By: Tim Robers
As a business owner, you already know that SEO is vital to your local online presence. Do you yearn to see your business shown in the coveted Google 3 Pack? Are you tired of seeing your competitors outrank you in the map results? It could be that your business citations are doing more harm than good. Fear not! We’re here to share the secrets of what is most important in your company’s online identity when it comes to online citations.
Local Consumer Behavior
The ways consumers are using the internet to search locally is being studied and determined in research by Local Search experts. Studies show that four out of five consumers will use a search engine in their search for products and services that are provided locally. Google research indicates that 88% of those local searches were conducted using a smartphone.
Google has also found that 50% of mobile searches result in a visit (usually within a day), with an 18% chance that the person visiting will make a purchase. Also, consumers are 30% more likely to buy locally than online IF they know your business is close.
Building a local presence on the internet that represents your physical address and what you offer, starts accurate business citations.
What is a citation?
A citation is simply a representation of your company’s NAP information, located in a directory, ad, or article somewhere on the internet. N.A.P. stands for:
A = Address
P = Phone
An example of a basic NAP might look like this:
V Digital Services
1201 E Jefferson St. #201
Phoenix, AZ 85034
It is the most basic information about your business and it’s absolutely critical that you get it right (more on that later). Basic NAP information is important, but it’s no longer the only information that can be distributed in your citation.Google My Business is an excellent and critical starting point for the storage and distribution of your business citation.
Why are citations important to your Local SEO presence?
Think of your citations as super-charged, electronic business cards. Business cards are absolutely worthless if they are inaccurate or improperly distributed. Keeping them in their box, or simply throwing them into the wind is not a best practice!
The internet, in its web of Search Engines, Directories, Aggregators and Social Platforms, holds and distributes this information in what we call the Local Search Ecosystem. The LSE for the United States looks something like this:
Moz – The Local Search Ecosystem
The various entities distribute through Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Feeds, like creeks flowing into rivers and out to the sea. The more widely distributed and accurate your citation is, the more “trust” a search engine or directory will have in displaying your citations in the results of searches.
Citations can be associated with consumer reviews giving the citation even more weight in search engine results. Search Engines will display quality reviewed listings with good reviews, before listings with poor or no reviews.
Inaccurate citations can actually harm your business
When inaccurate business information is provided, the citations can be distributed in this way causing terrible damage to your rankings. If several directories show conflicting information or information that does not match that of your website and social pages, the results are less business views because the “trust” factor becomes an issue and the solid weight of your citations are compromised.
In the example below, the information displayed on the home page both in text, and in the Local Schema mark-up code represent the company’s NAP, and do not match the citations being written.
Website and NAP Address Information:
ABC Widget Manufacturing
2525 West Main Street
New York, NY 10011
Incorrect Citation Address Information:
ABC Widget MFG New York Office
2525 W. Main St.
New York, NY 10011
The above citation example has several discrepancies that conflict with the NAP. The first is in the business name. Using geo-locators (New York Office) is strictly prohibited for the Google My Business listing and therefore should never be included. Other descriptors are also frowned upon like the example “Tony’s Pizza Best New York Pizza.”
The address and business name in the example are also incorrect. They must be a one-for-one, character-for-character representation to be considered a solid citation. In the example NAP and on the Website, the information is not using abbreviation for manufacturing, street or suite, but the citation is listed that way meaning they do not match.
Address changes must be rolled out as soon as possible to avoid the distribution of bad citation information. Recent phone number changes or zip code changes happen frequently and are sometimes overlooked. The result is the further distribution of incorrect information and the clean-up can be overwhelmingly difficult and costly.
What makes a good citation?
A good citation is one that is accurate and listed in a directory that is trusted by Google and other search engines. We call these directories “Top Tier.” These are directories like Yelp, CitySearch, Mapquest, and YellowPages. They are trusted by Google, and other directories utilize their data for their own listings, further propagating the citations. If the directory you are planting the seed with is not fertile (meaning trusted and known), then it will never grow and redistribute to more ground.
Another good citation is one that is listed with a directory that is subject-oriented or geographically specific to your business. These are called Geo-Niche directories and they also have a significant weight on your business ranking. Made in NYC (http://madeinnyc.org/) is a fine example of a combined Geo/Niche directory that it is local to NYC and is geared toward the subject matter of manufacturing, as in the above example.
The last consideration in what makes a great citation is volume. As previously stated, the more instances your citation is distributed to, the more weight search engines give to that citation. In a given year’s time, hundreds of citations for a business must be created to achieve the desired effect.
What makes for a bad citation?
A bad citation is one that is inaccurate, incomplete or has no content. Simply listing the NAP information, by itself, will not give the rest of the internet the vital information about your company that you want everyone to know.
Listing with directories that are irrelevant in subject matter or location is also not effective. Placing the above business listing example, ABC Widget Manufacturing in New York City, in a local Denver, Colorado directory or within a restaurant review directory would never be effective and could also confuse Google and other search engines. You’ll also want to be cautious of directories that are not popular, as a citation that no one sees, might as well not exist.
How to enhance your listings
Your business citations for local SEO marketing can be rich in information.. Most Top Tier directories allow for the addition of your social pages, photos of products and services, links to special offers and specific information like hours of operation and menu links. Adding photos with a description for every citation is important because it allows you to enter keyword information and a visual representation for the specific product or service that is featured. Making that image linkable to your website will also allow the customer searching to further interact with your website and/or social pages.
Updates to your citations are also important, as new content is always weighted heavier in rankings consideration. Changing the special promotions links will also keep the listings fresh. The addition of UTM-coded links will help you determine the effectiveness of a specific directory or search engine by allowing you to track the traffic through a website’s statistical information.
Adding structured text and schema markup to a website will also work hand-in-hand with the Google My Business information and other search engines looking for your NAP and in listing additional information in the search results for your business.
In the last few years, reviews for a business have played a huge part in Google and other search engine algorithms. According to one study, 90% of consumers say that reviews played a part in their buying decisions. Reviews listed for a business in a Google search results are a collection of reviews from many sources, not just Google. Yelp is weighted heavily when it comes to reviews and rankings.
Good reviews will get better results than no reviews or bad reviews. If your business receives a bad review, address it immediately! Most directories that support reviews also have the ability for the business owner to directly address and respond to that review.
In doing so, you accomplish two crucial things as a business owner. In the first place, you will address an unhappy customer that may edit or remove the listing if they feel it’s been addressed properly. Secondly, you’ve shown other potential customers that you care about making things right for an unhappy customer and you believe in customer satisfaction.
There is anecdotal information (speculation, at this point) that addressing bad reviews may have a direct positive impact in the algorithms used by search engines.
There are many challenges associated with creating a local presence for a business and in managing citations and NAP information. The effort of attracting new customers via local search engine marketing is an ever-changing and always challenging endeavor, with success offering REAL results on the bottom line.
Some of what used to be considered best practices is now prohibited and could harm a business’ overall ranking, so caution in practice and maintaining a constant watch for industry changes – as we do at V Digital Services – is wise. The hours of time invested, will eventually yield results if all the best practices are followed thoroughly and accurately. Good luck in your quest to achieve the perfect citation profile! If you happen to get stuck along the way – contact firstname.lastname@example.org.