Most business owners do not spend enough time considering their business category names. Categories are used by internet yellow pages directories and local search engines to classify types of businesses. When consumers are not looking up a particular company by name, they first seek out businesses by type. If your company isn’t associated with the category they’re seeking, you won’t be found. The value proposition of categorizing your business properly ought to be obvious, but for many it is not.
Printed yellow pages directories first popularized the notion of categorizing businesses. Reuben H. Donnelly was probably the first to thoroughly categorize business listings by their services and product types in 1886. The ease of selecting from a list of similar types of businesses resonated with consumers, and the long history of YP directory usage from then to now really solidified into a consumer behavioral norm.
As print yellow pages evolved into their internet yellow page (IYP) counterparts, business categories migrated over to online directories as well. Google maps and other local search engines have changed user behavior as well, primarily through encouraging keyword searches instead of browsing through hierarchical category lists of businesses. However, the keywords that online consumers type in are frequently business category names.
Because searches by category persist, both IYPs and local search engines seek to formally categorize businesses, and they tend to give category associations a bit higher relevancy weighting in search result rankings than mere keyword associations.
Behind the scenes in yellow pages and local search sites, there’s often a lot of work to build sophisticated classification systems and methods. Keywords may be associated with particular business subcategories, and subcategories may roll up under broader category families. The business listings themselves, obtained from many sources, may be devoid of proper categorizations and thus require some method for being assigned to a category (one chronic issue I’ve seen involves how many directories may contain a huge percent of “nonclassified establishments”—a sort of defacto category unto itself that does no one any good). Business listings from other sources may be categorized, yet the source classification system may not be a one-to-one match for the directory absorbing them, further requiring them to be mapped to another taxonomy during processing to be listed.
The result of all this is that within many online directories, some businesses may not be assigned a category, or they may be miscategorized, or they may just be assigned to one broad category.
Most companies don’t even notice that they may need to tweak their category within a directory, since most merely check to see that they’re listed.
Even for companies which have been assigned to a category, it’s more optimal to get listed within multiple categories for the sake of maximum visibility. For each category where a company is listed there are additional chances that interested consumers will discover the business and come to them for products and services.
For instance, within the North American Industry Classification System (“NAICS” is a standard taxonomy for categorizing business establishments, created by the U.S. government) there are two separate categories for “florists” and “flower shops, fresh.” If a directory site out there used NAICS and you were a florist listed within it, you might be categorized under either heading, “florist” or “flower shops.” A consumer might search for either name, and your listing would only appear to half the people searching for your type of business. Unless you’re listed under both headings!
In fact, there are a lot more possible categories that florists might appear under. Google Places offers florist, dried flower shop, artificial plant supplier, silk plant shop, and wholesale florist. Superpages offers florists, floral consultants, funeral flowers, floral wire services, floral & balloon arrangements, gift shops, wedding flowers, and more. Yellowpages.com offers artificial flowers/plants/trees, florists, flowers/plants/trees/silk/dried/etc, flowers-preserved, gift baskets, gift shops, and more.
For most businesses, it’s worthwhile to be listed under both broad and more specialized headings. Broad categories enjoy the most searches in many cases, while more granular, specialized categories often result in significantly higher conversion rates since they may more closely match consumers’ intent when searching.
For instance, when I search in Google Maps for “Restaurants, Seattle, WA”, the fourth restaurant listed is “Palomino.” When I click into the Place Page for Palomino, I can see that they’re listed under only a single business category: “restaurant.” Yet, when I browse down the profile for them, I see that they feature “European, Italian, Mediterranean” cuisine.
There is a significant amount of traffic to be had for those restaurants listed under the “Italian Restaurants” category—yet, the Palomino isn’t ranking upon the first page of results for that subcategory! Considering how it’s enjoying the #4 position in Seattle for “Restaurant,” it likely would rank very high for “Italian Restaurant” as well, if they only had that category associated with the listing.
Many businesses are in the same situation as the Palomino, and the lack of fine-tuning of their category options represents a considerable degree of lost opportunity.
Miscategorization is also a chronic problem among business directories. I’ve seen cases where a directory might attempt to run algorithms across masses of nonclassified establishments to categorize them, only to make tons of mistakes. For instance, it might seem logical to classify all businesses which include the word “garden” in their names into a “gardening supply” category, but you’ll discover a ton of Chinese restaurants that are abruptly receiving visits from people interested in purchasing fertilizer if there’s not some sort of adjustment.
Miscategorizing of businesses also happens when directory listings get collapsed down in processing. If your company is located at an address formerly occupied by another unrelated company, accidents can happen which end up applying the former company’s category to your listing. Hotels frequently get their listings confused with restaurants located in the same building, resulting in them getting listed under restaurant categories or catering. Fixing these sorts of issues improves visibility while reducing non-converting traffic.
Most of the online yellow pages and local search sites allow a business to associate with multiple categories. If your business is currently listed under only a single heading, addition of a few more categories could well double your traffic from that particular directory!
Here are some tips for effective optimization of your categories:
Do keyword research to discover common industry names consumers may be using to find companies like yours. Google and online directories often provide you with tools and functionality which suggests proper categories within the interfaces for adding/changing your listings’ category selection. Also, consider using tools such as Trellian’s Keyword Discovery or Wordtracker to find related words people are typing in for your industry/product.
Use Google Sets to discover search terms that Google considers to be semantically associated with category names you’ve already chosen. To use it, type in a few category names and keywords that you believe are frequently used to locate your type of business, and then hit the “small set” button to see other terms that Google relates to the ones you provided.
Don’t restrict yourself to only broad category names! Search for industry names beyond the obvious ones you’re commonly listed under to include more. For instance, many florists often sell items other than flowers, and those florists could validly be listed under “gift shops” as well. Does your restaurant offer catering services? If so, you’d add “caterers” to your designation. Restaurants might sometimes benefit from associating with some semantically related categories, too—for instance, “Asian food” for “Chinese restaurants” or “bistros” for “French restaurants.” An optometrist might also be able to select “sunglasses shop,” and physicians and attorneys often ought to be listed under categories which reflect their specializations.
Be honest and avoid “heading jumping.” Heading jumping is when a business gets itself listed under an inappropriate business category that may only be tangently related to the products and services they offer. For instance, if a luxury cruises company selected “luxury hotels” as a category, because they might desire to advertise to the demographic of consumers who shop for luxury hotels. Heading jumping results in receiving unqualified referrals, can cause consumer confusion, may annoy consumers, and is against the rules in most online directories—so, don’t do it!
Select as many categories as you are allowed and which are appropriate for you in each directory or local search engine. The more categories you select often equates with the more opportunities you have for appearing for your target audience.
Take advantage of free-form category options! Some directories such as Google Places will recommend categories to you, but their total list of categories is pretty small. However, they also allow you to submit custom categories, free-form style. It’s a good idea to select some of their standard categories, and then also enter a few more specialized category names which you may have discovered in your keyword research. Warning: avoid adding brand names and city/place names into freeform category fields because this is against the rules for many directories and commonly gets businesses penalized in Google Maps.
Optimize your categories in all top local search engines and IYPs. Since your listing appears in a great many places that consumers are using to research and find businesses, using the same advantageous enhancement changes within each of them will increase your findability across the board.
Following these tactical tips can pump up your online presence significantly, merely by improving your categories. For businesses which have been miscategorized or limited in the categories associated with their listings, these changes could easily result in their referral traffic doubling, or multiplying even more.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.