NAP consistency plays a pivotal role in Google's local search and Local Pack algorithms. It's not only about appeasing search engines but also about enhancing the user experience. Maintaining an unwavering NAP across your Google Business Profile listing and various online directories and platforms can directly impact your local search rankings.
The Value of NAP Consistency
Ensuring the consistency and accuracy of your NAP information serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it reduces the chances of search engines making errors when processing your data. Secondly, it minimizes user frustration when potential customers encounter incorrect contact details, store hours, or email addresses.
Imagine the scenario where Google encounters five conflicting versions of your store's operating hours—how does it decide which one to trust? Contradictory information erodes Google's confidence in your location's data, which can lead to your listing not being considered the top result for relevant queries.
The Challenge of Managing NAP for Multiple Locations
Keeping tabs on where your critical business information is listed and ensuring its accuracy can be a challenging task, even for a single-location business. This challenge becomes exponentially more complex when managing multiple locations with varying addresses and phone numbers. This complexity is further compounded by Google's preference for business owners to oversee their Google Business Profiles through the Google Maps interface, and for larger multi-location businesses to use the Business Profile Manager.
The User Journey Commences Early
Many people tend to think that the user journey and brand experience begin when a user makes the first inquiry via phone or email or spends substantial time on a company's website. However, the journey starts much earlier than that.
According to Google data, there are five key touchpoints that typically lead to a purchase or affirmative action on a website:
Using a search engine.
Visiting a physical store or location.
Exploring a retailer's website or app.
Navigating to another website or app.
Utilizing a map.
The user journey begins when individuals first encounter your brand in search results, the Local Pack, on a map, or at your physical store. At this stage, the consistency of your NAP information becomes crucial, as users require reliable details to progress on their journey.
Beyond Websites: Online Portals and Directories
While we often assume that users discover our local businesses and brands primarily through our websites, guest posts, outreach efforts, and Google Business Profile listings, the reality is that users come across our brand through various online portals, including the directories where we establish citations and listings.
Influencing the User Journey during the Search Stage
When users conduct their initial searches, it presents the first opportunity to make a positive impression and become a part of their user journey. If your brand prominently appears in the Local Pack or search engine results pages (SERPs), you want users to click through to content that delivers value and aligns with their user intent.
The Pitfall of Lazy Local Pages
In many instances, localizing a website involves generating local content and local pages. However, the quality and depth of these local pages vary widely. Lazy local pages, characterized by minimal value to users and a sole focus on ranking for local search terms, ultimately harm the user experience.
Google frowns upon such doorway pages because they offer a poor user experience. In 2015, Google introduced a "doorway page ranking adjustment" algorithm to address this issue. The Possum update in 2016 aimed to combat poor quality and spam, but doorway pages continue to persist in some verticals where they prove effective due to a lack of competition and viable alternatives.
Google's official support documentation defines doorways as pages created specifically to rank highly for particular search queries. These pages are detrimental to users as they often lead to multiple similar search results, with each result leading to essentially the same destination. Additionally, they can direct users to intermediate pages that offer less value than the final destination.
Even if you rewrite the content on these pages to ensure they aren't duplicates, if they all convey the same message but target different cities, they provide no real value. However, the acceptability of such pages varies by niche, and in some smaller niches, Google may still rank doorway pages due to a lack of competition.
Two key concepts from Google's Quality Rater Guidelines document come into play here: the "beneficial purpose of the page" and whether the page is a "good fit for the query."
Creating Valuable Local Pages
For companies with physical brick-and-mortar stores in their target locations, crafting high-value local pages is relatively straightforward. However, even businesses offering intangible products or services with a local focus can achieve this.
Google's Search Quality Rater Guidelines divide content into two parts: the main content and the supporting content. This framework should guide your approach to local search. When someone searches for a service in a specific location, such as "plumbers in London," Google must interpret the query by assessing both the main and supporting elements while considering user intent.
The main content of your website should align with the product or services you offer, while supporting content should add value and topical relevance related to the location. This can be achieved through non-commercial means, such as blog posts, guides, or additional resources.
The Unfound Group Perspective on NAP Consistency
As mentioned earlier, NAP consistency is crucial because the directories and citations we create are not only used by search engines but also accessed by potential customers. An inconsistent or inaccurate NAP can lead to frustrated users and potential loss of leads.
Common Causes of Inconsistent NAP
Inconsistent NAP information can result from various human errors and business changes, including:
Changing the business address without updating previously created citations and directory listings.
Maintaining different store addresses in addition to the registered company address and using both online.
Generating distinct phone numbers for attribution tracking purposes.
Each of these issues can not only impact your local SEO but also lead to a subpar user experience. Poor user experience, in turn, can result in lost sales and damage to your brand reputation.
User Experience Beyond the Local Pack and SERPs
User experience extends beyond the Local Pack and SERPs to encompass your website's performance, how the local journey is managed, and the ability to satisfy all local intents. Accurate tracking and reporting of marketing activities are essential.
However, it's worth noting that in some cases, there may be a tendency to "over report" and "over attribute," particularly in the context of local SEO.
Google Local Pack: User Experience and Attribution
Google's Local Pack operates on a distinct algorithm compared to traditional organic search results, with a strong emphasis on user location. Google Business Profile listings often face attribution challenges, with many clicks from GMB listings being classified as direct traffic rather than organic traffic in Google Analytics.
To address this attribution issue, adding a parameter like "?utm_source=GMBlisting&utm_medium=organic" is a viable solution. This parameter doesn't affect NAP or citation consistency, so there's no need to be concerned about that.
The Impact on User Experience
Maintaining a consistent NAP significantly increases your chances of appearing in the Local Pack. Research indicates that businesses featured in the Local Pack tend to receive a high percentage of clicks on the results page. With more clicks come higher expectations from users for fast-loading pages and readily available information that fulfills their search intents.
Directory Attribution: A Common Challenge
Working on both agency and client sides, it's clear that directory attribution can be a prevalent issue. Organizations often create unique phone numbers for every directory where they list their business.
Enhanced ability to gauge the ROI of marketing efforts.
The proliferation of published citations with inconsistent NAP information.
Many directories generate Google Business Profile listings based on the data input by businesses, effectively creating duplicate listings with different phone numbers and sometimes distinct map pin locations. This can confuse users, presenting them with multiple options for a single location, of which only one is accurate.
Managing this situation involves declaring false listings as duplicates and requesting Google to merge them, a process outlined in the guide 'How to Delete or Merge Duplicate Google Business Profile Listings.'
In the realm of local SEO, maintaining NAP consistency isn't just about catering to search engine algorithms—it's about providing a seamless user experience. Accurate and consistent NAP information not only boosts your local search rankings but also prevents user frustration and potential lead loss.
As the user journey starts early, ensuring your NAP is consistent across directories and online portals can make a significant difference in influencing users' decisions. Furthermore, creating valuable local pages and addressing the challenges of lazy local pages are essential steps in enhancing user experience and local search visibility.
Remember that user experience encompasses more than just your website—it extends to the entire local journey, including Google's Local Pack and directory listings. Managing directory attribution and addressing the complexities it may introduce is vital to provide users with a cohesive and reliable experience.
By prioritising NAP consistency and delivering a seamless user experience, you can maximize the impact of your local SEO efforts and foster trust and engagement with your brand.