Your business isn’t appearing when you search for your keywords on Google, and that’s a real bummer. Or, maybe your competitors are simply out-ranking you on the search engine results page (SERP), and you aren’t sure how to get the upper hand.

Have you considered optimizing your online directories or business listings to improve your local SEO? Citations are an important local ranking factor that many neglect in their quest for the page one ranking— and we’d hate for you to forget about this under-utilized SERP weapon.

Here’s a little refresher on the importance of citation building and why it’s still relevant in the world of local SEO:

What is a Citation, Exactly?

A local citation is a spot where your company is mentioned online— like a business listing— and usually consists of a combination of your name, address and phone number (abbreviated as “NAP” in the citation world).

A citation can take many forms: like your company being featured on a listing directory, a YellowPages-style listing (think back in the olden days of paper phone books, except online now) or a business profile on social media.

For instance, your Yelp page is considered a citation, as well as your Facebook Business page. Basically anywhere you have your NAP proudly displayed for searchers to see is a citation.

Generally, there are two types of citations: structured or unstructured. Let’s explore the difference:

Structured vs. Unstructured Citations

Structured local listings are usually those found on a formal directory, where you can submit your NAP and sometimes other information about your business (like hours, details about the company, etc.).

Here is an example of a Facebook listing, which clearly shows our NAP, as well as additional information, such as contact emails, parking information and more.

Unstructured citations are mentions of your business’ name/address/phone number on any site other than a company listing directory. These often include mentions on blog posts, news sites, Wikipedia, etc., but aren’t limited to that.

For instance, HubSpot listing our inbound marketing agency on their domain and linking back to us is a prime example of an unstructured citation.

This is common online real estate for link building campaigns too, to improve your backlinking profile by getting another company to mention your business.

You might be wondering, how is an unstructured citation different than a backlink? Simply put, a backlink doesn’t need to include location-based information, such as your company’s address; they just have to contain a link back to your domain. Citations always include your address, which is why they help your local SEO!

Here’s an example of a backlink to our company on HubSpot as well. This case study reference gives us some killer link juice, but it’s not really benefiting our local business SEO.

New citations and backlinks can be easily monitored by signing up for Google Alerts, which will ping you with a notification whenever your business name is mentioned on the web!

Why Do I Need to Build Local Citations?

Because you just do, okay! Just kidding. Of course, we have reasons.

Here’s why citation building is so important for improving your local search engine rankings:

Search engines like Google and Bing use the information they find within citations to help list your business in local search results.

Google sees all. Whenever another source mentions your business online, the search engine screens this activity and keeps a record of it.

Google cares about very specific things when it comes to citations, according to the SEO wizards at MOZ:

  1. The number of citations your business has
  2. The accuracy/consistency of information listed
  3. The quality of the domain the citation is listed on

The search engine uses these three metrics to determine if you’re popular, accurate and reputable enough to answer its searcher’s queries and worthy of the top of page one results.

But that’s still a very limiting way of looking at how Google picks its favorite local results. Google tells us that three things matter for local ranking results specifically, beyond just citations:

  1. Relevance
  2. Distance
  3. Prominence

These all need to align, holistically, and can outweigh one another in special circumstances. For instance, distance might not be as important as relevance in one search; “Google(‘s) algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in local results,” according to the search engine.

Let’s use our company as an example. A Facebook citation that lists our Impulse Creative’s business hours might help the search engine answer a searcher’s query about “Impulse Creative’s business hours,”— and Google may serve the social network link as the number one result over our own website.

Not only can these citations rank organically for local-intent queries, but these business listings can also negatively affect your SERP rankings.

Lack of consistency across directories can lower your local search ranking.

When discussing why or why not social icons appear on a business’ Google’s Knowledge Panel, the search engine says that a lack of consistency between the name of your Google My Business (GMB) listing and your social pages can affect your chances of the network links appearing on your graph for local queries.

Clearly, consistency is important to the search engine— and if data you manually entered on GMB doesn’t match the information listed on your citation listings, it can cause confusion for both the search bots and real searchers. Google’s algorithm hates confusion. It likes clarity.

Inconsistent information threatens the algorithm’s ability to serve accurate results. Serving you the wrong hours or incorrect address leads to inaccurate results, which leads to a bad customer experience— the opposite of Google’s mission.

If you do not have a consistent NAP listed across your citation directories and sources, it can throw off your ranking groove. Even something as simple as missing a letter in your name (like our client Access Systems being listed as Access System) can make it difficult for Google to trust what the true name of your business is.

Also, be cautious of duplicate listings. Maybe in the past someone at your company made a Yelp for your business, but you don’t have the login, so you decide to make a new one. Duplicate listings on the same directory OR listings across the web with slightly different data, inaccurate info or incomplete profiles can negatively influence your local rankings.

Not only will Google be less inclined to serve you up if your data doesn’t match up against other info its screen, but users will likely be less inclined to trust you. (Remember how mad you were that one time that cafe’s Google Panel said they were open till 7:00 p.m. and you got there at 6:30 only to find they actually closed at 5:00 p.m.?).

Loss of consumer trust means that less people will click on those links in future searches, and these changes in behavior signals will cause Google to stop serving you. It’s a vicious circle!

Directories with review features are extra juicy for local ranking.

Prominence is defined by Google as “how well-known a business is,” and it’s an important local ranking factor.

While the search engine does indeed take into account prominence from an offline perspective (i.e. recognizing that a landmark is important even if it doesn’t have a website), this term also includes “information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories.)”

The world’s largest search engine explains that “more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking” and that “Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking.”

According to Moz’s 2018 study, review signals (review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) account for 6.47% of your likelihood of ranking organically on your local SERPs. Combine that with the citation signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.) of 8.41% and suddenly it’s very apparent that properly maintaining your local directories can increase your chances of ranking in your ZIP, dramatically.

Be sure to stay on top of maintaining accuracy and activity on citation sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google My Business (Google Reviews) and anywhere your customers can rate you.

Your Ultimate Local Ranking Directory: Google My Business

Google has an investment in promoting its own assets, and now that you’ve learned how important GMB is for your local SEO, it’s time to make sure your listing is up-to-date.

For those of you who do not have a Google My Business, get your company to appear on the right sidebar of the search engine by updating your Knowledge Graph.

If you already have a GMB created, that’s great. Check out our other article for tips on optimizing your Knowledge Graph to improve your local rankings.

Cook Up One Mean Ranking Casserole

You’re obviously here because you care about local SEO. While you might be leaving with some rad new knowledge bombs about the importance of citation building, citations are only one part of the ranking equation.

In our playful ebook, we break down other important local rankings factors as ingredients in an irresistible ranking casserole. Download our free “recipe book” to cook up a website that Google can’t help but serve on the local SERPs.