Understanding The Complexities Of Local Search

One of the biggest pain points that we get a lot of questions about is the local or mapping results that you often see on Google and Bing. It is easy, and justified, to get angry when your data shows up incorrectly in search engines. There may be nothing worse than having the wrong address, phone number or website address showing up in these local results as it can create guest satisfaction nightmares. However, most hotels and other local businesses likely don’t understand the complexities of what is happening in local search and what they can do to fix or prevent these issues.

Let’s think back to the history of local business information. What comes to mind? Fifteen years ago if you wanted to find the name, address or phone number of a business where did you go? You probably went one of two places, either the printed Yellow Pages book or you called some type of 411 directory assistance. Ok, so where did those sources get the local business information from? Well, we’re not going to attempt to get to the bottom of that, the short answer is that they got the data from lots of different places. Fast forward several years and you have a scenario where all of the different offline providers of this local business data are getting online. They are creating their own website solutions to provide local information and they are selling and licensing their data so that other websites can do the same. Some players are keeping the local business information the way they got it with just basic information and some are adding new data to it like website address, business category information, pictures and more. What ends up happening is that there is no single owner of local business information. Instead, there are thousands of players all across the web that have information about your business and some of it is correct and some of it is incorrect. Take a close look at the graphic below. This depiction of the Local Search Ecosystem was put together by David Mihm of GetListed.org, the top authority in local search as far as we’re concerned. He has done a ton of research and visually presented this complexity that exists.

[caption id=”attachment_2521″ align=”aligncenter” width=”300″ caption=”Click to view full size. Source: GetListed.org”]The Local Search Ecosystem[/caption]

What you see in the above is the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) in the center, and what they are aiming to do is pull in local business information from all of the websites that have it. As you might imagine this is complicated and it’s why the search engines have complex algorithms that attempt to do all of this automatically with no human involvement. If they find consistency in your business information across all of these sites that is a great thing, it gives them the confidence to show your business higher in search results. On the other hand if they find inconsistencies in your business information, that gives them reasons to not show you high in the search results. Here are some common inconsistencies I see:

  • Brand: if you’ve gone through a flag change within the last year, it is likely that many sites still have your old brand. You have to be diligent with trying to update your information and follow the recommendations below to help speed up the process of making your new brand correct across the web.
  • Website URL: if you’ve been playing with or experimenting with different web addresses, this could be harming your local search in a major way. Try to stick with one URL and don’t mess with it unless absolutely necessary.
  • Phone number: most hotels have lots of numbers – reservations, front desk, sales, fax numbers, website number and more. You always want to use your local number with local area code in your listing. This is the number that is going to be most commonly associated with your property and the local area code helps validate you are actually in that market.
  • Spa, golf, restaurants and other outlets: if you are a larger property with several different businesses all part of the hotel, under the same address, then that is one of the biggest factors that lead to local information issues. When search engines find different businesses all under the same physical address it can be easy for them to get tripped up on which name, phone, URL, etc. are the correct one. Use the recommendations below to help prevent this.

Here are the steps we would recommend you take to ensure you are optimized for local search and to prevent any issues with incorrect data. These steps would be critical for any hotel that has recently had a major change, such as a flag change.

  1. Claim and verify Google listing: Most hotels have done a great job of doing this, but every so often we see a hotel that has not done this. It is critical that you set this up. Find out more information on how to do this here – http://www.google.com/places/
  2. Claim and verify Bing listing: Same as #1. Most people forget or ignore Bing, they shouldn’t. Bing powers Yahoo and combined they represent roughly 30% of search marketshare in the US. Go here to get started – http://www.bing.com/businessportal/
  3. Optimize listings: Once you’ve completed #1 and #2 you need to go in and optimize your listings. Validate that all of the basic information is correct and then add as many of the other optional fields as you can. It is critical that you add “Categories” as these are used to help determine the types of keywords your listing should show up for. Photos and videos are other important fields to fill out to help sell your hotel.
  4. Third party providers: The visual above shows some of the larger providers in the space, particularly Localeze and Infogroup. You can go to these providers directly, pay the fees and manage your listing, but we recommend working with your Internet marketing provider. The biggest benefits from working with these providers is volume and consistency. They ensure you are listed on all the sites they distribute to and they ensure that the information is the same on each listing.
  5. Separate listings: If you have restaurants, a spa, a golf course or any other outlets it is probably best if you perform these steps for each of these entities. Doing this will help prevent issues where search engines confuse the information for businesses that have the same address.
  6. New tactics: We recommend that you keep an eye on new tactics and adopt early when appropriate. This post talks about the way things are today, but they will change. Here is a recent article from searchengineland.com that talks about how search engines are probably using signals from sites like Foursquare as a new local search ranking factor. This is one example of an emerging channel that you should be paying attention to.

Contact us directly if you want to learn more about how we can help with your local search efforts.

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