When people think of developing their online presence, they usually think of putting up a website, creating profiles on social networking sites, and maybe even posting on a blog to keep their content fresh. What doesn’t occur to most is that there is another easy yet effective way to establish strong brand prominence on the internet: getting local business citations.
The term is quite common among digital marketing and local SEO consultants. Putting your brand up on “online business listings” seems simple, but it actually has a surprisingly big impact on your online visibility.
Let’s take a look at what local business citations are and how you can leverage them to boost your online and real-life popularity.
What Are Citations?
Local business citations refer to any time your business is mentioned on the world wide web. This can come in one of two forms:
- A structured citation, or a listing on an online business directory such as Yelp or Foursquare.
- An unstructured citation, or basically any mention of your website on a blog, website, article, tweet, post, etc. They do not need to link back to your website to be considered a valuable unstructured citation; even a mere mention of your company name is more than enough.
Citations can take many forms, but the three most important pieces of information are your business’ name, address, and phone number (shortened as NAP). These are called complete citations. Partial citations refer to citations that don’t include all three elements. On the flip side, some citations are even more detailed, and include one or more of the following:
- Business category/nature of your business
- Business description
- Operating hours
- Coordinates/location on a map
- Social media profiles
- Email address/es
- Payment forms
Citations Of The Past
If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because local business citations have existed for a long time, just in a different form. The first telephone directory came out in 1878, and by the mid-20th century were found in most households. The yellow pages were dedicated business directories that contained business names, addresses, and contact information.
With the internet and mobile technology, phone books are becoming more and more outdated. However, the concept still remains popular, just in digital form. YellowPages.com went online in 1991 but the spirit of local business citations is alive and well with hundreds of different directory sites for every niche imaginable.
Where Can You Get Citations?
Not all citations are the same in terms of how much they impact your online presence. We can group local business citations into a few different groups. Some categories have a much more significant effect than others.
Core search engines like Google, Bing, and Apple Maps receive and analyze all the citations you receive from other sources.
These primary data sources (like InfoGroup, Acxiom, and Factual) collect and validate your information from a variety of sources. They’re responsible for distributing your NAP and other business information
Trusted Online Directories
Popular listing sites such as Yelp, Facebook, or Yellowpages, are trusted by search engines and users alike. Having your information on these directories is one of the primary ways to play to favor of Google’s algorithm and make yourself more visible to potential customers.
While getting on a generic online directory is important, you shouldn’t neglect your niche or industry-specific directories as well. Sites like Trip Advisor for the hospitality sector or Apartments.com for real estate give you a platform where you can market your business directly to the people who are looking for your product/service.
Blogs & News Sites
Getting on a local blog or a blog that is popular within your particular industry is a great way to get the word out about your business. If you’re mentioned on a lot of blogs or featured on news sites, search engines like Google will pick that up and boost your results page ranking.
The great thing about unstructured citations from blogs is that you can make mutually-beneficial relationships with the bloggers in your community. Let them experience what you have to offer by inviting them to your store or giving them free samples. They’ll have more content to publish and you get valuable publicity. It’s a win-win situation.
Find out where your competitors are listing and get your business on those sites as well. You might discover new local blogs or niche directories to include on your list of potential citation sources.
Why Are Citations Important?
Whether you’re a small mom and pop diner or a major retail franchise, you need to pay attention to your citations. Before we tackle the why’s of citations, we need to tackle the how’s. The role of citations in your business’ online presence makes much more sense if you understand search engine optimization first.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the collective term for all of the practices and processes you employ to improve your search engine ranking. Having a higher ranking means that you are more visible when people search for keywords related to your business, and that could translate to more site traffic, more interest, and more profit.
Local business citations are one part of the local SEO ranking factors. Search engine algorithms rely on citations—both the quality and quantity—to separate the illegitimate/fake businesses from the real ones. Having consistent information across multiple platforms also help people discover you online. On the other hand, having wrong, outdated, or inconsistent NAPs will just confuse your customers and could lose you some sales.
The more consistent citations you have, the more Google can trust that your information is accurate, the higher they’re likely to rank you on their results page. That ranking is important on global searches but is even more critical when it comes to local searches because a higher ranking could give you an edge over a competitor.
Showing up in relevant searches also supports your word-of-mouth marketing because people can find you online and follow up on recommendations from their network. This is especially important if you don’t have a website since your citations will be your stand-in for an online presence.
Another aspect of a strong online presence is your reviews. Online business directories help you collect, manage, and respond to customer reviews, which make up another important component of your search engine ranking.
If you have your business listed on different platforms, you give your customers more channels to leave you a review. You’ll also be able to see an aggregate of your rating as well as how you rate on each individual site. You’ll also be better able to gain insight toward your points of improvement and reach out to unsatisfied customers to make amends.
One of the last (and most overlooked) benefits of claiming your local business citations is that you have more control over how your business is presented online. When you have unclaimed, duplicate listings online; that leaves your business vulnerable to edits from both users and competitors. Purposeful changes to your address or contact details can be used to tarnish your reputation and drive sales away from your business.
Staying on top of your citations means that you can monitor your listings and protect yourself against shady business practices like malicious editing. You’ll be able to help represent your business in a much better and more accurate light.
In summary, local business citations can help your business or organization by:
- Boosting your search engine results page ranking
- Establishing a stronger online brand
- Making you more visible to your target market
- Publishing your important business information for interested customers
- Potentially giving you an edge over your competition
- Standing in for a website or social media profiles
- Giving your customers more channels to review you
- Helping you respond to positive and negative customer reviews
- Giving you more control over how your business looks online
- Protecting you against malicious edits by users or competitors
How Can You Claim Your Citations?
The process of claiming your business listings isn’t difficult, but it can be tedious and time-consuming. Follow these steps and tips to maximize your local business citations.
- Compile a list of the top online directories that you need to get your business on. Have a healthy mix of international, local, and industry-specific ones. Google related keywords or your competitors to find what kind of citations they’re getting. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of all the listings you’ve found.
- Claim or add your listing to your top sites. Make sure the information is consistent across the board—and that includes formatting, spelling, and punctuation. If the directory asks for more than your NAP, try and complete the information as much as possible, including hours of operation, photos, menus, etc.
- If any of your information changes, go back and update all of your listings. The most important thing is to make sure everything is updated and consistent at all times.
Better Business Citation Tips
- If doing your business listings on your own sounds like too much work, don’t worry, you can hire a company to do it for you or use automated software instead.
- Create and claim your listings using your business email address. Use an email under your company domain (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) rather than a generic email (email@example.com) to increase your listings’ credibility and trustworthiness.
- While your information needs to consistent, your content (e.g. business description) can be a little more varied. Avoid copy-pasting content into different platforms; search engines don’t index duplicate content and may not count your citations if they don’t have unique content.
- Don’t spend too much time creating listings on low-quality directories. List on a few dozen of the most important core directories as well as the ones for your industry or area. A handful of high-quality citations from trusted sites are more impactful than hundreds of low-quality ones.
- Share your site and information on your social media platforms. That’s a quick way to add to the number of links that refer back to your business.
Local business citations are an oft-overlooked yet important aspect of local search engine optimization. Claim your local business listings and benefit from higher visibility, better brand prominence, and more control over your online presence.
However, it shouldn’t be the only thing you pay attention to. Don’t neglect the other aspects of SEO such as clean code, backlinking, fresh blog content, and more. Combine those good practices with consistent, quality business citations, and you’ll have a solid strategy to boost your local SEO rankings.