The business listing landscape is noisier than ever today because of the multitude of local business content available online via search, social, and mobile channels. In addition, consumer local search activity is skyrocketing. In fact, recent studies show that nearly 20% of searches are local (also reported by Google), and 40-50% of mobile searches are local, according to Google and Microsoft.

With the added pressure to increase visibility online, business owners are being tempted in a variety of ways to boost their local search presence via advertising vehicles that can water down their core anchor identities—i.e., their business listings. In some cases, advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) opportunities can tamper with a business's online identity, unbeknownst to the business owner.

What is an anchor identity?

A business's anchor identity is its online local search business listing, primarily consisting of its name, address, and phone number—its NAP information. Think of your anchor identity as your digital storefront or the glue that holds your online reputation together and ensures that customers can find you online when they want to call or visit your business to make a purchase.

Why are business listings important?

Business listings maintain the consistency of information about your business on the Web, breaking through the noise of online advertising, reviews, social media check-ins, and so on. Also, the majority of the local search engines crawl listings to determine relevance and ranking.

Since online business listings are the starting point for consumer buying research, business owners need to closely monitor the accuracy and consistency of their NAP information.

Listings are sometimes created with or without a business owner's knowledge by sites that pull advertising details from a variety of sources that do not always include correct NAP details. Business owners therefore need to take control of their listings now.

What rules should you follow when managing your online business listing?

1. Don't alter your business name

It is important to keep your NAP information consistent and accurate throughout your business listing and to ensure it is representative of your true identity. If your business name is changed in a local listing for marketing purposes even one time, multiple identities may be created online for your business.

That can seriously hurt your online visibility because search engines develop their search result rankings based on the confidence they have in your business listing. If inaccuracies are found within your listing's core details, your listing could be pushed further down the results page, and your customers or prospects might be more inclined to visit a competitor that appears higher.

For example, if you own a bar called Joe's Bar (and your patrons really know you as a bar) and you begin selling pizza, do not change your business name online to appear as a pizzeria (e.g., Joe's Bar and Pizzeria). That may create multiple identities, which might push your listing down in search results. Not to mention that your loyal customer base might not be able to find you when conducting a local search for your known business name.

If the goal is to promote an emerging pizza product, purchase a (temporary) paid search advertisement separate from your business listing. That paid listing or keyword placement will not be crawled by search engines, so it won't negatively affect the visibility of your organic business listing.

2. Maintain your brick-and-mortar address

Always include your physical address within your business listing, and avoid post office box addresses when possible. Also, don't ever change your business address to appear local in a location where you do not have a physical presence.

3. Use your primary phone number

Pay-per-call phone numbers are great for advertising purposes, but not for local search business listings. Maintaining a consistent phone number signals that your business listing information is reliable, and it gives you a better chance to rank high on search engines, directories, and social media sites. It also enables search platforms to aggregate more descriptive content about your business, which ultimately helps consumers choose your business.

4. Don't include short-term promotions

Be careful of tagging short-term content, such as seasonal products, within your business listing. Instead, limit your listing to core business information. Treat the content you include in your listing as if it were painted information on your store window. Remember, the echo of the Web is more permanent than a billboard or direct mail piece.

5. Preserve your anchor identity for mobile searches

The sanctity of business listings is growing more important with the explosion of GPS-enabled mobile devices and on-the-go searching. With local searches increasing, it is crucial that business owners claim, manage, and monitor their online local search business listings across many platforms and keep advertising mechanisms separate.

* * *

Today, advertising should be used to generate leads, but it should not alter your organic business listing. Instead, your online anchor should remain true to your business identity so it can stay consistent throughout the local search ecosystem—whether on local, mobile, or social platforms.

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A Business Listing Is Your Online Anchor (Five Rules for Ensuring Stability)

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Gib Olander is vice-president of marketing development at Localeze, a leader in the local search industry and a provider of business listings identity management.