Have you ever wondered where search engines get their information?
Well, you probably know that search engines gather information about your business directly from the words on your website – but you may be surprised to learn your government and other industries also play a part in your online visibility.
Here is a (rare) list of data sources by a search engine:
- Dun & Bradstreet
- US Federal Government
- State Governments
- SEC filings
- company websites
- our users
- and more
As if that’s not scary enough – same goes for your bank, credit card company, mortgage company, car leasing company, utility companies (and more).
Clearly, the data about your business that search engines see and use to index and rank it comes from more than just your website.
Search engines use these off-website datasets as a way of matching your physical address, contact information, and type of business to your website and to other datasets (like other search engines and directory listings). Hundreds of datasets like this all feed into their algorithm (search program) used to index and display your business when someone searches for the services or products you offer, as well as how to connect to you, or travel to your actual place of business (think OnStar, mobile phones & GPS).
If you want your business to have great visibility on search engines – you’ve got to have consistent data about your business where search engines can find it.
Sometimes – and more often than you might think, the information search engines have about your business differs from what you may use as your standard business information. This difference dilutes the information about your business that search engines use and ultimately impacts your online visibility and ranking.
Perhaps you only list “LLC” with your business name occasionally (I never use it), or at times use your cell number as the primary number instead of the business line (common with small businesses), or maybe you don’t use your suite# with consistency.
These small variations in data all add up to giant headaches down the road that impact how discoverable a business is when someone searches for them. With recent changes to search engine’s algorithms, these problems have become much more prevalent over the past eighteen months or so. And the older the business – the larger the data discrepancies.
“Branding consistency and accurate online citations of our college and its programs is very important to us”, says Leslie Peck, Marketing Director of Rhode Island’s New England Institute of Technology. “As a commuter college most of whose students commute, many of the same marketing elements that work for Rhode Island’s small businesses work for us as well, including the need to have people find us on their home computers, smartphones, or GPS. Our online data needs to be consistent.”
All this different data about your business floating around the world-wide-web is how you can end up with multiple business listings on search engines like Google, Bing or on directories like Yelp and Manta. If you’re a young business with business listings all over the internet but don’t recall making them yourself – now you know how they got there.
It is critical to find any incorrect or duplicate online business listings and go through the processes of having them corrected, merged, or deleted. Being vigilant in purifying your business listing data (also called citation data) increases your online visibility on search engines – especially for local businesses. It’s a complicated and time-consuming process -but it’s got to get done. If not addressed, search engines will multiply this error-ridden data and your business could be pushed farther down the rankings.
Making sure this business data is consistent is recognized top website developers.
“We always make sure the business contact information we list on a website is consistent with both Google and Facebook” says Seedling Creative Jason Zagami “If it’s not, we advise them [client] on how to fix it” he adds.
For website designers – getting their clients sites discovered in search also means getting their own creative discovered on search – it’s a win-win.
If you have ever considered using an automated link building service like Yodle or Yext to build or correct backlinks for your business – these services will only compound your problems. These companies are one-way directory providers – they do not merge or correct data – they only create new business listings. That’s all they do – so they’ll leave a lot of incorrect business citations untouched. BTW – should you decide to cancel your service contract with them – the listings they created will be deleted; negating any gains.
Many companies and associations use branded versions of these services (called white-label services) – so you’ve got to be careful. Yahoo, MerchantCircle, Chamber Of Commerce all use a white-labeled version of Yext while many franchise businesses like ServiceMaster, CARSTAR, and Meineke choose Yodle.
Read our comments to this Forbes article for info on the perils of using Yext and Yodle for small business marketing.
The first step to correcting this business data mess is discovering the errors – below are a few search strings you can use to discover how search engines see your business data. The quotation marks are intentional – so be sure to use them, and mix up your business name if it consists of more than a couple of words. All you need to do is plug these into your search bar of your favorite browser, when you discover an error – look for ways to correct it. Sometimes the best way to correct these listing errors is to contact the webmaster, other times there’s an edit link, but sometimes you’ve just got to rake through the Help files – every directory and search engine will have its own method.
Enter these 5 search strings into your favorite search engine to find the business listings that are ruining your online visibility:
- “business name” zip code
- “business name” phone number (like this: 123-456-7890)
- “address” phone number
- “business name” with & without LLC/Inc
- “address” with & without suite#/Unit# (if applicable)
If your business has changed names or has moved in the past 5 years, make sure you search for the old addresses, business name and phone number. Fix these by either merging, changing or deleting as permitted.
Using these methods to clean up and unify your online business listing data is a great way to make sure your business is primed for discovery.