Local SEO: What Are Citations & How to Build Them
Local ranking is one of the most important aspects of creating of getting your website the most visibility with search engines, but it takes time and an understanding of citations. If you are like a lot of people, you have no idea what citations have to do with SEO because it is not something that gets nearly the attention that things like keywords get. That is why so many companies find it difficult to be successful with local SEO. If you take the time to make sure that your site handles citations appropriately, then you will have a distinct advantage over your competition.
The first thing you need to know about citations is if you are a business that thrives or fails on a local level, like electricians or yard services, citations can be far more valuable to you than meeting all of the requirements of a search engine.
What Are Citations?
When people talk about local SEO citations all they mean is a simple mention of the business. This can be done with or without links to the site, and there are several different ways to cite a business:
- Adding the company name as a standalone mention
- Adding the company name and email
- Adding the company name and physical address
- Adding the company name and a contact phone number
- Adding the company name with a link
Of course, you can do a combination of any of these as well, and in some instances you could just add an email address or contact information by themselves (these are citations on their own). There are some places on your website that will obviously need a full citation, which at a minimum is the name, physical address, and phone number (also known as NAP). While an email is not considered required, it can be extremely beneficial for users who are on a mobile device but aren’t able to call you. A web address can give you the same benefits, even if it is not required.
Why Is a Citation Necessary?
Beyond needing to tell potential clients who you are and how to find or contact you, citations play a vital role with search engines for local rankings. Citations are used by both business and sites like the Yellow Pages. The citation helps to show that your page is not just a spam site, that it has value and that you are who you say you are (because you took the time to get a citation published elsewhere). Moz Local has done an excellent job of explaining the significance of citations for small businesses, but here is a quick reference for what you need to know.
- Structured citations are typically used by sites like the Yellow Pages and other business listing websites. They provide a structure that is easy for users to find what they need and contact a business. If you have a website that you can link to from here, you could have a significant advantage over competition. Many local businesses, like plumbing and automotive shops, do not have websites. While a user is already online, there are good odds they will follow a link from here to get more specific information on your business instead of having to call a company to get the same information.
- Unstructured citations appear on pages that focus on other areas but include business information, such as blogs, government pages, job websites (a very handy way to both find employees and get more business), or newspapers. These can be very beneficial because people tend to be on them looking for information, and if they find your information while they are looking you will get people who are likely looking for services and products you provide.
Getting structured citations is relatively easy because there are several very popular sites where you can have your full citation added:
Take some time to research if there are any other popular options that are local that could help.
Unstructured citations can be more difficult to get because they are added to websites that have other purposes than making it easy to locate local businesses (except things like the Chamber of Commerce). If you aren’t sure where to start, do some research on how your competition handles their citations. While you should not imitate them exactly (don’t try to get on all of the same pages), you can see what unstructured citations have helped them and which citations have had low traffic yields. Whitespark can help you better understand how similar businesses in your area have performed.
Beyond Google Ranking
The purpose of citations actually goes well beyond being popular with search engines; it is about being found on a local level. It targets people who live near you instead of on a national or global level (plumbers really aren’t interested in finding business several states over). This is why getting citations in the right place is so important. Depending on your business and how much you intend to grow, well-placed citations can be far more valuable for being found on a local level than playing the game to meet search engine criteria.
The thing to remember is that your information should be consistently cited no matter where it appears.
Armed with what you need to know about citations, you should be ready to start publishing at least your NAP. Make sure to set aside a few hours before you get started. Also, read through the steps in full before you do anything because you should know how they tie together.
Determine how you want your citation to read and what, if anything, you want to include beyond the NAP. You can use a service to help you, like Yext, but they tend to be really expensive. If you have roughly $500 to spend a year for the service to ensure your information is displayed in many of the right places and in a consistent format, then you can skip the rest of this step. If not, keep reading.
The typical citations is done as follows:
Company Name 1325 NW Street Faketown, WA (555) 482-4584
As long as you establish exactly what will display (including punctuation), you should have what you need to start getting your citations posted. Make sure that you have this citation saved somewhere that others can easily copy/paste it in case anyone else needs to create citations. If that is in an email to all employees or a document that is posted to the company network, cloud, or a Google Doc, just make sure people know about it. You may have employees who blog about work, and if they want to provide this information, that could be extremely beneficial, but you want it to be consistent with the business template.
There is actually a free template available to help you get started ensuring information is consistent. It includes information that you may be required to provide to post the citation on different sites. Take the time to go over the spreadsheet. Then if you want, you can save out a copy and make it your own, making it very easy to keep information consistent no matter who is publishing the citation.
Before moving on take the time to ensure your citation follows the Google guidelines. If you don’t follow their guidelines and you start posted something non-compliant on other sites, you are going to have a really difficult time updating it all later.
Determine what large search engines you want to hit.
Even if you are a local business, you still want to end up on the first page of Google and other search engines if possible because odds are that is where people are going to start. Here are the biggest players for search engines (many of them local):
Getting higher rankings on these can help you with users who go to local searches first.
Before posting, make sure your business isn’t already listed. Once you do post, make sure to record the site where you posted your information and any relevant information (such as what email address or user name is on the account and what the password is to access the account it is listed under.
Determine which structured citation sites you should have your citations on. There are five primary site types that you should consider (you will have to research most of them to find out what is most popular with your local area).
- Data aggregators are organizations that collect massive amounts of data and information, place it in a database, and make that information available to others (usually by selling it).
- Large, general directories, such as Yellow Pages, that are frequently used on a local level but contain information on many regions (very helpful for getting business from visitors who don’t know the local search directories).
- Smaller, industry-related directories that specialize in your industry. These can be more difficult to find, but extremely beneficial since search engines will pull information from them when pertinent keywords are use.
- Local directories that are only used by people in the area. This will generally attract people who live in the region and are familiar with what resources are available online.
- Local businesses, government organizations, and media outlets can get you the unstructured citations you need.
Do keep in mind that linking to your website is extremely helpful, especially if your competition does not have links, but don’t worry if it isn’t an option. As long as your NAP is available, potential customers have everything they need to contact you. This is also why unstructured citations are so valuable. Because they don’t have the same rigid structure that directories have, you are much more likely to be able to include links.
Before posting to every single site, make sure your business isn’t already listed on it. Yes, this is an extra step, but it is an important one because you do not want to have two listings for your business on any site. Once you do post, make sure to record the site where you posted your information and any relevant information (such as what email address or user name is on the account and what the password is to access the account it is listed under.
Record any other extra information you add to a particular site, that way if another site offers to let you include the same information, you can keep it consistent between sites.
For example, when you post information to Yelp, besides your NAP, you can add categories that your business provides services or products for, your website, and the hours that you are open. Google also lets you provide reviews so that users can get a feel for how you are doing (and you can as well). Use these extras to your advantage, but do make sure that you are consistent in the way you present the information.
There are rules for all directories and unstructured citation sites; make sure you find out what they are and then follow them. If you don’t, you could find that your business is kicked off of them.
Once you have posted to all pertinent, free sites, look into the cost of paying for citations. If you have the money to spare for higher ranking sites, it could give you a high return on your investment, especially for industry-specific directories and unstructured citation sites.
Once you have completed posting to all sites, go back and search for your business. See how well your citations perform on things like Google and where they fall in the directories. This will help you to see how you are doing overall while making sure that your information is correct across all sites.
Set up a schedule to maintain all of your citations.
Remember how several steps said to keep track of what sites and directories you posted your citations to, this is where you need to know. At least once a year (preferably more like twice a year or once a quarter), you need to go through and make sure that all of them are current and consistent. This is particularly important as your business grows and you need a bigger building or if you move your headquarters.