October 24th, 2012

Moving? No Need For Your Local Search Ranking to Suffer

VIUS Moving to 1639 N Hancock Street

We’ve Moved…

Earlier this summer VIUS hit the road north out of Center City to a big and bright loft space on the border of Fishtown and East Kensington. VIUS’ new pad is located at 1639 N Hancock Street.  With no intention to misrepresent our neighborhood, I believe we’re in an area referred to as Fishington.  Or maybe it is Kensingtown.  I’m not yet an expert on Philadelphia’s many neighborhoods. And now that I’m totally confused on our location, let’s talk local search.

Why Moving Isn’t So Simple

Moving presents a number of problems: you have to motivate your employees to lug their office gear up and down steps, you have to deal with Verizon changing phone lines and you have to update your listing in Google Maps. I can help with moving gear and I can help with updating your local search listings, but as for talking with Verizon… good luck.

To come up with local search results the search engines crawl the web to collect instances of business names, addresses, and phone numbers (NAP). The collected information is then ranked on a number of factors, the most important being consistency of your NAP across the web.  Other factors include, but are not limited to listings’ authority, searcher proximity to your location, reviews, and listing categories.

Through the lens of local search, moving presents a major problem: your address changes.  Therefore, all the listings with your previous address can create a LOT of inconsistency.  Address inconsistency may cause any of the following:

  1. Drop in rankings
  2. Duplicate listings appearing in the search results
  3. Incorrect listings appearing in the secondary listing sites like Internet yellow pages or local search engines
  4. Drop in authority caused by duplicate listings diluting your presence in local search results

Your Options for Moving Your Business in Local Search

When we moved, we knew the potential problems and challenges. Our goal became to preserve our listing’s authority and to minimize the drop in rankings due to NAP inconsistencies. While researching how to handle the moving process and achieve our goals, it became apparent that there were very few concrete solutions. After a load of research, these are the options we distilled:

1. Close Your Old Listing, Then Open A New One

As an administrator of your listing, you have the option to ‘permanently close this place.’  The idea behind this option is that by telling the search engine this place is closed, you can start your new listing without interference from the old.  Of course, there are a few catches with this strategy:

  • Your old location’s listing will have a “permanently closed” sign on it. Obviously, this is a terrible option for any business
  • All your citation data, if left unchanged, may cause problems like dupes and inaccurate information in results
  • Your reviews are not guaranteed to carry over from old listing to new listing. Vanessa, former moderator  of the Google Places for Your Business, explains:

“If you mark the old listing closed, and create a new one, I can’t say your reviews will definitely move to the new listing (I can’t make guarantees with Places). You could try just editing the address on the old listing, if you’re concerned about the reviews, but you might run in to address issues.”

2. Edit all citations, then update local search engine listings

First, you have to find all your citations. Then, you can update those citations with your new address.  Once you’ve updated your citations, you can go into the search engines and change your listings there.  Due to the nature of local search data, the following are important to be aware of:

  • Varying local data refresh cycles may mean you wait months before search engines crawl your updated citations
  • Changing your citations means your citations and search listings will not be consistent until all the data refresh cycles have run their course and search engines get around to crawling those sources
  • Finding all citations and knocking out the updating of your address could take some time

3. Create a new listing and attempt to merge the two

There is the option to merge listings in Google maps.  Merges will sometimes transfer reviews and you would not have to hang the “permanently closed” sign. And yet again, here are the catches:

  • Reviews may or may not pass with listings (see Option 1)
  • You risk any authority that you have built up over time
  • You’ll still have to update your citations to ensure NAP consistency

The Approach We Took To Move Our Local Listings

We decided to go with option 2. We believed it presented the best chance for us to preserve our NAP consistency while maintaining authority. We decided to play the local search data ecosystem’s refresh cycle to our advantage. We set aside one day and updated our recorded citations from the major data providers (Localeze, D&B, Axciom), Internet yellow pages (IYP), local search sites (Yelp, City Search, etc) and all the bottom-feeder citation sources (these guys are like the catfish of local search data, they get all the info last). We left the search engines for later.

And Here’s What Happened

After a day of changing our address on a lot of websites, we cracked some brews, sat back, and waited to see what would happen. After about a month we noticed a severe drop of our Google Place’s page ranking – marked by the large spike in the chart below (rankings are like golf, the low score wins). We went from page 1 for our top three keywords to page 10, aka the abyss. Our place page’s journey to the depths of the SERPS represented that Google had crawled our new citations and was penalizing us for inconsistency. Change in local listing rank

Website Development Web Development Companies Web Development Web Design Website Design
7/31/2012 3 13 3 18 17
8/8/2012 2 8 4 16 14
8/16/2012 2 7 3 18 16
8/22/2012 2 8 3 18 16
8/29/2012 25 22 55 20 18
9/5/2012 45 31 95 19 16
9/12/2012 10 8 4 32 19
9/19/2012 7 8 3 31 19
9/26/2012 3 5 4 14 12
10/4/2012 4 5 4 14 12
10/10/2012 12 5 4 13 33
10/17/2012 1 2 3 24 28

To fix the inconsistencies, all we had to do was edit the address for our listing in Google, Yahoo and Bing.  This time we skipped the beers and simply sat back to watch what would happen. Over 2-3 weeks we slowly started to climb back into searchers’ visibility. Within a few weeks we noticed a drastic improvement in our rankings.

We still have not fully regained our pre-move rankings, but this is probably due to our new location being 2.5mi further from Philadelphia’s city-center. The jury is still out on the affect proximity to centroid has on ranking.  We can’t say this is has been crucial for us one way or the other..

VIUS’ Old Office Space Proximity to Philadelphia’s Centroid

The distance from VIUS' old office to Philadelphia's centroid is .7 miles

VIUS’ New Office Space Proximity to Philadelphia’s Centroid

VIUS' new office proximity to Philadelphia's centroid

Last Tips to Help With Moving Your Local Search Listings

Now that you’ve heard our tale, here are some things you can do to lessen the pain of moving your business:

  1. Find, record, and claim the all citations you can find for your business. Keep good records. In case you move or have any mass updates, a list makes the workflow much smoother.
  2. Frequent the Google and Your Business forum for any updates on how to move your business. Google will hopefully add a “My Business Has Moved” button in the future.
  3. Become active in Google Map Maker.  Word on the street is that having a reputation in Map Maker improves the speed at which your edits will go through.
  4. Frequent GetListed.org to stay up-to-date with the lastest in local search trends.
  5. Hire a good moving company.