Local citations—listings of a business’s name, address, phone number, (NAP) and other relevant information—were around before the age of the internet. Towns’ tourism bureaus printed pamphlets with lists of local attractions; hotels shared recommendations for area restaurants.
The reason these citations were valuable then is the same reason local citations online are valuable today: they give your business added visibility.
How Search Engines Use Citations
The role of search engines is to recommend the most relevant results to a user’s inquiry. In fact, search engines’ success is tied to making the best recommendation. So they’re going to do their due diligence to make sure the options they serve up on the top of SERPs and local 3-packs are real, relevant, and respected.
One of the ways search engines do this is by finding and analyzing a business’s local citations. That’s why it’s important to include local citations as an essential part of your business’s local SEO strategy. Because effective management of local citations can boost your business’s local SEO, and your mismanagement of local citations can have serious negative consequences for your local SEO.
In this blog, I’m going to break down the key reasons local citations are valuable and outline the risks of mismanagement.
How effective management of local citations can boost your SEO
Local citations can help boost your business’s local SEO in two ways: directly and indirectly.
- Directly: Local citations—specifically the consistency, quality, and quantity of local citations for your business—are a component in how search engines decide who to put at the top of the local 3-pack as well as the SERP ranking. In other words, if you have consistent NAP information on major listing sites, such as Google My Business, Yellow Pages, Yelp!, and other listing sites that are relevant to your industry or geography, this will have a direct, positive impact on your local SEO.
- Indirectly: In addition to directly affecting your local SEO, local citations can generate positive behavior toward your business, which search engines take note of. Here’s an example: You move to a new city and are looking for a family practice doctor. After scanning a few sites with citations of different options, such as HealthGrades and an online list that your insurance company compiled, you decide on a provider and go to their website to make an introductory appointment. If you have a good experience, you may even leave a review on a relevant site. All of those behaviors that you engaged in—visiting the doctor’s website, reviewing the services, and clicking on links within their website—is behavior that search engines take note of. Even if the search engines don’t directly know that what prompted you to make this behavior was a local citation, that local citation ultimately made a positive impact on your local SEO.
How ineffective management of local citations can hurt your SEO
Perhaps one of the most important things to realize about local citations is that they could actually hurt your SEO if you do nothing to manage them.
Because one of the ways Google figures out what business to recommend to its customers is by seeing what business can be verified. If your business’s information is listed inconsistently in different local citations, Google will not assume that your business is a trustworthy source.
Here’s an example of how this commonly happens: A local tire retail chain started out in one location. As their business expanded, they move to a bigger building. Then they expanded to multiple locations and started offering weekend service. The internet—from Chamber of Commerce website to the Mechanic’s Files on CarTalk.com didn’t consistently or completely update all of these changes in their citations online.
As a result, Google isn’t sure where exactly this business is located or what it’s hours are. In fact, these mixed signals could cause Google to question whether this business is legitimate at all. It doesn’t want to refer its customers (the searchers) to the wrong location, or an illegitimate business.
In the midst of all of this, the tire retailer doesn’t even know that its business is being adversely affected by inconsistent local citations, because it’s never worked to actively manage its citations.
That’s why it’s just not an option to ignore local citations of your business on the internet.
What do you do now?
If you want to know how to take control of your local citations—make them work for your business and not just mitigate the harm they could do—check out this blog I wrote about how to get the most out of your local citations.
But the first step to using local citations to boost your local SEO is to realize the value that they have for your local SEO. Equipped with that knowledge, you can begin to use local citations as a key element of your overall local SEO strategy, and get the online visibility you desire.