Author | Chatmeter TeamDate Posted | December 29, 2018

How to Navigate The Local Search Ecosystem and Defend Against Dirty Data

Mobile “where to buy” searches have grown 85% since 2015, 1 in 2 smartphone owners used local search to decide where to eat in the last 4 weeks, and according to Google, every month, people visit 1.5 billion locations related to what they searched for on Google. The local search industry is booming, however, as it continues to grow so too does its complexity.

The most complex is the inner workings of the local search ecosystem. While most businesses are well aware of how local search ties them to both local search sites and customers, diving into the tangled web of aggregators, search engines, geo/industry directories and key local sites is something many have yet to take on and understandably so.

An unguided adventure into the local search ecosystem is enough to make anyone’s eyes cross and head spin. However, with mobile devices estimated to influence $1.4 trillion in local sales by 2021, there is a lot to gain for those who can untangle that web.

Here’s a quick breakdown to help you easily grasp all that you need to know about the local search ecosystem in order to optimize for more local search success.

Navigating the Local Search Ecosystem:

Customers – Nearly ⅓ of all mobile searches are local. Customers rely on their smartphones and local search to help them find local businesses and get them where they need to go. Thus, customers need to be able to trust that the information provided by search engines is accurate.

For customers, the use of search engines simplifies their lives and provides an efficient and effective solution to their needs. They aggregate all of the business data into one location (name, address, phone number, website, store hours etc.) and provide reviews and photos from previous business goers so that customer can quickly find all of the relevant stores/service providers in their area, compare them, and make a confident decision on which one to visit.

Core Search Engines – All search engines – Google, Bing, and Yahoo – are motivated by a goal to keep customers coming back to their site to search for businesses. More traffic on their site means more revenue. The only way search engines can ensure more traffic is by creating a comprehensive, easy-to-use, and accurate database of physical locations to support customers’ efforts in finding nearby businesses.

Today, they aggregate information from a variety of different sources:

– Purchase databases from aggregators
– Business owners themselves
– Listing management service providers
– Manual entries by consumers
– Purchasing new business info from phone companies, electric companies, business licenses, etc.
– Web crawlers

Utilizing a number of different sources enables search engines to improve the accuracy of their database. For any business, they can identify the level of consistency of information across all of their resources and cross-check any new information against that same list of resources. Generally, greater consistency across the web (i.e. the same business name, address and phone number) equates to higher accuracy and more trust in the eyes of the search engine.

Businesses – Customers are constantly using local search to locate businesses and Google reported that  76% of local searches result in an in-store visit. Plain and simple, businesses want to get found by customers and for brick-and-mortar businesses local search is the most effective way to do so.

Businesses can build their online presence by creating and claiming listings on the local search sites where their customers are looking. It will be difficult for any brick-and-mortar or service area business to succeed in today’s market without a presence in the local search results.

Aggregators – The four primary data aggregators relevant to businesses in the United States are Infogroup, Acxiom, Neustar/Localeze, and Factual. Data aggregators are the primary sources for compiling and distributing business data (NAP, website, etc.) across the web. However, unlike search engines and online directories that are frequently searched by customers, data aggregators do their work behind the scenes.

It is the aggregators’ job in the local search ecosystem to maintain a database of the existing locations (approximately 35 million in the U.S.) and to know when a new business opens and when one closes. They do this by collecting hundreds of data points on every business from a wide variety of resources. Everything from public records to phone companies to online sources to calling each business.

These data points are then cleaned, standardized, validated, and finally sold to all kinds of local search sites, data warehouses, marketing firms, and even search engines.

Local Search Sites and Online Directories – In addition to the core search engines, customers also use local search sites and directories (the two terms are often used interchangeably) like Facebook, Yelp, YellowPages, and Foursquare.

These four are the most widely used directories, but outside of these, there are hundreds of others. The smaller and less popular sites are all relatively similar to each other, but typically with an industry or geographic focus – think, HealthGrades, and Tripadvisor.

In addition to having businesses manually submit their data, many of these local search sites purchase data from the primary data aggregators. They may purchase a license and update their database monthly, quarterly, or even longer in attempt to save money. You can imagine how outdated their information may be when they are only updating it every so often.

Defending against Dirty Data:

There are approximately 35 million businesses in the United States, plus 900,000 new businesses opening and 900,000 going out of business every year. As you can imagine, that is a lot of data to keep track of. Add in old data that is being bought and used to save money, new data being submitted, stores moving locations or changing names, and people suggesting changes to business information… you can see how data can quickly become inaccurate.

In fact, it’s been reported that a listing, on average, may change as frequently as every 6 days!

As the business owner, you need to take charge of your data. It is on you to tell everyone what is correct and make sure that it stays that way. However, there are so many different players out there. Where should you focus your efforts?

1.  Claim and submit accurate data to Google, Yelp, and Facebook

These are, by far, the most influential and widely used sites for customers looking for local businesses. Therefore, it’s essential to first keep information current and accurate on these sites before moving on to others.

Once a listing has been claimed by the business owner on these sites, the changes and information submitted will often take precedence over any of the other information these sites have stored. However, you’ll still want to keep a constant eye out for any changes as they still hold the right to change the information whenever they see fit.

2.  Use these 4 tips to help optimize and protect your local listings

  • Know the difference between foundational and competitive ranking factors
  • Complete all local listing data
  • Duplicate Suppression v.s. Reduction
  • Enhance listings with photos, reviews and more…

3.  Find a listings management provider.

This is especially important if you operate multiple locations. A small company with only a handful of locations may be able to get this done internally, but any business with over 20 locations couldn’t possibly manage this and stay focused on their business. Trying to keep the local listing data clean for one location is hard enough, trying to do it for multiple locations is a waste of time and resources.

Let’s say you only have 20 locations, can you imagine trying to find, claim, create, and update your listings on even just 15 of the top search sites and aggregators? That means every time you want to change your store hours or update your cover photo you’re going to have to do it 300 times. The entire process is extremely tedious and time-consuming.

Outsourcing to a trusted listings management provider, on the other hand, will quickly become your saving grace. Listings management providers help businesses to quickly gain control over one of the most critical pieces of their online presence.

The goal of the listing management company is to ensure that all of a business’s data is accurate across the major places that consumers may find your listings; everything from core NAP information to store hours, photos and attributes.

They allow businesses to easily create, claim, manage and update all of their location data, as well as handle any potential issues along the way, such as suppressing or merging rouge duplicate listings and fixing any location-specific inaccuracies. Of course, this is an extremely difficult task, but a good service provider should achieve a consistent 95% accuracy in these places.

While the local search ecosystem may be complex, gaining a clear understanding of all the different players and how they interact with one another helps businesses to know where to focus their efforts and how best to optimize their local listings strategy.