Relocating Your Business? How to Avoid the Local SEO Nightmare

October 10, 2013 on Local Search Marketing Blog by Jeffrey Magner

If your business has a significant web presence at your existing address, including online business directories, and your business is relocating nearby (same city or county) – this article is for you. It’s imperative that you understand the “best practices” for updating your web presence and that you consult with/hire an expert to help you. If you don’t, the search engine rankings for your business may disappear and never come back to where they are today. Over the years, we have seen and heard of many Local SEO Nightmare stories. If you don’t want this to happen to you, the following information is critical.

Understanding the Local SEO Ecosystem
Once your business information is listed in an online directory, it’s often scraped by or sold to other online directories. Online data about your established business can spread far and wide online. If you’ve advertised in the phone book, for instance DEX, they put your business in their multiple online directories. Now that DEX [dexknows.com and others] has merged with Supermedia [superpages.com, localsearch.com, Verizon Yellow Pages, Frontier Yellow Pages, etc…], they will have added your business to many directories that you have never heard of.  And…..

This is Awesome for Rankings when your business is not relocating because Search Engines want to see your business location across as many online sources (known as “Citations”) as possible. This helps to establish trust that your NAP (Business Name, Address, Phone) are legitimate.

This is a Nightmare for your Rankings when you relocate your business because it’s impossible to properly update your business listings. It really is impossible. Improper updates will create inconsistencies in your businesses NAP. Inconsistencies cause “confusion” in the Search Engines understanding of your business. Since Google makes most all of their money from providing excellent search results for it’s users, if Google is confused about your business, they will not rank it in the local listings. Once you go down this path, the nightmare only gets worse. Here’s why:

1. Most online directories are faced with an increasingly desperate proposition. The phone companies with their declining phone book ad sales have taken to offering often ill-fated, over-priced online advertising opportunities for local businesses. You know this. They have called you. Selling new ads to new businesses is how they make money. Hiring a customer support team to verify, update, and correct business listing data is not in their budget. Once they’ve got your old address, they will sell it to any/all buyers they can find. I call this their one-way business model. They will gladly add a new business, but they’ll never look back to maintain it’s correctness.

2. Some directories offer the ability to “Claim your Listing”. To do this, you’ll need to create an account, log in, and verify that you are the business owner and then once you’ve “claimed” your listing. This sounds great if you’ve got the time and patience for 404 errors and “this page is not loading properly, please come back later” and verification emails that never arrive, login difficulties, and other issues indicative of a poorly maintained, under-funded process. But even if after many hours of toil, you are successful, you will have updated only SOME of your online listings.

3. Many directories will have your business listed without any way to edit, claim, manage, delete it. There is no one to call, email, or complain to. And that is that. There’s nothing you can do. In the very dynamic online environment, new business directories are being created and old ones are disappearing – all the time.

4. To make matters worse, several prominent online directories are now charging fees to “Claim your Listing” so that you can edit incorrect information. Really? I see this a wildly desperate attempt to earn something, anything off of anyone – even if they have no idea how their information was added to that directory in the first place.

Of course it’s okay to relocate. It happens all the time, but all business owners should understand that there’s going to be a price to pay for this move, and they should factor that into their “moving expenses”. Hopefully the price is not the cost of lost online business from the Local SEO Nightmare.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:

1. Treat your new location as a distinctly new business listing – not an “edit” to your existing one. Since you can’t properly change your old listings, you will need to start from scratch and create new listings. You should not expect this new listing to rank on page 1 right away, sorry. It will take some time for search engines to discover all the new citations for your new location. If you already paid for “Local Business Optimization”, you’ll need to do it again for your new location to rank well. These days, this process takes time to achieve rankings.

2. Get a new phone number for this new location. You will have to do this. The phone number is the most important element of your business NAP. It’s how the directories and most importantly, Google, can verify that you are the business owner. If you already have a second business line, just use this one for your new location. If you need a new local number, Google Voice is most of the time a good FREE resource for this, but it does have some tricky quirks. Grasshopper is an affordable option if you want to pay for a local number. Forward your new phone number to your existing number. [NOTE: You can still keep your old phone number on your business cards or other “offline” uses. Recommendations here of for your “online” presence only.]

3. Change your address on your website. Take this time to be sure your location is on every page either in the footer or sidebar.

4a. Editing/Deleting your old business listings [Directory Cleanup Work]: Once your business has been relocated, first go to your “Professional” business directories that you might have a professional listing in, for example psychology today [therapists], Avvo [attorneys], etc… Update your new address and phone number. Do the same if your business is listed online with your local Chamber of Commerce, BBB, or other places online where you control your listing or pay to have your business listed.

Important directories you will be able to edit are Google, Yahoo, Yelp, and yellowpages.com. Claim and edit these listings to reflect your new address & phone.

Once you’ve already submitted your new business listing with your new address, at the other online business directories, it’s actually easier to delete/remove your old listing from the directories. Search for where you might be listed by doing a Google search for:

{business name, city, ST} or {business name, city, ST, Old phone#}

Click on your business listing to see if there is an “Edit this listing” or “This business has moved or closed” button. If so, mark your business appropriately. There is usually an editorial review process, or a not-really-sure-if-this-did-anything-or-not process that can take many weeks. That’s just how it is.

4b. [Special Circumstances] Don’t delete your old business listings in Google Places or directories just yet! – especially if you are ranking well and if you rely on new business from your Google listing. It might be better for your listing to be incorrect-yet-visible than not-visible-at-all. So just add your new listing at your new address in Google and the directories. (You can only add a new listing if you have a distinct phone number for your new listing.)

In this case, you may need to explain to your new clients/customers that your office/store has moved, but a lost new customer might be better than nothing. We’ve seen some businesses put a graphic on their websites home page & contact page announcing their new location, while still having their old listing & location remain a page 1 traffic driver to their website. (They kept their old address in very small print in the footer of their website to so Google could find it.)

5. Submit your business information to “Data Aggregators”. There are 3rd party companies that will submit your business to their own “networks of online & offline data networks”. This is not free, and can take considerable time to take effect but can be very helpful to reduce discrepancies in online business data. These companies generally work with agencies and can be prohibitively expensive for individual business owners. If you are working with SEO professional, they can discuss this with you.

You’ll be served well to get the advice of a seasoned local SEO expert to help you make the right decision about your relocation. This whole process is very complex. Despite your ability to submit & edit online information, this data is not owned or controlled by you. Ultimately the end result (and your web rankings) are determined by a many other players in an ever changing, rapidly evolving environment.

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