number of clicks that a particular listing gets. They generally offer a great way to show off your business—projects that your company has worked on, products you offer, your team, or your office itself. A compelling image can help you stand out in an otherwise flat playing field.
In terms of rankings, photos and videos don't seem to affect results. A Google+ Local business listing with no photos probably has just as much potential to rank well as a listing with six photos and three videos—but a potential customer may be more inclined to click through on your search results if there is a compelling photo.
Recently, Google has increased the visibility of Google+ listing photos by displaying one for each listed business in their main search results. Choosing photos wisely—both a cover photo for your Google+ Local page and gallery-style photos on your Google+ Local photo page—is vital to creating an engaging experience for potential customers.
The social component of local SEO is growing stronger with each passing year, and learning to participate in the social spaces your customers prefer can be a smart move for nearly any local business. Some local and review-oriented platforms enable you to interact with the public. For example, a merged Google+ Local/Google+ Business page enables you to communicate with your followers in a manner similar to Twitter or Facebook.
You can also interact with reviewers on platforms like Google+ Local and Yelp, responding to both positive and negative reviews. While certain forms of social media activity appear to influence overall search engine rankings, their direct influence on local rankings remains speculative.
It is vital to list your complete contact information on your website in a format that the search engines can read. This is a simple step that a lot of local business owners overlook. Your contact information must be in indexable text—not embedded in an image, Flash, or other formats that search engines can't crawl. If you'd rather not list your contact information on your webpages, you should set up a clear "Contact Us" page which displays your complete business name, address, and phone number (NAP). To strengthen the signals of your NAP, you may choose to encode it in schema, markup code that all major search engines agree upon and understand.
The physical location of your local business may influence how you rank in a variety of ways. For example, the proximity of your business to a cluster of similar businesses may impact your local rankings. In the past, your proximity to Google's designated city centroid (center of town) appeared to have a great deal of influence over rankings—but this factor appears to play a much weaker role today. Also, the proximity of the person searching for businesses like yours can influence what local listings Google displays for that individual.
Adhering to the guidelines of any local or social platform is vital to avoiding unwanted penalties. In particular, it is important to read and comply with Google Quality Guidelines For Local Businesses in promoting your business. Violations of these guidelines can lead to drops in rankings or even removal from the index.
Perhaps most importantly, the consistency of data published about your business across the web influences the "trust" search engines like Google have in the validity of your business data. Ensuring that every online citation of your business lists your correct NAP and website address is crucial to your ability to rank well.
Finally, keeping up with changes in policy and the latest opportunities for promotion on the major search engines is the best way to ensure that your business is doing everything it can to be current and visible in local search.