Google Updates Shake Up How Brands Manage Local Listings

As consumer demand for better online user experiences increases, retail brands need to refocus their current search optimization strategies on Google.

Achieving higher organic rankings, specifically on Google, has the digital marketing industry focused on distributing citations across hundreds of sites throughout the web. The reason for such a push is grounded in the expectation that those efforts will increase organic rankings for individual business locations, which accounts for nearly 90% of their online local search traffic, according to our analysis at Location3.

Citations were deemed the new link by David Mihm almost 10 years ago, and have been at the center of local search optimization strategy since that time.  We have also seen Google make some important strides with regard to how they rank and display results within the Local Pack Search Results.

At first, citation-building strategies largely revolved around relying on a handful of large data aggregators to distribute location data to hundreds of other smaller sites.  For a lot of brands, this is/was virtually the only strategy they’ve had in place for some time.

However, over the past couple of years Google has introduced two algorithm changes that have altered the local business listing management landscape. These changes now require multi-location brands to engage in a more comprehensive, managed approach to citation building for their locations.

Google Pigeon Update

This update ties into Google’s PageRank factors, which has hundreds of ranking signals it uses to determine where a site is positioned in the SERPs.  Google Pigeon first rolled out in June 2014, and one of the ramifications of its arrival was that it reduced the influence of data aggregators for citation distribution.

Previously the algorithm used from 2006 (Universal Search launch) through June 2014 operated by taking into account the citation accuracy across numerous sites and locations where proper NAP info was distributed.  A recent study by the team at Local SEO Guide highlighted a number of attributes that influence organic ranking, and the impact of business citations was the biggest eye-opener of all.

second study conducted by WhiteSpark also tested out several newly-created locations with each database aggregator. The study concluded that aggregators were not updating citations regularly. It also detailed how poorly each of the test locations were performing in terms of overall ranking within the SERPs.

Google My Business Update

Google at times has used third-party aggregators (Infogroup, Localeze, Acxiom) as backup data sources, in order to pull listing data from brands and businesses that were not updating their listings directly in Google (which has its own challenges).

As Google ultimately made strides to improve GMB late 2015, their reliance on third-party aggregators almost entirely ceased to exist. That’s because Google now has access points for location data straight from the source of the brand in volume via API, which Google now uses to allow for bulk ingestion of data directly from the source.

Since the brand is the first to know about the changes, it can feed the data directly to Google and not have to use an intermediate like the data aggregators as a result.

In Summary

These two updates have genuinely changed the way brands need to approach search engine optimization for multiple business locations. Core channels like Google (as well as Bing, Facebook and Apple) account for the overwhelming majority of local search user traffic on desktop and mobile.

Creating direct relationships with these core channels, in addition to using traditional SEO and social media strategies, will give your brand the best chance for greater visibility in organic search engine results. If you are still using an outdated “shotgun” approach and relying heavily on data aggregators as part of your local listing management strategy, you will likely continue to see declines in search rank and performance for your business locations.

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