Local citations are important for ranking in Google local pack search results, which is different from Google localized organic search. People most often think of citations as coming from directory listing websites like Yelp or Yellowpages.com, but technically you can get a citation from any website online.
Before we define exactly what a citation is, I want to note that citations are just one of many local ranking factors. And there’s also different types of citations: structured and unstructured, as well as full and partial.
Here’s a list of citation types:
- Structured Full Citations in worldwide general directories
- Structured Full Citations in local general directories
- Structured Full Citations in worldwide niche directories
- Structured Full Citations in local niche directories
- Unstructured Full Citations in non-local general directories
- Unstructured Full Citations in local general directories
- Unstructured Full Citations in non-local niche directories
- Unstructured Full Citations in local niche directories
- Structured Partial Citation on a non-local general topic website
- Structured Partial Citation on a local general topic website
- Structured Partial Citation on a non-local niche website
- Structured Partial Citation on a local niche website
- Unstructured Partial Citation on a non-local general topic website
- Unstructured Partial Citation on a local general topic website
- Unstructured Partial Citation on a non-local niche website
- Unstructured Partial Citation on a local niche website
Some other things (not exhaustive) that will help you rank well in local:
- Google Map citations
- Geotagged images
- Good Google PageSpeed Insights score (anything around 80 is considered pretty good)
Here’s an official list in order of importance from Moz of things that influence what site ranks in Google Local pack results (just the top 8 factors, there’s many more):
- Google My Business Signals (Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.) 19%
- Link Signals (Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.) 17%
- On-Page Signals (Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.) 14%
- Citation Signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.) 13%
- Review Signals (Review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) 13%
- Behavioral Signals (Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.) 10%
- Personalization 10%
- Social Signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.) 4%
Even though local citations reportedly account for only 13% of all the factors that influence local SEO rankings, citations are definitely a very effective and in many situations a necessary element to ranking in the local Google 3-pack. Simply put, if your competitors are building citations, it’s likely that you will also have to build citations in order to outrank them.
What is a citation?
A local SEO citation is simply whenever a website mentions a local business. The actual citation itself can be just the company’s name, or the company’s name and address, or the SEO trifecta: company name, address and phone number, or NAP for short.
David Mihm is credited with coined the term ‘citation’ in reference to local SEO in 2008 when he published a blog post called Local vs Traditional SEO: Why Citation Is The New Link.
Sometimes you’ll hear people refer to NAP citations as full citations, and everything else as a partial citation. Sometimes you do also get a backlink to your website from a citation site, but not always.
A full structured citation generally looks something like this:
Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce
65 Airport Pkwy #140
Greenwood, IN 46143
A full unstructured looks like this:
Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, 65 Airport Pkwy #140, Greenwood, IN 46143 (317) 888-4856
A structured partial citation looks something like this:
Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce
An unstructured partial like this:
So a citation can be any mixture of these elements:
- Business Name
- Website (your URL in text, not a link)
Note that you can also have any of these elements by themselves and it’s still a citation, either full or partial.
- Business Name
- Business Phone
- Business Name and Phone
- Business Name and Website
- Business Name, Address and Phone (NAP)
- Business Name, Address, Phone and Website (NAPW or UNAP)
NAPW stands for name, address, phone, website. UNAP stands for URL, name, address, phone.
So in theory, any instance of any of the following anywhere online could also be considered a partial citation:
- Address by itself
- Website by itself (your URL in text, not necessarily a hyperlink)
- Website and Address
- Phone and Website
Yellowpages.com, Merchant Circle, Superpages, Yelp – these are traditional examples of sites that can give you a citation for your business.
Non-traditional examples could be Youtube (in a video description, or channel description, etc), Facebook, and any website that allows you to input text, save it, and Index it in Google.
Citations and Local SEO
Search engines like Google really trust quality citation sites, so adding your NAP to high quality citation sites is a really great way to get your business to show up in local search.
To give you an example of how powerful citation sites are, and how much authority Google gives them, let’s look at the organic search results for a local search. Here’s what we get on page 1 of Google when we search for Greenwood plumbers:
The circled sites are citation sites. So 5 out of the 10 organic search results that Google shows on page 1 are citation sites!
So Google trusts these types of citation sites enough to fill up half of page 1 local results with them. This is a good sign that your business should also be listed on these sites, because it passes authority along to your business and your site in the eyes of Google.
What’s Really Important About Citations!
There’s one really, really important thing to remember when you’re building citations for your business: Extreme Consistency.
You want to make sure your business name, address and phone number is exact same on as many sites as you can, or else it will confuse Google. Apparently Google doesn’t like to be confused, because inconsistent citations is a large no-no in the world of SEO.
65 Airport Pkwy #140
Is not the same as
65 Airport Parkway Suite 140
Another thing Google hates: Duplicate Citations
Sometimes your business will have more than one listing on the same citation site. This results in a Duplicate listing, another local SEO no-no.
The more Inconsistent and Duplicate citations your business has, the worse it’s going to rank in the local results.
You may never get 100% of your business’ citations to be 100% correct, with 0 duplicates. But if you have a lot of Inconsistent and Duplicate citations, and you are ranking poorly, fixing your citations should significantly improve your rankings.
So when building citations for your business, it’s really important to:
- Make sure your NAP is listed the same on all (or at least most) of your citations
- Make sure you only have one listing on each citation site
Citation Sites + Niche Directory Sites
Another important thing to remember: In addition to building citations on traditional directory listing sites, you need to build citations on niche directory sites. These are directories that are dedicated to your particular niche or area of service.
So it’s really important to build citations on:
- Regular Business Directory Listing Sites
- Niche Directory Sites
Structured Citations and Online Directories
Structured citations contain the full NAP or NAPW. These are the types of citations you’ll get from online directory sites like Yelp.
Citations from online directory sites are usually very well-structured and contain a full NAP citation. These are called structured citations for obvious reasons, but also because online directory sites are usually grouped (or structured) very well themselves. Directory sites typically sort their listings by either the business industry type, or the business geographical location.
Sites that list by geographical location (city, for example) tend to be more beneficial for local SEO.
These may contain the full NAP or NAPW, but they are not in any particular order, or they are not on a directory listing site.
Contains the full NAP or NAPW.
An example of a partially structured citation is one you would find on a blog or in a forum. A ‘partially structured citation’ is often more casually presented and you’re likely to find these on blogs or in forum threads.
So which is better? As you might have guessed, structured citations are usually more powerful for boosting your local SEO rankings. There are scenarios where this is not the case, however.
For example, a Partially Structured citation can be of more value than a Structured citation if it’s coming from a local website, or a worldwide website that is specific to your industry.
Quality vs Quantity
You only want to go after citations from sites that are of high quality. Listing your business on low quality sites can actually hurt your local rankings, so definitely pay attention to this!
One way to find out if a site is high quality or otherwise is to use the free MozBar and look at the site’s Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA), and Spam Score.
As you might imagine you’re looking for sites with…
- High Domain Authority (DA)
- High Page Authority (PA)
- Low Spam Score
Test the site’s DA, PA, and Spam scores against a high-quality site like Yelp and compare the difference. If the site is way lower in DA and PA, and way higher in Spam Score than a quality site like Yelp, it’s a good sign you do not want to get a citation from that site!
What’s a good Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Spam Score?
For the most part, it’s difficult to get a concrete answer on this. It’s generally good to avoid submitting your site to any citation source that is below DA 30. But that isn’t always the case. Here’s a good post with other things to consider when looking for quality citation sites.
Moz themselves says there is no good or bad PA or DA, they’re just numbers you can use to judge a site’s ability to rank. The higher the number, the higher the chances are of ranking.
Moz published the average DA across different industries, and here’s what they found:
So anywhere from ~60 to about ~90 DA is average, according to Moz’s study, depending on your industry.
Average PA? The best way to come up with the average page authority is to compare the site in question with other quality sites in the same niche.
Power of Citations
The reason citations are so powerful for SEO is because citations help a search engine understand and confirm that a particular company is a legit business with a correct address and that the products and/or services the business offers are all legitimate.
Then when search engines see lots of other citations with matching information across the web, it boosts their confidence in your business and helps prove that you’re a valid business operation that they can trust to provide quality content in your local area.
Let’s put it this way: If two different companies have the exact same SEO performance in every other area, but one company has more quality citations, the company with more quality citations would end up outranking the other business.
Managing Your Citations
We use BrightLocal to manage our clients’ citations and search engine rankings. You can get a free trial here. It helps you locate which sites you’re already listed on and see if you have any incorrect NAP information.
And helps you identify citation sites that your business is not listed on. You can also see what all citations your competitors have, and they even have a service where they’ll build the citations for you.
There’s other tools, but I really like BrightLocal.
Please leave your comments below and let me know how you’re doing with your local citations.
If you’d like us to help you with your local SEO, please send us a message!