In local search engine optimization (SEO), a citation is any mention of your business’s name, address, and phone number (commonly referred to as NAP) on a website that isn’t your own. Google’s local algorithm looks at your NAP information as a signal of relevancy and proof that you’re a legitimate local business and actually located at the address listed in your Google My Business profile.
Why citations matter
Citations play an important foundational role in local SEO. When you’re just starting out, you need citations in order to appear in local search results.
Google’s local algorithm always tries to return the best local businesses for each local query. Sites are returned based on their relevance and prominence, and citations are a helpful relevance signal.
Your citations help Google verify that you’re actually located where your website says you’re located. As the algorithm crawls the internet and sees that a number of different reputable sites list the same NAP information for your business, it’ll learn to view you as a legitimate local business. With that increased trust comes a higher likelihood that Google will show your business in its local search results.
Similarly, as the algorithm sees your NAP details being listed on more sites, it’ll begin to equate your number of listings with the prominence and popularity of your business. This can also lead to increased visibility in local searches.
Which citations do you need?
There’s no definitive list of must-have citations, since each vertical—and each city—will often have its own important citation websites. Sites like Facebook, Google, Yelp, Apple Maps, and Foursquare are important sources for any business, but you’ll need to do a bit of research in order to identify the citations that will be most visible to your audience.
Not sure where to start? Check out Whitespark, a company that offers local SEO and citation building services. On their website, you’ll find the top citation sites per country and the top citation sites per industry. Perform a quick search for your location and industry and make a note of the first 3 results. Those are the citations that will be most beneficial to your business.
How to get your citations listed
Citations can be present on sites even if you don’t manually add them. Since many of the sites accept data feeds from other citation sites, your information will automatically flow downstream. If you’ve got a new business and need to get your data added to citation sites, there are 3 methods you can use:
- Manual submission (do it yourself): You or someone on your team enter the data into the listing sites by hand one by one. It’s a time-consuming process, but it helps you ensure that your info is absolutely correct on every site.
- Manual submission (pay someone): There are several services available that can handle the manual submission or NAP data for you. If you don’t have the bandwidth to add your information to citation sites yourself, you can pay a service to complete the process for you.
- Aggregator submission: You can work with a service like Whitespark or BrightLocal to submit your NAP data to the primary data aggregators, which will result in your details being fed to hundreds of other sites.
Provide as much information as you can
In addition to the basic NAP information, citations can also include other details about your business, too. When possible, be sure to include elements like your operating hours, a thorough description of your business, your logo, and a business email address that folks can use to contact you.
Consistency is key
Since citations help provide the foundation for your SEO, it’s important to ensure that they’re correct. Be sure that the name of your business is always spelled correctly and doesn’t include any additional keywords. Your physical address and phone number should be uniform across all sites, too. Incorrect, incomplete, or duplicate NAP data across different citation sites can be a red flag for Google’s algorithm.
If you suspect that you’ve got problems with the consistency of your NAP data—as a result of moving to a new location or switching to a different call tracking provider, perhaps—you’ll need to clean your citations by updating the incorrect information. This can be done manually with the help of citation auditing tools like those offered by Whitespark or BrightLocal—or you can pay one of those services to handle the whole process for you.
Written by Greg Gifford for Mailchimp. Greg is an expert in local SEO.