Since several years now, online business directories listings play a prominent role in online business presence. For the starters it suffice to say that those directories amount to 64, 100, or even more websites where your business can be listed with the data provided by you such as name of business, address, hours of operation, short description, etc. Online directories are very similar to the printed Yellow Pages. Actually Yellow Pages.com is now also one of the biggest online directories as well. Read more on this here..
Where do you start and what is the importance of it? According to some research done, the relevance of those business directories can be measured by the number of monthly visitors. Thus, out of 100 possible websites for listing only about 20 would be ranked with over 1 million of monthly users in the US. It can be mentioned that local visitors from some areas are only a fraction of those totals. Nonetheless, overall numbers give some idea about the importance of the listing, such Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Manta or Kudzu.
For a small business owners creating their business presence, and narrowing it down to 20 listings, would make possible entering business data manually. But once you start doing that your phone starts ringing. You get calls from directory services who offer their marketing programs for enhancing your business visibility. As the claim goes, synchronizing data and doing listing for you without errors makes Google search engine notice the consistency and that results in higher ranking in search results.
The claim of the online business listing services goes like this: "...since Google search results dominate the search market it is so important for your business presence to score your business website in the first page one of the Google search results; you need to be making sure your business is listed properly, consistently, etc, it is very important; therefore it'd make sense for you to use our advanced features for doing just that".
In summary, there are at least 3 reasons why your business would take advantage of the top online business directories:
1. Maximize Exposure: Potential customers are searching for businesses in your area to help solve their problems. And in those searches they're finding businesses in online directories.
2. Social Proof: When prospects find a business online they read your listing, which may build credibility and prove to everyone that you’re a reliable business that can be trusted.
3. The Cost: Several of the top online business directories are free to use.
On the last point, besides a free listing, it is often found that those listing firms would like you to sell their extended services that can amount from $20 to $500 per month, or more. So, you can expect to be called to buy their products. The irony is that as a starting business you wanted to step into online business carefully but you may end up unwillingly paying up front for the business presence.
Another look at the business listing services would consider just how well known are those listings, starting from GoogleMyBusiness. Here's the top 20 considered as vital:
1. Google My Business (GMB),
2. Bing Places for Business,
3. Yahoo Local Listing,
6. Yellow Pages,
7. White Pages,
17. The Business Journals,
18. Angie’s List,
Entering data manually in only 20 directories as opposed to 100 can also be tedious and time consuming. Therefore the appeal of someone doing it for you is strong. In addition, the claim is that data needs to be consistent and with no typoes or errors. Why? Because, supposedly, Google search engine looks for listing consistency and scores the search results higher for your website. This claim by the online listings industry has only passing mention in the Google's guidelines (see next section on Prominence).
In GoogleMyBusiness guidelines Prominence refers to how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be prominent in local search results.
Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business's local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization. There's no way to request or pay for a better local ranking on Google. We do our best to keep the details of the search algorithm confidential to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.
From these guidelines it is clear that Google doesn't favour business listings in any more prominent way than several other search parameters. It is therefore not possible to induce Google search into treating business listings as a pinnacle of the search relevance.
That said, business directories, such as Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, Yahoo Local Listing, Yelp, MerchantCircle, Yellow Pages, etc, are part of the overall SEO (search engine optimization) techniques to score a website higher. More accurately, directory listings can provide a link to your website that is noted by the Google search. Accumulation of those links can enhance the website's authority and domain ranking.
To view those links, Google provides Google Search Console in Search Traffic and number of links in the Links to Your Site view. More details can be seen from Your most linked content, which shows how many links are linked to what page of your website. Knowing that, an idea can be developed about what content of the website is most popular.
Building quality links to a website is a larger subject, however. business listing tend to be considered by Google search as legitimate, non-spam links and that's why using them is better than creating link farms of lower value. Often online business directories are referred to as ‘citations’ or ‘citation sites.’ ‘Citations’ are essentially any place where a business’ Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) information appears on a site. Citations count as links to your website increasing the number of valuable links.
The importance of business directories listing, synchronization with Yext.com, Citysearch, etc, and other enhancements is well documented by the business listing industry. However, depending on enhancements features, the costs for those services can be substantial.
Often intrusive tactics used by those services create an atmosphere of urgency but also confusion while more than one listing firm wants to sell their services to you. The claims are similar: Google search results being most important provides for the premise that search engines encountering inconsistent business data is not going to score the website well. Furthermore, if your listings aren't synchronized competition gains by being picked up ahead of your site.
Even as business listings play a role in Google search prominence, it is one of several considerations. In addition, other parameters such as positive business reviews may be more important than business listings. Therefore, the role of business listings in search results is coequal to other considerations, such as well designed SEO, business reviews, or above all good website content. Furthermore, for new websites that are undergoing probation period, directory listings may look as if of no importance in search results ranking due to the Sandbox Effect. That is only a temporary situation. See our related article in Google Sandbox.
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