A citation is an online reference to your business’s name, address and phone number (NAP). Like links to your website, Google uses them when evaluating the online authority of your business. Unlike links though, citations don’t need to be linked to your business’s website in order for you to be credited for them. So, having your NAP listed in plain text is fine.
A partial citation is one which includes only part of your NAP – maybe your name and phone number or name and address. This is better than nothing, but not as beneficial as a full citation. A full citation is one which includes your business’s complete NAP. It doesn’t matter how that information is visibly listed (horizontally or vertically), so long as it’s all there. This is an example of a full citation:
SEOmark, 34 Links Drive, Birmingham, West Midlands, B91 2DL (0330001152)
For a citation to help with your local SEO strategy, it’s important that it exactly matches the NAP on your website and on your Google+ Local page. What format you choose for your citations isn’t important, but picking one format and sticking with it is. You need to be 100% consistent in the name (abbreviations? Ltd?), address (suite number? floor?), and phone number (+44? spaces or no spaces?) used when building citations.
Along with links and reviews, citations are a primary factor that Google uses when deciding on which order to rank businesses in their local search results. To them, it’s logical that a business that’s mentioned a lot online deserves a higher ranking than one that’s hardly mentioned at all, especially if those mentions are on websites that are relevant in terms of location and/or topic.
Google uses citations to verify the accuracy of the contact details in their local business listings too, as listing addresses or phone numbers which are out of date, incorrect or falsified, looks bad on them and causes people to question the reliability of their search results. If exactly the same NAP is listed on 50+ different websites then it’s highly likely to be correct information, and Google can be more confident in showing that NAP to searchers.
Another reason citations are important is that, as well as helping to improve your business’s rankings in local search results, they increase general awareness of your business and provide more ways for people to find you online. The more places that your business’s NAP is listed, the higher the likelihood of people seeing it, and the more people who see it, the greater the number of people who will contact you.
It’s a common misconception that the only place to get citations is from directories – either local or industry specific ones – but that isn’t true. Directories are good places to get citations from, but blogs, forums, social media sites, etc., are too. So, don’t restrict yourself to only considering directories as citation sources. Some alternative sources for citations include:
- Press releases
- Article and guest post bylines
- Question and answer sites
- Image and video descriptions
- Profile pages
- Forum signatures
The best starting place for citations is directories though, with the following ones recommended for local businesses in the UK:
Depending on your location and your business type, you should be able to list your business in at least 75% of those. All of them provide a free listing option, which typically won’t allow a link to your website, but that’s fine for the purpose of building citations. When signing up for these directories, do the following:
- Set-up a new email address specifically for sign-ups, as you’ll inevitably get repeatedly sent spam/marketing emails afterwards.
- Provide as much detail as you can, including, where applicable, opening hours, descriptions, photos, etc.
- Claim ownership and/or verify listings on all sites that allow you to do so.
- Don’t link to a site just because they say they’ll only link to you if you link to them.
Listing your business in those directories is a good start, but you shouldn’t stop there. You should find out where your competitors have citations and try to replicate them. You can find your competitors’ citations by searching on Google for a competitor’s name and their postcode. To do this, search Google for the keywords you want to rank for. Look at the Google+ Local page for each business on the first page of the local business listings and note down each competitor’s name and postcode.
Next, search on Google for each competitor using this search query:
“Competitor’s Business Name” AND “Competitor’s Postcode” -site:http://www.competitorswebsite.co.uk
As an example, to find out where this site is listed, you would search Google for this:
“SEOmark” AND “B91 2DL” -site:http://www.seomark.co.uk
It’s important that you use both the quotation marks and the AND in the search query, and also to exclude results from the business’s own website (using -site:http://www.), so as to keep the results as concise as possible. Look through the first 5-10 pages of search results for each competitor and make a note of the urls where their business is cited and yours isn’t.
For each competitor that you analyse, you’ll find anywhere from a handful to hundreds of citations. Your competitors will probably have citations from some of the directories stated above, but they’ll also be cited at other places too – websites, blogs, forums, etc. – that are specific to your particular location and/or your industry.
After combining the citation sources for each competitor, and removing duplicates, you should have somewhere between 10 and 100 extra sources that you can get potentially get citations from. Some of those citations will be easy to get, and will just involve signing up on a website, whereas others will be more difficult, and might require you to phone someone or to write an article for their site.
At the end of this process, with citations from directories, your competitors’ citations, and citations from alternative sources, you should easily have 75+ citations in total, which, in the majority of instances, will be more than any of your competitors have. Citation building for local SEO shouldn’t just a one-off process though. You should always keep your eyes open for new opportunities to list your business’s NAP, and you should re-analyse your competitors’ citations for new citation sources every 6 months also.