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Is your location data being held hostage?

Columnist Adam Dorfman makes the case for using the power of data amplifiers to ensure your business location data is correct and consistent across the web.

Paying to have your location data directly managed on tier-two directories is like buying Twitter followers: you might think you’re buying more visibility, but ultimately you’ll waste your money and effort. The recent experience of a healthcare provider illustrates this point vividly.

Not all directories deserve your attention

A directory becomes “tier-two” when it lacks visibility in search engine results pages. Tier-two directories might have once been favored by Google’s search algorithm for local queries but aren’t anymore.

They remain part of the local search conversation primarily because of their past reputations, not their current performance — which can make it more difficult for businesses to make informed choices about where to invest their location marketing spend.

For example, a healthcare provider (a client of ours) contacted us after a location marketing vendor tried to convince one of the doctors in their network to pay for a listing on one such tier-two directory, Insider Pages.

The vendor noted that the client was not listed on Insider Pages and suggested that the client could make the problem go away by paying a monthly premium to the vendor, which, in turn, would update the client’s physician data on Insider Pages.

This approach is fraught with a number of problems. First of all, Insider Pages operates as a closed-loop advertising network through an exclusive relationship with the vendor that had contacted our client. Essentially, the vendor was relying on a racket: you have a problem with a site that is a partner of ours. Pay us, and we’ll make the problem disappear. How convenient!

Had our client fallen for this scare tactic, they would have discovered that for a healthcare provider, Insider Pages is a marginal site and is not a relevant source for consumers looking for physicians. To-wit:

  • According to SimilarWeb, Insider Pages is a website that received 203,000 unique visits in total last month for more than 1,000 categories of businesses (healthcare categories accounts for 82 of those). Whitespark has them ranked Number 27 as a general citation source, just behind Brownbook and Cyclex USA, and Insider Pages isn’t even on the list of important citation sources for doctors.
  • By comparison, Healthgrades received 20,900,000 visits last month, and all of their traffic was healthcare-related. Unsurprisingly, they are ranked Number One on Whitespark’s list of important citations for doctors.
  • It’s no wonder that in 2016, our healthcare clients received on average only one website referral from Insider Pages for every 600,000 visitors to their physician and location directories.

Today’s mobile, omnichannel world requires a different approach — one that treats location data as an owned asset to create long-term business impact.

Rather than waste money by following a paid inclusion model that focuses on tier-two directories, brands must now build location data assets that are usable across the search ecosystem as it exists today and as it will exist in the future. Doing so also means sharing that data with high-impact data amplifiers — or the most influential publishers and aggregators of location data — augmented by relationships with a few carefully curated niche vertical market publishers.

The advantages of data amplifiers

As my colleague Gib Olander has defined, data amplifiers consist of publishers (such as Apple and Google) and data aggregators (such as Infogroup), which together make sure an enterprise’s location data is made available to all the places where people conduct near me searches.

Data amplifiers have become more important because near me searches have not only exploded in growth by number, but also in places that they occur. Someone looking for a doctor or a restaurant might rely on a Google app, Yelp, Foursquare, or Apple Spotlight Search, as well as well known vertical sites such as Healthgrades or TripAdvisor. Data amplifiers ensure that a brand’s location data is visible on all the places where moments of discovery happen.

A location data management strategy that focuses on distributing location data assets via data amplifiers works. According to SIM Partners proprietary research, enterprises that improved the accuracy and reach of their location data by just 20 percent saw traffic to their location pages increase up to 450 percent and on-page action conversion rates increase by 216 percent.

Auditing a client’s data

To illustrate the point to our client, we conducted an audit for a few of the physicians that the vendor insisted needed to appear on Insider Pages. When we conducted searches for the physicians on Google, they appeared on high-value listings across the board. But the Insider Pages listing did not even appear on the first 10 pages of results. Moreover, the doctors ranked in the Google Snack Pack for a number of highly competitive non-branded queries related to the physician’s areas of specialty.

This result is not surprising. A BrightLocal survey has shown that local SEOs suspect that the quantity of citations matters less these days, while the quality of citations matters more — not at all unlike the way link signals have evolved over the years in Google’s core ranking algorithm.

In addition, citation-related metrics in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey have dropped in importance every year since 2013. Finally, LocalSEOGuide’s recent Local SEO Ranking Factorsstudy has shown that citations can play a role in getting a business into a snack pack but have little importance in how well a business ranks once it is there.

Citations are still important. Businesses should consider them to be table stakes for building visibility. But publishing perfectly accurate citations on marginal sites becomes less influential on how well your brand ranks.

Rather than overpay to correct a listing that has nearly negligible value to our client’s business, we recommended that our client distribute their data to Infogroup, which, in turn, feeds data to Insider Pages (as well as a number of more relevant directories). As noted, this approach makes the most sense, as Insider Pages gets very little traffic and has almost no impact on our client’s Google performance.

It’s also a shame that Insider Pages hasn’t updated their FAQ page to reflect the new reality of how business listings are managed on their site. The directory still states that businesses can claim and manage their listings for free by logging in — which has not been possible for some time.

This inaccurate information causes additional confusion when local businesses receive email solicitations that their location data needs to be corrected on Insider Pages. When businesses check Insider Pages to review their faulty location data, the site suggests that their local search vendor should be able to resolve the problem immediately, which is just not true.

Unleash your location data

If your brand operates multiple locations, I urge you to:

  • form relationships with data amplifiers to unleash your data as a valuable asset. Or work with a location marketing platform provider that can manage the relationships for you.
  • beware of firms that try to entice you with the promise of increased visibility through a paid inclusion model — especially one that involves a closed-loop advertising platform.
  • apply a critical eye when you evaluate individual citations. Ask yourself how likely it is that customers of your business will see this citation source. If you were a Google engineer, how important would you view this citation source when building ranking algorithms? Also, look at your Web analytics to see how frequently these citation sources are sending traffic to your site.

Don’t let your listings be held hostage. Unleash your data through amplifiers.

by Adam Dorfman
source: Search Engine Land