Setting Up Local Business Listings
Each time you create a structured local business listing, whether at Google, Facebook, Yelp, or elsewhere, you’ll be filling out a form with a specific set of fields:
- Business name/title
- Phone number
- Website URL
- Social profiles
- Additional media
- Alternate phone numbers
- Fax number
- Brands carried
- Payment forms accepted
It’s important to understand that Google, as the dominant player in local search, has set the tone for best practices when it comes to formatting this data. Their complete guidelines can be found here. You’ll be following these general guidelines when developing most of your citations in order to ensure that they match your Google My Business listing. Exceptions to this will be noted in this article.
If you’re building your citations manually, you should create a document with all of these fields pre-filled with your accurate information to ensure consistency and prevent mistakes, you should prepare to fill out these fields in a one-time form so that your accurate info can be pushed out to various data platforms.
1). Business name/title
Always use your real-world business name in this field. Google can read street-level signage, so be sure the way you format your name matches the sign on your business, your print marketing, your website logo, and the way your phone is answered. Do not add additional keywords, geographic terms, or other modifiers to your business name.
For multi-location businesses (like chains or franchises), do not add city names or other modifiers to the business name in Google or any other local business listing, with the exception of Facebook.* Don’t be Whole Foods San Diego on one listing and Whole Foods San Francisco on another. Just be Whole Foods on all listings, unless your legal business name includes city words or other modifiers.
*Facebook treats the business name field differently. You can’t have more than one Facebook Place listing with an identical name, so when creating your local listings on Facebook for a multi-location business, you must add a city name or other modifier to the business name. Don’t worry too much about this making the listing inconsistent with Google. All multi-location businesses are in the same boat, so there is no competitive detriment here.
For multi-practitioner businesses (like legal or real estate firms), follow Google’s rule and only put the name of the practitioner in the business name field, without including the name of the practice. In other words, an insurance agent at a multi-practitioner agency should be Joe Jones and not All state: Joe Jones. It’s a local SEO best practice to be sure each practitioner has their own phone number. The only time you can include the business name in this field is if Joe Jones is the sole practitioner at the business.
For multi-department businesses (like an auto center, hospital, or college campus), you have the option to create a unique listing for each forward-facing department. Google stipulates that these departments should typically have their own entrance and their own business categories. It’s also a local SEO best practice to ensure that they each have their own phone number. In naming these departments, you are allowed to mention the main business name.
Always list your real-world address, with no additions or alterations (such as fictitious suite numbers). PO boxes and unstaffed virtual offices are not considered real-world addresses and you should not build local business listings for them.
On Google, put your street address in line one and any suite or mailbox numbers in line two of the address section of the form. This is a good practice to follow for nearly all citations, to avoid strange formatting.
On Google, if your company is an SAB (a service-area business, like a plumber or electrician, who serves customers at their locations rather than at your own), you will be signaling this via Google’s form while creating your listing there. Google will then hide your street address on your live listing.* You must have a physical address of some kind to be eligible for a Google My Business listing, even if it’s only your home address. Do not create a listing for each of the cities your SAB serves. Only create a listing for your physical location, even if this is your home address.
3). Phone number
While Google’s guidelines express a preference for local area code phone numbers, they’ve supported toll-free numbers for some years. This is particularly important for businesses like hotels: they’re local, but most of their customers come from out of town and find a toll-free number especially convenient. If you use a toll-free number instead of a local one on your Google My Business listing, make sure your website and all of your citations consistently use this number.
Google also wants you to list the number that connects as directly as possible to the subject of the local business listing (rather than to a call center).
Many citation forms will also allow you to list an alternate phone number, a toll-free number, a cell phone number, and in some cases a vanity number.
4). Website URL
Google specifically stipulates that your listed website URL goes directly to a page owned by the business, rather than referring them to a third party, a social profile, or anywhere else.
For multi-location, multi-department, and multi-practitioner businesses, it’s common to point the listing for the business to the website homepage, while the listings for the branches, departments, or practitioners point to their respective landing pages on the site. This helps keep the entities separate. If you follow this model, be consistent and link all citations for a given entity to their respective page on the website. You don’t want some of a practitioner’s listings to point to the main homepage while others point to their landing page.
This is an area where you can experiment a bit. Perhaps you’ll find that your rankings increase if you point all of your listings to your homepage, as it has higher authority than an internal page. Beware, though — what you gain in rankings could be lost in human usability. You don’t want a user to click on a listing only to have to navigate your site to find the right landing page. There’s an ongoing debate in the local SEO industry as to whether rankings or usability should determine where your citation URLs point.
Most local business data platforms have a set of categories you’ll be choosing from to define what your business is. You’ll typically select 1–10 of these categories; when it comes to Google in particular, proper categorization can have a profound impact on rank. Google’s guidelines encourage you to choose categories which define your business at the most refined level (e.g. Federal Credit Union is a more refined category than just Bank) and avoid category repetition (not using both Restaurant and MexicanRestaurant). For an in-depth look at perfecting your Google My Business category strategy, please read Why Local Business Categories Matter.
No other platform has guidelines as stringent or detailed as Google’s when it comes to categories, but it’s important to be as accurate as possible when categorizing your business. Make it easy for platforms and search engines to understand which searchers you’re most relevant for.
Sometimes, a niche business may not find a truly accurate category to represent itself on a given platform. When this happens, the best practice is to choose the closest possible category and then rely on other elements (like the business description) to clarify the exact nature of the company’s goods and services.
This field is an opportunity to highlight the most persuasive and impactful elements of your business — the things that most convince a potential customer to choose you. Typically, you’ll have several hundred characters available to create a short pitch for your company. You may choose to write a unique description for each platform, or if you prefer, you can safely create a single description and publish it on all your citations.
Google doesn’t currently display the business owner’s description on Google My Business listings, relying instead on their own custom-created descriptors. Nevertheless, you’ll still enter a description in the Google My Business dashboard and Google will see it, even if they don’t display it live.
Most other platforms will display your description live. Good things to highlight could include awards, guarantees, proximity to major landmarks, or famous brands carried.
Some descriptions allow for the use of rich text (including hyperlinks), but you should avoid spamminess. Make your description read in a natural voice, like an elevator pitch, rather than a string of disjointed keywords. Descriptions are not believed to have any impact on local search rankings, but they can influence click-through rates (CTR).
Some local business platforms have a field for entering a tagline or slogan. There’s no need to create one if you don’t have one, but for brands whose taglines have become locally famous due to radio, tv, or social promotion, this field can help with consumer recognition. An example of a well-known tagline would be Nike: Just Do It.
8). Social profiles
Many platforms will give you the ability to link to your profiles on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Facebook, and more. It’s worth it to fill these fields out whenever possible to direct consumers to additional forms of user experience and customer support.
Google has stated that images have a major impact on local business listing click-through rates, so it’s always a smart idea to upload as many high-quality images as you can whenever a platform presents the opportunity.
Each platform has its own guidelines as to image size and what types of content are allowed in images. Here are Google’s. Be sure to follow guidelines, both for best display and resolution and to avoid images being taken down for non-compliance.
Finally, as many platforms allow users to upload their own photos of your business, it’s important to monitor your profiles on a regular basis to be sure that inappropriate imagery hasn’t been uploaded by pranksters or competitors.
10). Additional media
Certain platforms allow you to upload videos, menus, and links to other forms of media. This creates a richer user experience and can influence conversions.
11). Alternate phone numbers
Most platforms offer fields for toll-free, cell phone, or vanity phone numbers, which can be of assistance to different groups of users.
12). Fax number
This common field is particularly important to any business that uses fax as a regular means of communication (such as medical centers that request new patient forms to be faxed in), but it’s not a required field.
If trust in your business relies on licenses or professional certifications, be sure you’re including this information whenever a platform makes this field available.
14). Brands carried
Being alerted to major brands you carry is a huge convenience for consumers, particularly when those brands enjoy a loyal following. This is an especially good field for retail businesses to fill out.
15). Payment forms accepted
Many platforms allow you to specify which payment methods you accept, from cash only to digital wallets. If your business supports the most modern payment technologies, make good use of this field to influence consumers’ decisions to choose you.
Attributes are relatively new to the Google My Business dashboard, expected to grow in importance. When creating your Google My Business listing, you may have the ability to choose from a set of descriptions (like “24-hour service,” “late night food,” or “wheelchair accessible”) that further define your business. It makes sense to let Google (and consumers) know as much as possible about your business whenever attribute fields are available. Be aware that some attributes (like “cozy” or “hip”) can only be added by the public, as they represent subjective impressions of your business.
The quality, consistency, and spread of your local business data has a direct impact on your local search engine rankings, which leads to web traffic, foot traffic, and transactions. Given the importance of this foundational piece of the local search marketing puzzle, it’s well worth the time to be sure that your listings are accurate, complete, and discoverable on the most important platforms.