Yesterday in New York City I was invited to join the SMX East Conference Panel “Hardcore Local Search Tactics” for the Q&A discussion of local ranking factors along with three of the people I respect most as true experts on local search: Matt McGee, Will Scott and Mike Ramsey. There were some great local ranking tips discussed during the session, yet probably the most fundamental single concept that everyone on the panel talked about was how vital it is to have a consistent name, address and phone number (“NAP”) across all the places your business data can be found on the web. The reality is that among all the cool, highly technical factors that impact search visibility (concepts that only the “guru’s” of SEO can understand—from canonicalization issues to strategies for microformats) the idea that something as basic as whether your phone number or your name appears exactly the same way across the web —just doesn’t sound sexy. It’s an incredibly simple concept, and I find that once you explain it to a local business- the bell goes off. You don’t need 10 years of enterprise SEO experience to get it. The challenge of course (which all of us on the panel talked about yesterday) is in the execution of this simple concept.
A person in the audience asked us “is there any turn-key, automated way to address NAP consistency”? And the answer that both Will Scott and I gave was no— dealing with a NAP consistency in most even moderately competitive markets is a highly manual, labor-instensive process—and particulary when there are data issues. I talked about the example of a client that we’ve worked with for about a year now. They’ve been in business for over 78 years, and have a reputation in their North Jersey market as one of the best at what they do.
About a year before they called us, an upstart moved into their market and set up a trailer in a parking lot as their “store”. Within a year, this competitor was
out-ranking our client for all their top keywords (in fact, the trailer guys
were #1 and our client was literally no-where to be found in the search results). The owner of the business could not believe what he was seeing in his Google searches. The question he asked us was “how could this happen?” Well, the reality was that in this Google defined world, the rules have changed. The very thing that was a key advantage for them in the offline world—the many years they’ve successfully been in business—was having a major negative impact because of what often happens to businesses that have been around a long time: they had moved- multiple times. And they had also changed phone numbers. In addition, as their business grew and expanded, they had changed their name to better reflect their broader product line. So when Google was crawling all the many local data sources across the web it views in order to assess this business, the search engine was seeing lots of conflicts in basic business information. This was depressing Google’s confidence in whether this business is actually still in business, or is legitimately worth returning as a high search result. On
the flip side, the trailer guys had absolutely clean data—exact consistency of
name, address and phone number across many credible local citations (the
trailer guys also were saavy enough to understand how business is won in a
Google defined world, and took advantage of this to opimize their presence for
To fix all this for our client was not easy. It involved lots of detective work hunting down various citations Google was crawling– claiming and deleting bad listings, editing data where it is possible to edit, and emailing industry specific directories to ask them to update their business information to the new “clean” name, address and phone number format that we had locked down with our client as a first step in our process. And then multiple times as we went through this process, a “bad” listing would re-appear in a random data source and throw everything off. And we would have to go back at it, hunting down and correcting.
After a year of hard work on both data clean-up and optimizing the site (which took a considerable amount of important energy as well), they’ve gone from not showing up in the search results for any of their keywords to a #1 position for two and top 3 positions for another 4. As a result of these and other keywords increases, organic search traffic is up 144% compared to the same month a year prior.
So what’s the lesson in all this? The concepts of local ranking factors are not complicated to understand, but they are also not turn-key (if it were that simple, everyone would be ranking). It often takes hard work– day in and day out over a long period of time– to get where you want to be. But if you keep at it, the fundamental concepts work beautifully.