Every SEO campaign should start with building a presence online for your business. By creating the foundational business directories (Google My Business, Apple Maps, Bing Places, Yelp, etc.) you begin to tell search engines that your business is an actual corporate entity.
Then, when you begin to develop your business presence across more & more trusted web directories you increase the amount of web visibility for your business, acquire more backlinks from trusted websites, begin to collect customer reviews and establish your business as an “entity” in search engines – something they can understand (and then recommend).
Think about if Apple never provided the correct signals to search engines that it was, in fact, a business that sells products – and not a literal apple.
Getting a handle on your business directories & citations is how you make sure your business isn’t mistaken for a fruit, and in this article, we show you exactly how to plant that seed properly.
What is a Local Citation?
A local citation (aka “business citation” or “SEO citation”) gets its name from the broader word “citation”, for reference.
In the world of Search Engine Optimization, a citation is a reference to your business. Specifically, any mention or appearance of your business’s Name, Address & Phone Number on the web.
Note: If the only thing mentioned was your business name, this would be a brand mention – not a citation.
The primary way to acquire these citations (mentions of your business’s Name, Address, Phone Number) is to make sure you are listed on quality business directories.
An Example of a Local Business Citation:
Notice the Name, Address & Phone Number are all included
The Importance of Citations for SEO
Business SEO citations (remember: a mention of your business on another website) is a way for search engines to “verify” your business information (aka build trust) with 3rd Party information providers.
When Googlebot crawls the web and find your business’s information listed with trusted third-party info providers (like InfoUSA, Dexknows.com, Yellowpages.com, etc.) it can begin to make the assumption “well if all these other trusted info providers all have the same business information listed, then there is probably a good chance that this business is legitimate & still active).
The key to SEO is building trust – online and IRL.
Trust online (just like in real life) is built by being transparent & building a positive reputation with other people (or websites in the case of the internet) and organizations.
Whether you are building trust with your on-page SEO strategy (providing quality information, using schema to markup your data, etc.) or your off-page SEO strategy you want to aim for Authority, Relevance & Trust.
Having your business listed on the Authoritative, Relevant & Trusted web directories & information providers is a huge step in the right direction. Additionally, business directories (the place where you will get most of your citations) command a lot of SERP real estate.
So when users search something and click on one of those directories you want to be sure you’re listed on there and get some of that traffic.
Not being on these directories would be similar to not being in the phone book but still expecting people to open it up and call you.
SUMMARY: Business Directories are critically important for your SEO in that they:
- Establish your business as an entity (think apple vs. an apple)
- Provide signals of trust from trusted 3rd party websites to your website
- Can send real traffic & customers to your website.
Takeaway: Citations are critical if you want to rank highly in local organic SERPs and in the maps.
Inaccurate listings? What could possibly go wrong…?
Let’s think about this from the flip side for a second. Imagine you are in your car on the highway, traveling to an interview for your dream job an hour away, about to run out of fuel – in desperate need of a gas station. Your tank reads “15 miles to empty”. So you pull out your phone & search for a “gas station” on maps.
You see there are 2 gas stations near you:
- The first one is only 15 miles away, but it’s BEHIND you (you already passed it).
- The second one is 30 miles away, but it’s AHEAD of you (in the right direction that you are heading).
Which one do you want to go to? The one that is within your driving range but out of the way or the one that is out of your driving range, but on the way to your destination? You decide to opt for the safe bet, pull off the highway & start backtracking a bit to the gas station you already passed only to find out that this gas station is closed. And now you’re stuck.
You have to call roadside assistance because now the other gas station is really far and you have no gas left.
Will you ever use that search engine’s maps feature again?
This is the power of business citations. They provide the consumer with critical information about businesses – and if they are wrong the can create inconvenient (or even catastrophic) situations.
So, needless to say, search engines want to only include accurate business information in their search engine results.
Takeaway: SEO Citations are a major search engine ranking factor for Local SEO.
Types of Citations
- Structured vs. Unstructured
- General vs. Niche
Structured vs. Unstructured
A structured citation is a business citation where the information is neatly presented in a traditional business listing structure. They are typically found on business directories and other places where you can create a specific page for your business (ex: Facebook business Pages)
Structured citations are normally created by through:
- Submitting your business listing information into structured HTML fields.
- Manually writing your business information in an organized format.
An example of a structured citation
An unstructured citation is a business citation where the necessary business information is present on a single web page, but not in the traditional “structured format”.
They are typically found in blog posts, forums, news articles, etc.
Unstructured citations are created when a business’s information is mentioned in a (usually) more conversational tone.
An example of an unstructured citation
A press release about SERP Co with this paragraph in the post:
SERP Co has opened a new location in Los Angeles, CA to provide the city of LA with world-class digital marketing services. They have experts at the highest level doing SEO, advertising, and other forms of digital marketing for local and national businesses. Give them a call at (855) 818-7951 or contact them through their website at https://serp.co/contact. Or, if you prefer in-person appointments, you can drop by their office anytime from 9 AM-6 PM at: 1543 Rosalia Rd Unit 206, Los Angeles, CA 90027.
Notice how the Name, Address & Phone Number (NAP) all appear in the paragraph in an “unstructured” manner.
General vs. Niche
General citations (aka “generic”, “primary”, “main”) are the standard business directories that pretty much all businesses need to get listed on. Some examples of general directories are:
Takeaway: Get your business listed on the general directories as a foundation for building your business’s Authority & Trust.
Niche citations (aka “industry”) are business directories cater to a specific niche (ie: Dentists) or the broader industry (ie: Health). You can find niche-specific directories in almost every industry and they are very good places to get your business listed on.
Niche citations will typically be less authoritative – but the concentrated relevance of these websites makes up for the lack of authority (DR).
Some examples of niche directories are:
- com (Legal)
- com (Legal)
- com (Legal)
- com (Dental)
- com (Dental)
- com (Health)
- com (Home Services)
- com (Home Services)
Takeaway: Get your business listed on relevant geo-specific directories as a foundation for building your Relevance.
Geo specific citations are business directories that are dedicated to a certain geographic area, like a city or state.
They are great for building geographic relevance. Just like niche citations provide niche or industry level concentrated relevance to your business, geo citations do the same at the geographic/local level.
If your business is located in Los Angeles, CA and you have links from websites like “businessdirectorylosangeles.com” you can see how the relevance coming from a domain with Los Angeles in it would help you rank for geo modified keywords, like “Los Angeles SEO Company“.
The more relevance you can build for your business at the niche & geo level, the better off you will be in the SERPs for those types of keyword searches.
Takeaway: Get your business listed on relevant geo-specific directories as a foundation for building your Relevance.
SEO Citation Properties
- Phone Number
The most basic way to get a business citation is for your business’s Name, Address & Phone Number (NAP) to present on a webpage. You want to make sure that everywhere you have a citation that your NAP is consistent.
Ground zero for your NAP is your Google My Business (GMB) listing – all other listings need to match the information & format of your GMB. For example, take a look at the NAP on this GMB:
This is how our NAP needs to be on all other business directories: SERP Co – A Los Angeles Digital Marketing Agency
1543 Rosalia Road
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(855) 818-7951 Match the information exactly, and if you can match the format as well – do it. Although this isn’t always possible so just do your best in those cases. PS – that now counts as a structured citation.
Takeaway: Keep your NAP consistent across all of your citations.
- Payment Types Accepted
The business details area comes in many forms, but generally includes information such as your business category, email address, store hours, etc.
- Fill out all your business details as completely & consistently as possible.
- Main URL
- Scheduling URL
- Social Media URLs
This is probably the 2nd most important part of getting citations (the first is getting the citation).
Citations are a great place to get backlinks coming to your website because the properties you are getting citations from should always be either Authoritative, Trusted, or Relevant.
- Include a link to the most relevant landing page for your address (if you have more than one location it would probably be something like domain.com/location-1).
- Point the scheduling/appointment URL to your appointments or contact page.
- Include links to your other primary business directories & social profiles whenever possible.
- Business description
- Service(s) description
Many business directories have a section where you can write a description of your business.
Multimedia is a very under-utilized part of business directories. Whenever possible add (geotagged) images, pictures of your team, exterior images, interior images, videos, virtual tours, etc. to your business properties.
Not only will this will provide a better experience for potential customers, help build a connection and increase trust in your brand – it’s good for SEO too.
The more data Google can “gobble-up” of yours, the happier it gets. Google is basically like the cookie monster of search engines.
Before you get a citation (or any link for that matter) you want to make sure you are associating your website with other good websites.
This is called being in a “good neighborhood”. Evaluating citations is pretty easy, and we recommend you follow the same guidelines for evaluating links that we cover in our link-building & backlink articles.
Essentially, what you want to do is make sure the place you are getting a citation from has at least 1 of the ART principles – Authority, Relevance, Trust. The more the better, but at least 1.
We have probably beat this part to death by now, but make sure your citations are consistent across the web – if you aren’t sure, CHECK!
Check your citation consistency here.
Reviews play a huge role in your local SEO rankings. Why? Because Google loves it’s 3rd party opinions and sees reviews as a way to get an idea about the quality of your business from people who have done business with you – a more trustworthy approach than just taking YOUR word for it.
- Quantity – Get more reviews. Ask your customers to leave reviews and try to increase your review count.
- Quality – hopefully, you provide a great service and customers are happy with your business so the request you get good ones 🙂
Geotagging (in SEO) is a practice where you append geographic meta-information to images to give them additional geo-relevance.
Usually, it is in the form of longitude and latitude coordinates. Just like how getting links from geo-specific directories helps increase the local relevance of your business, having your images coded with geographic metadata helps improve the local relevance of the images, and subsequently the place where the images are living (aka the directory you upload them to)
You can get geographic meta-information on images by:
- Taking pictures with a mobile phone (normally will automatically add geo info to the phone based on your GPS coordinates at the time you take the photo).
- Adding it manually using a program like Adobe Bridge, or Apple Preview.
- Using a tool like geoimgr.com.
Takeaway: Geotag your images before you upload them to directories for a little extra SEO push
An Introduction to Data Aggregators
Data aggregators are large data-gathering companies that find, distribute and clean consumer and business information around the web.
They are databases that collect your business’s business name, address, and phone number (NAP) data and distribute it to search engines, marketing companies, publishers and media websites.
If you’ve ever received an unsolicited piece of (spam) marketing in your mailbox, a call from a telemarketer, or random piece of junk mail in your email box, chances are the company sending you this stuff got your information from a data aggregator.
Much of the internet is public and open to web crawlers that scan websites and catalog data. Search engines get data from these aggregators and use it as a 3rd party source to compare & verify business data.
As far as we are concerned (as it relates to SEO there are 4 main data aggregators:
You can submit your business data to these data aggregators (and begin to establish an online presence for your business online) or you can use a citation building service.
Business directories (websites where you can get a citation, aka get your business listed) get their information from these aggregators. The directory websites themselves do not (normally) go around the web scraping info – they just tap into the aggregators for that info. A citation building service will go to the Data aggregators and submit all your information for you.
Some go to the individual business directories to create profiles as well – since not all business directories connect into the data aggregators (like the smaller ones).
How to Get Citations
We just talked about this above – you can go to the data aggregators yourself, or have someone do it for you. Our recommendation is to first check your current business listings (for accuracy, completeness & presence), and then decide what to do from there.
We like using an all-in-one solution to manage business information and sync to the data aggregators, like Yext.
After you have submitted your data to aggregators, you will want to identify and build more citations for your business. Data aggregators will help get your business listed on a lot of the “general directories” but probably will miss most of your niche & geo-specific opportunities.
The automated/done-for-you/hands-off way of doing this is by hiring a citation building service provider to do it for you. Just be careful.
CAUTION: Just like we said in our link building & backlinks articles, hiring people to build links for you can get you into serious SEO trouble if you hire the wrong person – so make sure you can trust the reputation, capability & knowledge of the person or service building your links.
We have tested A LOT of citation providers and no one does citation building to our standards. For this reason, we do it all in house and do not recommend any providers. So what are your options?
- Contact us if you want our team to do it for you.
- Follow the citation building training in SERP University and do it yourself.
If you don’t want to pay someone to find & build your citations for you that’s understandable. You can do it yourself! Here are the steps:
- Make a list of business directories
How to Fix & Clean Citations
Fixing (aka “cleaning”) your citations can be incredibly difficult. If your business has been around a while there is a very high likelihood you have citation consistency problems. Maybe you changed a phone number or were using tracking numbers.
Maybe your address changed, or something in your business name was edited. These things happen all the time and staying on top of them is critical for your citation success.
There are 3 main ways to fix/clean citations:
- Log in to the business listing and fix it manually
- Submit a change of business information to the directory
- Have a service do it for you
1. Log in to the business listing and fix it manually
Most business directories have a login/pw to access your personal business profile. Like Yelp, Facebook, etc – you have to sign up with an email and only you have access to your profile. If you have your login information, simply go into your profile and make the necessary edits.
2. Submit a change of business information to the directory
If you don’t have logins to the site, or the directory doesn’t function like that, you may have the ability to submit a change of information. If this is the case you will need to submit the change, and then make a note to check the directory in a week or two to see if the changes were pushed live.
3. Have a service do it for you
There are a lot of tools that help you identify citation problems by scanning well-known business directories for your information and comparing them side by side for inaccuracies. These tools are good in that they tell you the errors – but they fall short in the cleanup. These tools do not know your logins, and so most of them cannot access the profile to clean it up.
There are a few services that have API connections with data aggregators and many of the well-known business directories and actually can re-submit your business information to be cleaned. The most well known is Yext. We use Yext to clean citations for our properties and our clients.
The downside is that it’s pretty expensive though, so unless you are an agency doing this in high volume you’d be better off just contacting us to do it for you.
Citations are a huge part of Local SEO.
They are the foundation of getting ranked highly in Google Maps and being a top choice for potential customers.
Make sure your citations are clean & consistent before you move on to the next step in your SEO campaign.