Local SEO has been around for a while, but with recent changes to local search ranking factors from the Google Pigeon update, it’s easier and more worthwhile than ever to get involved. Combined with the fact that national SEO is only becoming more competitive with each progressive year, many businesses are relying on local tactics almost exclusively to gain organic search traffic for their businesses.
There’s one big problem that most local businesses face in the local scene, especially when first starting out. Google likes to see information accuracy and consistency; if it’s going to give its users the best possible results, it wants to have a clear picture of the businesses it indexes in its search. For local information, Google scours the web looking for clues to a business’s NAP — name, address, and phone number information. It checks your site, naturally, but it also checks third party apps and local directories like Yelp across the web for their most recent company information.
If any pieces of this information are inaccurate, even if it’s only a small discrepancy like the spelling of your road or the formatting of your address, it could wreak havoc on your local authority and compromise the results of your campaign.
Because of this, the first step for any successful local SEO campaign is to clean up your local citations. Under this process, you’ll be hunting down every instance of your business’s NAP information on the web, ensuring its accuracy, and making corrections wherever possible. Because this process is long, tedious, and difficult, there are many companies who offer to do it automatically for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Not every entrepreneur has the budget to afford this kind of service, but everyone needs to ensure the accuracy of their business information on the web.
Fortunately, it’s possible to clean up all your local citations for free. Here’s how:
Step 1: Find Where Your Company Is Listed
There are dozens of services willing to list all the places where your local information is listed — in fact, it’s a sales tool for companies offering to fix your discrepancies for a fee. But you can use these tools without necessarily paying for the service.
For example, Moz will show you how your business appears in Bing, Google, and 15 other popular local citation sources. Yext offers a tool to check even more well-known directories. Many of these citation locations are interdependent, meaning if you update your information in the most significant sources, eventually the stragglers will find their discrepancies and update themselves accordingly. If you’re in a hurry or you have a bigger budget, it’s probably worth looking at every citation location you can. Otherwise, look at the top sources.
Step 2: Set a Standard and Isolate Conflicting Entries
First, make a firm decision about the formatting of your NAP information, and how you want your company to be categorized. The more specific you are with this category, the better — it will eliminate a lot of the competition. If you aren’t sure how to go about this, just pick the format that’s currently listed on your site and run with that. Make sure everyone in your company is using that format when presenting or using information on your company, and use that information in your citation audit moving forward.
Check your results listings and separate out any entries where you see a piece of conflicting information. The rest of the entries belong in a separate pile.
Step 3: Individually Petition to Update Your Profiles or Update Your Accounts
For each major entry in both piles, you’ll want to set up a profile (if possible, and if you haven’t already). Most of these third party information apps allow you to create a profile for your business so you can update your information and respond to local reviews at your discretion.
For any entries with conflicting information, simply create your profile and correct any errors you find. Other sources require a more intensive process; for example, you might have to draft a letter explaining the discrepancy and personally requesting the removal or update of the entry.
Step 4: Follow Up
Keep in mind that Google, along with most third party apps, does not act quickly. Once you’ve updated your information or made a request, it could still take several weeks before action is taken on your behalf. Be patient and set a date to follow up in the future — in my experience, six weeks is enough time to see consistent results. When that time comes, run another citation audit and see where you stand. Follow up on any sources that haven’t already updated your information.
Once all your local information appears to be accurate on the web (or at least for all the local directories that matter), your local SEO work can begin. Log into your local profiles regularly to check for new reviews and respond to them whenever you can. Encourage your own customers to post reviews when they can, write about local information and local events, and get yourself some press in local online newspapers. Your goals should revolve around making your local presence known and keeping your customers happy. If you can do that with a clean NAP profile online, your local rankings will come naturally in time.