What are local citations?

Local citations include your business’s name, address, phone number, and sometimes, a link to your website. These citations can increase online visibility for a physical business. 

Understanding Local Search Citations

Local citations are mentions of a business on the web — specifically mentions that reference a physical location for a business. These citations help users discover local businesses through search, based on proximity. Online citations include the business name, address, phone number, and sometimes (though not always) a link to a website. Local citations occur on websites, apps, social platforms, and local directories. Search engine optimization (SEO) citations can be actively managed alongside other SEO strategies like link building and content creation to ensure data accuracy and its impact on local search engine rankings.

Elements of Local Citations

The basic elements of a citation are a company’s name, address, phone number (NAP). A local citation may sometimes include a link or reference to the companies website — which is helpful, but not necessary. Links and citations are distinct elements that are used by search engines for different functions. While links are viewed as something like votes of trust for a website, citations are used to validate that something physical exists in a certain place, so search engines know when it should appear in a “near me” search or other geographically specific SERPs

Local citations may also include other important information about the company such as:

  • Hours of operation;
  • Geo-coordinates, maps, or directions;
  • Business categories, descriptions, or photos;
  • Reviews and owner responses;
  • Taglines for branding;
  • Alternative phone numbers or contact information such as fax, email, or links to social media.

Types of Local Citations

There are both structured, and unstructured local citations. Structured Citations are NAPs listed on a business listing directory and typically allow for submissions for citation. These may include sites such as:

  • Google My Business;
  • Acxiom;
  • Localeze;
  • Yellow pages;
  • Superpages;
  • Facebook;
  • Yelp;
  • Apple maps;
  • Mapquest;
  • Bing;
  • Foursquare;
  • Yahoo.

Structured local citations may also occur on geographical or industry-specific platforms such as a chamber of commerce website or professional or industry associations or guilds.

Unstructured citations generally occur when business information is published on a site that is not a directory, such as a blog, magazine, newspaper, or Wikipedia. These citations are often earned through merit or the public interest, or intentionally developed through PR and marketing.

It is also important to note that citations aggregated, earned, or applied for are not all created equal. In some ways similar to earning quality links in a strategic campaign, which functions as a vote of confidence or trust for a page, earning or applying for quality citations can help your overall SEO goals by creating evidence that a business does in fact exist at a specific and discoverable physical location.

Just as quality backlinks are assessed for PageRank and are weighted against page and domain authority, a quality citation hosted on a reputable source website, search engine,or government or official websites are considered more valuable and trustworthy in indicating a business’s physical presence. Lesser-known websites, or those lacking or still building domain authority are not going to hold as much value to a local citation when being assessed by search engines.

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Why Are Local Citations Important?

Local citations may appear from the automated aggregation of local business data platforms without a business taking any action. Basically, if your information is present in one place, it can flow and populate on to other sites. While automation can be helpful for visibility, it is also important to manage and control the accuracy of your data. Inaccurate data can result in a customer’s inability to find or contact your business, causing revenue loss and negative impacts with local search rankings.

Backlinks hold a different mechanical function from local citations by helping pages rank in search by suggesting that the information located on the page is trustworthy and valuable. Local citations can also affect rankings in both positive and negative ways but are purposeful to indicating and assuring the localized and physical location of a business. 

The influencing factors that may affect rankings include the number of citations a business accumulates, the consistency of that accumulated data, and the quality of the platforms that data exists on. When a search engine aggregates data about a business that is accurate and uniform the data is considered valid and trustworthy, which can bolster the business’s ability to rank in local search. However, if accumulated data is inconsistent, the search engine may consider it to be unreliable and decrease the website’s ranking opportunities for local searches. 

Consumers can also be impacted by the accuracy of citations. Inaccurate or misleading citations can result in a loss of revenue and reputation. Consider a consumer that is trying to find a flower shop. If the consumer asks ten people where the shop is and receives several different answers, chances are they might look for another shop rather than try and track down each of the addresses to find the correct one. If the consumer receives the same response to their query by being given the same address ten times, it is likely that they will find the flower shop and make their purchase.

Approaches to Data Management

Like most SEO strategies, you can choose to take an active or passive approach to manage your local citations. The choice of management can lead to benefits or consequences. Just the same as focusing and curating content built for search or content that earns links, actively managing and honing your citations can improve reputation, visibility, ranking, and ultimately, conversion and revenue by the ability of your consumers to contact you or find your business’s physical address. Actively managing your local citations is a part of managing your online presence and how your company is represented. Active data management may include:

  • Applying to get accurate citations on major platforms;
  • Increasing discoverability by applying for citations on a variety of platforms;
  • Strategies for finding and managing reviews of your business;
  • Managing and deleting duplicate or inaccurate listings;
  • Creating strategies for editing citations, and preparing for future changes such as moving to a new physical address, rebranding, changing phone numbers, hours of operation, or other data.

Passive data management takes a hands-off approach to your online presence. You can still earn local citations with a passive approach through data aggregation, but there are a few risks involved such as:

  • Having no strategy to discover inaccuracies and reviews, or how to manage or fix them;
  • Having no strategy for managing or editing citations with changes such as moving locations, rebranding, or change of phone number, hours of operation, or other data.
  • Few and/or low-quality local citations;
  • Inaccuracies and/or duplications;
  • Users and other businesses could edit or falsify your listings with inaccurate information;
  • Little control over the representation of your business on the internet.

Tips for Building and Managing Citations

Competing in search is not for the faint-hearted. It takes time, dedication, and follow-through to manage a successful and long-lasting SEO campaign. Building local citations is an important and valuable step to compete in local search ecosystems. In fact, building quality citations can improve link building campaigns. A few tips on properly building and managing local citations include:

  • Create a strong web presence on all applicable accounts; your website and social media. This may include adding details such as photos, logos, business descriptions, hours of operation, and any other valuable details to your business.
  • Use a domain-based email when applying for citations to appear more trustworthy.
  • Claim and verify your listings. Many sites will require verification to list your business, taking the time to verify your listing can increase the trustworthiness of your citation.
  • Ensure that your NAP appears identically and accurately wherever it is visible;
  • Narrow down the applicable categories for your business and try to be as accurate as possible.
  • Create a citation strategy, track sheet, and goals to keep your information organized and easy to navigate and manage.

Finding Citation Sources

Finding the best sources to host your citation includes looking for applicable categories and industries, as well as physical aspects such as your city or local guides. Browse your competitor citations and ensure that you appear in the same prominent spaces. You may wish to look for city-specific or industry-specific listings in local or business/industry directories.