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NAP, or Name, Address, and Phone Number, is an acronym that refers to how physical location information is cataloged for your business online.
NAP is an acronym standing for Name, Address, and Phone number. In the context of SEO for brick-and-mortar businesses, this refers to how physical location information is cataloged for your business online. Search engines like Google will try to find clear signals about a business’s location and contact information in order to present local results and maps with confidence. NAP information is drawn both from the business’s website, and from off-site listings, often known as local citations, that describe the same business.
NAP is a simple, but vital component of your business’s online presence, as you want people to be able to easily find and contact you. NAP data can be a core ranking factor for local SEO, and this information will ideally show up in an information box on the right margin of the SERP when you search for a business.
The primary reason NAP listings are important is because they are valuable to customer experience. However, that is not the only value NAP listings have. As previously stated, they actually have some pretty crucial implications for your local SEO efforts.
NAP is a simple way to digitize information about the physical world, and offers a quick, direct way for search engines to validate brick-and-mortar business locations so they can be presented accurately in local SERPs via features like maps or a local carousel. Getting your business's NAP indexed correctly on your site and across your various citations on the web (review sites, social media platforms, directories, etc) ensures that customers can find your business online, Google Maps or similar apps can catalog directions to your business, and search engines can better understand when your site deserves to be featured in the SERPs for searches using "near me" and similar, high-volume, location-based search terms.
Google identifies the NAP information for your business across all relevant web pages. It will first look for NAP information on a business’s site, and then will compare that information with the business’s local citations and backlinks. When the NAP information is consistent, Google interprets this to mean that the business does have a physical location and that the listed location information is correct and up-to-date. Essentially, Google is trying to determine what the business’s current location is in order to provide optimal SERPs. If the business’s website does not reflect the most up-to-date information, they may have difficulty ranking for relevant local searches.
Google is not only choosing top search results based on proximity (how close a relevant business is to a searcher), but also based on its confidence that the location exists, and that the information about the business’s location is accurate. Even if there are “closer” results, Google may favor a result that has more NAP citations or other indications of legitimacy and relevance. There would be no value to searchers if Google presented a business that appeared closer, but had recently moved or had listed an incorrect address.
Because consistent citations are so vital in convincing Google that your NAP information is relevant, it may be worthwhile for a business to build citations. Citation-building refers to the overall process of providing basic information (such as NAP) about your business online, and is one of many important factors to consider for local search. Again, a key element here is consistency. Consistent business listings are not only useful to your audience, but are also useful to Google in terms of verifying that you are a real business. Therefore, it is extremely worth your while to ensure that your local citations are well-managed and frequently updated. Citation-building is a simple way that you can supplement other means of building credibility and authority for your domain, such as link building campaigns.
A local citation is a listing on an external website that provides relevant information about your business. This is useful because Google can use that information as a cross-reference with other similar information available about your business online, in order to assess the information’s legitimacy and relevance. Backlinks, on the other hand, are links on external websites that point to your website. The value of this is the authority it can lend to your website. Google may interpret another website linking to you as an indication that your web site is authoritative and trustworthy. This boost to your authority may give you an edge against local competitors.
While backlinks are a crucial ranking factor for search in general, when you have a business or other entity with a physical location, it is at least equally important to prioritize local citations that can help validate your location information and help search engines understand where you are, and which searchers you are near.
In order to make sure that your NAP information is benefitting your local SEO efforts as much as possible, you should take the following steps:
Creating an online NAP record for your business is relatively simple. Really all it takes is some common sense maintenance, in addition to a few initial steps, such as:
Failure to include or update NAP information is not the only way that NAP information can be lacking or inconsistent. Four major ways that this can happen are: opening new locations, failing to keep tabs on your listings, listing multiple numbers, or intentionally providing incorrect phone numbers.
It is helpful to know if your business is in a location previously occupied by a different business, and to find and update citations for that previous business in order to ensure Google isn’t seeing conflicting information about which business is found at that location.
In the same vein, it is important to update all relevant web pages and directories if your business changes location or opens additional locations. In the case of a change in location, it is vital that any listings for the previous location are found and updated. In the case of new branches, it is important that all locations are listed in footers, location web pages, directories, etc. It may be helpful to give them distinct designations that are also included in every listing, e.g. the north branch, the west branch. This may assist in differentiation and sorting for the sake of local search queries.
While building both keyword-focused and linkable content on your website is important for long-term SEO success, ongoing content updates can sometimes cause inconsistent NAP listings. Among all of the pages, you may lose track of some instances where you have noted your contact information, and some listings may get lost in the shuffle as a result. Therefore, it is advisable to make note of which pages list your NAP information as you build your content.
Another reason that NAP listings can be easily overlooked in an update is the fact that they are often found in page footers. However, in lieu of that practice, many quality local business sites will build a web page dedicated to location information. These pages often include descriptive content that goes beyond NAP, and into information such as physical location relative to local landmarks, or even links to a map. In addition to organizational benefits, such pages offer extra contextual depth which is beneficial for both UX and SEO.
Businesses sometimes list different phone numbers under different offsite directories in order to track where their traffic is coming from. This leads to inconsistent NAP listings for your company across the web, which may result in a negative assessment of the company’s credibility on Google’s end, and/or confusing inconsistencies for customers looking for contact information.
Some businesses understand that there is some SEO value in listing their NAP information in directories, but are reluctant to include the business’s real phone number due to the potential for spam calls. As a result, they sometimes may provide fake phone numbers in order to deter unwanted callers. However, this strategy has little value to your SEO efforts, as it may cause confusion on the part of both your customers and Google.
In some ways, the strategy for local SEO and generalized organic search is very similar. In fact, an important aspect of local SEO is competition for relevant generalized organic search queries. However, there are unique factors you have to take into account for a local SEO strategy, most of which revolve around appealing to location-based modifiers and optimizing for mobile search, in addition to consistent NAP listings.
A significant amount of local search is done from mobile devices, which may come as no surprise in the era of Google Maps. As such, it is vital that a business optimizing for local search optimizes their website for use on mobile devices and ensures that their information is readily available for use on apps such as Google Maps.
It is also important that local businesses optimize for location-based modifiers. Location-based modifiers are keywords that signal to Google that the searcher is looking for something local, like “Pittsburgh” or “near me.” This indicates to Google that it should narrow down its search to the relevant local results, rather than kicking back generalized organic web results.
However, even if these important strategic steps are taken, they may be nullified by nonexistent or inconsistent NAP listings. Even if Google thinks you are a great local business to satisfy the searcher’s query, it may not display your business as highly in the search results if it doesn’t feel confident about where the searcher can find you.