I have had several conversations with small business owners over the past two weeks that all follow a similar pattern:
Small Business – What’s the most important thing I should be doing to get visibility in my local market?
Me – You want to be found when people are searching for what you do. “Near me” searches have surged and the close rate is astoundingly high. When people are searching for something, three times out of four they make a purchase.
Small Business Owner – Ok, how do I do that?
Me – Most local marketing specialists will tell you that you should have strong “citations” on major online directory sites. And they are right. But you have to be wary of fake listings.
Small Business Owner – fake listings? What do you mean?
Me – I mean, people that create fake companies in your community (or real companies with a fake address), all so that “business” can show up on “near me” searches.
Small Business Owner – that’s crazy!
Yes, that’s crazy. And yet it happens on a regular basis. It’s surprisingly easy to get fake listings on quality directory sites such as yp.com and Google My Business. Since most sites do not charge to add a listing, they automate a large portion of the verification process. And once you automate something, that process can be gamed.
Google in particular has a fairly rigorous process to add a business on Google My Business. And it’s fully automated, although they use some interesting machine learning to try to snuff out fake listings. A recent study they did claims less than 0.5% of all listings are now fake. But this study is being widely debunked by marketing experts who have significant experience in this area.
Here at Bizyhood, we get a significant number of citation requests each month, although just a small fraction of what Google gets. We still manually verify every business – we have a process that’s fairly easy, but not trivial, for a small business to get listed. Here’s some interesting statistics on our experience:
- Only 30% of the businesses that sign up complete the verification process successfully
- We see a large number of “repeat offenders”. Businesses (or con artists) that attempt to add themselves multiple times, using different email addresses each time.
- Many businesses get claimed using the address of their local post office, UPS store, or shared office suite. Here’s an exhaustive list of ways fake listings get created.
We have already addressed the issue of huge numbers of fake locksmiths. As we grow, we will add more rules into our verification to weed out the typical practices. But it will never be enough. It’s our strong belief that a trusted and knowledgeable local resource must be involved in the verification process. Somebody who knows the day-to-day changes in the community and can point out discrepancies that an algorithm could never uncover.
This is deeply technical and frustrating topic. A business’s address should be a simple thing for a business owner to manage, and it’s not. However, imagine that a competitor had been able to insert a large ad in the Yellow Pages 20 years ago without having to pay – you would not be happy! This is similar in effect. Here are our suggested strategies that are relatively simple and cost effective to stay on top of this:
- Make sure you have claimed your business on Google My Business, and also make sure nobody else has a business listed at the same address!
- Get your citations checked (and corrected if necessary) on the major directory aggregators. Bizyhood can do this for you, contact us for more information.
- Be wary of marketing agencies that promises to get you listed on the top 150-200 sites. They will automate this effort (or outsource it to save money), and they will not do any of the verification required by sites like Bizyhood. So, you’ll wind up on sites where it’s easy to get listed without verification, which means there will be a lot of fake listings. We believe you only need to worry about the top 10 sites and any vertically or geographically focused site that is relevant, and that’s it.
- Do “near me” searches on the types of things that people should be searching for to find your business. Do not search on your business name – very few people search by name, they search by what they want. See where you show up (if at all) on search engines. The terms where you don’t show up are the areas you need to focus on.
Marketing your business has become more challenging online, but there are simple strategies that can get you ahead. Don’t fall for the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that many telemarketers will feed you. And don’t do nothing, you must have a Digital Marketing strategy. Just like you have financial partners to help you with budgeting and tax returns, you must have technical partners to assist you with your digital marketing. Let Bizyhood and your local trusted publisher assist you!