The Ever Changing Local Search Ecosystem

Local SEO can be a monotonous task; creating the same listing for a local business on 20 different directories is not the most exciting way to spend your time. But when done correctly, your local SEO efforts can have a profound effect on a business’s overall online visibility. Creating consistent and accurate local citations is the foundation to any SEO strategy as it provides evidence to search engines that a business is legitimate and relevant to its industry.

Because local SEO is such a crucial element to an overall SEO strategy, it is important to stay on top of the ever changing local search ecosystem and the influence it has on search engines to ensure you are not wasting your time or efforts. The local search ecosystem is the network of directory websites and data aggregators that publish or aggregate local citations across the web. These websites publish citations and also pass their data onto other websites to publish, who then pass their data onto more websites, and the cycle continues to trickle down to smaller and smaller websites.

In the early days of SEO, the local search ecosystem was much larger than it is today. The main focus of a successful local SEO strategy was to create as many citations as possible that include identical name, address, and phone number (NAP) information. It was also easier to “scam the system” by not appropriately representing a business online in hopes of ranking higher in search engine results pages (for instance, keyword stuffing the business name to rank for a certain keyword or not adding a service area to a listing if the business is a service area business).

Although these tactics may have worked in the past, they will not get you very far in today’s local SEO world and could even push your account into penalization on major sites such as Google. The local search ecosystem has shrunk over the past couple years as search engine’s algorithms have evolved to better understand content and citations. Instead of reading hundreds of citations’ NAP information to determine if a business is legitimate, search engines are now able to understand the NAP information and enhanced content of a smaller amount of listings on authoritative sites such as YP.com. Instead of spending time creating hundreds of listings on obscure sites, a local SEO strategy should focus on building out NAP and enhanced listing content on a smaller list of authoritative sites.

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Here is an example from the Clix local listings of how a fully built listing might look.

 

Search engines have also evolved to understand different variations of NAP information. For instance, if Yelp publishes your address as “32 W Broadway Ave” but City Grid publishes it as “32 West Broadway Avenue,” Bing is not going to count it against you when determining your business’s accuracy in their search algorithm. This is important to know because on some sites, such as Google, a business’s address will be abbreviated no matter how you submit it to their system.

Keeping up with the local search ecosystem is an ongoing task. As local SEO grows in importance, Google and Bing are constantly testing new capabilities of their local map pack and the different factors that can affect its results. Staying on top of these updates is crucial, as falling behind could dramatically affect the local visibility of a business.

An example of this happened recently when Google started testing a more thorough verification process in San Diego for local service area business industries that typically have a lot of spam in the local search ecosystem (plumbers and locksmiths). After this new verification process was implemented, 89% of listings in the plumbing and locksmith industry on Google were removed from the local search results.

Suffice to say, it is critical to stay informed on the latest local search updates. If this SEO strategy is neglected, it could mean lower rankings or even penalization from a search engine. For more on how to stay on top of these updates and increase your local online visibility, contact us today.