What are citations, and how do they impact local SEO? Columnist Julian Connors explains in this beginner-level local search column.
In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), a citation is a direct mention of a specific brand within an online platform. Some of the more common examples of online citations are comments published within a community blog about a favorite local coffee shop or an unpleasant experience working with a franchise outlet.
Citations serve as contextual forms of content that are recognized and indexed by search crawlers. On a local level, citations have the ability to improve organic visibility for small businesses and community brands alike.
Consumers mentioning a local brand within an online platform can offer a number of benefits that ultimately allow small businesses to increase their visibility within each major search engine.
Citations help search engines attribute value
Google and other major search engines have designed their algorithms to be able to detect and attribute value based on the type of messaging that surrounds a brand.
When online consumers publish content in the form of comments or reviews, search engines are able to crawl this information and use it to help them assess how valuable a particular business is for other like-minded consumers.
Citations support online conversions
When local businesses provide experiences that elicit positive online reviews, they can catalyze word-of-mouth marketing across social networks and other user-generated content websites.
Online consumers are more likely to engage with a local business if they have attracted positive reviews from other like-minded consumers. In fact, 74 percent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more, according to a recent report offered by BrightLocal.
Online customer reviews affect local businesses
Businesses can earn positive reviews or citations by continuously providing an experience that aligns with the intentions of the target audience and satisfies their specific needs.
Search engines understand structured citations
Structured citations are fundamental points of information about a business that include their name, address and phone number. Most local SEO strategists refer to this as “NAP.”
Maintaining current NAP information and ensuring that details are in sync across all existing platforms is important for search engines and their ability to provide consumers a meaningful experience.
structured data and local SEO citations
As seen above, structured citations often provide consumers with unique information that allows them to understand how they should react next. Although most JCPenney locations are open on Thanksgiving Day, this particular store was not, which is clearly noted because of how well they maintain their NAP information.
Unstructured citations provide the same points of information about a particular business, only they are not consistent with one another. In the screen shots below, the business’s information is correct; it’s just not in sync.
unstructured citations and SEO for local businesses
Image referenced from Razorlight Media Inc. on November 24, 2016
The two different phone numbers appear because this business is using call tracking numbers to help them track their leads and understand where their marketing budget should be allocated.
From an SEO perspective, the issue with having different forms of contact information indexed is that it can disrupt the ability to achieve positive results within local search listings. If search engines are unable to understand what type of information they should provide to consumers, they are more likely to pull content from a competitor whose NAP information is correct and in sync across all existing platforms.
Citations complement other traditional SEO factors
Local online success is all about crossing off every possible SEO checkbox that exists. When small businesses take the time to build a solid SEO foundation and maintain a healthy domain, citations can serve as a catalyst for driving results.
The organic equity of any website serves as a critical component for determining how well a business ranks within local search results. When small businesses are able to create and maintain an online presence that supports a competitive domain authority, citations can serve as the extra element that allows them to overcome competitors that may have a well-optimized website but lack references that help search engines determine their true value.
Citations just make sense for local SEO
Considering that search engines ultimately care about connecting online consumers with the most rewarding experiences, it makes complete sense that they would leverage citations to better interpret brand value. Why wouldn’t they?
Although traditional links are still one of the most influential tactics for improving competitive keyword rankings, citations could possibly become just as impactful based on the continued evolution of Google’s Hummingbird and the ability for search engines to extract meaning from individual words used within a complete phrase.