We recently discussed the difference between local SEO and Organic SEO. We said that the key for local SEO success is to state the obvious (where your business is located, business hours and phone number, etc). But how do you state the obvious to search engines so that your business will show up in local searches?
And why should you? You're catering to people, not search engines, right? Well, yes and no. While customers are your priority, people are searching for local businesses online now more than ever.
And they're using search engines to find your local business.
Don't just take my word for it. Google and Ipsos have done extensive research on local search. Here's how local search can have an impact on your business:
- 88% of consumers search for local information on mobile devices
- 51% of on-the-go searches have local intent
- Conversions are more than twice as likely after a local search (compared to searches without local intent)
So how do you make sure consumers find your business? Well, Google's local search document states that 'prominence' is one of the factors it uses to determine local ranking. (Google recently updated this document and it has some good information on improving your local search ranking, so be sure to check it out).
What is prominence?
Prominence refers to two things: firstly, how well-known a business is online, and secondly, what kind of information web crawlers can find about your business. One of the ways Google determines prominence is by looking at the amount of information it can find about your business around the web.
This information includes links, articles, and anything search engines can find about your business in directories. The information search engines find in directories is called a citation, and Google, Yahoo, and Bing all use this information to list your business in local searches.
And external location signals, such as citations, count for about 14% of how Google will rank your business in local searches.
What are citations?
Citations for local SEO are mentions of your business on other websites. If your business is listed on YellowPages.com, that counts as a citation. The same goes for a blog post or newspaper article that mentions your business. Citations are important for local businesses, since they send out signals that tell search engines they can trust your business.
Citation building is imperative for small businesses that want to be found in local searches, since search engines like Google and Bing use the information they find in citations to list your business in search results. And we're sure you want your business to be found.
To show up in local searches, you need to make sure search engines have the information they need about your business so that they can show that information to all those consumers who perform local searches. How do you do this?
This is where citation building comes into play for local SEO.
What is citation building?
Citation building is the act of sending out consistent, accurate and relevant information about your business to listing directories so that search engines and consumers know when, how and where to find your local business.
You can also think of citation building as similar to link building. When web crawlers find links back to your business's website, they know it's trustworthy. The same is true for citations. If web crawlers find your business listed in important listing directories, they know they should trust your business.
Why do you need to build citations?
Think of citation building as building online credibility for your business.
As we mentioned, citations are important for search engines, because they tell search engines it's okay to trust your business.
But citations are good for consumers as well, because consumers search listing directories for local businesses. Think of it this way: If a consumer's looking for a car dealership, they might go to Cars.com or DealerRater.com to find one. So your business needs to be listed in relevant directories in order to be found by consumers.
And search engines look at these citations to make sure they display accurate information about your business when consumers search for you. It's important for this information to be consistent across directories so that consumers can find the correct information about your business.
And in case you need a little more convincing, local search is pretty important:
So consumers are searching, but what are they finding about your business?
Here's the catch - when search engines find a citation for your business, they'll take the information in the citation into consideration for what they display about your business in searches. This is true whether the information is correct or incorrect.
So if you've ever moved or changed phone numbers, that conflicting information could still be lingering in old citations.
Maybe your business has always had the same address and phone number, but there are also small things (like a missing or misplaced apostrophe in your business's name) that can cause your citations to be incorrect.
Another reason citations are important is that your business is probably already listed in various directories, even if you haven't listed it. But there's a chance that the information is incorrect, which again could confuse consumers or cause them to lose trust in your business.
Think of it this way: If you own a local coffee shop, a consumer might search for "coffee shop" + location. If the search engine displays two results for your business's location but each result has a different set of business hours, the consumer is probably going to move on to the next competitor in the search results.
Oh, and did I mention that a lack of consistency with your citation information can lower your local search ranking?
Types of citations
As noted, there are different ways for your business to be mentioned online, and there are different types of citations. But before we get to that, let's talk about what information is typically found in a local citation for a small business.
In most citations, you'll find at least your business's name and phone number. If your business is listed in local directories, that's the least amount of information you'll find about your business. Most structured citations will contain your business's NAP, though. Your NAP is your business's name, address and phone number.
So when you claim your business pages and send out citation information, make sure to add a consistent, accurate NAP. We'll get into the importance of consistency for this information later, but know that it's of the utmost importance to have a consistent NAP across the web - otherwise, you could find duplicate listings for your business, or listings with inaccurate, incomplete or inconsistent information.
Structured and Unstructured Citations
The two main types of citations are structured citations and unstructured citations.
A structured citation is a citation you'd find in a listing directory, or a website where you can often change the information in the citation yourself. For instance, when you set up a Yelp page, it'll ask you for your business name, address, phone number, hours, etc.
Unstructured citations are, at the very least, mentions of your business's name. They could also include your location and/or phone number. Unstructured citations appear on websites that don't serve as listing directories. For instance, if a blogger or online newspaper article mentions your business, the article probably includes an unstructured citation.
Where can you find or create citations for your business?
There are different types of citations and different types of websites where those citations can be found.
And if you're wanting a list of important websites to get started with citations, the four main data aggregators are a good place to start since they feed information to listing directories and search engines like Google and Bing. Also, note that these aggregators aren't really citation sources, but they will help you begin sending out citation information.
And don't forget to claim (or create) and optimize your business's page on Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, Bing, etc. Bing has a great resource for how to optimize your Bing Places for Business listing.
So how do I build citations?
The first thing to do before you begin building new citations is to clean up your existing citations.
To find where your business is listed, you can search for your business's name and phone number in quotations, like this: "business name" "(xxx) xxx-xxxx". Once you find those citations, you can claim any business pages and edit the information, if possible, to ensure it's accurate.
And if your business's phone number has ever changed, or if you have multiple phone numbers, you can also search for just your business's name and work your way through those search results to find and clean up your listings.
If you want to see what your citations are saying about your business, Google has a tool to show you how your business shows up in searches.
Another thing to keep in mind with citations is to be careful with your address.
There are many different ways to list a business's address in local directories - think '101 Main St.' vs. '101 Main Street'. You'll want to make sure the address you use in listings is not only accurate, but is consistent across them all.
Search engines and directories are pretty smart, and they can probably tell the difference between "street," "st." and "st". Still, it's best if you publish the same NAP across listings.
Optimize listings when possible
We already mentioned claiming pages on sites such as Yelp or Google My Business, but you'll also want to optimize your listings - don't just add the bare minimum to be found.
Add enough information to give customers a good understanding of what your business does. Add a description and a few photos of your business.
And remember that many of these sites allow users to review your business, so you should be keeping an eye on those reviews too. Respond to negative reviews and try to make things right for the reviewer.
Don't just be found. Be present, and make sure your customers are happy. Even if you do show up correctly in local searches, unanswered negative reviews are bad for business.
So what about building new citations?
Now that you've claimed business pages and corrected any inaccurate listings you've found, it's time to start building new citations.
For building brand new citations, you can always start with that list of data aggregators we mentioned earlier. Beyond that, you can search for industry-specific or location-specific directories, or even search for your competitors to find out which citation sources list their businesses.
Or here are a couple of resources to find the best citation sources by industry or city.
Here's the list of citation sources by city.
And the list of citation sources by industry.
But before you go putting your business's NAP on every directory out there, remember that some are going to be more valuable than others.
Besides, while you want customers to be able to find you in any directory they're using to search, you probably don't have time to create citations for every single directory out there. And remember to aim for quality, rather than quantity with your citations. Make sure your business is listed on the important websites we've mentioned, instead of going for a huge quantity of citations.
So stick to the most common sites customers use to find you. Yelp might be the thorn in the side of many small business owners, but if your Yelp business page isn't optimized with photos and accurate, up-to-date information, you're potentially losing out on customers.
Your citation building checklist
1. Find the correct address for your business. Check with USPS to see how, exactly, your address is listed.
2. Save this information in a spreadsheet or Word document to minimize errors and make citation building a little easier. Now, when you need to update your listings, you can copy/paste the information into the directory.
3. Search for your business in Google or Google MapMaker, to find your existing citations.
4. Clean up existing citations before you begin creating new citations.
5. Start building new citations - but be picky, don't just add a citation to every site out there. Go for the important sites and data aggregators we mentioned.
6. Optimize listings. Whenever possible, add photos, business information, and categories. Don't forget to check for and respond to reviews, and keep listings updated.
7. Keep track of your citations. You can't just build citations once, because one new NAP mistake somewhere could mean incorrect information in your listings. And you don't want consumers to find incorrect information about your business.
And remember, citation building is just a small piece of the local SEO puzzle. If you want your business to be found online, clean up your citations and make sure your business is listed on those important directories.
Now it's up to you. Go forth and build.