What are local business citations?
Simply put, local business citations are mentions of your business throughout the web, specifically on business directory websites, search engines, and data aggregators. The most essential business information these websites display is your business’s NAP (Name, Address, and Phone number) along with your website URL.
Many business owners find they have very few local citations or citations with outdated, incorrect, or incomplete information. Putting in the work to create more citations across the web and ensuring your business information is correct was a crucial task for many years, but does it still remain a worthwhile investment of your time?
The benefits vs. the time spent
Building your local citations has gone from what was seen as a high-impact strategy in overall marketing efforts, to low-impact over the recent years. The technology on how business information is gathered, verified, and trusted has changed resulting in the importance of building up your online citations and its overall effectiveness being debated in the online marketing community today.
If your business has a healthy amount of citations with accurate information in the most important directories, you may very well find your time better spent on other areas of your business. But if you’re constantly getting complaints about customers not being able to contact you due to wrong business information, you may want to shift your focus to it for the time being. However, since most businesses fall somewhere in between, and since building a consistent and accurate business profile online certainly won’t hurt your business, I’ll give you some arguments in favor of adding it to your marketing plan.
Trust from search engines
Google is all about providing relevant and accurate information to people searching online. One of the ways they can trust that a business’s information is correct is to check if that information is consistent in other directories. If your business’s NAP is the same in all 50 directories that you’re listed in, you will probably be ranked more confidently than a business with 3 different addresses in just a handful of places.
Less confusing to customers
One of my clients in the past had spent a lot of time trying to update their address in their Google listing that kept updating on its own to an incorrect location. This resulted in a handful of other listings updating in the same way. Everyone in their community knew where they were located, but for visitors outside the city, their GPS would send them two blocks away. This most certainly lost business for my client which is why I took aggressive steps to ensure any listings or data aggregators had their updated information, and that information was eventually accepted by Google and no longer updated on its own. Google is normally pretty good at what they do, but when they get our business information wrong and display it to potential customers, it can be quite frustrating.
Control of your business information
Some online directories get their information from many different sources. If your business has been around for any amount of time, you will probably be listed whether you created the listing or not. Some of this information may come from public records, some information is scraped from other directories, and some is simply submitted by customers who see that your business is missing. Maybe this information is correct, maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s always a good idea to be the one in control of your business information from the start.
Link building, or is it?
And then there are links. In my early years of online marketing, I spent a lot of time researching link building and how it can better your rankings in search engines. Submitting your business to local directories that offered a link back to your website seemed like a great opportunity. Many of these directories are huge, well-known websites so a link from them pointing to your website surely counts as a high-quality link from a trusted third-party source. Right?
Well, maybe there was a time when it did, but as technology advances and search engines get smarter, a link from these websites may have less of an impact today. When it comes to link building, search engines are looking for a true, organic link referring value from one site to another. A genuine “vote-of-approval” from another website. So unless your business has a real recommendation from the owners of Yelp.com, you probably aren’t getting the credit for the link in your listings as you may hope.
Types of online directories
There are 4 primary categories of business directories online. Let’s go over what these are and the roles that each play in a citation management strategy.
Submitting your business to search engines – specifically Google My Business – is arguably the most important directory to focus on. When a local searcher looks for a business, service, or product, often the search engine will display a list of local businesses that may be able to fulfill this inquiry. If there is one listing or map service that you want to make sure you have an accurate and complete profile in, it’s Google My Business. It works as the central hub of what Google knows about your business and, depending on industry, location, and other factors, you may find that it generates more leads than any other avenue of online marketing.
Local Business Directories
Local business directories are websites such as Yelp, Superpages, Local.com, Manta, and many, many more. These directories usually have their unique method or service to interact with or connect businesses to customers trying to find them. Many of them focus on some type of reviews or recommendations and have a crowd of people that use them. If you find your business information incorrect on one of the platforms, it’s usually a straightforward process of creating an account, claiming your listing, and updating that information.
Some services like TripAdvisor, Healthgrades, and HomeAdvisor are directories that only contain businesses or professionals from one or more specific industries. The reviews or recommendations from these directories may often be more trusted so it’s worth spending some time on them if you find yourself in an industry that would fit into one of these well-known directories.
Data aggregators aren’t your normal business directories. They are the databases where other directories, search engines, and maps get their information. The three data aggregators* (in the US) are InfoGroup, Localeze, and Factual. Think of getting your business details correct on these aggregators as tackling the “source” of what information is known about your business online.
*Foursquare could also be included in this list. Although it’s not technically a “data aggregator”, many directories and maps do rely on their database of information so it can be treated the same.
Tools that can help
There are many paid services online that can help you identify, submit, and track your business citations on the web. Each has its own strategy, benefits, pricing structure, and list of directories they work with. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of work it will take to fix your business information on the web, the services listed below are very well known and can help save you the time and trouble of doing the work yourself.
Moz local – Moz has been in the SEO game for a long time and has established a very good name for itself in the online marketing community.
BrightLocal’s Citation Tracker – Brightlocal offers one-time citation submission as well as a suite of other tools to help local businesses’ online presence.
Whitespark – Whitespark has a pretty straight-forward payment structure as well as support for multi-location businesses.
Variable impact, worth considering
If your business is brand new or if you have recently changed your business Name, Address, or Phone number, it may be a good idea to invest the time to push that new information to local directories to make sure your business data is accurate and that potential customers don’t run across incorrect contact information. It may also be a good idea to ensure your business is listed on well-known review websites and industry-specific directories that consumers have grown to trust.
So, should your business focus on local citation management? A few short years ago I would have said “yes” without hesitation, but now my answer is, “it depends”. You should definitely spend the time creating your business profile on Google, that’s not debatable. However, after that, whether or not your time is best spent on more important aspects of your business, such as creating content, is something to consider.