How To Optimize and Rank Your Local Business Listings

a three-dimensional small business building

Before the web became the go-to for finding all the information in the world, whenever someone wanted to find a local business, they’d check the original local business directory: the Yellow Pages.

Today, physical Yellow Page books are mostly a relic of the past. But their spirit lives on in online business directories and their local business listings. And just like decades ago, having a great local business directory strategy can be key to helping potential customers find you.

What is a local business directory?

A local business directory is a collection of information about businesses located in a specific geographic area, organized by category. Their purpose is to help people find the right local products or services for them.

Local business directories used to be printed as books and distributed via mail or store. Today, almost all directories are online. The most widely used directory is Google, primarily through its Maps tool. Each listed location on its map is a local business listing. Other local directories display their listings by map, category, or alphabetically. The practice of creating and optimizing these listings is known as a local SEO strategy.

Why list your business in a local business directory

The most popular directory, Google, is used billions of times per day. Having your listing surface in Google’s results can be a massive boost in awareness for your business. Google used to only show its listings in Map-based Google searches, but now, it shows local listings in any search it deems to be related to local businesses. So the opportunity for greater exposure for your local business through Google is greater than ever.

Example of regular search and local search results in Google
Example of regular search with local search results included.

There are other local business directories, too, such as Hotfrog and Not only do customers use them, but Google reads them to inform their own listings. Maintaining your business on multiple local business directories increases your overall visibility and sends signals of your trustworthiness to Google.

Of course, not every business will benefit from setting up local listings. Directories are designed for businesses with a physical location or specific service area. If your business is remote, or not restricted to a service area, you may not qualify for most directories, and you wouldn’t see much benefit anyway. For example, software companies typically don’t benefit from having local business listings.

How to create a local business listing

  1. Start with a Google Business Profile
  2. Define your category and address or service area
  3. Add as much detail as possible
  4. Get verified
  5. Submit to other directories

If you own a small business, creating a local business listing is a simple process that helps to ensure your company can be found online. Local business listings help potential customers discover your business, learn about your products or services, and find important information like your phone number, address, and hours of operation. Here’s the best-practice process for creating your listing:

1. Start with a Google Business Profile

Your business’s Google listing is the most important listing, as it’s by far the most-used directory. Other directories also tend to follow Google’s standards for information required, so if you have a complete Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business), you’ll likely have all the information you need for your other listings. You can start the process from the Google Business website.

Businesses can already have listings without creating them themselves—users can choose to create them when they want to leave a review. This is known as an unclaimed listing, and in Google, it will have a button saying “Claim this listing” on it. If there is an unclaimed listing for your business, it’s better to claim it than to create a new one. This avoids duplicate listings and keeps your unclaimed listing’s reviews. Once you do this, the process is the same as below.

Joy Hawkins, owner of Sterling Sky, agrees on the importance of establishing a Google Business profile: “Based on businesses we have tracked over a few years, we have seen businesses in various industries increase their lead volume from their Google Business Profile by 16%, to 149%, compared to three years ago.”

2. Define your category and address or service area

These are the most important details, as directories use them to know when and where to show your listing. Most listings will have pre-set categories and will allow you to choose primary and secondary categories. Choose the category that best captures your overall offering as your primary category, and choose sub-categories that reflect your individual product/service offerings. Only choose categories that you actually offer on your site or in your store.

Google’s category selection screen for local listings
Google’s category selection screen.

Similarly, for your address and/or service area, select your real physical address and the actual bounds of your service area. If you don’t have an official service area, ask yourself, “How far would I drive for a customer?” Keep in mind that directories don’t reward larger service areas—they use this geographic information to see what’s close enough to their user.

3. Add as much detail as possible

Directories like Google want their users to have as much business information as possible. So they encourage businesses to add all the details a user would want to know. Be prepared to submit business hours, phone number, website, types of offerings (for example, if you’re a retail store, whether you offer fitting rooms), and more.

4. Get verified

Google will seek proof that you are the real owner or manager of your business. It has multiple methods of verification, including a video call, verification letter via mail, and phone call. This can be instantaneous or take up to 10 days for your verification to be reviewed, depending on Google’s own settings for your location and business type. This is an important step—your listing won’t go live without verification.

5. Submit to other directories

Once you’ve completed your Google Business Profile, you are ready to submit to other directories. Make sure the information you provide to other directories is the exact same as the information you provided Google. Google crawls other directories for consistency.

How to optimize local business listings

Google provides clear guidelines on how to optimize your local business listings. These guidelines apply to other directories as well. By following the three Cs of local listings, you can give your listing the best chance of growing your business.

  • Consistency. When one directory says the address is Suite 501, and the other says Floor 5, that’s confusing to users. It’s confusing to directories too, who may rank you lower if they detect discrepancies between directories. This is particularly important for what’s known in the industry as NAP: business name, address, and phone number. Ensure these are the same for your business across all listings.
  • Completion. The more robust your listings, the better. This includes sections that may seem optional, like photos and product showcases.
  • Community. Directories want to trust that the businesses they show at the top of their search rankings have a brand reputation for providing quality, reliable products and/or services. So they highly value what they call “prominence.” This includes reviews on Google and mentions across the local web, including other directories. Prompting (but never paying) your customers to leave reviews is a great way to optimize your listing. One common way to do this is by putting an insert in your product and asking them to leave a review. It’s best practice to respond to all reviews from your business account as well, either thanking the reviewer or responding to any negative commentary (with positivity).

Local business directories

There are hundreds of local business directories online. Many are niche directories that are industry-specific and wouldn’t apply to all businesses. For example, HappyCow is a directory focused only on vegan restaurants. But below are the 10 top free business directories, including other local search engines, that every local business should consider submitting to:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • The Yellow Pages
  • Yelp
  • Hotfrog
  • Angi (formerly AngiesList)
  • Foursquare

Local business listing FAQ

How much does it cost to create a local business listing?

Local business listings are always free to create. Many directories have advertising programs as well, but their main listings are always free.

Can I create multiple local business listings for the same business?

If you have multiple locations, yes, you can create multiple local business listings. Directories will understand that they are different locations of the same business.

How long does it take for my local business listing to appear on search engines?

Once your listing is verified, it can start appearing in search results in as little as two days. However, if it is competing with other listings in the area, it may not rank highly without strong completion and positive reviews.

Can I update my local business listing after it’s been created?

Yes, you can update your listing at any time. Most directories, including Google, provide a login view where you can edit your information. Edits can take up to two weeks to be approved and incorporated.

How do I claim an existing local business listing?

Most directories, including Google, have a “Claim this business” button on their listings. You will be asked to verify that you are a business owner or manager.