Local citations crop up in discussions of local SEO. What are local citations? They are online mentions of your company. From an SEO standpoint, the most important (and common) information in a citation is company name, physical address and phone number (referred to as NAP in the SEO business).
Local citations can appear on any website or blog. Again, from an SEO standpoint, important sources of citations are Google My Business (GMB) and other business/local business databases, and major review websites such as Yelp and those specific to your industry.
You’ve probably figured out already that local citations are not only valuable for local SEO, but they also help your business in other ways. Local citations improve brand awareness, help people find your business and lend credibility to your organization. Think about it: If your business had no presence on review sites or directories such as Superpages, people might think your operation was brand new, doing poorly, or not very reliable.
As with most things SEO, what’s good for the SEO campaign is good for your business in general. Even if you don’t have an SEO campaign underway, you should definitely be asking: What are local citations?
Consistency Is Key for Local Citations
When Google is looking at your local citations, they want to see consistent information. If your name is spelled one way here and another way there, if you have one address here and another address there, if you have five phone numbers and display four sets of business hours, then Google will be inclined to move your website content down in its rankings. Conversely, if your information is spot-on and consistent across all citations, then Google will think you are on top of your game — and tends to move your content up in its rankings.
Here again, SEO considerations are consistent with your overall business objectives. You don’t want a prospect using citation source A to think you open at 7 a.m., and a prospect using citation source B to think you open at 8 a.m. You don’t want prospect A driving 25 miles to the wrong location. Et cetera.
Thus, a local SEO campaign has two major objectives in the area of local citations. The first objective is to make sure you have citations from important sources. The second objective is to make sure the information presented is absolutely consistent.
Frequently, achieving both objectives requires additions and/or modifications to your website’s content. Of key importance:
- NAP information — name, address, phone number — must appear consistently across all website pages.
- Business hours, if applicable, should be accurate, and they must be updated promptly if they change.
- Payment terms, if applicable, should be displayed and updated promptly if changed.
- Additional contact information such as email addresses, fax numbers and customer service phone numbers should likewise be consistent and up-to-date.
When changes are made to this core information, it’s important not only to update your website, but also directly make or request updates to all sites on which you have a citation. This requires some work, but from an SEO and overall business perspective, it is work worth doing.
In addition to citations from sites you know about, you probably have citations from sites you don’t know about. Conduct online searches of your company to identify these unknown sources, and keep a list of them so you can try to keep your citation information consistent everywhere.
Google My Business Is a Must
For local SEO, Google My Business is the most important source of citations. Being a Google property, companies listed there can get very prominent positioning on SERPs (search engine results pages), which leads to more organic website traffic, more foot traffic, and in short, more business. Anybody doing relevant local searches on Google is likely to see GMB listings before they see anything else.
GMB listings should be complete and as detailed as possible, and include all relevant business categories, driving directions, links to social media pages, and a keyword-rich (but not over-rich) description of your business. Video and photos also are very helpful, especially for driving conversions from people who land on your GMB page.
User reviews are a big part of important citation sources such as Yelp and GMB. As you know, a lot of prospects put a lot of weight on what your existing and former customers think about your products and services. If Google sees a lot of negative reviews, it could hurt your rankings, and it will absolutely hurt your conversions.
Monitor review sites diligently. Negative reviews are a fact of life in every business, but they need not be fatal. If the review site allows you to respond, do so. Sometimes, your response can turn a negative into a positive, and even help you salvage or regain a customer. And, other users of the review site will read your responses as carefully as the review itself — so avoid any reflexive temptation to be snarky, argumentative, unreasonable, uncaring or arrogant.
As far as soliciting reviews, be sure to follow review site guidelines. Legitimate review sites have strict rules against compensating people for posting reviews, since the practice takes objectivity out of the equation. The publicity and (sadly) proliferation of paid reviews has made people skeptical of reviews in general, so review sites are becoming more and more diligent in policing and punishing violations.
With this in mind, before launching or heating up your local SEO campaign, make sure your business is doing everything right. The real way to avoid negative reviews and obtain lots of good ones is to provide great products and services.