Optimizing Citations for Local SEO

In the modern world, businesses live and die online. That’s not a well-kept secret. Your largest competitors are going to fight you tooth and nail for the attention of the online audience.

How are you going to get your local business noticed in such a crowded commercial atmosphere?

The answer comes in the form of local search engine optimization. With SEO you can stand out from the crowd and shine a spotlight on your business, catching the eyes of eager searchers in your local area.

When creating an SEO strategy for local businesses, though, there are a lot of different components that you have to bring together.

One of the most important of those components is local SEO NAP citations. 

Local business citations (also commonly referred to as “directory citations” are vital in achieving and maintaining high local search rankings. That’s true whether you sell football memorabilia in Philadelphia or manage digital marketing for the San Diego Zoo.

But what are citations? How can you get them? And how can you ensure that your NAP citations will positively contribute to your business’ local search ranking?

In this article, we’ll give you everything you need to optimize for local citations and ensure NAP consistency. We’ll talk about NAP citation building, and why these factors are so important to your local business’ growth.

What is a NAP Citation?

Before we can dive into the world of NAP citation building, it’s best to explain what a NAP citation is.

The term NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number.

A NAP citation is any time the name, address, and phone number of your business appears together on a website.

And not just your company’s website — it’s essential to get your NAP listed on third-party sites as well.

Each listing is known as a citation. 

Google considers NAP citations whenever it shows geo-targeted results to searchers. The number of NAP citations for your business is one of the major local search ranking factors that contribute to your SEO score.

Citations contribute 13.31% toward the ranking determination for local search:

Pie graph of local search

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Where do NAP Citations fit into the Google Local 3 Pack?

Let’s say you perform a search for a “Mexican restaurant in San Diego”. You’re going to see a Google Maps box appear before the organic search results.

Right below the map, there will be three businesses listed:

Google Map search result

This is the Local 3 Pack. 

As a marketer, you want to be listed under that map. It’s a considerable visibility bonus.

And NAP citation-building can help you get there. NAP citations contribute 11% towards Google’s determination whether to rank you in the local 3 pack or not.

Ensuring NAP Consistency

The best way to ensure that your NAP is being listed consistently is to keep track of where it appears. It’s a good idea to keep a constantly updated document that shows where your NAP is listed, along with other crucial information regarding the platforms it’s on.

We call this a citation list.

When crafting your citation list, there are a few items that you should be sure to include, lest you get confused when it comes time to make changes:

  • The site, both the name of the listing and the URL
  • Whether the citation is structured or unstructured
  • The process for making changes. This is something that you should clarify with the site before your citation goes up.
  • List whether or not there is a contact person that you can reach out to. Their name and applicable contact data should also be included with this item. Try to have both an email address and phone number.

When marking down your list of citations, you need to make sure that you are including social media listings. It might seem like a silly thing, but they absolutely count as NAP citations. Remember, Facebook is the number one site in the world for structured NAP citations.

In addition to creating new listings, it’s also critical to review your existing local business listings and eradicate any inconsistencies. 

This process is called a citation audit and should be done every six months or so. Take an afternoon and go through your listings one at a time; making sure that your business’ NAP information is accurate and consistent across all listings.

To conduct an audit, take the following steps:

  1. Record your current and previous NAP information. Make sure to keep this list updated as things change. This includes name variations, old addresses, and phone numbers.
  2. Perform a search using that older information in order to find outdated citations that will need to be updated.
  3. Perform a search for your business name along with primary keywords associated with your brand. This will help you compile a list of authoritative structured citations that will need to be reviewed.
  4. Find existing listings for your business and claim them.
  5. Update any outdated information you control and reach out to the listings you don’t.
  6. Remove duplicate listings.

It’s helpful to make your citation list an Excel spreadsheet featuring links to every site where you’re listed. Then you can go down the row and click to make sure the citations are correct and the websites in question still exist.

You should always be on the lookout for new citations (setting a Google alert for your brand name is great for this). You’re not just going to get to some magical number and then never have to make another NAP citation again.

SEO is a constant process. You have to continue to gather NAP citations, just like you should always be link building and optimizing your data.

Also, keep a keen eye trained on your SEO movement. If you’re noticing a lack of results, try to ramp up your number of citations as part of an overhaul of your optimization strategy.

There are tools that you can use to monitor NAP Consistency. The most popular one is Moz Local.

MOZ tool to monitor NAP Consistency

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PRO TIP:  Use a citation finder tool to help make the process of locating new and existing citations easier

What are Data Aggregators?

Another way to ensure your NAP is receiving maximum, accurate exposure is to use a data aggregator.

Data aggregators are businesses that compile information about other businesses (such as NAP information) and distribute it to various sources around the web. An aggregator can take your NAP and send it off to be featured on maps, mobile apps, and various business directories.

It’s not a complicated process, either. There are many aggregator services out there. All you have to do is select one that you like, create an account on its platform, enter your business information accurately, and then complete a verification.

Once the aggregator has confirmed that you are the business owner, it will add you to its database and begin sending your information out. To do this, most aggregation services will use RSS technology, which can pump out massive amounts of information to thousands of sources quickly and efficiently.

Here are the four leading NAP and data aggregators in the US:

Are There Variations in NAP Citations?

There are a few different types of citations:

  • Partial citations
  • Structured citations
  • Unstructured citations

A partial citation is a listing on a website that only features a part of your business NAP. An example of a partial citation would be your business name and phone number with no listed address.

A structured citation is when you are listed on business directories like Yelp, Facebook, or the Yellow Pages. These are authoritative sites that carry a lot of clout with popular search engines like Google.

Sample of structured citation

Unstructured citations include your NAP on a site that is not intended to be a business directory. While these sites aren’t meant for citation listings the way a Chamber of Commerce member list might be, they are still effective at boosting your SEO score.

A prime example of an unstructured citation could be a review of your business that appears on a third party site or in a social media review.

Another example could be a guest blog post that you’ve written and published on another business’ website. Unstructured citations typically appear in the written content of a page rather than a data listing like one might find on Yelp.

Here’s an example of an unstructured citation within a blog article:

unstructured citation

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While structured and unstructured citations are different from one another, they are both helpful tools in the NAP citation SEO game.

Why are Citations Such an Important Ranking Factor?

So we’ve established what NAP citations are and how to implement them correctly. Now it’s time to determine why Google is so obsessed with them.

NAP citations are a vital SEO element because they tell search engines like Google who to trust. 

Citations Show Legitimacy

As we touched on above, a Google local listing is about more than just a simple search result. It’s about trust. Google is a trusted company. It’s one of the most trusted and recognizable companies on the planet.

To maintain its dominance, Google has to keep delivering quality results. For instance, when a user types “tax accountant in San Diego” into Google, they can be confident that what they’re getting back are the best and most relevant results for their search topic.

To that end, Google gathers the best and most relevant listings. It does this through an advanced algorithm that flows through the internet at the speed of light, crawling over every website in existence, filing their data, and placing them in a particular order based on the user’s desired search criteria.

If a company the size of Google is going to say that your business should rank in the number one spot, or list you in the top three map results, it’s going to want some assurances.

It wants to see a few primary SEO best practices:

  • Your website has great UX and quick load times
  • You’ve optimized your content for your target keywords
  • You’ve optimized your website’s schema markup and metadata.
  • You have inbound links from websites with a high domain authority
  • You have a high number of consistent NAP citations

NAP citations come in handy because, through consistent listing, Google can verify that your business exists and has a standing in the community.

When you can provide several credible sources (whether local directories or blogs) all listing the same information, you, in turn, show that the search engine can trust you.

It’s almost like a background check. 

Think about the steps taken when someone looks into your background:

  • A new employer calls around to your references
  • They ask about your qualifications and work history
  • They compare the data they receive from various sources.

This potential new employer will trust you more if all of your references tell them the same thing. If stories are inconsistent, though, the employer might think twice about hiring you.

Citations Show Authority

So first and foremost, NAP citations prove legitimacy.

Secondly, they create a sense of authority in your field. Let’s say you’re a dentist in Philadelphia, and you have 50 consistent NAP citations. That is going to make you look more authoritative in the area than a competitor who maybe has only 20, or has inconsistent citations.

Let’s take the earlier example of a Mexican restaurant in San Diego, though. 

Let’s say that you represent a small family restaurant with 200 consistent NAP citations for local SEO. Your closest competitor has a massive space and a much larger budget. This might feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle.

However, if that competitor has 85 citations and 15 of them are listed incorrectly, suddenly your small family-owned business has an advantage in the eyes of Google.

Choosing the Right NAP Citation Sites

You can’t just choose any old site for your citation local listing. It’s all about location.

First and foremost, make sure your business’ NAP listings are included on reputable directories and social media sites. Because of their high domain authority, inbound links from these sites are more impactful than asking your friend to list you on their little blog.

Here is a visual representation of the top citation sites in the world.

Top citation sites in the world.

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Many of these are structured citations, often found on popular sites such as Facebook, Yelp, MapQuest, and the Yellow Pages. Facebook is considered to be the number one citation site, though it beats out Yelp by just 4%.

Top Citation-Building Strategy:

An easy beginner tactic that you could employ to find new citation opportunities would be to take the site that ranks number one for your industry and copy its NAP.

Paste the NAP into a Google search but surround it with quotation marks. All of the results that come up will be sites that have listed a citation for your number one competitor. Keep a list of these sites and target them as potential places for your own NAP citations.

You should do this for the top three to five ranked sites in your industry.

You can also do a search for business directories and citation websites in your local area. Make sure you’re featured on any directories that are relevant to your business. For instance, be sure to join local chambers of commerce in the areas that you service in order to get a listing on their directories.

How Many Citations Do You Need for Better Local SEO?

We have a handle on NAP citations, the importance of them, and why they’re considered so crucial in the eyes of Google.

Now it’s time to actually go out and get some listings!

But how do you do it? And how many do you need?

Typically, a business needs to have a large number of consistent citations to achieve SEO greatness. Not only do you need to have enough to appeal to Google, but you also need to have more than your direct competitors. Depending on your industry, that can be a tall order.

Which Industries Need The Most NAP Citations?

  • Hotels, restaurants, and bars: The service industry has to work extra hard to get noticed. These are some of the most searchable businesses on the planet. People are always looking for recommendations on places to eat, drink, and stay.
  • Doctors: When someone has a toothache or a sudden illness, if they are not already seeing a doctor, they will look online to find the best one in their area.
  • Lawyers: When people have sudden legal needs, they’re going to start Googling lawyers. When spouses separate, one of the first things they will do is Google divorce lawyers in their area. If someone gets a DUI, they’re going to look into a defense attorney.
  • Accountants: When tax season rolls around, people are going to be searching for accountants in their area.

That’s why all businesses must stock up on citations. It’s a never-ending struggle in which you race your competitors to the top and then fight to remain there.

The Average Number of Citations

There is no magic number for how many NAP citations you need. It’ll depend on your industry and local competition. However, there are averages one can point to:

Averages of NAP Citations

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When it comes to the top 10 spots for local results on Google, most small businesses have approximately 81 citations. The companies that rank number one go a bit further, with the average number of citations reaching 86.

Create a NAP Citation Plan

Having a clear plan for building and maintaining your business’ NAP citations is a crucial part of search supremacy and business growth.

And a significant part of that plan should be a universal style guide for all citations. This is something that you should write and outline in some form of official document that can be accessed by any employee.

A lot of businesses keep a style guide as it pertains to things like logos, fonts, copy, etc. Your citation style could be one additional chapter to that existing document.

Once you can ensure consistency, keep a list of every citation you have. That cannot be stressed enough: You need to know every online listing where your NAP appears. 

That way, if anything changes in the future (you move offices, your phone number changes, etc.) you have a record of where your NAP citations are listed and how to update them.

If part of your NAP citation plan is to create various addresses in the areas you serve by using P.O. Boxes or virtual offices, you should re-evaluate your strategy. While this might seem like a great idea at first, we’re sorry to tell you that Google does not see these as legitimate addresses.

A lot of businesses innocently thin that it’s a good idea to set up P.O. boxes and virtual offices throughout service areas to have a presence in every area they work in. However, you’re unintentionally creating a recipe for NAP inconsistency, which is sure to hurt your local SEO score.

What About Phone Number Inconsistencies?

There’s a concern that certain call tracking software can hinder your SEO efforts because Google will see phone number inconsistencies across your site.

However, using Dynamic Number Insertion, you can counteract most negative effects of inconsistent NAP listings. DNI is call tracking technology which displays a different phone number on your web page based on the source which accessed it.

You’re listing the same phone number across your entire website while JavaScript swaps the number out after the page loads.

Because the number swapping occurs after the page loads, Google’s bots will see the original phone number coded everywhere in the HTML of your site.

It should be noted, however, that call tracking on third-party sites, like social media, can still be dicey because DNI is not always an option there.

In Conclusion

Consistent local citation building can be incredibly crucial to the success or failure of your business’ SEO campaign.

You could have the most meticulously optimized website and content on the planet.

But if you have a lack of qualified citations or inconsistent citations, you’re going to feel the impact in your SEO.

Remember, SEO is a beast with many heads. If you focus on only one or two factors, you’re not going to impact your standing. You have to keep your eye trained on the entirety of the SEO puzzle if you want to see an improvement in your business’ local search ranking.

And NAP citations go hand in hand with all of the other tentpoles in the SEO process.

Don’t let your competitors get a leg up on you. Have a strategy in place for high-quality citation building and ensure that they’re uniform across the board to give your SEO score an added boost that will push you over the edge into search engine supremacy.

If local citations and NAP consistency seem intimidating, or you want a hand with building your business’ search rankings, reach out to an SEO expert today.