Posted by MrADThomson
While the digital marketing agency I work for, Three Deep, doesn’t get a lot of business through local searches, people do have to find their way to our office from time to time. After recently moving our office across downtown St. Paul, we took the opportunity to clean up our messy local SEO footprint. Having an up-to-date local footprint may help us rank for general terms. Most importantly, it will provide accurate results and directions to those searching for us by name.
In this article, you’ll find a chronicle of our efforts to change our address in online directories. I will use both method and madness to try to update the information across directories. This is a story fraught with profile wrangling, citation tracking, link building, and — gasp! —actual phone calls with human beings.
The story is laid out in three phases — Setup, Implementation, and Assessing Results —and was written as I worked on the efforts between the end of October 2015 and the end of January 2016.
Phase 1 – Setup
On October 29, we begin to get ahead of the office move scheduled for December 1. We launch a new Moz Local account for the brand and run a citation report through Bright Local. It is a little premature to set these up right away, but we want to get a sense of where we are starting from so we can track results at the end.
We will be running this process with the help of the comprehensive Ultimate Local Audit article by Casey Meraz from the MOZ blog last year. His guide breaks down some simple steps to follow so your company can be as perfect as possible in the eyes of local search engines. Before getting started, I read through the whole thing and created a copy with the provided template document.
The methods shared in the article are:
- Google My Business page audit
- Website & landing page audit
- Citation analysis
- Organic link & penalty analysis
- Review analysis
- Social analysis
- Competition analysis
- Ongoing strategy
We had already done a website audit and did not have any link penalties, so I will focus mostly on numbers 1, 3, and 8.
A major tenet of local SEO is transparency and authenticity. This means we should be as accurate as possible, and avoid fake business names, misleading business categories, and virtual offices and phone numbers where no one actually works. We want to represent our company correctly, so I need to get a sense of where we are before we start.
Because we have some duplicate Google profiles, I will start there:
Getting Google My Business together
Google My Business (GMB) is the first place to go when setting up a local audit, which is the reason it is number one on the audit template linked above. There are a lot of inputs to this page and if you don’t have your account login information, you need to find that first before you start creating new pages or merging anything together.
We start the process in the search box of Google+. This is where the main Google properties —YouTube, Google My Business, and G+ Brand Pages — have converged over time and can be found in one place. Searching your brand name will reveal the various profiles that have been set up by your company (or by Google, in the case of YouTube). This is what it looks like for us:
Not great, huh? In this list, we have a verified local page, a brand page, and some others. We need to make these results better by merging them so the user can find all our brand content in one place.
The way to start connecting these is to log into Google My Business and see what there is to find. On login, there are two main sections: Brand Pages and Locations. Locations shows your verified local page, the page connected to Google Maps. Brand Pages shows you any marketing profiles that have been setup. In our case, we had to merge our YouTube page, brand page, and verified local page. For the other admin accounts registered as personal pages, we address them internally.
With the help of a couple blogs here and here, and with a YouTube Support article here, Three Deep unifies its Google+ presence. I am also able to connect the YouTube page and disable its unique plus page.
Here’s a screenshot of the final step in connecting brand and verified Google+ pages:
And one connecting our YouTube profile to the main Google+ page:
The merging process is a bit scary, especially if you’ve posted a lot on Google+. Back in GMB, your Location page becomes the hub of your activity and information. Your YouTube brand page converts to a “backup” page and remains in the Brand Pages section of GMB. All past posting activity merges together in the new Google+ interface.
Keeping it real with our business name
If you ask anyone in my office where they work, they will tell you Three Deep Marketing. Three Deep isn’t exactly a descriptive name, so we add “Marketing” to give ourselves context. The problem with that name is that it isn’t our legal business name. We receive paychecks from Three Deep, Inc. The legal business name is important for local SEO because of guidelines from Google, so it is the only name that counts. So while merging Google+ accounts, I also change our name from Three Deep Marketing to Three Deep, Inc.
Our marketing team didn’t want to sacrifice brand identity by changing the name, but we won’t lose much search visibility because of this. Google allows you to add many descriptors to your business, but the catch is that you must choose from the ones already in their listings. They want you to be more general than specific in the descriptors. This leaves some of our core services out of the description. For instance, when I type in AdWords, a Google product, of course, nothing even comes up as an option.
According to the dialogue box in GMB, the point of the categories is to do your best to “describe what your business is and not what it does or what it sells.”
So our final categories are:
- Marketing Agency
- Advertising Agency
- Marketing Consultant
- Website Designer
- Internet Marketing Service
- Business Development Service
You can see that towards the end of the list, we are pushing our limits for descriptors. Here are some more detailed guidelines for creating a good listing from Google themselves.
Now that our GMB is setup correctly, we are ready to change our address there.
Buttoning up our own website is also important, even when we’ve already done an audit. Making sure information is consistent and structured well on a website that has been live for years can be challenging.
One critical element of local SEO is structuring the name, address, and phone number (NAP) the right way in the website’s schema. Schema.org is a set of code that helps social networks and search engines to better understand the information on your website. For local SEO, it is important to ensure your NAP uses schema markup to make it easy for Google to identify your location information.
We have installed the markup in the footer section of our website so it is as simple as possible for search spiders to find our NAP. This will need to update when we move, but it’s good that we have this constructed the right way already.
The only other glaring issue on the site is we still had a call-tracking phone number on the contact page. Tracking and 800 numbers are a no-no when it comes to local SEO because they shield the area codes that help show location and show inconsistency in listings.
Phase 2 – Implementation
It is December 1, 2015, and the first day our company can receive mail at our new office space. The office build-out is still in process and we won’t be moving until later this month. Yet, since the post office will be delivering mail there, it is time to change our address on our local citations.
I start the citation process by exporting a list of citations from a tracking tool to track updates in one place on a local file. To avoid confusion, we set up a centralized email (preferably on the company domain) account to manage all listings and accounts. We use a password sharing service managed by our IT department that manages access to certain accounts so that there is less security risk over the long term.
Editing citations is challenging due to the different requirements of each site. I have kept track of access credentials for each of the citation accounts and used the central listing information (name, address, phone, description, categories) that we started with on Google+. All the information is stored in the Google Sheets template I got from the Moz Local Audit.
It’s nitty gritty time for this project, so here it goes.
To start with, our Moz Local score was above 80% when we started this process. Our brand name was Three Deep Marketing and we had listings on 8 of the 10 key listing sites that were all in good standing. Now we’ve updated our brand name to Three Deep, Inc. and updated our business address, so there is a lot of work to do. Even with our name changed only on Facebook and Google+, the score has dropped to 75%.
After setup, Moz Local pulls its listing data straight from Facebook and Google profiles so you can’t make changes unless you start a new account. This service will automatically update its listings in the top data aggregators in local search, which can be painstaking to do on your own and take a lot of time.
For me to keep working on this address change, I have to focus on some other main listing sites I know I can edit and then come back to Moz Local in a few days to make sure it has pulled in the right information.
Our Facebook brand page and our website NAP have been changed today, so that’s a start. It is up to me to go through the multitude of other listings out there starting with the most important ones rated by Moz Local.
Here is what happened when I worked on the most important citation sources to get started.
Google My Business: Changes may take a couple days to show up across the web through Google My Business but that’s not a rule and ours seemed to accept right away. The unfortunate issue was that some visitors weren’t informed that we hadn’t moved yet and showed up to the new place today only to find a bunch of construction workers.
In editing the address, I made sure to drag our map pin so it was at the side of the block where our main entrance is. This should help people who are using it for directions find their way correctly.
Foursquare (informs Bing Maps): Going through Bing maps to find a business listing will lead you to Foursquare, which is the source of listing data and reviews for Bing maps.
I haven’t used Foursquare for a couple of years since checking-in was a big thing, so it was interesting to see its efforts to help local businesses. You can suggest edits to the entire page or you can claim the listing. I went through the claim a listing process and created a new account with our admin email address.
What I found interesting was that after going through the process of creating an account by answering prompts from an automated phone call, I could pay $20 and verify my listing. While that sounds like an OK deal, I chose to wait 3-4 weeks and verify via mail for free. We haven’t actually moved into the new office after all.
Paying extra fees would save time as there are a lot of pay-to-play memberships that give extra services like premium placement and extra listing services. Now, though, we already pay the reasonable Moz Local and Bright Local fees, so I want to do this manually as best as I can.
- Bing Places: While I found the Foursquare business listing as the source of data on Bing Maps, Bing Places is separate. This still pulls images from Foursquare but is more customizable. It also requires verification through automated phone call and typing in a code.
- Yext – Informs Yahoo Maps/Local: Yahoo maps is editable through Yext, a paid local listing and advertising service. You can claim a listing with an updated profile that says it will be verified by phone at some point. I could have bought a premium subscription extra to ensure the listing was exactly the way I wanted. I chose the free version this time. It said it had been submitted for review but didn’t guarantee changes so I will have to check back later and see if it updates.
- Yp.com: After finding and filling out an update form, I got a call from a real person who changed our address and business name himself. While he was helpful, he was more interested in selling me a membership at $69/month to track ratings, reviews, and social media. Interestingly, the salesman says since YP.com is the second largest re-seller of AdWords and has a good relationship with Google, they can manage Google+ profiles for your business on their own.
- Apple Maps: Another phone call verification with code service here. This was pretty easy to set up but I had to use my personal Apple ID instead of the company email account.
- Manta: After creating a new account to claim and clean up a duplicate listing on this site, I realized I had access to the account through an old, unused email address. That account had set up two nearly identical accounts. I also had to call and re-verify the account because it had been dormant for 5 1/2 years.
I submitted a request to remove the duplicate and they responded the next day saying that they would take it down within another day.
- Neustar Localeze: This site responded to me through a support ticket right away. They also helped me realize that our account was registered under the old email account.
- MapQuest: Apparently this is another Yext property, so it is a similar interface to editing the Yahoo listing. It also is tough to edit your listing for free and navigate through the product offer page. I eventually found my way to a service ticket form on help.mapquest.com where I got in touch with a representative. They emailed me back within 12 hours saying our listing would be updated within 1-2 business days.
Update – Dec. 15
Moz Local’s updating process says it will automatically look at Google+ and Facebook profiles provided and update the address that it finds “within a week.” While I performed all the above updates within the first two days of the month, Moz Local has still not changed the address.
This means they have not started to submit change requests to their respective databases and our listings are out of whack. Because the NAP is inconsistent across maps, search engines and Facebook, we could be losing traffic.
Also, because this will likely affect our rankings in the short term, I’m going to try to use the bulk Listings Template and the guidelines Moz Local provides for editing listings on my own. It is a similar spreadsheet to the template in Casey Meraz’s Local Audit and covers most of the fields that are in any given listing.
This is the peril of relying on an automated service. Over the long-term this service will pay off, but in the short- term you have to make a determination of whether a manual approach would be better.
Update – Dec. 21
It turns out that Facebook had some secrets for us which explains why Moz was taking so long to update our Local account. After emailing Moz Local support for help, they responded by saying the tool was referencing a Facebook data source I hadn’t found. We had an old Places page that had our former office address which was keeping the Local engine from updating our account. I also found a really old Places page with the original Three Deep office in North St. Paul.
So the lesson is that Facebook needed cleaning up, too. It’s tough to remember a lot of the old listings hidden on a site that updates frequently like Facebook. Because of this, searching your business name (just like on Google+) and looking at the Places tab can help you find out what is out there.
The process of updating Facebook included merging our brand page and location pages, just like with GMB before.
With this process complete, it didn’t take long for Moz Local to accept our location change data. Trusting the system does work, after all.
Phase 3 – Assessing the impact
December has come and gone, so now it’s time to see how we are doing and see how we can continue to improve and set up our ongoing strategy.
Some ways to measure the changes we’ve made are by using standard SEO tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Bing Webmaster Tools. Local-only tools like Moz Local, Bright Local, and the Google My Business Dashboard are helpful as well.
Other issues popped up during this process. We’ll outline some of the major ones here.
Brand positioning vs. SEO: Who wins?
The struggle is real when it comes to letting go of the “Marketing” in our brand name on social channels. Our team changed profile names on Facebook and other social sites to Three Deep, Inc. on Dec. 1. It reverted to Three Deep Marketing on Facebook shortly after that because our team was unsure about losing the “Marketing” term. This will indeed affect our Moz Local score and thus other listings as we will have a conflicting business name. It is an internal struggle that we will iron out sooner than later.
While case studies and client retention are two ways to tell if client work is well-received, reviews tell the story to the local search world. Our company needs to begin requesting reviews the same way we tell our clients to. With no reviews on our Google profile and no schema-marked-up reviews on our site, we are in a bad spot. Google reviews are a strong ranking signal for local search, so we should start to ask customers to reviews review on Google the same way they review a restaurant or coffee shop.
This is something we can now perform because our own local footprint is in a better place. The process here is to analyze the citations and on-page structure of our local competitors and see how we can improve against them. I won’t go too much more into this because this is a public blog after all. We’ll save our strategies here for the Three Deep Situation Room.
Getting Google right
The Google My Business dashboard gives some insight into local search visibility that other tools do not. Its insights tab gives statistics on the impressions and clicks that come through your GMB properties in Google search, Google+, photos and Google+ posts. These should be treated like the insights on a Facebook brand page, as they only apply to your profile views. They are an indicator of improvement in your profile’s standing because a bad GMB profile may not show an enhanced result on a branded search.
There are some things about the dashboard, though, that become befuddling when issues arise.
It quickly became clear that because our new building has several entrances, Google Street View was confusing visitors. The most obvious door for visitors and the one shown in the street view preview is for the restaurant on the corner instead of the 5th Street side. While on my own I was able to customize the map’s pin location, I could not figure out exactly how to customize the Street View thumbnails to show our entrance. In advance of our open house and official ribbon cutting ceremony featuring the Mayor of St. Paul coming up a week later, this is an issue we had to resolve.
Because of these issues, I ended up contacting Google’s My Business helpline. A helpful man was on the other line who walked me through the issues I was having and then through the process to correct the street view thumbnail.
At the end of the call, my contact asserted that he was only an email away. So sure enough, I got an email from Imran himself and responded to him when there were delays in the updates.
After waiting over the weekend for updates to happen on our street view preview and only days remaining before our event, I called GMB help again. This time, they told me they actually could not change the street view preview. What I had to do to improve our listing is to upload photos of our actual entrance and some others of our interior.
The Google rep said that if we uploaded good photos of the building, the profile may not need the street view preview at all. These comments spurred me to take some quick pictures of our building inside and out to update our profile. In the end, our open house was a success and no one was wandering around lost in the restaurant.
One thing they don’t tell you about GMB is when they approve your update requests you have to return to the dashboard to accept. (Not simply return, mind you. You must enter into the Manage Location area and look for the yellow/gold banner asking you to review the changes they have already confirmed and press “OK” again.”
They don’t send an alert to your email and they don’t put a notification in your notification center, so this is a frustrating process.
I understand it is a way of double-confirming your changes, but come on Google, you have access to my email, my phone, my website, my everything. Throw me a notification bone.
After this process, our local presence is up-to-date, but isn’t quite there yet. Local SEO is a beast of a process and pleasing MOZ Local is not the only way to measure success. As of February 9, we still haven’t improved our Moz Local score, but I need to spend some more time doing citation cleanup now that I haven’t done so since the first effort in the beginning of December.
Making our business name consistent is a big factor of improvement, but other issues include syntax for the spelling of “2nd Floor” of all things.
Again, Moz Local is just another metric we can use to keep things moving as we improve.
The good thing is that our traffic is up about 30% when comparing month-over-month, and our traffic in the Twin Cities area is up 70% year-over-year. There are numerous reasons why this might be, such as buzz and promotions for the new office itself but hey, this effort sure hasn’t hurt us.
See our GMB insights chart showing overall improvement here:
After tracking some keyword rankings using a few tools, we lost dropped in positions for terms like Marketing Agencies Minneapolis. The thing is that we are in St. Paul, so that shouldn’t be a priority anyways! Local search rankings aren’t crucial for our business but they still help measure this effort in another way.
Altogether this process helped me learn more about the intricacies of managing a local search presence and documenting it for you to read was even more helpful. Working on this for a business more reliant on local search for sales requires a tighter focus and time frame of execution than I had for this article. Having a dedicated team of professionals work on a tighter schedule than I had would certainly help a company’s results.
I’ll leave you with some notes on services I encountered and processes I used:
- Last Note on Google My Business – After all of this I’ve concluded several things about GMB. It is great that Google has created a way to unite business profiles across their channels and manage them in one place. Helping business users streamline their locations is beneficial to the bottom line advertising that Google cares about, so they have also invested in phone support which helps. I still think there are ways for them to improve their interface and features. Customizing Google Street View, better notification systems, shorter information update change review process, and a more user-friendly interface that doesn’t change features when you change views. It sounds like some help and new services are on the way.
- Moz Local/Bright Local – Great for logging the total citations in the local search universe and for getting things started for your business in reaching out to key data aggregators on your behalf. Still, be prepared to do citation work on your own as well.
- Casey Meraz’s Local Audit Template – This provided a beneficial guide for uniting all of my business listing information and helped me get through many questions I had about the process. It is a good guide, but it is not a catch-all. Different business types have different requirements, so if you have multiple locations this template is even more helpful.
I hope this illuminates some local search solutions for your website and that you’ve learned a few things from my chronicle here.
Please leave comments and questions if you have them below!
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