Finding local businesses is rapidly becoming what the internet is for. Four out of five mobile phone and tablet owners use their devices to search for local business information, and 80% of those searches result in a purchase.
Further, according to data from Google, 50% of consumers who made a search by mobile made a purchase in store within 24 hours:
That’s great, right?
Yes, it is. But it works a little differently than traditional SEO. “Long distance” SEO is increasingly about content optimization and integration, while local SEO is far more about citation building – getting your name and address mentioned by local sites with authority. David Daniels, in an article on Search Engine Watch, calls citation building “the new link building.”
Citations and prominence have a huge impact on whether your local business shows up in SERPs or not. And since search is how customers find a local business, you need to leverage citation building to win at local search.
What is a Citation?
Citations are online references to your business NAP – your Name, Address, and Phone Number. Citations are the local SEO equivalent of links, pointing to your bricks and mortar location instead of your website. And just like links, they pass on the juice: “Like links to your website, Google uses them when evaluating the online authority of your business,” says UK-based local SEO pro Mark Walters.
Google uses relevance, distance and prominence to ascribe this local ranking juice. You have some say in relevance, which Google says is simply about how close a match you are. You can’t control distance. But you certainly can control prominence. That’s where citation building comes in.
And just like links, they’re useful for people, too. It’s not just search engines that browse through local business directories, looking for a plumber, cafe, carpet retailer, chiropractor or other business in their area. That’s how a lot of businesses get found these days.
Unlike links, citations can be in plain text – Google doesn’t care whether they link to our website, just as long as they reference your business name, address and phone number.
Structured and Unstructured Citations
Structured citations are what you’ll find in local business directories. You’ll often have control over the form in which they appear so you can change them to suit you. Any Yelp listing page is a good example of a structured citation.
Unstructured citations are mentions of your business name or contact details on sites that aren’t directories. If you get into a local newspaper article about how Main Street is really picking up, or a blogger talks about how good your Coq au Vin is, you’ll have an unstructured citation. Often it will be incomplete – mentioning your name and address but not phone number, for instance.
How Do You Build Citations?
That leads us to the most important question – what are the different ways you can amass these citations?
[Disclaimer: None of the tools/agencies I mention here are a client of my company. I have used them first hand, and cite from experience.]
1. Use Citation Building Services
Specialist local SEO service providers like Whitespark and BrightLocal will build citations for you. They’ll have access to thousands or sometimes hundreds of thousands of sites that will accept citations, and the building itself is done by hand by professional citation builders in good agencies. The best thing about Whitespark is that they built the popular Local Citation Finder tool, so they know best how it works.
Typically, about a quarter of your citations will go live right away, with the rest taking a few weeks to catch up, but if you want to just hand over some bills and get it done, this might be your best bet.
2. Do It Yourself: Manual Citation Building
You can do what those companies do, but for yourself, manually. Moz keeps a list of places you can have citations from – scroll through it and use that to build out your own citations.
Building citations are fairly simple. Start your search for places to enter citations with the major places for SEO juice: Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and whatever the big review sites are in your space or industry. Then move on to the four main aggregators, which supply data to all major search engines. In the USA these are Infogroup, Acxiom, Localeze, and Factual.
You just have to make sure that your listing is identical each time. You only earn search juice from citations that use your NAP the same way: the exact way it appears on your Google+ Local page and your website.
What does that mean? It means you have to pick one format and stick with it. If you’re:
Kat’s Cradles, 17, Pine Street, West, Texas TX 76691
in one directory, and
Kats Cradles LLC, 17 Pine St, West TX 76691
in another, you’re not getting the benefits of citations – these are like links where you typed the URL wrong, they’re not going to get you anywhere.
The good news is, even if your citations aren’t consistent, you can fix them. Just round up the citations you already have using a tool like Moz Local. Then go through site by site and update them.
You can also use tools to track which of your competitors are listed on which sites, so you can cover all the bases. Covering what your competitors are doing is important. It lets you take advantage of their research and piggyback your way into some quick wins, and can be built into a longer term strategy if you’ve decided to oversee that yourself.
Pro tip: While you’re at it, take a look at competitors’ ad copies using SEMrush; these will give you some ideas on what to write on the descriptions in your business listings.
To learn more and get some ideas on who to approach to carry your citations, check out Moz’s guide to the local search ecosystem as well as your own results from your competitor searches.
3. Hire a Digital Agency
Another alternative is to turn to a full-service digital agency for a complete solution. Many digital agencies are either location specific or industry specific, sometimes both. That means they know how to present your brand to the local world or to your consumers, as well as how to make citations reinforce other areas of local digital marketing. They’ll tie citations into a broader SEO and digital strategy and leverage them to the best advantage.
While it’s tempting to think of your website and citations carried by review sites as unconnected, nothing could be further from the truth. Gerrid Smith, CEO of digital agency Black Fin, which specializes in local SEO in the legal niche, categorically said, “To be brutally honest, the things we do on a client’s website will typically only account for about 30% of the SEO effects we’ll generate. The other 70% happens offsite.”
This means taking into account developments not only in your industry or niche, but also those in search itself, such as new algorithmic features (e.g. RankBrain) or search behavior options (e.g. voice search), analyzing their impact on local SEO and charting an appropriate course of adjustment for your strategy.
Building a solid local digital strategy is a job for pros, so this third option is often the most successful.
Citation building is overwhelmingly the most effective single tactic for generating local SEO juice. But we’ve seen what’s happened to link building. It’s more effective to implement citation building as part of a cohesive local digital strategy, and the rewards of doing this well are going to grow as the world becomes more connected and more mobile.
Featured Image Credit: www.futureatlas.com (modified and used under CC license)