Although no one truly knows the exact formula for a particular business’s local search engine ranking, established experts have some solid theories.
One of them is that local citations are a crucial factor, and with good reason.
But what are citations, and what purpose do they serve? And perhaps even more importantly, are they really all that important when it comes to search engine optimization?
Here we’ll go over everything you need to know about SEO citations to understand them better and use them to the advantage of your business.
What are SEO Citations?
From an SEO standpoint, the term “citation” refers to any instance where your business is mentioned online, and examples might appear in many places.
These include social networks, various types of business directories, local websites, and basically, anywhere else people might be online looking for information about businesses in their area.
In addition to actual mentions of the business’s name, citations can include other identifying information unique to that business, including its phone number or physical address. (NAP citations are citations that specifically show name, address, and phone number.)
Why Do SEO Citations Matter?
The purpose of SEO citations is to better assist people from a given location in finding businesses that offer the services and products they’re interested in.
They also factor into your SEO rankings on Google and other search engines. Here’s a better look at how both of those things work.
Although people do use Google to explore businesses in their area to address a specific need or issue, that’s not the case for everyone.
Some people far prefer browsing YellowPages, review sites like Yelp, or specialized business directories dedicated to what they’re looking for.
Business directories also tend to comprise most of the top results when a person Googles for a local business solution, not business websites run by service providers. (Just try Googling for a plumber or a mechanic in your area, and you’ll see.)
So the more citations your business has out there, the better your chances of having it found by precisely the people out there looking for it.
Help with SEO
Again, not every expert agrees on the importance of citations when it comes to SEO, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a lot of evidence to suggest it.
Search engines like Google use many factors to determine the legitimacy, trustworthiness, and overall value of their search results.
Mentions on other trustworthy websites and across social networks are among the most important.
The more times your business’s name, address, or phone number come up, the more evidence Google has that your business is really out there and that it is what you say it is.
Of course, site relevancy matters, so accumulating citations from just anywhere won’t help you much with SEO. But citations, in general, do help Google verify the legitimacy of your business and anything connected with it.
What are the Different Types of SEO Citations?
Generally speaking, SEO citations fall into two different categories, each with its own benefits and characteristics. They are as follows.
Structured citations are the type you’re most likely to find in places like directory listings or across different social media platforms.
They list each business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP). Plus, every entry is displayed the same way as every other.
Think about the setup you’d expect to see on YellowPages or anywhere similar.
Instances where a business may be contextually discussed are called unstructured citations.
Think about the last time you saw a specific business or service mentioned in passing in a blog post or on a forum somewhere.
Those are great examples of unstructured citations. So are press mentions and appearances in top lists.
They are valuable proof that people out there are noticing and talking about your brand.
What are the Best Practices for Building Citations?
Now that you understand what SEO citations are all about and why they matter, it’s time to learn a bit about what to do next.
The following are some terrific tips to keep in mind for building your citation catalog, as well as maintaining it once it’s established.
1. Check out your competition
Whether you think you already know who your competitors are or not, it’s never a bad idea to start by Googling the phrases and keywords you’d like to rank for and seeing what pops up.
Take note of the companies that rank consistently high. Which of the major directories do they appear in? What types of citations do they have?
Look into how you can get your business cited in the same places.
2. Get listed with the right data aggregators
There are many thousands of different internet directories out there. However, the average business owner isn’t going to have the time or inclination to submit their information to all of them personally.
That’s where data aggregators come in.
Aggregators specialize in collecting information about relevant businesses and supplying it to sites like business directories to help fill in information gaps and keep them relevant.
Ensuring the biggest aggregators have your business information is a great way to make sure you’re cited in the right places. (Examples of important aggregators in the United States include Factual, Express Update, and Neustar.)
3. Claim listings on specific high-value sites
When you think of trustworthy sites that are great places to find local businesses, which names immediately come to mind?
If you’re like most people, you probably think of major social media networks like Facebook, review giants like Yelp, or respected authority sites like the Better Business Bureau, Google My Business, or Angie’s List.
Those sites and many like them are excellent places to have citations, so they’re well worth pursuing individually.
Some companies offer services to help you submit to the sites you’re most interested in, but you can also submit manually on a site-by-site basis.
Start by searching for your business on each option, as there may well already be a listing for it. If there is, claim the listing to manage it personally moving forward.
Look it over and correct any information that’s wrong or out of date. Then add additional details — like photos and service information — to make it more appealing.
4. Look into industry-specific and localized listings
Large directories and popular platforms like Yelp are great places to start your citation-building campaign, but you shouldn’t stop there.
You’ll want to make sure you’re listed in places that are big deals in your industry, as well. (For instance, TripAdvisor is a must for those in the travel or hospitality industry.)
Besides that, look into opportunities to establish locally valuable listings.
Start by getting your business listed with the local Chamber of Commerce, as well as any other local business associations in your area. A simple Google search will return many options worth pursuing.
5. Start acquiring unstructured citations
Once you’ve covered all the big directories, websites, and aggregators, you should be looking pretty good when it comes to your collection of structured citations.
But don’t leave unstructured citations out of the mix, as they’re essential in a different way.
Remember, unstructured citations are about more than simply getting listed on a huge directory. Someone has to care enough about your business to mention it and say a few words about it in an article, blog post, or similar piece of content.
This makes unstructured citations harder to get, as well as more valuable. In some instances, a really great unstructured citation may even earn you a backlink for your growing catalog.
One way to earn unstructured citations is to pursue guest blogging opportunities.
You should also work on putting out plenty of high-quality content of your own to get people talking about you and sharing what you create across their own social media channels.
Partnering with influencers is a great way to generate social proof and additional unstructured citations for your brand, as well.
6. Keep your website current
Last but definitely not least, it’s worth auditing your website to make sure all business information is up to date.
Yes, this includes any references to your NAP information, but don’t stop there.
Flesh out your contact and about pages with additional details your customers will find helpful.
Add a Google Map plug-in or information about the history of your business. Essential product information, customer service numbers, and other valuable tidbits are good ideas, as well.
Wrap Up: SEO Citations Are Part of a Well-Rounded SEO Strategy
While SEO citations are important, especially for businesses looking to establish a local presence, they’re really only part of the picture.
A comprehensive SEO strategy covers all the bases for building authority and getting your business noticed in all the right ways.
Great SEO strategies that yield results also evolve with the times. Algorithms on social media and across search engines change constantly. Trends come and go, and markets shift.
Therefore, your SEO strategy needs to shift, too, if your business is going to stay ahead of the curve.
Take our quick maturity assessment to see how your current strategy measures up!