Web Marketing Today

Leveraging Business Categories for Local Search

One thing that is often forgotten with local search is how it evolved from the yellow pages. If you’re aware of how parts of that legacy live on in local search engines today, you can derive some advantages in optimizing your online business listings.

One of the major elements that lives on in the modern business information medium is “business categories.” This fact is frequently lost on most online consumers who have begun to think of all searches in terms of submitting keyword queries to search engines. Business categories used to be a bigger deal when one had to page through to a particular section of a phone book to select a business from all companies listed for a particular industry type.

Categories Still Important for Local Search

The need for business categories has actually lessened some due to the popularity of pure keyword search functionality, although we all still tend to mentally pigeonhole businesses according to their types of services or products. And search engines continue to use business category data in important ways when trying to connect a searcher’s intent. For instance, if one searches for “garden supplies in Denver,” local search engines would more likely present businesses categorized in “Gardening Supply Stores,” rather than businesses with names that could coincidentally fuzzy-match like “Chinese Garden” or “Garden Preschool.”

Many business owners fail to consider how this functions when they are submitting their business information to data aggregators, online directories, and local search engines. I see this fact demonstrated repeatedly as I analyze businesses’ online presence throughout the U.S.. I discover business listings that are wrongly categorized, or fail to include additional categories that could double or even triple their visibility in searches. As a result, many businesses never come to the attention of motivated buyers, and they miss out on market share and associated revenues as a result.

Here are a few examples of how businesses can miss out.

  • Limited categories. A florist customizes her listing in Google, and selects the category of “Florists” to describe the business, and is satisfied. Unfortunately, many consumers also search for “flower shops” or “wedding flowers.” So the florist is missing out on ranking as well as she could for many related searches.
  • Categories not specific. An attorney who specializes in estates and family law claims his listing in the Bing Business Portal, but only designates his business under “Attorneys.” However, categorizing only under “Attorneys” puts his business in such a broad and generic category that it has less chance of competing against all the many other businesses under that heading. Instead, it would be better if he categorized himself under “Estate Law,” “Divorce Attorneys,” and “Family Law.”
  • Wrong categories. The owner of an air conditioner service company checks to ensure that his business is listed in a number of major online yellow pages and local search engines. He discovered that the listing is indeed present in all those directories, but it is listed under the non-category of “Nonclassified Establishments.” Without being associated with the categories of “Air Conditioner Contractor,” “AC & Heating Repair,” and “Heating Contractor,” the company’s listing is far less likely to appear in search results for people seeking the service, and it likely will not rank as high as it otherwise might.

Online business directories receive data from a great many sources, such as from phone companies and feeds of new business registrations from government licensing organizations. Many of these sources do not convey business industry information, resulting in a large number of businesses getting left in a catchall, unspecific, general category. Some directories call this “Uncategorized.” Others call it “Nonclassified Establishments.” In some directories, the numbers of uncategorized businesses can be 20 percent or higher.

Google lists Lincoln Center as a “Nonclassified Establishment.”

Two of the most common industry classification systems are “SIC” (Standard Industrial Classification) and the more modern NAICS (North American Industry Classification System). You can search on the NAICS site for business categories that might be a fit for your company, and then use them in describing your business on your website. But, most online directories and search engines have created their own unique taxonomy based upon SIC or NAICS for you to select from in describing your business.

Here are a few tips in categorizing your business for advantage in local search engines.

  • Select the most popular category first.
  • Most directories allow you to search their category lists. So submit a number of different keywords to find as many options as you can, and select the best ones that are most relevant to your company’s products and services.
  • Try to select as many appropriate categories for your business as you can. The more categories you associate with your business, the more searches it will be found for, and the more referrals of new potential customers you will receive. Many directories allow you to have up to five categories for free, so make use of them.
  • Google has allowed you to select from their canned, standard categories or to enter your own custom categories. I strongly suggest that you choose one or two of the categories from their standard set, and then craft a couple of descriptive categories more specific to your company. Keep in mind that you should use a business category description that would closely match what consumers might type in when searching to find your type of company.
  • Be careful to only enter the name of a type of business. Google penalizes companies which add things into category names like the local city name, brand names, or the names of specific products.

You can also help your business category relevancy when describing it on your website by marking up the description using Schema.org’s “LocalBusiness” protocol, a semantic markup that helps search engines understand web page content. By selecting a specific type — i.e., category — of the markup to describe your business, you will help reinforce and validate the parallel categorization within local search engines. This algorithmically improves the search engine’s confidence in your business classification. Increasing their trust rating will result in better chances for rankings.

I suggest using the Schema.org markup on your home page and on your site’s “contact” or “location” page. Using these methods can help increase your business’s visibility in local search, so check your categorizations, tweak them, and watch your referrals grow.

Chris Silver Smith
Chris Silver Smith
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Comments ( 4 )

Have Something To Say ?

  1. Travis Van Slooten July 17, 2012 Reply


    As a local SEO consultant that deals with these issues everyday, it’s great to learn something new! The use of Schema to reinforce the category on a website is brilliant and something I would have never thought of. Thanks for the tip!

    I also want to remind folks that when you use Google’s custom categories, be sure to follow the “is not does” rule or you will get into trouble. Your custom category must describe what the business IS not what id DOES. The distinction is subtle but very important. I can’t think of any good examples right now but take a home builder. A custom category that meets this rule would be “Home Builder” (instead of Home Building – which describes what you do).

    Travis Van Slooten

  2. Leah MorrisBrain August 15, 2012 Reply

    Nice post, Chris!

    For local business search, the category is a key factor to make sure your business information is exact and right. Users are able to reach to you by following the category. Google like right and exact information. So, keep in mind that the right and suitable category must be selected.

  3. Santosh September 4, 2012 Reply

    Even though the importance of the business category is reduced it is very essential in local marketing. It specifies what type of services available and indicates the search engines for displaying in the organic results along with the keyword.

  4. Steve Wilson October 8, 2012 Reply

    Its just crucial to implement local strategies to make your business visible via this searches because obviously, you’re number one and main target belongs in the local. No need to waste money on unnecessary campaign programs. Focus your lens locally first. That’s how important Local Search Marketing campaign is.

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