Ever heard the phrase “think globally, act locally?” Find out more about how citations in local SEO strategies can improve your local search rankings.
Citations have long been important for local SEO and Google Places optimization. Over the years, Google has continually refined and individualized its search results, taking into account a user’s location, device, search history, demographics, and more when deciding what search results to show.
“Location” is core to this discussion – organic search results have become so differentiated from place to place that a two identical search queries completed in two different cities often share nothing in common in the first page results. In particular, Google’s local 3-pack, which uses data from Google Maps and Google My Business, is populated with business listings based on the immediate surroundings of the searcher, and can completely change based on a mile’s difference in distance. So how does Google know what businesses to show?
Google largely relies on what the SEO community refers to as “citations.”
What is a citation in the context of Local SEO?
A citation, also known as a Web reference, is defined as a “mention” of your business name, telephone number and/or address (this is often called “NAP,” or name/address/phone). As part of a search engine optimization strategy, a citation preferably comes from trusted sites in your industry or vertical, even if the citation does not include a link to your website. If a link is included, the ideal citation would also include a link to the website with the name of the business as the anchor text; this is a key difference between local SEO and broad, national or international SEO. With traditional, more broadly-focused SEO, the ideal backlink profile includes a mix of different keywords in the anchor text.
With local SEO, links aren’t the only important offsite signal. Local businesses looking to maximize search visibility should maintain a consistent business name, address and phone number in all citation sources (once again, referred to as NAP; this benchmark is known as “NAP consistency” and is a critical signal to Google when attempting to identify and rank a local business). A local telephone number is preferable to an 1800 or 1300 number; this will make it easier for Google to recognize a local business.
Below is an example of a citation from a trusted site which includes the business name, address, and telephone number. This example also includes a URL, but as previously explained, it is not necessary to be seen as a citation in a search engine’s eyes. However, it is preferable to also have a URL if possible in citations.
The importance of citations to SEO
For Local SEO purposes, evidence shows that consistent local citations, “NAP consistency,” for your business is considered to be one of the most important factors in getting your website to rank higher in Google’s local results. Local SEO expert David Mihm regularly polls SEO experts to find out their thoughts on Local Search Ranking Factors* – read more at Moz.com at the embedded link.
After his most recent analysis, Mihm had this to say about the growing relevance of citations, “Overall, we’ve seen a continuation of the gradual trend towards Google rewarding quality on all fronts—from citations to links to reviews.“
By focusing on citation consistency, your business can rank highly in local organic results and in the local 3-pack if you have a Google My Business page. NAP consistency is important on both directories, Google My Business, and your own website – all of them should match and work together.
Ways to get citations
When it comes to traditional SEO, you can think beyond the square, but when it comes to local SEO, think local, local, local or websites within your vertical (industry). So this means local directories, local blogging sites, local industries or industry-related websites … are you starting to get the picture? Here are just 10 ways for you to obtain citations.
Local directories – These are always your first point of contact in regards to obtaining citations. The directory needs to be seen as trusted, credible and ‘authoritative’ in the eyes of Search Engines. Whitespark, a local search SaaS provider, identified these key local directories and trusted signals for companies competing in each major English-speaking market.
Industry focused directories – A good way to obtain citations as part of your local SEO strategy is to find industry-specific directories that are trusted sites to list your details and ideally to provide a backlink as well. For example, Pier One Sydney Harbour has citations on hotel accommodation directories such as www.hotel.com.au.
Local chamber of commerce or local business associations – There may be opportunities to list your business information on industry-related sites. For instance, the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce allows members to list their details.
Suppliers/clients/affiliates – The people who are important to your business may allow you to list the details of your online business on their website. The best way to get them is to speak with the businesses you already work with. You might even consider working with local non-profits, organizations, and groups in return for a citation.
Review websites – These are local or industry-related websites that provide reviews and have summary pages for businesses in your category that include your address, phone number and ideally a website address. Crowne Plaza Coogee’s signature restaurant Bluesalt is listed on Best Restaurants of Australia is a good example of a citation.
Local/niche specific websites or forums – These may present local SEO opportunities to list your business details and act as a citation. For instance, Waverly Bride is a website for wedding vendors that includes a directory where people can list details about their business.
Local blogs – As blogging grows in influence and filters through to the mainstream, finding local bloggers in your city can be a great network to tap into and get citations and links from. These may include general local blogs about the region or industry-specific local blogs about restaurants, hotel accommodation and so forth.
Social media sites – Little details such as your Twitter location, name, and URL are visible and have a good chance at being a citation. A dedicated Facebook page for your business allows you to create listings for businesses that include a Google Map, the name of the business, address and telephone number that acts as a citation.
Geotagging Media – In addition to uploading media such as pictures and images to your Google Places listing, submit them to image sharing and video hosting sites such as Flickr and YouTube. Each service lets you geotag your media with specific location details. Make sure to put your targeted keywords in your title as part of your local SEO strategy.
Competitor analysis – A good place to find where to get some citations is by looking at competitors citations that are in their local profiles. David Mihm says that in local SEO, “It seems that there is a certain set of standard sites (which vary by area and by industry) in which Search Engines expects every relevant business to be listed.”
SEO tools such as Whitespark Local Citation Finder can also help you find potential authoritative sites to list your details on.
As Google shines the flashlight on local listings and gives them a higher prominence in organic search results, put your company firmly in the spotlight with a highly-targeted local search strategy. Check out our Google My Business SEO Packages and speak to our SEO experts about how we can boost your local mojo with our local SEO plans.
This article was updated with the latest industry information on September 15, 2016.
*2015 Local Search Ranking Factors survey