A citation is a mention or citing of your business on a Web page. These Web references, as they are also called, are valuable even when they do not contain links pointing to your Web site. Over the past year or so, it has become obvious to those who specialize in local search that these citations are a powerful factor in the algorithm of Google Maps and in the 10 pack of local listings that often appear above the universal results in Google search.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that citations would have a significant weighting in the local search algorithm because it is strongly based on Google's trust in the information they have about a business. The more places they see the same or very similar information about an enterprise across the Web, the more that trust is bolstered.
Within each local business listing in Google Maps, you can see the citations Google has found across the Web for that enterprise. Just click on the "Web Pages" tab to see the list of pages that mention the business, along with links to them.
Study these closely, as they will give you the best clues to what may work well for your business. Note which Web sites show up as references to it. How many mentions of your business has Google found on the Web? If it's not a dozen or more, this is definitely an area of your marketing that warrants some attention.
If you are in a competitive niche, you must systematically develop as many citations as possible for your business. Aim to amass more than your direct competitors have. Check out their collections of Web references and look at the pages that contain them to uncover opportunities that you may have missed. Then study citations for businesses similar to yours, but in other locations. What's working well in a large city, where competition can be fierce, may be just the thing you need to give you an edge in your own area.
What Makes a Good Citation?
The power of individual citations is very likely based on many of the same criteria that make links powerful -- the age, trust, and authority of the page and the Web site containing the information about you. Respected organizations, like Chambers of Commerce, local business groups, newspapers, area non-profits, schools, and so on have the added benefit of possessing local trust and authority, which makes them even more influential in local search algorithms.
As you study citations, you'll notice that Internet yellow pages such as DexKnows and Yellowbot are often listed. As original sources of business data, these are trusted Web sites from which to get citations and nearly all of them enable you to submit a free listing.
Increase Your Citations
You can quickly increase your citations with just a few hours of work. First, observe how Google Maps has listed your business name, address, and phone number. Make certain the information is correct and, if it isn't, log in to your Local Business Listing and update it. This is the information you want to duplicate across the Web. Don't make Google guess if Joe's Pizza on 10th and Vine is the same as Joe's Pizza Take Out at 1020 Vine Street. Use the same information everywhere so that you get credit for all of the references to you.
An ideal citation will contain your business name, address, phone number, URL, and at least a few lines describing it. However, I have found citations from pages that only contain a linked URL and no business name or address, so don't worry too much about how you are listed. Great places to ask for citations are from your vendors and suppliers, charities and local non-profits to whom you donate or where you volunteer, business networking groups, and professional organizations.
For general SEO (define)purposes, it really isn't worthwhile to submit to free general directories, but I have seen low value directories listed in the "Web Pages"section of Google Maps. So if you see these sites in other business's citations, it certainly doesn't hurt to list yourself there as well. As you submit your business to different directories, I recommend varying the descriptions where you can. It makes them appear more "natural" to the search engines and allows you to use varying keyword terms, which may help the pages containing your description rank for long-tail terms.
Web References Also Drive Traffic
Web references are not just important to your rankings in Google Maps, but they also help potential customers find you and that's your real goal -- attracting buyers to your business. For most local enterprises, the best places to get Web citations are also the best places to get targeted traffic.
Citations can work in a roundabout way for you, too. By creating citations on your own Web site for businesses you partner with or that are complimentary to yours, you can have your Web pages show up within their Local Business Listings.
For example, if you are a wedding videographer, you can create pages on your Web site describing ceremony and reception venues in your area, event caterers, bridal shops, DJs, wedding officiates, and so on. Include names, addresses, and phone numbers and, ideally, a short paragraph about each of them. By creating this mini-directory of related but non-competing businesses on your site, you provide useful information and may also get some spillover traffic when your pages appear in the Local Business Listings of others, as your pages may show up for any or all of the businesses you include. Then, if someone is researching a wedding venue or bridal shop in your area, they may be alerted to your services and consider you for their event.
So spend a little time each week increasing the mentions of your business across the Internet. It will pay off in better rankings and an increase in visitors to your site.
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Mary Bowling has been involved in all aspects of online marketing since 2003. She has a special interest in Web site usability and in search engine optimization, including optimizing all types of media for search engines. Mary has also developed specialized expertise in promoting brick-and-mortar businesses on the Internet through local search marketing. She is currently doing independent consulting and working with seOverflow and Maia Internet Consulting in Denver, CO, optimizing and marketing a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits online.
Her accomplishments include speaking at Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences on a variety of topics, conducting trainings and webinars for Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Workshops, authoring popular white papers on local search and SEO for WordPress Blogs and speaking at SEMpx' s Searchfest.
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