What is a Citation?
A citation is any specific mention or listing of your business name, address, phone number on web directories like Yelp, Yellow Pages and Foursquare. This combination of information about your business is often referred to as N.A.P. (name, address and phone number).
Google refers to this as “prominence”. Prominence refers to how well-known a business is, and is based on information that Google has about a business from different sources including links, articles and directories.
Citations on well-established and well-indexed sites can help increase the search engines’ confidence in the accuracy of the information about your local business. The more structured citations that exist for your business, the higher the degree of trust that search engines will have in your business.
Picking one format for your citation and sticking with it is absolutely essential. Furthermore, the more places that your business’s NAP is listed, the higher the likelihood of people seeing it, and the more people who see it, the greater the number of people who are likely to contact you especially if you are able to stand out from other listings on the page.
Types of Citations
Data aggregators supply the underlying business database for local search directories. These include sites like Infogroup. Localeze, Neustar, Factual, Acxiom and Expressupdate.
These sites will compile data about your business from multiple sources such as business registration record, phone directories, government websites, chamber of commerce membership certificates, etc. and sell them to other top sites online.
These are general business directories and large review directories like Yelp and Yellow Pages, which users turn to in order to get information about local businesses and to check reviews.
An industry-specific directory can be defined as one that is widely recognized to be authoritative within a specific industry. For example, if you’re a roofer, you’ll want to be listed in a local roofer directory.
General Web Directories
This is a collection of data organized into categories. It specializes in linking to other web sites and categorizing those links.
City Directories (such as a Chamber of Commerce)
These are very important directories that help build more relevance to your business.
These are regional directories that only lists businesses within a specific country or state.
Press releases help to provide announcements about a new business opening up or a new product, and is a great resource for building your citations.
These are considered unstructured citations because they are not specific directories like those described above. They include local schools, local government sites, local blogs or local newspapers. They also include organisations that list businesses in specific industries.
Social media profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter that list a company’s details are also considered to be citations of the business.
Importance of Citations
Citations are a key component of the local search ranking algorithms in Google and Bing, and are known to positively influence local search results and Maps results. Along with unstructured citations, Google My Business signals and local reviews, they are what Google uses when deciding the order in which to rank businesses in their map search listings (also known as the 3-pack) and local web search.
This also means your business will be listed across sites where your prospective customers are already hanging out online. To Google, a business that is mentioned a lot online deserves a higher ranking than one that’s hardly mentioned at all, especially if those mentions are on websites that are relevant in terms of location and/or topic.
Unlike backlinks however, citations don’t have to be hyperlinked to your business’s website in order for you to be credited for them. If you run a business that gets some or all of its customers or clients locally, then you should seriously consider creating multiple citations for your business.
The Trust Element
Trust matters a lot to Google, and citations are just one component of a set of trust factors that Google is looking for in order to determine whether your business is a legitimate business or not. This is why it is absolutely essential that your citation information (N.A.P.) is 100% accurate and consistent wherever it is listed across the web.
Ultimately, this affects the ability of your business to get listed on Google Maps. Having accurate information that co-relates across your website, Google Your Business page, and local ecosystem is the most important part of building your businesses citations.
Below is an example of the appropriate NAP format for a local business:
Ojo & Ojo Law Group, 510 Holborn Viaduct, London EC1N 2PZ (203) 263-9318.
SEO Social Services Ltd, 456 Holburn Circus W14 7PH (207) 676-9899
Every citation of your business needs to match the NAP on your website and most especially, your Google My Business page. The actual format that you choose to use for your citations isn’t particularly important, however, it is critically important to pick one format and stick with it. It is essential to be 100% consistent with your name, address, and phone number when building citations.
For example, if you are listed as Hamilton Plumbing Limited on one source, you cannot be listed as Hamilton Plumbing on another source. That inconsistency will seriously undermine the credibility search engines have in the information about your business. Your citations have to be identical wherever you are listed online. This could cost you a top search ranking.
For example, consider the following business listings:
- 22 Northampton Way, Gunthorpe, Peterborough PE2 5NF
- 22 Northampton Way, Peterborough PE2 5NF
In this instance, even though they refer to the same address for all intents and purposes, these two citations are not matching as far as Google is concerned. This could undermine Google’s confidence in the information that is listed about your business online.
Accuracy and Consistency
The accuracy and consistency of your structured citations have always been critically important for organic search, but Google’s Pigeon update has taken the specificity and accuracy of citations to a whole new level.
The specificity and accuracy of your citations now affects your visibility in Google maps search and Google local search. This has to do with trust and credibility. Google needs to have trust and confidence in the information about your business before you can rank in its search results.
Every time Google comes across an inconsistent citation of your business, this is going to undermine the confidence that Google has in the information you’ve provided, making it less likely to show your business prominently in its search results.
Inconsistent or inaccurate citations might involve:
- A difference in the business name (e.g. Hamilton & Sons Vs Hamilton & Sons Ltd)
- A different street address, a typo in street address numbers, or a missing suite number.
- A wrong or different phone number, toll free or call tracking number on your website.
A different or wrong website URL.
- Inconsistent business opening hours.
- Any other apparent inconsistency in structured citations.
- Small discrepancies in citations like Ltd. vs Limited, Ste. vs Suite or Hwy. vs Highway are not significant.
Citation inconsistencies may arise from carelessness during the citation-building process, such as changing your business status from a sole trader to a limited company or if you have recently moved address. These discrepancies will have a major impact on your business’s credibility and trust with the search engines, which will cause significant ranking problems for your business.
If you’ve recently moved address and haven’t made the change in the directory, it means the business currently has two listings that reflect this inconsistency. In this scenario, your authority is being split up between the two instead of being consolidated into one correct listing. If you have to move locations, you need to edit your old citations so that they reflect your new address.