If you’ve gotten this far in your research, you’ve probably already been persuaded that search engine optimization (SEO) is an important consideration for your small or medium-sized business. And if you’re specifically interested in local SEO, that means you’re probably doing the lion’s share of your business with consumers in a particular geographic area.
Sound like you? Then you’re in the right place, and yes, building citations should be a central component of your local SEO campaign.
A citation is any mention of your business information on another website. Though the best citations generally include information like your address and/or phone number, a mere reference to your business name still technically qualifies as a citation. While it’s always nice to have someone else link to your website, such links aren’t essential components of citations. Citations can be found in any number of places (including social media), though they’re often associated with information populating listings and directories.
Why should you care about any of this?
“Citations are a key component of the ranking algorithms in Google and Bing,” explains Moz.com. “Other factors being equal, businesses with a greater number of citations will probably rank higher than businesses with fewer citations.
“Citations from well-established and well-indexed portals (i.e., Superpages.com) help increase the degree of certainty the search engines have about your business’s contact information and categorization. To paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals’ coach Dennis Green, citations help search engines confirm that businesses ‘are who we thought they were!’”
The important takeaway is that increasing the number of citations out there on the world wide web increases the likelihood that your website will be featured more prominently in search rankings. In turn, that’s likely to grow your site’s traffic and the leads associated therewith.
That’s why we care about all this SEO business in the first place.
Of course, citations are more than just another search engine gimmick. Forbes’ Josh Steimle argues that there’s in fact a two-fold advantage associated with the strategy (and yes, one of those advantages is the aforementioned SEO boost).
“Citations are good for business regardless of any effect they have on your online marketing,” he writes. “Anytime someone mentions your business on their website they’re bringing attention to you and providing you with exposure to potential customer or clients. But when it comes to SEO there is an added dimension in that Google and other search engines pay attention to citations, and the more citations you have, all other things being equal, the better your website will rank on those search engines for searches related to what you do and where you are geographically located, which will bring you more web traffic, and more web traffic means more customers.”
Credibility in the eyes of search engines is a self-evidently good thing. Assuming you aren’t trying to hide your business, it’s worth doing some research into the best practices associated with building citations.
Prepare to Invest
If you’ve already done some local SEO homework, you’ve likely realized that a successful campaign will—like more traditional marketing and advertising tactics—require some time and money. Building citations is no different.
As Steimle puts it, “Getting citations is not difficult, but may take some time. It will require that you send emails, make phone calls, and in many cases invest significant time developing relationships. But like any business strategy, if it were easy everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t be a strategy at all. If you invest the time, you’ll see the payoff, definitely in terms of your SEO results, but in many offline ways as well.”
You can certainly outsource citation-building responsibilities to a firm that may handle the rest of your local SEO strategy. If you have reached out to such a company, chances are it’s already on it—though it wouldn’t hurt for you to double-check.
Alternatively, you can of course task in-house staff with these duties. If you’ve hired a top-notch SEO expert or connected your internal resources to an expert consultant, citations have almost certainly come up. Again, however, it’s worth checking in and exerting some oversight.
Either way, as Steimle notes, citations won’t build themselves. You may well encourage some citations simply by doing business the right way, but nothing short of a comprehensive and dedicated approach will create the kinds of results in which you’re really interested.
So how should your company go about building all these citations? Local Stampede’s Benjamin Beck assembled one of the most comprehensive online how-to guides in 2013, and we’ve distilled some of the very best advice found therein.
A number of your current connections may be perfect vehicles for encouraging citations. Whether you sell products or services, there are likely other businesses in your supply chain that would be happy to show you some love. As Beck notes, manufacturers often post vendor locations on their websites. If you’re one such vendor, let those manufacturers know you’re selling their products.
And per Steimle, cultivating actual business partnerships will also likely result in citations on the other firm’s website.
You should similarly be sure that you’re listed with your local Chamber of Commerce and any other industry-specific associations that pertain to your business. It’s even worth making sure you’re properly listed on any websites for your office building, strip mall or similar collection of businesses.
Even employees, friends and family can be useful sources of citations. If it isn’t too imposing, see if they’d be willing to give you a shoutout on their social media accounts or websites. These citations may not be the most authoritative, but they can still help from a volume standpoint.
Broadly speaking, just about any kind of publicity is probably a good thing. And that means you certainly shouldn’t shy away from local media or bloggers. Whether your company is itself generating some press or simply commenting on news in which its tangentially involved, the mentions associated therewith are particularly useful. In addition to building citations, you’re also developing direct exposure to consumers in your area.
Don’t forget to reach out to any bloggers who might specialize in covering or reviewing your market niche. If you’re a dining destination, connect with a local food reviewer. If you do auto work, there’s a good chance a local writer covers that kind of thing. A simple Google search or perusal of Twitter can turn up all manner of local reporters and writers who’d be more than happy to give you some free citations.
Finally, think about what makes your business unique and consider building connections with any groups or organizations associated therewith. As examples, Beck mentions companies that are especially favorable toward the LGBT communities, the disabled, pet owners or those who speak foreign languages. More broadly, if you’ve demonstrated commitment to any kind of cause, there’s a good chance that cause will gladly return the favor.
Events and Sponsorships
Playing an instrumental role on in any kind of local event is likely to earn you citations from those within your community and industry. Think creatively about ways to use your business’s physical space or resources. You can even rent another organization’s space and potentially build an additional citation if said organization lists you on its event calendar online.
Beck offers a number of possibilities including industry meet-ups, seminars, job fairs, food drive drop off locations and all kinds of fundraisers.
If you don’t have the physical space to accommodate an event or cause (and aren’t interested in renting it out), consider spending some money to sponsor one. You could even ask some of your personnel to lend their time in the event you’re short on cash.
Events also create opportunities for your business to interact with your community in any number of outside-the-box ways. Whether providing resources or grab-bags to attendees, you may well be able to get people talking about you online by pitching in.
Though forms of assistance needn’t necessarily benefit a charitable cause, remember that doing so yields additional benefits in terms of how your business is perceived in its community. Doing the right thing will likely earn you more than good Karma alone.
To that end, sponsoring a charity directly can incur citations and good will alike.
When it comes to return on investment, it’s hard to beat a robust social media presence. One of the reasons such a presence is so valuable is its penchant for translating into citations.
Just remember that it’s not enough to simply have a few social media accounts—and that there’s no sense in allowing them to gather dust. Your social media image should be vibrant and dynamic, the product of consistent, diversified, useful and interesting content. Whether posting original information, comments, images and videos or simply sharing those produced by others, you should regularly engage your audience.
And you should be responsive, too. If you want others to give you shoutouts for a job well done, doing your job well is a pretty logical precondition. That means responding to complaints and praise alike, making current or potential customers feel valued and unique.
To be sure, an effective social media campaign isn’t exclusively about building citations. It’s also about building relationships with an aim toward converting other social media users into clients.
But to the extent citations are a good thing, all the same rules apply. You should endeavor to stand out, interact and add value to your audience’s lives. Though creating content (e.g. via blog) is an altogether different discussion, it’s another excellent source for material that can enhance your social media presence.
So you should absolutely have accounts with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+—and you should make the most of them. When others mention you, that creates direct exposure and contributes to your local SEO bottom line.
The Wide World of Online Citations
So far, we’ve just scratched the surface of the opportunities available for building citations. There are a lot of possibilities out there. In an attempt to round up a few of Beck’s other ideas, here are some additional tactics.
First, don’t hesitate to offer deals, specials and coupons if it’s within the budget. These kind of promotions can get you mentioned or listed on directories and coupon-related websites. This kind of strategy is as much about incentivizing new business as it is building citations, but the secondary benefit certainly doesn’t hurt.
Second, if you’re in the market for new employees or contracted help, be sure to post ads far and wide on job boards and in classified sections. Those qualify as citations, too.
Third, if anyone online is using images of your business location or logo, make sure they’re citing you appropriately.
Fourth, providing wireless internet will earn you listings with directories that highlight hotspot services.
Finally, one of the best ways to determine what’s working within a specific industry is to perform online searches for your competitors in a bid to see where and how they’ve been cited. There’s no shame in imitating tried and true strategies.
Don’t Forget the Directories
Assuring that you’re listed with local, national and niche directories (everything from Google My Business to Yelp to Foursquare) is one of the easiest and most valuable means of increasing citations. Many businesses may simply stop there, and that’s a mistake. But you certainly don’t want to forget them.
The goods news about these kind of directories is that you can control the information they present for you. It will take some time to track it all down, claim or create the listings and make sure the information is accurate and consistent—but it’s worth the trouble.
Be sure that your name, address and phone number (often referred to as NAP) are accurate across all listings. Inconsistencies can throw search engines off, and that’s a bad thing.
You can find more in-depth discussions of directories and other local SEO strategies right here at AdaptingOnline, so don’t hesitate to keep the research going.