Properly categorizing your business at Google Maps is one of the most important Local Search Ranking Factors, as I mentioned in last month’s column. There’s been a lot of chatter about business categories since then, most notably at the Local Search Summit in San Jose, during August’s Search Marketing Now webinar on Local Search, and on Mike Blumenthal’s Understanding Google Maps blog.
Fellow Small Is Beautiful columnist Hanan Lifshitz offered a glimpse into how most IYP portals categorize the average small business in his own column last month. He found that over 60% of SMB’s in Alexandria, VA are placed into two or fewer categories by Internet Yellow Pages portals. This should be more than a little disturbing, both for SMB’s and end users.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, allow me to reiterate my view that Local search is focused around businesses and locations not necessarily websites. After all, barely 50% of small businesses even have websites, and among the 50% that do, only a handful are even moderately optimized for search. So even for advanced Local search engines that are able to take website information into account, such as Google Maps (presumably), there’s just not a lot of HTML content about the vast majority of small businesses.**
So in my mind, proper (and exhaustive) categorization remains one of the keys to both Local Search Engine Optimization and a good user experience for the local searcher. Other than trying to fix incorrect NAP information (Name, Address, Phone-thanks Gib J ), categories probably cause the most headaches in Local search. Let’s take a quick look at why.
Data mis-entry or mis-translation
Back in the Dark Ages (OK, so it wasn’t that long ago, just before the Internet), NAICS or SIC codes were the primary way that business information was organized. Business data aggregators like infoUSA and Acxiom assigned each business to a particular code to keep track of them in their computer system. Use of these codes, or at least of the data previously organized by these codes, is still widespread today.
Obviously, when you’re talking about a numerical entry corresponding to a verbal translation, one slightly mis-entered keystroke could place a business in a completely different area of the taxonomy.
A similar situation occurs when aggregators try to map other portals’ taxonomies to their own. Even with a proper entry, some categories become lost in translation.
As this data spreads throughout the Local Search ecosystem, the error just compounds itself, and a florist is all of a sudden listed as an auto mechanic. Or a museum is listed as an advertising agency.
And frankly, I was shocked to hear from Pankaj Mathur on last month’s aforementioned SMN webinar that infoUSA sometimes edits the categories that business owners tell them. It certainly goes against the industry grain (and against common sense) not to trust the business owner above other sources.
Problems often arise when data providers’ category taxonomies simply don’t describe their business adequately.
One of my favorite Local search portals, CityVoter, is a good example. CityVoter is one of the most powerful citation sources for Google Maps, showing up an amazing number of times on Web Pages tabs in all kinds of industries and locations.
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine who runs an environmental consulting company asked me to help him with his Local Search presence. Naturally, CityVoter was one of the first places we submitted him. My friend’s CityVoter profile currently shows up as the #2 citation on his Local Business Listing in Google Maps.
But, it turns out that CityVoter doesn’t even have a category for Environmental Services. So we put his business in the closest matching category: Home Services > Contractors. It seemed to me to be far better that he be listed in a marginally-related category than to ignore CityVoter altogether and lose the ranking power that its citation brings with it to Google Maps.