When reviewing your hotel’s SEO (search engine optimization) profile, a commonly overlooked ranking factor will sometimes be staring you in the face: local listings. Local listings serve a vital purpose to your off-page and local SEO performance, and their primary function is simple: keeping your hotel’s basic information 100% up-to-date on search engines. As advanced as search algorithms are, simply having your information correct “somewhere” is no guarantee that it will appear that way when a user is looking for your hotel online. In fact your official data sources could be damaged if enough inaccurate information exists.
According to a 2015 study by Moz External Local Signals (including local listings) are the fourth most influential ranking factor, and the second most influential factor that exists outside of your website. In a similar vein, in 2015 SearchMetrics placed the number of backlinks to your site and authoritative domains (including local listings) as one of the the key factors to consider for external SEO.
Local listing websites vary in their level of authority, so some will take priority over others. While it is not the end of the world if one or two smaller listings are not perfect, having a large number of inaccurate listings will cripple your SEO performance.
What are Local Listings?
A Quick Overview
Local listing sites are massive sources of information containing basic details on most businesses. Nearly every company, large and small, finds itself listed, whether or not the business actively submitted the data to these third party websites. Some well known examples of local listings are websites like Yelp, Foursquare, and even Yahoo and Google Maps. Local listing websites are like an online copy of your local Yellow Pages (not surprisingly, the Yellow Pages website is a highly authoritative local listing site).
Why Do These Listings Matter?
By now you’re probably asking, “What do these websites do?” In short, local listings serve as a resource of information for both online users and search bots. Users can go on a local listing site and search “Hotels”, then enter, “Chicago, IL” and find a huge list of, you guessed it, hotels in Chicago, IL. Pretty simple, right?
Search engines also use these third party sites to find new business data, and verify existing data. Having consistent information across multiple authoritative local listing websites is interpreted as accuracy by search engines. When search engines confidently view business information as accurate, the overall online presence of that business is strengthened significantly and the business name and website will rank better for relevant local terms.
The information on local listing sites comes into play when someone searches for “hotels in Chicago” on search engines like Google. For this reason, it can be difficult for a hotel in Naperville, IL to rank well for Chicago-related keywords (FYI, Naperville is close to a 45 minute drive from Chicago, for you out-of-towners).
Search engines will crawl through a large number of local listing sites, and more often than not, these sites are also looking to each other to discover new information and verify old data. This creates a vast and intertwined web of information that is constantly created, tested, and verified online.
Key Information on Listings
The main pieces of information search engines look at, and what is vital to keep up-to-date on your local listings, are your hotel’s Name, Address, and Phone Number (or “NAP”). In addition, you should list your website’s URL and provide as much in-depth, relevant information as you can about your hotel (hours, prices, links to social media profiles, and a personalized description, where applicable).
New and detailed information suggests to search engines that it was added by a person with insider knowledge, and is therefore often considered more authoritative than automatically generated data. In short, having in-depth information, NAP consistency, and the same URL whenever possible are all key factors to improve local search performance.
Risks of Poorly Maintained Local Listings
While it is important to know the benefits of accuracy and consistency, do not overlook the drawbacks of inaccuracy and inconsistency across local listing websites. If your business data is incorrect on a listing, search engines will continue to see this information and allow it to play a factor in how your business appears in local search results.
Business information often changes after listings have been created, and the new information may not be reflected on listing sites. Perhaps your hotel changed brands recently, or your local government changed your street name from Riverside Drive to John F Kennedy Drive, or maybe you recently signed up for some digital marketing services and have a spiffy new website and URL. There are dozens of reasons why your listings could be out of date.
If you have not been paying attention to your hotel’s local listings, the incorrect information will continue to poorly representing your business until you update the various listing sites.
On the other side of the coin, it is possible you rarely check on your local listings and have not made many updates. Occasionally these listings are automatically updated leaving some business information correct, and other information outdated or just plain wrong. Inconsistent business information cannot be verified by search engines, and will only rank well if there is literally no other businesses of that type to compete with.
To show how inaccurate listings can be harmful, consider the following scenario. Imagine you are planning to join a few friends for drinks after work, and you are meeting at the lounge in the nearby Renaissance hotel. Before you head out you try to pull directions from Google Maps and find that the hotel is on 123 Main Street. Then you decide to check out some reviews of the lounge, and on the hotel’s Yelp page you see that the address is listed as 456 North Avenue.
Since you want to be sure you have the correct address you call the phone number listed on Yelp and discover that the number is out of service. Now you’re frustrated and decide to change plans with your friends and go to a different bar altogether. Having inconsistent and incorrect information across local listings can lead to a very dissatisfying user experience, and will ultimately confuse search engines.
How to Leverage Your Hotel’s Local Listings to Improve SEO
Step 1: Understand Your Current Listings
Making sure your information is 100% accurate, up-to-date, and highly relevant on all channels can seem like a very daunting, complicated task. While this can be a time consuming, tedious process, it is also very straightforward. The first step is to check Moz Local, an entirely free tool to review your hotel’s search rankings. There are other tools out there, but Moz is highly trusted by the BMI team on all things SEO. This tool will comb through major local listing sites to verify your hotel’s NAP and provide you with a completeness & accuracy score. You should make a point to record this score and review the listings Moz calls out as incomplete, inconsistent, and duplicate. These will be your priority listings to correct first and foremost.
Step 2: Audit Local Sites
Now you need to look at your listings individually. Sites with the most authority should take precedence. Start with Google, Yahoo, and Bing, which each have their own local listing databases on top of their functionality as search engines. Then continue to search for your hotel on major databases and websites that feature local business data and customer reviews, like Yelp and Foursquare. You will want to make note of your Name, Address, Phone Number, and website URL on existing listings for absolute consistency.
While minor errors will not bring your search engine rankings to ruins, a missing hyphen or a misspelled street name can determine whether you or your prime competitor is viewed first on a search result. Also, keep an eye on sites that you are not listed on. If you find any authoritative sites missing your hotel’s listing, you should submit your business’ information as soon as possible.
Know how your business information appears on official government documents and databases, and follow their lead (if it is correct). The devil is in the details. If your business in on “Ninth St.” be sure to make note of any listing that says you are on “9th St.” Mark when your business appears more than once on a site and remove the least accurate duplicate listing.
Having only one listing on each online database will be significantly easier to manage and keep up-to-date, and prevents search engines from flagging your business as spam. If you have two businesses in one location (say, a hotel and an on-site restaurant), a separate listing for each can be beneficial.
Now that you have your big stack of notes, it is time to take action!
Claim, Verify, and Optimize
Most highly authoritative sites will give you the option to claim and verify your business listing. Tip: Do this! By claiming ownership of your business listing, you are able to easily make updates to information and descriptions, therefore maintaining control of your business’ listing on these third party websites.
Claiming your local listings is a very simple process, and one that Blue Magnet often tackles for our hotel partners. First and foremost you will have to create an account with the listing site (provided you do not have an account already). Most local listing sites give you the option to create an account for free. There is often a clearly labeled button to claim your listing (see below). The claiming process varies across local listing sites, but it is typically quick and easy. Once claimed, you should be able to edit your business information while logged into your account (even if you do not have any updates to make, it is vitally important to stake your claim). In most cases there is an FAQ or Support Page to walk you through the unique claiming process for each site.
Tip: Always maintain a list of websites, login information, and what you have changed so you can stay up-to-date on your listings. At Blue Magnet, we keep all of this on file for our hotel partners and make a point to annually check up on listings to keep your information current and consistent.
Disclaimer: some sites may not have an option to claim the listing, and you will only be able to submit reports of incorrect data. In these cases you should send the correct information to the listing site to verify and update your listing.
Local Listing Pitfalls
Below are a few common misconceptions about local SEO that keep me up at night. They are simply shortcuts, takeaways, and questions that seem wise unless you have seen the drawbacks yourself.
“This listing is up-to-date; why should we bother claiming it?”
Claiming an authoritative local listing is about more than just updating incorrect information. Most local listing websites tag claimed listings as “Verified” when the listing is under the control of a real person. This “verified” status gives your business more authority in the eyes of search engines. Also, having listings claimed will prevent your information from being edited by outside parties working to damage their competitors’ search rankings (this is just one aspect of “Black Hat” SEO, and is just as underhanded and sneaky as it sounds!).
“Isn’t there a service where I can enter my information once and my listings will update automatically?”
These services sound great at first. Theoretically, this approach to local SEO is quick, easy, and you can set it and forget it quicker than Ron Popeil! These services use programs where you enter your information once and any updates are pushed out to the most authoritative local listings. Sounds great, right? But is there anybody double checking these listings? Is anyone making sure that the sites are updating properly and on all the listings they are supposed to reach? Probably not, which can leave you holding the bag on a service you are paying for anyway.
Also, consider what happens when you decide to stop paying for this automated local SEO service. Many of these sites will maintain control of your listing afterward. If this is the case, you run the risk of being unable to update inaccuracies in your business listings unless you are willing to pay some other kind of fee. Long story short, I wouldn’t recommend it. Due to the need for quality control with your listings and the information they provide, Blue Magnet Interactive highly recommends manually updating your listings.
“Should I enter my business information on every local listing website and directory?”
This is where you will need to take special care when it comes to building out your listings. Not every business directory is authoritative with search engines. Check out a site’s domain authority and spam score using Moz Open Site Explorer. If a directory or listing site has an extremely low authority and / or a high spam score, having your hotel listed on that site can actually damage your standings with search algorithms.
If it sounds like I am repeating myself than you had better get used to it; you will be focusing in on a lot of repetitive information on most listings. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will say it one more time: consistency and accuracy are key to local SEO. When search engines can verify your hotel’s information across a large number of authoritative sources, they will notice you and promote you above competitors with less consistent local listings. It can be time consuming, and at times frustrating, but a well-maintained catalog of listings can propel your local search performance forward by leaps and bounds.
Did you know that local listing management is part of our hotel SEO services? Contact our team to learn more about what digital marketing tactics we use to keep your hotel on the path to success. Or sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on SEO and digital marketing news.