Contractors, are you showing up on the first page of Google searches for prospects looking to buy your product in your area?

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from small business owners is "How can I show up #1 on Google?"  The answer to that question is very complicated, and changes almost daily.  With the Panda and Penguin updates Google has made it increasingly difficult for small business websites to rank highly organically, without creating a steady stream of fresh, useful, original content on their websites, (such as this blog.)  Paid Search is a great way to insure that a company has a first page presence, by placing ads on their most relevant keyword search terms, but the costs can be intimidating to business owners unfamiliar with PPC and unless these campaigns are properly managed, businesses can literally hemorrhage money and generate few if any leads.  One of the best, quickest and most cost effective things that a small business owner can do to show up locally is claim their local listings on Google (through Google+Local listings) and the other search engines.   Surprisingly, most business owners aren't even aware this free opportunity is available to them and have taken advantage of it. Have you claimed your listings?  If you have no idea what I'm talking about read on!

The Importance of Online Business Listings

According to the 2012 SEO Benchmark Report from Marketing Sherpa, 86% of consumers looking for a local company to do business with are using search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo to find a company. 60% of small business owners interviewed agreed that online local business listings were becoming increasingly important, yet only 15% of small businesses have claimed a listing on Google+Local.  Our research with our home improvement partners suggests that the number is actually even less within that particular segment.  In addition to Google+Local, there are literally hundreds of other online directories available that a business owner could claim, most of which are 100% free!  By claiming these listings, a local business can start increasing traffic to its website and connect with local customers looking to buy its products.

Google+Local (which used to be called Google Places, which used to be called Google Maps) is the first and most important local listing a business owner should attack.  Commonly called "the map" it looks like the screen shot below:

After the first 3 listings which are sponsored (paid ads), the next 7 listings are all local search listings pulled from Google+Local.

Google understands that more and more searches have local intent, meaning searchers are looking for a local company to do business -- a local window company, a local restaurant, a local car wash etc.  Google is meeting this consumer need with it's Google+Local pages.  They are recognizing consumer demand for local information by placing these listings above any organic rankings for the same term.

Getting Your Business Listed on Google+Local

How can you get your business listed?  It's actually pretty simple.  (Notice I said simple -- not easy.  You actually may find this process mind numbingly tedious!)

The first step is to see if your company is already listed on some directories.  There are a lot of ways to do this, but the best that we've found is through GetListed.org.  This site will allow you to run a scan of your company and look for your listings across the major search engine and directory sites.  The best part about GetListed.org is that after running the scan, they will actually provide you links to the pages where you can claim your business listings for the following directories:

  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • Yelp
  • YP.com
  • Foresquare
  • Citysearch
  • Hotfrong
  • Best of the Web

When updating listings, a business owner can add information like location information, phone numbers, hours of operation and payment methods.  In addition to this basic information, a lot of directories also allow for photos and videos, business descriptions and sometimes even custom offers.  As a general rule, because the search engines want to provide the best information possible to it's users -- you should try to make your listing as complete as possible -- the more information the better.  Profiles that are more complete will be ranked higher than those with very little information.  It is also extremely important that you associate your business with the most accurate business category or categories possible.  For example, if you are a window and siding contractor, you would make sure that you added both categories to your listing profile.  Another very important thing is to make sure you list your information consistently across all directories.  If your address is 123 Main Street, make sure to list it that way on every directory.  Don't list it as "Street" in some listings and "St." in others. If your company name is ABC Siding Company, make sure to list it that way, not "ABC Siding Co." or "ABC Siding" or "ABC Siding Company, LLC." Inconsistency across listings could cause confusion on the search listings, and actually hurt your overall placement.  Eventually, all of the information you list on these directories will funnel into Google.  For a good representation of how this works see GetListed.org's Local Search Ecosystem infographic.

A Note About Validation

Some of these directories may require validation, which essentially verifies that the person making the updates for the business is authorized to do so.  The two main ways this is done is either via phone verification or by postcard.  Phone verification is faster, the directory will call you and give you a PIN number to enter into the site -- and that's it.  The postcard method involves mailing a PIN number to the address you claimed.  Once your listing is validated, they will start to show up in local searches.

Once you've claimed and validated your listings -- then what?  Depending on your market you may or may not automagically start showing up right away.  If not, you can speed up the process by starting to generate online reviews from your satisfied customers.  All things being equal, Google+Local listings with online reviews will rank higher than those with no reviews.  In fact, according to the Infographic below, the average company would need 26 reviews to get listed on page 1 and 33 reviews to get first position.  Does your company need that many?  Probably not -- in fact look at your local competition and see how many reviews the companies at the top have, and that will tell you how many you'd likely need.  (For instance, the top company in the screen shot above only had 5!)  The thing to keep in mind about reviews, is that generally speaking its better to have a steady stream of reviews come in over time, than a one time shot of several -- followed by a long time period with no reviews.

Going Beyond Local Business Listings

So after you've claimed, updated, validated your listings and have begun to get some online reviews -- what next?  Here are a few other factors that weigh into the local search algorithim that will impact how well your company is ultimately ranked.

  1. Have your company physical address on your website.  Your address is important, ideally it should be on every page of your site (usually in the footer) but at least have it on your home page.
  2. If you have multiple locations, you should claim your listings for each location.  Also your website should have a specific landing page for each location, that links back to that location's local listing.  Pointing multiple local listings back to the same home page is NOT ideal.
  3. Embed Google Maps on each local microsite for each location.  This will help users find a map to your location easily, but it also is a signal back to the search engines that many experts believe will increase your rankings.
  4. Get a social media strategy.  Facebook isn't for the kids anymore.  Like it or not, the web is becoming more and more influenced by social media.  Social signals are influencing the search engines.  Add badges to your site making it easier for visitors to follow your company, or write reviews on sites such as Yelp.  Monitor your Facebook and Twitter accounts and if you get a comment, positive or negative, make sure to respond to it.  Not responding to bad reviews won't make them go away, it will only leave readers wondering if the issue was ever resolved.  By responding to bad reviews you will actually show potential new customers that you care about making sure you have happy customers.


[540SEO::SEO experts and local search optimization specialists]
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