If you want to understand Local Search, you should start by understanding the importance of standardized core business data. By core business data, we are referring to the business name, address and phone number, which you’ll sometimes see as NAP.

This core information is unique to each business and rarely changes, so it’s easy to see why it is important to the Places algorithm. Simply put, the more trusted sources from which Google draws matching NAP information about a business, the better. But if it sees conflicting data, especially on trusted websites, Google loses confidence in the core data and that loss of confidence can push your Local Business Listing down in the Places rankings. Generally speaking, the more data confusion there is, the worse it can affect rankings in Google Places.

Unfortunately, we are finding that many businesses with an otherwise strong presence on the internet – and perhaps even top rankings in the organic results – can’t seem to crack the Local Search nut because of data confusion. What are the most common reasons for data confusion?

Careless Submissions and Data Entry
While a human being living in the area may be able to tell that 1001 Kings Highway East and 1001 E King Hwy are really the same place, the Search Engines don’t necessarily make the same connection.  And when a business name appears in various web places as Joe’s Fingerlickin’ Chicken Joint, Joe’s Chicken, Joe’s Joint and The Chicken Joint, the Search Engines may not be sure that all those names refer to the same place.

It’s important that everyone who represents your business uses the same core data when they are entering information online. They should also use the same core data offline, because the information they provide on behalf of the business when joining groups, applying for licenses, making donations, etc. often ends up on the web in some form. To clean up sloppy NAP, searching for your business name and common variations of it, your address and your phone number in Google web search and in Google Places. Look at the results to find web pages and duplicate Local Business listings which you should then update.

Moving/Changing Phone Numbers

Businesses do move and they sometimes change phone numbers, but when old data remains out on the web that associates it with a previous address and/or number, this creates confusion about where it really is.

If you have moved your business location or changed your phone number, you need to diligently ferret out the old NAP information on the web and update it to the new data. Do this by searching for your old address on Google web search and looking at the pages that appear in the first 20-30 results. Then, do the same thing with your old phone number. This will give you a list of web pages which you should update.

Promoting Non Existent Locations
For a very long time in web years (since 2004 when Google Local was born until late 2009), Google Local/Maps/Places was pretty much a free for all. The guidelines were not clear. Home based and service businesses seemed locked out of the game. Obvious spam was rampant. And Google offered very little in the way of user support. As a result, businesses and their marketing companies came up will all sorts of ways to try to rank better than their competitors. One of the prime methods used was to create listings for businesses and business locations that did not really exist.  Sometimes, these virtual locations were supported by listings created on trusted sites, which helped them to rank well and reinforced the idea that the tactic was okay with Google.

Whether a business employed this tactic maliciously, out of ignorance or out of desperation, chances are it is has lost its effectiveness over the past 6 months and is now hurting its Places rankings. If you are in this position, you must first research what core data is published on the web for all locations, real or not. Then, you’ll need to determine where the data comes from so that it can be corrected there. If you don’t take care of this critical step, incorrect data will keep reappearing and causing problems for you. Next, you’ll need to reinforce the correct core data by submitting it through trusted primary data providers that will help it propagate across the web.

Then, I recommend making a prioritized task list, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. It can take several months to make all the updates needed and 3-6 months for source changes to take effect other web pages.

You may need some professional help to sort things out and get back on the right track with Google Places. Call us at 303 905 1504. We can help.