Citation Inconsistency Is No.1 Issue Affecting Local Ranking

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This post is a follow-up from my November post, in which I shared some interesting findings from the current InsideLocal webinar series.

During InsideLocal webinars, we survey the audience, which consists of 500+ local search consultants and SMB owners. The vast majority of attendees are search consultants/agencies, with 90-95% located in USA and Canada (so the data are skewed to that sector’s experience and location).

The results of these polls help to illuminate the scale of specific issues impacting local businesses and the local search community.

Q1. What Are The Most Common Local Ranking Issues That Local Businesses Have?

What are the most common local ranking issues that local businesses have?

Respondents: 336

We gave attendees 5 options to choose from and asked them to pick the 2 most common issues that they find across all the clients they work with or businesses they audit. Given that each local search consultant handles 9 clients on average, we can assume that these experiences are drawn from in excess of 3,000 businesses.

Key Findings:

  • Inconsistent citation and NAP (Name, Address, Phone) data is by far the most common issue at 41%.
  • Duplicate Google Places/+Local listings is the 2nd most common issue at 27%.
  • Google Places Guideline Violations is the least common issue, with just 4% of respondents counting this among their most common issues.

Analysis:

We all know how the local search space is plagued with incorrect business data, so it’s not surprising to see Citations/NAP as the number one issue affecting local businesses. The majority of businesses have NAP consistency issues on some level, ranging from cripplingly bad to very minor, and this issue will remain a thorn in our side for some years to come.

I was surprised to see that “Google Places Guideline Violations” was so low. Given the frequent changes and even reversal of advice in the guidelines, I believe that many businesses are in violation of the guidelines in some way or other. I suspect that many respondents are unclear on what constitutes a guideline violation, hence the low score in this survey.

I believe Google has an obligation to educate businesses/SEOs more; they should make it clear when they are in violation and explain what action they need to take. It’s in everyone’s best interest (except for spammers) that data is cleaned up and duplicate listings are removed.

This would make it easier to identify low quality and spammy listings if they don’t comply, and Google can mete out a more targeted penalty on those offenders.

Q2. What Percentage Of Local Businesses Have Duplicate Google Places/+Local Listings?

What percentage of local businesses have duplicate Google Places/+Local listings?

Respondents: 370

Analysis:

Practically every consultant/agent has at least one client that has a duplicate Google+ Listing. It’s such a common issue that all 3 experts on the webinar said that this is the first issue they explore when auditing a business with local ranking issues.

Duplicate listings can be such a detriment to ranking in Maps/Local that even if other aspects are well optimized (e.g. citations, links), a business often doesn’t have a chance of breaking into the local pack while their duplicate listing remains at large.

Q3. What Percentage Of Local Businesses Have Suffered A Local Penalty?

What percentage of local businesses have suffered a local penalty?

Respondents: 311

Analysis:

Far fewer businesses have suffered a local penalty than have had duplicate listings. Local penalties can be applied for many reasons (mainly due to a breach of Google’s Guidelines), but not all duplicate listings result in a penalty.

Again, I believe that many more businesses may have suffered a local penalty than know it. There is no clear message — either in the Google My Business dashboard or Google Webmaster Tools — stating that a local rankings penalty has been applied. This means it’s down to awareness and understanding to identify a penalty.

Google could do a lot more to make it clear when and why a listing is being penalized, thereby helping business owners to improve their listings as Google wants them to.

Q4. Do You Believe That Optimizing For Google+ Local Delivers Good ROI?

Do you believe that optimizing for Google+ Local delivers good ROI?

Respondents: 448

Key Findings:

  • 28% said ROI was “Excellent”
  • 48% said ROI was “Good”
  • Just 4% said ROI was “Low” or “Very Low”

Analysis:

With so many complexities and issues impacting Google+Local, we wanted to know if SEOs see a worthwhile return from the effort invested into optimizing their listings via Google My Business.

The feedback was extremely positive: YES, THEY DO! A whopping 76% of respondents said the ROI was either “Excellent” or “Good,” while only 4% said it offered “Low”/”Very Low” ROI.

So despite the issues that impact the ability of many local businesses to rank well in Google Maps/Local, the effort is worth reward.

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