Local brick-and-mortar businesses depend heavily on local search rankings in order to bring foot traffic into their neighborhood locations. Unfortunately, way too many of these companies are still losing out due to two big, but common mistakes. In survey after survey, marketing professionals and SEO experts report the two most common issues encountered in clients with poor local search rankings are inconsistent citations and duplicate listings.
What are citations anyway? More than just a listing, a citation is any online mention of a business that includes the company name, address and phone number (NAP). It’s important to remember that this not only includes all business directory listings, review sites and the company website, it also extends to news stories, blogs and social media pages — anywhere that makes mention of your complete or partial NAP.
The problem occurs when citations are inconsistent or even outright erroneous. Google likes things neat and tidy, and when it discovers inconsistencies from one citation to the next, it can seriously hurt a company’s search results. Some common inconsistencies are:
- Differences in the business name or spelling
- Different phone numbers
- Different street numbers
- Different spelling of the street name or abbreviations
- Inconsistent use of suite numbers
- Citations that link to different websites for the same business
How can you fix this?
If you’re just getting started, it’s easy to avoid these problems. Simply create a template of your contact information and address, and use it carefully whenever you’re adding NAP information to a listing that you create – and provide it to every person who writes a blog, an article, or a news mention about your business.
On the other hand, if you’ve had an online presence for a while, the solution will take a bit of time and effort to implement. Create a spreadsheet and start searching for your business on Google. Search for any variants of your:
- Business Name
- Street Address (past address if applicable)
- Phone Numbers
- Business Partners (if applicable)
Make note of each mention and trace it back to the appropriate directory or listing and clean up all inconsistencies. It may be a long, slow process, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
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Duplicate listings are an extremely common issue. Many mistakenly believe that if one listing is good, two must be better. This couldn’t be more wrong.
Like inconsistent citations, duplicate listings can confuse search engines, and lead to all sorts of errors and even penalties. Google+ Local for instance, permits each business to have just one page per location, with the noted exception of multi-department businesses such as hospitals, and multi-partner operations such as legal or medical practices. Creating a second Google + Local page for your business violates the Google Places Quality Guidelines and is a quick way to wind up in the penalty box.
Not all businesses with multiple listings are penalized, but there’s no way to know whether or not a penalty has been applied. Google does not provide any sort of message or alert to warn a business owner of a violation or subsequent penalty. So if your local search ranking has taken a hit, it’s worth checking for duplicate listings, especially if your NAP has changed in any way. Sometimes duplicate listings are automatically created without the owner’s knowledge when a business moves or changes phone numbers.
To clean up duplicate listings, perform the same search as for inconsistent citations, and make sure there’s only one listing in each directory, and that the NAP is accurate and consistent. Be sure to record the URL of any duplicates you wish to remove so that you can report them to Google, either via the help link on the Google Places dashboard, Google Maps, or over the phone if necessary. Removing duplicates can take a bit of time and effort, but once again, the results are well worth the trouble.
Whether you’re just starting out, wondering why your local rankings don’t seem to be taking off or if your rankings have taken an unexpected hit, check for these two common errors and get your SEO engine back on track with a full head of steam.