If we've learned one thing about Google in the last 10 years of website building, it's this: Google's search algorithms don't take anything at face value.
The search engine requires proof of your website's authenticity, its value and its level of accuracy from a whole host of sources, from inward bounds links to the number of words on the page. These are known as ranking factors as they affect the ranking of your website in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
However, until recently, we hadn't fully realised how one key ranking factor that's been around for years, a listing in a business directory, could have way more value than just being a valuable inbound link to your website, particularly for local businesses.
Citations: PROOF POSITIVE FOR SEARCH ENGINES
In its never-ending search from 'proof' regarding your website, Google looks for what it calls citations, mentions of your business name and address on other webpages. According to industry insiders SEOmoz, this is a pure numbers game: "All other factors being equal, businesses with a greater number of citations will probably rank higher than businesses with fewer citations."
Citations are extremely useful for local niche businesses in Canada, where not every small town plumber or electrician or car mechanic has a website. If the search engines don't have much detail to go on when somebody searches for "plumber Ingersoll", for example, they will use citations rather than websites to build a list of local businesses to display in the Maps area of the SERPs.
The more local information it can get, the better, so if your business is listed on the local chamber of commerce website, the town business pages and maybe in Yellow Pages too, then it is further 'proof' to Google that you are indeed a local plumber.
Citations = Listings = Easy
The good news is that citations are remarkably easy to get. Many directories offer listings for free, such as Hotfrog and Foursquare, as well as the paid options such as Yellow Pages. You should have local directories specific to your province or county, or even your town, such as the chamber of commerce previously mentioned.
What's interesting is that many directories offer a free basic listing, but want payment to add your website link to your listing. The importance of citations shows that you don't have to 'upgrade' to benefit, but if you do, you'll have two great benefits for the price of one; a citation AND a weblink.
There is one drawback to business website directory listings; they are mind-numbingly tedious to do! There is a way to shortcut the process a little, which is to make sure the major data aggregators hold the correct information about your business. These aggregators provide the basic information that many directories use to create their listings - which exist whether you know about them or not. So, it makes sense to ensure the information held by these data aggregators is correct, as this information ultimately is checked by Google.
CANADIAN DATA AGGREGATORS
The rather scary diagram above shows how the main data aggregators feed information to other directories and listing sites in Canada. It looks pretty complicated, but there are two obvious key players.
The main data aggregator is YPG, Yellow Pages. Make sure your basic details are correct here, and half your work is done. The other major player is a Government website, Industry Canada, and it's really worth taking the time to check your entry here. If you haven't already done so, Register with the site and check your data now at https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/scr/imbs/ccc/rgstrtn/lgn.pub?lang=eng.
To get you started finding local or nice directories, here's a website with some niche directories in Canada.
UK data aggregators
In the UK, it's a much more complicated landscape, (no change there then) but Companies House records are important, as are Yell, Scoot, and Hotfrog. 118 Information is another key player as it provides info to BT, Bing, Yahoo and Touchlocal, amongst others. Again, you'll need to register to check and update your information. http://my118information.co.uk/.
You can also check your existing listings on a whole variety of search engines using this free tool, although it didn't find our popular UK social media pages, which was disappointing: https://moz.com/local/search
Any listing is a good listing
In the end, any directory listing you choose to do will ultimately benefit your website's listing, but don't worry about doing a whole load at once. Take your time, and add them when you have a spare five minutes or so. Pre-write five different company descriptions, so you can just copy and paste them into place. Give your receptionist a list to work through during those 'down' times, or allocate a work experience student to take on the task for a morning or two. Remember to keep track of the directories you've listed your business at, and any directory passwords that you create; an Excel spreadsheet is ideal for this.
Claim your Google+ Page
By far the easiest way for Google to get your details right is to confirm them direct by claiming your Google Places listing - here's our guide on how to claim your Google Places and Google+ page.
We look forward to seeing your business everywhere on the web!