What is a Local Business Citation?
A citation is any specific mention or listing of your business name, address, phone number. This combination of information about your business is often referred to as N.A.P. (name, address and phone number).
A citation can be structured or unstructured. A structured citation refers to a listing of your business in an online local business directory such as Yellow Pages, Yelp, Bing Local or Google My Business.
An unstructured citation on the other hand, is any mention of your business on local government sites, local business groups, local schools, local newspaper websites, partner sites, local blogs, job sites, classifieds and other local businesses. These are also known as editorial links.
Rich Media Citations
In the past, citations were no more than a text listing of your NAP details. Today, citations have evolved to include rich media such as images, keyword-rich descriptions, hours of business, videos, etc. This means that when you are adding your details to industry-relevant sources, it will not be sufficient to simply add your NAP details for that to be a complete citation. On some directories, you will not be able to create a listing if you are unable to supply relevant photos of your business.
It is important to never start building citations for your business until your Google My Business page is live and displays the correct information. You should then create NAP listings that are an exact match of the way Google has described your business in your Google listing. This is critically important for building trust and credibility with Google. You need to pay attention to this because Google might list your business differently from the way you have entered it into Google.
For example, even though you have listed your business as Hamilton and Sons Limited, Google might change this to Hamilton & Sons Ltd. As you build citations therefore, they must exactly match the way Google has listed your business.
When creating citations for your business on the web, you will want to use all of the exact information, images and video that you have used on your Google My Business page which should already correspond exactly with what is on your website.
Sometimes but not always, structured citations come with a link back to your site. A backlink from highly trusted sources is key to a high search ranking.
Citations must be accuate, specific and consistent because they are primarily used to build trust and credibility in your business with Google.
Advantages of Citations
A citation is a highly effective way to spread awareness about your local business so that you can be found locally and by mobile users who are located within the vicinity of your business.
Citations on well-established and well-indexed sites help increase the search engines’ confidence in the accuracy of the information about your business. Essentially, the more structured citations that exist for your business, the higher the degree of trust that search engines will have in your business as a real and legitimate business that is carrying on business in the location you have specified.
What format you choose for your citations isn’t important, but picking one format and sticking with it is absolutely essential. Furthermore, the more places that your business’s NAP is listed, the higher the likelihood of people seeing it, and the more people who see it, the greater the number of people who are likely to contact you especially if you are able to stand out from other listings on the page.
Citation sources include:
- Data Aggregators: Data aggregators supply the underlying business database for local search directories. These include sites like Localeze, Neustar, Factual, Acxiom and Expressupdate. These sites will compile data about your business from multiple sources such as business registration record, phone directories, government websites, chamber of commerce membership certificates, etc. and sell them to other top sites online.
- Horizontal Directories: These are large review directories like Yelp, which users turn to find out about local businesses and to get reviews.
- Industry-Specific Directories: An industry-specific directory can be defined as one that is widely recognized to be authoritative within a specific industry, be that automobiles, law, hospitality, health care, etc.
- General Web Directories: This is a collection of data organized into categories. It specializes in linking to other web sites and categorizing those links.
- Regional-specific Directories: These are regional directories that only lists businesses within a specific country or state.
- Unstructured Citations: These are considered unstructured citations because they are not specific directories like those described above. They include local schools, local government sites, local blogs or local newspapers. They also include organisations that list businesses in specific industries.
- Social Profiles: Social media profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter that list a company’s details are also considered to be citations of the business.
Co-citations in search looks at the mention of your website, business, or brand across the web in association with specific qualities. For example, let’s say you run an Italian restaurant and your restaurant is independently featured in popular blogs and in articles with the title: “The Best Italian Restaurants in London”. Let’s also assume that this occurs with some frequency across a number of high authority sites. Google can surface your business in organic local search results as a choice when someone searches for “best Italian restaurants in london”. This occurs even if you have personally done nothing to actually promote your restaurant as such.
Why Citations are Essential
Citations are a key component of the organic search ranking algorithms in Google and Bing, and are known to positively influence local search results. Along with unstructured citations, Google My Business signals and local reviews, they are what Google uses when deciding the order in which to rank businesses in their map search listings (also known as the 3-pack) and local web search.
This also means your business will be listed across sites where your prospective customers are already hanging out online. To Google, a business that is mentioned a lot online deserves a higher ranking than one that’s hardly mentioned at all, especially if those mentions are on websites that are relevant in terms of location and/or topic.
Unlike backlinks however, citations don’t have to be hyperlinked to your business’s website in order for you to be credited for them. Consequently, if you run a business that gets some or all of its customers or clients locally, then you should seriously consider creating multiple citations for your business as a matter of urgency.
Trust matters a lot to Google, and citations are just one component of a set of trust factors that Google is looking for in order to determine whether your business is a legitimate business or not. This is why it is absolutely essential that your citation information (N.A.P.) is 100% accurate and consistent wherever it is listed across the web. Ultimately, this affects the ability of your business to get listed on Google Maps. Having accurate information that co-relates across your website, Google Your Business page, and local ecosystem is the most important part of building your businesses citations.
Below is an example of the appropriate NAP text format for a local business:
- Ojo & Ojo Law Group, 510 Holborn Viaduct, London EC1N 2PZ (203) 263-9318.
- SEO Social Services Ltd, 456 Holburn Circus W14 7PH (207) 676-9899
As already mentioned, every citation of your business needs to match the NAP on your website and most especially, your Google My Business page. The actual format that you choose to use for your citations isn’t particularly important, however, it is critically important to pick one format and stick with it. It is essential to be 100% consistent with your name, address, and phone number when building citations.
For example, if you are listed as Hamilton Plumbing Limited on one source, you cannot be listed as Hamilton Plumbing on another source. That inconsistency will seriously undermine the credibility search engines have in the information about your business. Your citations have to be identical wherever you are listed online. This could cost you a top search ranking.
For example, consider the following business listings:
- 22 Northampton Way, Gunthorpe, Peterborough PE2 5NF
- 22 Northampton Way, Peterborough PE2 5NF
In this instance, even though they refer to the same address for all intents and purposes, these two citations are not matching as far as Google is concerned. This could undermine Google’s confidence in the information that is listed about your business online.
It is important to keep in mind that Google doesn’t particularly enjoy displaying hours for a business as “open 24 hours”. In fact, this could affect your organic search ranking, especially in mobile search. Unless your business really is open 24 hours, is important to specify your opening hours on each citation, and those hours need to be consistent across the rest of your citations on the web.
Accuracy and Consistency of Structured Citations
The accuracy and consistency of your structured citations have always been critically important for organic search, but Google’s Pigeon update has taken the specificity and accuracy of citations to a whole new level. Essentially, the specificity and accuracy of your citations now affects your visibility in Google maps search and Google local search. This has to do with trust and credibility. Google needs to have trust and confidence in the information about your business before you can rank in its search results.
Every time Google comes across an inconsistent citation of your business, this is going to undermine the confidence that Google has in the information you’ve provided, making it less likely to show your business prominently in its search results.
Inconsistent or inaccurate citations might involve:
- A difference in the business name (e.g. Hamilton & Sons Vs Hamilton & Sons Ltd)
- A different street address, a typo in street address numbers, or a missing suite number.
- A wrong or different phone number, toll free or call tracking number on your website.
A different or wrong website URL.
- Inconsistent business opening hours.
- Any other apparent inconsistency in structured citations.
Small discrepancies in citations like Ltd. vs Limited, Ste. vs Suite or Hwy. vs Highway are not significant. Citation inconsistencies may arise from carelessness during the citation-building process, changing your business status from a sole trader to a limited company or if you have recently moved address. These discrepancies will have a major impact on your business’s credibility and trust with the search engines, which will cause significant ranking problems for your business.
If you’ve recently moved address and haven’t made the change in the directory, it means the business currently has two listings that reflect this inconsistency. In this scenario, your authority is being split up between the two instead of being consolidated into one correct listing. If you have to move locations, you’ll need to take the time to search for and edit your old citations so that they reflect your new address.
Building Your Citations
When building your citations across the web, it is very important to build those citations to match exactly what is displayed in your Google My Business listing. In fact, before you start building citations, you should wait until your address has been verified by Google because you don’t know how your address is going to be displayed in a live listing. Consistency of citations is critically important for ranking in Google search and Google maps.
Furthermore, before you begin the process of building citations, it is also important to first of all identify all of the sources where you are currently listed online. This will ensure that you avoid creating accidental duplicate listings which can have a negative effect on your organic search ranking. In addition, you need to find out if there are inconsistencies in your citations that could be damaging your organic search visibility.
You can get started by using WhiteSpark Citation Services to search for any NAP variations that may currently exist for your business name. Once you have identified all of your existing citations and have a nice, clean list of all of your existing citations, you’re ready to build new ones. To get you started, we’ve provided a free eBook with the top citation sources in the US, UK, Australia and Canada. You can also use tools like Bright Local and WhiteSpark mentioned above to build new citations.
In addition, you can check how your business looks on lots of directory websites by visiting getlisted.org. GetListed.org is a site that provides information on local search, and you can this tool to find out how well your business is listed online. GetListed.org will analyze your listing across a host of different popular directories and give you a score that tells you how well you’ve used the free listings search engines to collect local search data.
Follow the techniques listed below when signing up for these directories:
- Setup a dedicated email address specifically for local SEO directories.
- When completing a directory, provide as much detail as you can, including, where applicable, opening hours, descriptions, photos, etc.
- Claim ownership and/or verify listings on all sites that allow you to do so.
It’s a general misconception that the only place to get citations is from directories. Although directories are the best starting place to get citations from, you can also get citations from blogs, forums, social media sites, etc.
Some alternative sources for citations include:
- Press releases
- Article and guest post bylines
- Question and answer sites
- Image and video descriptions
- Profile pages
- Forum signatures
Analysing the top-ranking competitors in your industry that the search engines find most relevant for your target keywords is a crucial step in your local SEO campaign. To find your top ranking competitors, do a search on Google for your core keywords. For example, if you are performing local SEO for an Italian restaurant, simply do a search on Google for Italian restaurant.
For each search result, copy and paste the name and full address of each competitor into Google using this search query:
“Business name” AND “Zipcode/Postcode” -site:http://www.competitorssite.com
It’s important that you use both the quotation marks and the AND in the search query, and also to exclude results from the business’s own website (using -site:http://www.), so as to keep the results as concise as possible. Look through the first 5-10 pages of search results for each competitor and make a note of the URLs where their business is cited and yours isn’t. It is important that you are also listed wherever your top competitors are.
Google Pigeon and Local Search
Any discussion about local search will not be complete without a mention of the Google Pigeon algorithm update, which was rolled out on July 24th 2014. This update affected local search Results within both Google maps search and Google web search. The update was a fundamental change to the local search ranking algorithm in the sense that it became more connected with the traditional web search ranking signals.
Prior to the release of Google Pigeon, local search and web search often yielded very different sets of results. This has now changed after Pigeon. The implications of this is that local search rankings is now determined by the same traditional ranking signals used to rank sites in Google search. These include by domain authority, backlinks and other kinds of SEO rankings factors.
For more details on how to do local SEO in a post Pigeon era, click here