In a guest post that will come in handy for anyone looking to highlight the importance of citations to bosses or clients, Big Leap’s Austin Lund explains why citation-building should be a foundational tactic for all business owners.
The four main pillars of Mary Bowling’s Map to Local Search Success are:
- Trusted location info
- A locally focused website
- A good link profile
- A good review profile.
Her chart lists all the elements that contribute to ranking higher in local search. For “trusted location info,” the three main elements that make up this local search ranking pillar are (1) trusted citations, (2) consistent NAP [name, address, and phone number], and (3) Google listing.
My purpose in this article is to illuminate how citation and online directory work is a foundational tactic for every business–whether the target market is local, national/local (both national and local audience), multi-location, or even online only.
2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey
Combined, Google My Business (GMB) and citation signals make up 32% of the local pack/finder ranking factors pie chart in Moz’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey. They even make an impact on localized organic ranking factors, filling about 15% total of that pie chart. Needless to say, the 37 local search experts who contributed to this survey all agree that GMB and citations, if built correctly and consistent with the NAP on the website, make a significant impact on local rankings and can even influence localized organic rankings.
In fact, citations are always ranked very high in the survey results every year. This year, here are some highlights in the “Top 30 Foundational Factors” list:
- #2: Consistency of Citations on the Primary Data Sources
- #5: Consistency of Citations on Tier 1 Citation Sources
- #13: Consistency of Citations on Tier 2 Citation Sources
- #20: Proper Category Associations on Aggregators and Tier 1 Citation Sources
- #27: Enhancement/Completeness of Citations
Let’s dive into more of the benefits of citation building as a foundational tactic for all businesses.
Local, National/Local, and Multi-location Businesses
Beside helping to increase rankings in the local pack and the localized organic results, NAP consistency and citation building also help achieve the following things for local, national/local, and multi-location businesses:
- Expands real estate across the web – Citation work helps an increasing number of local customers find your or your client’s business online. These will include third-party sites that people use, like Apple Maps, Bing, Yelp, Foursquare, Mapquest, and many more generic and niche sites.
- Expands real estate on Google’s organic results pages – Citation sites/listings often show up in Google’s organic search results for keyword searches and brand searches. Search engines trust these sites, so it will be of utmost importance to ensure you or your clients’ NAP is accurate on third-party citation sites as well as on Google My Business.
- Links: both ‘nofollow’ and ‘dofollow’ – Most citation sites provide a link. Many of those links will be nofollow, but some are follow links. (N.b. According to Phil Rozek, the real value of links in your citation listings is to strengthen the association of your website with your NAP information).
- Third-party reviews – Many citation sites are also review sites, providing feedback on third-party generic and niche sites. Third-party reviews also have an influence on rankings within those third-party citation sites and may even have some degree of an impact on Google rankings, according to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey.
- City-specific and vertical directories – Other than GMB, data aggregators, and top tier generic citation sites, building citations on locally relevant and industry-relevant domains is also very important to rankings. (N.b. It’s also important to check offline data sources (e.g. IRS, secretary of state, phone company, utility accounts, licensing bodies, etc.), so that no incorrect offline NAP data gets leaked into the online local search ecosystem.
If we take a good look at the benefits above, we can see that citations, to some degree, help contribute to three of the four local search ranking pillars: trusted location info, links, and reviews. I’d say that these benefits are worth the effort!
Difficulties Faced in Citation Work… and Some Solutions
I have been doing manual citation work since 2012. I know, firsthand (and a thousand times over), how hard quality citation work really is. From phone verification with clients to all kinds of technical issues and roadblocks, to removing/merging duplicate listings, to waiting for responses from citation site support teams, to spammers maliciously changing your clients’ NAP data, the intricacies and nuances that go into citation work are many.
It would take all day to list all the problems and solutions to those problems, but here are few worth mentioning:
1. Service-area businesses (SABs)
Many service-area business owners use their home address on their citation listings, and, therefore, want to hide it on all citation sites. However, not all top tier citation sites allow you to hide your address, including two of the aggregators, but some citation sites do allow you to hide the address.
Having said that, I generally discourage the practice of hiding addresses on citation sites because doing this does not help increase rankings. Neither does refusing to create listings on important sites that do not offer a “hide your address” option. The best solution in my book is to hide your address only on Google (unless you serve customers at your business location in addition to serving your customers at their location), and display the full address on every other citation site. This will help increase rankings, and it’s also extremely unlikely that anyone will ever come visit your home because its full address is displayed on a third-party citation site.
(N.b. UPS Stores and PO Boxes are strictly against Google guidelines, so don’t even think about resorting to those. Also, virtual offices may be fine to use, but make sure to follow this Google guideline: “Service-area businesses can’t list a “virtual” office unless that office is staffed during business hours.”)
2. Toll-free numbers
Is it okay to use a toll-free number as the main number on GMB and citation listings? Yes, it’s okay. Google accepts toll-free numbers as the main number on GMB listings, and so do many citation sites. However, a few sites don’t, like ExpressUpdate.com (this site only allows a phone number with a local area code).
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that according to Google guidelines, businesses should “use a local phone number instead of a central, call center helpline number whenever possible.” While it’s fine to use a toll-free number as the main number on the website, GMB, and citations, it’s still best practice to use a local phone number with a local area code.
3. Do I really need to make the NAP perfectly consistent across the web?
A business’s NAP should be consistent across the website, GMB listing, and on top tier citation sites. However, you don’t need to hyperventilate over missing suite numbers or slight discrepancies in street suffixes, etc. Whitespark has a list of all the discrepancies you don’t need to fix.
However, my personal belief is that it wouldn’t hurt to fix a slight discrepancy or add a missing suite number, especially if doing so doesn’t take very much effort or too much of your time.
4. Are there workarounds to phone/mail verification on citation sites?
Yes, there are. I recently wrote an article about all the citation sites that do (and don’t) offer a workaround to phone and mail verification.
Here are the detailed instructions on how to perform manual verification on the top citation sites. It also includes other detailed instructions on overcoming many other technical difficulties on top tier citation sites.
5. Enterprise businesses
What about businesses with hundreds or thousands of locations? Will they benefit from citation work? Absolutely. Is it possible to do citations for enterprise businesses yourself? You could try, but I find it is more cost-efficient and saves lots of time to outsource citation work to a citation service. And this would be true for single-location businesses as well.
How Citation Building Can Help Strictly National and Even Online-only Businesses
Foundationally, citations are a keystone element for businesses that target local customers. But what about businesses that don’t really have a local customer base? Could local SEO citations be valuable to businesses that only target customers nationally, or even just online? According to Moz’s Rand Fishkin, citations are a ranking factor for local businesses, and can be a trust signal for online-only businesses.
Virtually any business that wants an online presence can benefit from citation building. Local businesses benefit the most, and citations do have a stronger influence in the local algorithm, but citations also influence businesses that show up in the localized organic results. And for the online-only businesses, citations can be a trust factor.
No matter what type of business you are or your client is, consider adopting citation building as an integral part of your digital marketing campaign.