Why Do We Need Citations?
First, why do we need citations? References to your business on the web are a major ranking factor with Google and other search portals. Your citations provide credibility and prove you are a legitimate business. Remember, the main goal of the search portals is to provide relevant, valuable, and current information to searchers. Citations help make that happen.
Just as link building for SEO has a strategy based on the strength of the links, certain citations also carry more or less weight, depending on where they are located. Of course, we assume you've already claimed and enhanced your business listing on the main search portals. Your Google Places, Bing Local and Yahoo Local accounts should be your first stops on your journey to local search domination. These three listings are the foundation of your Local Search Optimization (LSO). Once you've claimed and enhanced your listings on these main directories, your business listings provide the citations necessary to add continual strength to your Google, Yahoo, and Bing accounts.
As you can see, all factors work together. Today we are going to cover the basics of adding citations. With the following insights, you'll be able to plan out your strategy.
How Important Are Citations in the Big Picture of Local Search Optimization?
According to the 2011 Local Search Rankings Factors Survey, the top 5 critical ranking factors are:
1. Address in City
2. Claiming Your Google Places Listing
3. Choosing the Appropriate Categories for Your Google Places Listing
4. Quantity of Citations
5. NAP Consistency
In the world of local search, citations are synonymous with credibility and trust.
NAP Consistency is Vital
Before we get into the details of where your next citations should be, it's important to keep in mind the importance of how to properly list your business. If you want to rank higher in local search results than your competitors, be sure not to fall short in the area of consistency. It is a vital part of your Local Search Optimization (LSO) success. Although it is listed as number 5 in importance, NAP consistency goes hand-in-hand with number 1, which is having your address (and obviously the correct address) in your listing.
NAP should be consistent on every business site. Always list your business name, address, and phone number exactly the same way across the web. Periodically, go through your citations to ensure the information is correct. If you do happen to find discrepancies, submit changes as soon as possible.
Focus on Relevancy with Citations
Our ultimate goal when building citations is rankings. When searchers type in "best Italian Restaurant" in your city, you want your restaurant to come up in the number one spot, or at the very least as one of the top three. In order to achieve these rankings, you'll need to think like Google thinks. With that in mind, take the word "rankings" out of your vocabulary for the time being. Rankings are just a fruit or byproduct of understanding the rest of the puzzle pieces. Instead of focusing on rankings, our true focus should be on "relevancy." Why? First of all, because Google changes their algorithm quite frequently, and contrary to what some SEO gurus may think, Google doesn't do this to mess with rankings. Instead, Google changes their algorithm in an effort to improve relevancy. Remember, as we said earlier, the main goal of the search portals is to provide a satisfying search experience for its users.
How do we focus on relevancy when building citations? Glad you asked. There are two types of citations, structured and unstructured. Let's take a look at the strength of each.
Traditional Structured Citations
Traditional Citations can be defined as the IYPs, Directories and Data Aggregators. The more listings a search engine can locate with your business name, address and phone number, the more credibility this will give you. As we said earlier, the big influencer in this arena is consistency. Without exact matches of address and phone numbers, the search portals have a difficult time attributing listings to your business.
The top traditional structured citation sites for 2011 are listed below. Some may not be relevant to your business niche, so keep that in mind:
• Trivago - Travel Site / Review Site
• Priceline.com - Travel Site
• Citysearch - Directory Site
• Yelp - Directory / Review Site
• Booking.com - Travel Site (Part of Priceline.com)
• Superpages - Directory Site
• Yellow Bot - Directory Site
• Yellow Pages - Directory Site
• Hot Frog - Directory Site
• White Pages - People / Business Search
• Magic Yellow - Directory Site
• Dex Knows - Directory Site
• Yellow USA - Directory Site
• Judy's Book - Directory / Review Site
• Yellow Pages AOL - Directory Site
• Angie's List - Directory / Review Site
• Insider Pages - Directory / Recommendation Site
• Boorah - Restaurant Listings
• City-Data - Directory Site
• Manta - Directory Site
• YP.com - Directory Site
• Kudzu - Directory Site
• Yell.com - Directory Site
• Real Pages Live - Directory Site
• Switchboard - Directory Site
Unstructured Citations can be defined as citations in online newspapers, Chamber of Commerce articles (such as ribbon cuttings or sponsorships), articles which include your business name, address, and phone number, blog posts, mentions on social networking sites such as Facebook and Pinterest, rich media sites such as Slideshare and DocStore, guest postings, and press releases.
Basically, any place that is not considered a traditional list. Unstructured citations mention your business name, address, and phone number naturally, and generally in the structure of a sentence, although sponsorship lists or event listings may include lists of businesses. Unstructured citations will not only help your business rank better in Google Maps, blended results and other local search avenues, but will help organically as well, and doing so means relevancy. These are considered quality citations and serve to build strong credibility with search portals. Why? Well, look at it from a search standpoint. If you were attempting to validate the legitimacy of a business and it appeared in a local Chamber of Commerce article or a local online newspaper, what does that tell you? It proves the business actually exists, which is exactly what you are looking for. You see, when you work toward the goal of relevant citations, you'll be able to sleep well at night, even when Google changes their algorithm. Instead of just scrambling to fill out random forms for the sake of quick citations, you built credibility and relevancy instead, and that will stand the test of time.
Prepare for Citation Building
Being properly prepared for the times you've set aside for citation building will make the project go much more smoothly, as well as saving a great deal of time. Although citation sites vary in the exact information they require, here is a list of the content you should have on hand when working on citations:
• Keywords - Instead of on-the-spot guessing games, you should research the strongest keywords phrases for your business beforehand and keep a list on hand. Google's Adwords Keyword Tool is an excellent resource for keyword research.
• Business description - Have two business descriptions on hand. One between 160-200 characters and another 800-1,000 characters. Be sure your business description includes your chosen keyword phrases.
• Business logo, photos, videos - Instead of coming back to your sites months later to upload photos and videos, it's best to prepare ahead of time and have them in a folder ready for use. Videos are especially useful and with today's free video recording and editing sites, you'll be able to put together a company video in less than an hour. Your video doesn't have to be professional quality. Bring your laptop on site with you and make sure there are customers and a pleasant view of your location in the background. Narrate it yourself, or encourage your staff to say a few friendly and inviting words and wrap it up. A video for a directory listing should be one minute or less in length.
• Social Media Links - Many directory listings ask for your Facebook Page url, Twitter listing, and LinkedIn information. Have your links ready to copy and paste.
• Your Credentials - Always list your licenses, affiliations, Chamber of Commerce memberships, Better Business Bureau standing, and any other certifications or titles you hold.
Final Notes For Citation Building
Now you not only have the places to build citations, but you also have an understanding of relevancy and the ultimate purpose of citations.
Now that you are aware of how citations work, you should be able to find niche specific listing sites and directories specifically created for your industry. Doing so will continue to build on the relevancy we've discussed. Realtors have Just Real Estate.org and Trulia.com for directory listings and Active Rain as a place for unstructured citations through blog posting.
Also, check out your competitor's citations. If you're LSO isn't bringing the results you are looking for, take the time to study your competitor. Where are his/her citations coming from? Although traditional SEO frowns upon copying the same links as your competitors, LSO is different. In fact, depending on area and industry, there are certain standard sites where every relevant business shares an expectation to be found. Be sure you aren't missing the boat on these.
Target local bloggers with highly ranking blogs or websites to bring strength and credibility to your local search optimization strategy. Offer to write a free post in exchange for an author bio at the end of the post. In that author bio, include your business name, address, and phone number — Instant citation! If writing is not your strength, hire a ghostwriter or come right out and ask local blogger to include your business in one of their blog posts. Even if you have to pay for the citation, it will be worth the rankings you'll receive in both organic and local algorithms.
Remember, when it comes to local search, put relevancy first and the rankings will follow.