The Importance of Local Citations for Local SEO

Your website is like a billboard. It helps paint a picture of what your business has to offer to prospects who are searching for what you have to offer. It is in an infinite roadside where the numbers of billboards increase daily, and move to new locations each day. The difficulty is no one can tell you where the roadside is, or where these billboards are located. This is where local SEO can help. Local SEO service uses a variety of methods to get your site ranked on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and others, which helps your site to be found by potential customers. When your site can be found these methods increase the chances of someone finding your site,” says Garrett Nann in a piece describing the importance of local SEO. Step out your front door, and ask 10 random people to tell you what they know about Bill Gates. It is a strong possibility that 9 out of 10 of them can tell you something about who he is. Let’s face it; Bill Gates does not need SEO on his website. His name is known, and his website can be found without any form of marketing. Now take that step, and ask 10 people if they have ever heard of the hometown computer repair service. Chances are you will get a much different result. This is where local SEO can help, and that is what a citation accomplishes.

Definition of Local Citations

It’s important to remember that it’s not necessary for a citation to link back to your website in order for it to be valuable. The value in citations comes from the combination of the NAP mention as well as being associated with your business – it’s better to have a citation from your local chamber of commerce that’s just your company name and address than it is to have one from some anonymous spam site with 4 links surrounding some block of text with a mention of your business name buried in it. That being said, the more high-quality sources that link back to your website, the better. A “high-quality” source can mean a popular, well-indexed web page, a local website, or a newspaper. The easier it is for someone to get a citation, the less value they tend to have – it’s possible for anyone to go to Yellow Pages and make a free listing, so that will have less value than a citation in the local newspaper where the business was hopefully featured due to its quality of service.

Local citations are defined as the mentions in other websites of your company name, address, phone number, and website. Having lots of citations, especially from a wide range of sources like Yellow Pages and Yelp to business directories and the local chamber of commerce, shows the search engines that a business is established and that it has a real presence in a particular location. It’s also important to make sure that your citations are in a consistent format; it’s not going to help your rankings if your company is named “Joe’s Bar and Grill” in some citations and “JBG Enterprises” in others. Make sure your citations are all categorized in the proper way: local search engines can favor businesses that are well-categorized, and it can be a deciding factor in the way your business is displayed in search results. A “well-categorized” business is when the category used for the business is related to what the business does and could also help your business’ ranking for that category.

Importance of Local SEO

Citations are a key factor in local search and are being discussed with increasing frequency. There are a lot of online “myths” when it comes to citations and their relevance, and despite them being a relatively simple and often inexpensive task to complete, the fact of the matter is that they remain a high priority for small to medium businesses. Although citations do not have an ongoing direct impact on website rankings, when done accurately and correctly, they can have a potentially strong effect in a short period of time. According to David Mihm’s annual local search ranking factors article, citation-related factors came out on top for ranking influences. This still holds strong in the recent 2014 edition, with the quality of citations and quantity of citations affecting position for both general local search and for the local maps search. With the places search functionality now having been removed from Google, it’s more important than ever to have high-quality citations to increase visibility within the local map search.

With the evolution and growth of the internet, there is an increase in competition for local business and services. Local search has become a fundamental part of small businesses’ survival as today’s consumer is more inclined to search for information on the internet. In a survey conducted by Nielsen/Netratings, it was found that 70% of online searchers are more inclined to purchasing products and services from websites that are based offshore in other countries. Local search and SEO is more important than ever. Using our experiences and information from across the internet, this article will explain how citations have a large impact on the local search industry and how relevant it is to consider implementing them into your business’s marketing strategy.

Benefits of Local Citations

If a source is able to create a structured local citation, then they would have the ability to create a more accurate portrayal of your business as they can provide the essential business details.

These citations can be produced on local business directories, websites, and apps, and social platforms. If local citations do not contain your business information, then it will be possible that they are speaking of a different business. This would mean that the local citations you have found are unstructured citations. Unstructured local citations are verbal mentions of a business that can occur anywhere on the web.

Local citations are used to widely spread vital business information. A correct and consistent citation will have your company’s name, address, and phone number, and possibly some other details.

Increased Visibility in Local Searches

A local citation is any online mention of the name, address, and phone number for a local business. Citations can occur on local business directories, on websites and apps, and on social platforms. Businesses present in up to 50 or more citations with consistent information are likely to achieve a higher ranking in local search results. This is due to search engines collecting data from a variety of sources, which indicates that the business is well-established and credible. Data such as the citation from an online yellow pages directory is collected and compared against information found on the business’ website. If the information is deemed consistent, it will improve the business’ relevance and visibility in local search results and create a higher chance of the business appearing on the first page.

These local searches are beneficial to both the users and the local businesses. Users are able to receive specific information about what they are looking for, and local businesses are able to reach their target audience. However, if local businesses do not appear on the first page or do not have any online presence, the vast amount of potential customers who search the web for local information will not be able to obtain any further information about the business. This is where local citations can improve a business’ visibility in local search results.

Before the phenomenal development of internet usage, local businesses used to advertise their products and services using methods like leaflets, newspapers, and local radio stations to reach their local audience. With the increasing usage of technology starting from a 7-year-old to a 70-year-old, the majority have all used the internet to search for information through search engines. Local businesses have realized the facets of online marketing, especially through local search results. Compared to the ancient and middle-aged (60%) who used to refer to printed directories, it has been reported that up to 70% of the entire population would now refer to online search engines for local information using their desktops, laptops, tablets, or mobile devices. Local searches are more prevalent and are becoming more location-specific. For example, if a person was living in San Francisco and is in need of a plumbing service, they would use the search term “plumber San Francisco” rather than just “plumber”. By inserting the location in search terms, search engines will produce geographical map placements and local business listings.

Improved Local Search Rankings

Local businesses can also generate citations through a variety of publications, including newspapers, business associations, schools, and alternative blogs. These are all an opportunity to get your business noticed and being listed in them can often have a positive impact on your local search rankings. A common issue for local businesses is the fact that it is hard to find the time to identify citation opportunities, let alone go about the process of obtaining them. This doesn’t matter! The benefits of citations can still be obtained, it’s just a case of investing in a local SEO campaign.

Search engines can be inconsistent in the information they find. Citations help to validate that the data a search engine has in its index about your business is accurate. A citation is considered a ‘vote’ to search engines that your business information is accurate. The more often your business information is found on the web, and the more consistent it is, the higher you will rank in local search results. When we talk about ‘vote’, this is not a case of all citations are created equal. A citation from a well-established and popular website (such as a well-read local newspaper) will have more of an impact on your rankings than a citation from an obscure website.

Citations are now a key factor in helping your local business to perform well in local search. Here are just a few reasons why citations are important: They help customers discover your business and contact details. Most of the local business directories do not require a website to list the business. This means that you could end up with a listing that simply has your contact details and address. When this information is used to create a new citation, it’s known as an “unstructured citation.”

Enhanced Online Reputation

Like feeling out of the loop, but not been able to put your finger on it? This indicates that you have not been giving much attention to what is happening to your online brand. For a local business to see any real and tangible benefit from search engine optimization, they must first create a solid platform that search engines can push in a positive light. This is started through “online reputation management” and this is the sole part of local business that is heavily overlooked by the valiant work and fruitless expenditure to advertise ‘SEO company’. SEO relies on having a reliable resource to push high-trust/low-risk promotion tactics. If this does not exist, it could actually cause more harm than good to your search visibility. Building a stable base for the search engine to work with takes a sustained effort over time; it is not something that can be done in a short space of time. This is the same when building a good online reputation. It is more effective and efficient to do this slowly, ensuring results are natural and positive, than trying to repair a tarnished reputation.

Factors Influencing Local Citations

Consistency of name, address, and phone information (NAP) All local citations are based around an establishment’s NAP information – name, address, and phone number. The more consistently this information is listed across the web, and the more frequently it is linked to or mentioned, the more trust Google places in the citation. For businesses with poor or inconsistent local citation data, the first step is to address the inconsistencies and look to get those corrected. This can take months, and in competitive markets it may have little effect with Google still trusting the consistent data from higher quality domains. For new businesses with no citation history, beginning by building and ensuring consistency in your NAP information across all the major local data aggregators will provide a strong foundation. Building high-quality local citations is an effective way to improve your visibility and can be well worth the time and effort. High-quality citations will not only generate you more visibility from your target audience but also improve your organic rankings due to Google’s preference with displaying trusted and quality information.

Consistency of NAP Information

Using one company name across all listings is also important. It is not uncommon for a company to have a legal name and then do business as another name. It might make sense to list both, but it is important to pick one format and always use it, as using different business names is confusing for both users and search engines. After solidifying which name to use, decide how to address an “and” character. It might seem trivial, but it can have an impact on brand searches. For example, a user might not remember if they saw a listing for “Johnson and Johnson” or “Johnson & Johnson”. Keeping uniformity on phone number and address data is a bit more straightforward, but often still presents a challenge for large multi-location businesses. Not only does the basic data need to be the same, but it also needs to be assigned to the correct location for the business. This means no cross-contamination of location data. An example might be if a financial planning office is sub-leasing space from a law firm. It is crucial the financial planning business does not use the law firm’s address, and just as crucial that the data is not mixed at a later time. NAP data accuracy is the bedrock of citation building, and the burden of its correctness rests on the business. Lengthy appeals with directory sites to change incorrect data are often futile, so it is better to take the time to get it right the first time on your own terms.

Consistency of NAP information stands for consistent name, address, phone number information. Recent study shows that more than 40% of local search engine referrals are made via smart phones and other mobile devices. Therefore, with this percentage in mind, it is important to make sure that your basic business information is the same across all types of electronic devices like PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. Having varied information makes it confusing for local search engines to identify your true business identity, thus giving less confidence in your business and lowering your rankings within search results. This seems like a simple concept, but it can be complicated by the fact that there are actually multiple acceptable ways to display your business NAP data. For example, in the age of text messaging, using shorthand like “2” for “to” and “4” for “for” is ubiquitous. Use of suite abbreviation is also common. Staying consistent on how your business information is displayed, listed, and referred to is critical.

Quality and Authority of Citations

The authority of a domain is also evaluated in relation to the location data supplied. The more authoritative the domain, the better the citation will be for geo-targeting purposes. This occurs when search engines use human-constructed data, such as that from these authoritative sources, rather than data from the business itself. An example of this is a citation from a local online newspaper to a restaurant. Often times there is no location data supplied for these types of businesses, so the search engines must use on-page data from the restaurant or data from a third-party source. A citation to the restaurant within this instance would be an indication of a geo-targeted location data match for the newspaper, in turn making it a high-value citation.

In evaluating the quality and authority of a source, local SEOs seek placements from strong, trusted domains, often viewed as authoritative sources of information. However, there are varying degrees of authority depending on the niche of the business. For instance, a citation from a well-known insurance provider to a law firm is deemed authoritative. However, this may not be the case for a citation to a plumber. As such, it is important for the source to also be relevant to the business being optimized.

Relevance of Citations to Local Area

This kind of situation could also happen to the businesses which operate in multiple locations. Thung, F., et al. (2012) state that the data consistency in academic citations and documents that are cited is important in order to ease tracking the document and also avoid confusion. These could also be used as a consideration in local SEO about the local area relevance because to have consistent data about the business location with the local citation data will help the search engine to understand that the business has a relation with the local citation data, thus increasing the area relevance of the business. But in contrast, if a business that has multiple locations wants to make a citation from a certain location to increase the location relevance, it can use the citation with the location-specific details, although the NAP information is not changed. It would be less consistent but still understandable and avoid confusion because the data in the citation need not be changed just to increase the location relevance.

Typically, the traditional concept about citations in academic writing and papers is almost similar to what Memari, M., et al. (2012) stated. A citation serves to acknowledge the work of the other author that you use in your paper, which also acts as a method to avoid plagiarism or cheating. This concept, according to them, could be used in the local SEO context. As Memari, M., et al. (2012) also state, a citation is evidence that an idea or a statement is not just the author’s point of view, but also has a basis by referring to the others’ previous work, which could, in turn, enforce the writing. This indicates that the relevancy of the citations to the local area is important because the consumers, if they search for businesses from a certain area, would likely to see the businesses that include the area in detail and are also relevant to the information they are looking for. If a local business cites another local business, it could increase the local area relevance that the local search positioning is looking for. But in other cases, if the location of the business is an inconvenience to the consumers, it can use general information about the area of the location of the business. So, by citing the other local business, it could increase the area relevance of the business with the location without having to change the information.

Quantity of Citations

A common misconception is that if you need local SEO to work for your business, you should attempt to acquire the greatest number of citations as possible. However, what we really need here is a healthy looking link profile. Too many citations from low authority or irrelevant sites can actually have a negative impact on your link profile. A site with a sudden increase in the number of its inbound links or a site which accumulates too many links from low authority sources could be flagged for engaging in some form of web spam. A natural link profile should have a healthy variation in the number of links coming in to the site. Another reason to be careful when considering the amount of citations your site needs has a lot to do with the size of the local link graph for your business. We can identify a local link graph as all of the sites which have rankings for the search terms you want. For some search queries and locations, a number 1 position in the SERPs is well within the reach of a site with a relatively low number of citations. This is because that site only has a few competitors, and the competition is not doing much more than the site in question. In comparison, there are some search queries and locations which have a large amount of competition and movement in the SERPs. A company in the middle of a highly competitive local SERP could well require a large number of citations to maintain a number 1 position and outdo its competition. High movement in the SERPs is an indicator of a large local link graph. This is because every position change generally indicates that one site has gained a link from a source, which has caused it to overtake the site in its previous position. An increase in the number of citations is essentially an increase in the amount of popularity and authority tied to a site with the intent of affecting the SERPs. Any businesses trying to affect very competitive local search terms with a high movement rate are likely to have to invest in ongoing citation campaigns.

4. Best Practices for Local Citations

Claiming and optimizing local business listings For smaller companies or companies that are simply beginning to build an internet presence, using the neighborhood Chamber of Commerce, or in the UK the various “buying and selling” societies, might be the first step toward creating citations. Generally, these local listings will not have a website, however, they can still be an opportunity to generate a quotation. The date the truth which can help Kit is worth a learn in regards to the step-by-step process using these native listings to construct a citation. The fundamental process involves finding the listing, being able to edit it, and including your company info. This is generally free, but may be a monthly pay service, it depends on the quality of the listing and the website visitors the location receives. A further useful methodology of identifying potential listing sites is to look at the competitors’ citations and see where they’ve received them from. To do this, simply enter their postcode into the Whitespark Search by Location Tool followed by the keyword citation. This can show local citation sources that are ranking well for your competitor.

Claiming and Optimizing Local Business Listings

Once you have discovered a list of potential citation sources for your locale and industry, it is important to decide which ones are best for the long-term success of your business. The most important factor is to determine if the source is both relevant to your business and trusted by potential customers. Any citation from an irrelevant source can be detrimental to your business, so often it’s best to avoid such sources even if they are easy. An industry-specific source will be both relevant and trusted by potential customers. On the other hand, a chamber of commerce link, if available, is often relevant and highly trusted. An indirect benefit of finding the best sources is that it can greatly simplify the process of deciding where to claim or create a new listing.

One simple yet often overlooked way to find citation opportunities is to search for your company’s phone number online to see if any listings exist. If there is no record of your company, you should add it to the site in question. You can also search for your competitors’ phone numbers to see what sites they are listed on. There are many tools available that can help automate the process of finding and building citation opportunities. Many of these tools offer varying levels of automation and cost. Some well-known U.S. based citation building programs are: Get Listed LocalBuilder, Universal Business Listing, and Localeze. Any of these tools are a good place to start. Localeze has direct distribution agreements with the best-known local search platforms, so if your budget allows, this is the most efficient way to build new citations. A casual search on Google or the SEO forums can help the reader to find other tools and tips for citation building outside the USA.

Upon deciding it is crucial to build good local citations for your business in order to pursue better local rankings in search engines, you must first find all of the possible citation opportunities that exist. This can be a daunting task without the right tools. As a result, the following are recommended methods and the essential tools for finding and building citation opportunities.

Building Citations on Relevant and Reliable Platforms

The key to citation building is patience and consistency. It is a repetitive process which can be time-consuming, but in the long term will be greatly beneficial to the ranking and general visibility of the business. Note that there are instances in which older citations which have incorrect data may be difficult to remove. In this situation, it is best to build a new citation with the correct data to override the old one.

New citations do not have to be built manually; there are services in which data can be submitted to then be distributed to various platforms. The three primary aggregators in the USA are Infogroup, Localeze, and Acxiom. In the UK, the best-known aggregator is Scoot.

There are many sites and platforms which are used for citation building, such as Yelp, Thomson Local, and Scoot. In the UK, these are known as the primary data sources for local business information. A citation does not necessarily have to link back to the business’ website to be valuable. As long as the ‘NAP’ (name, address, phone number) is consistent, there is a higher probability of the citation being considered valuable. The consistency of the ‘NAP’ is crucial, as any variance can create issues with Google understanding the legitimacy of the business. In the instance that the ‘NAP’ is not consistent, it is important to contact the platform in which the citation is situated and request that the data be modified in line with the Google Maps listing.

The aim is to create a Google Maps listing by populating each part of the listing with good content. This increases the probability of the business being found by potential customers. Next, fill in all the data accurately and consistently to build trust in Google that the business is legitimate. Verification of the business is crucial to the next step, which is building citations.

Monitoring and Managing Citations Regularly

A tool like Moz Local can be very handy with its Local Dashboard feature. The Local Dashboard is a tool that can aggregate all of the citation data for a business, and present to them the results. It will categorize each listing with one of three statuses: “Consistent”, “Incomplete”, and “Inaccurate”. With this, the business can make the necessary changes to any listing and track it all within one place. This is a huge improvement over businesses visiting individual platforms and trying to manually track their listings, where changes are not always updated straight away. It is recommended that companies carry out citation audits perhaps once every 6 months to ensure that there have not been any changes on various platforms which could result in inconsistent data. By far and away, prevention of citation issues is easier than the cure. Regular management coupled with a strong tracking system will keep things running smoothly.

Local businesses should be vigilant when it comes to monitoring and managing their citations. In an overly competitive commercial environment, it is not uncommon to find instances where companies change address, get new phone numbers, or carry out rebranding exercises. In some cases, the changes may come from a simple mistake. Should any of these occur, there is a risk of the changes not being reflected across the ecosystem which can lead to the generation of new duplicate listings. When this happens, the old listing can remain to exist which is then giving mixed signals to both the search engines and consumers. This can be very damaging to the business’s local search rankings as well as their click-through rates. Regular tracking of all citations will help sidestep any unpleasant surprises in the event of unwanted duplicate listings.

Encouraging Customers to Leave Reviews

The best way to get a customer to leave a review is to simply ask! The optimal time to ask is right after a positive experience with your business. This can be a structured process, such as including a call to action on a receipt or placing a tablet near the exit of your business that leads to the review page, or this can be an informal process. The key is to make it as easy as possible for a customer to leave a review. This may mean creating a step-by-step handout for leaving a review from various platforms (e.g. Yelp, Google+), or actually walking them through the process if they are attempting to do so on their own time. Offering incentives for leaving a review can be a conflicting practice. While it may be an effective way to get more people to review your business, in most cases it is against review site terms of service. Remember that the higher number of reviews will lead to a higher prominence of review content in search results. This will lead to a higher rate of organic brand impressions from review readers, and at this point having a higher review score will be more beneficial. A business with 100 reviews and a 4.5-star rating will stand out more than a business with 10 reviews and a 5-star rating – and it will have a larger impact on consumers.

The more frequently your business is reviewed, the more weight those reviews will have in search engine rankings. Encouraging your customers to leave positive reviews of your business can be a simple, if often overlooked, local SEO tactic. And there are also a variety of analytics and tools available that can help you gauge the success of your efforts in this arena – a number of them offer free trials and demos. This tactic may be one of the most effective.

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