Getting Google to see your business or organisation as an entity it can trust.
In the US, they call them ‘citations’, but in the UK the word most used is, I think, ‘listings’ (although the US term is creeping in). We’re talking about entries in online directories for services, and it is fast becoming one of the most important tools in SEO.
I know it must be important because a salesperson called me about it last week. It seemed strange that he would phone someone listing themselves in the ‘marketing’ category on Thomson Local about their online marketing, so I stuck with the call.
To cut a long story short, he told me backlinks were rather 2012. Citations were the way to go for off-page SEO right now. Then he tried to pitch me their service. They had a system to get my business listed consistently across 20 directory sites for £72 per month.
He seemed like a nice guy, so I politely declined, said that I was on top of my citations and apologised for wasting his time. But I was struck that what I had perceived as a niche aspect of SEO was now a commercial concern.
Citations CAN help your ranking with Google
Particularly for a start-up business, getting yourself listed on every available online directory is very important.
There is the very obvious first reason why; the reason that directories exist in the first place. People looking for a particular service will be able to see your business in the category they are looking under. It’s very passive advertising.
Then there is the second reason. Your business will show up repeatedly on the internet on websites with good trust ratings and Google rankings. Google will see you as a company or person that is active in the industry and online, and will recognise this.
Also, as an added bonus, your website link gets featured on a high-authority website, providing you with a backlink to add to your tally.
Make sure you are one business, not many
Consistency is a big deal with citations – if your listings on some sites are slightly different to those on others, then you run the risk of Google thinking you are several different businesses instead of one. It’s confusing to it.
It can be just tiny differences. Missing out the local area between your street and town in the address. Including a fax number on one site, but not on another. Or maybe simply having your house name or unit number on a different line to the rest of the address can count as an inconsistency.
The best online tool to look into this is MOZ Local – https://moz.com/local/search
Simply enter your business name in the box, then your postcode, and click. Wait a few seconds, and then your business name will appear. If it shows up more than once, then there’s an issue with inconsistent citations. You should click into each one and see where it needs tidying up.
If you just have one result on the MOZ search, then great! Your listings in the business directories are all saying the same thing, and not confusing Google. But this might be because you only have two…
It’s worth listing your business in as many as you can. Not just for the exposure but also for the added authority that Google will place on this. You might already be on Yelp and Bing, but what about Foursquare, Google Business or Hotfrog?
Each listings site comes with authority – here’s a list of a few with their Google rankings alongside (given my location, these are mainly the UK sites):
G+ 31.8M (create entry in Google My Business)
Thomson Local 9.7M
My Local Services 1.08M
Central Index 1.73K
(Central Index doesn’t look like much, but will get you listed with national newspapers as well)
And of course, don’t forget your Facebook page! This also counts as a citation and Facebook carries a lot of weight due to the huge amount of traffic it gets (Google index 2.02BN). With a new business, your Facebook page will usually show up in search results higher than your own website. In fact, this will probably be true for all citations at the start!
The MOZ site is not only good at showing you where you are listed, but also how you can improve each listing to make it stronger. It might be that by adding photos and a bit more info to a few of the listings you can bring them right up to par.
Get more out of your own industry networks
MOZ is great, but not the be-all and end-all. It doesn’t show a lot of more localised listing sites, like My Local Services, Freeindex or Tradefinder, so it’s worth using your initiative and creating entries in those too. Whenever someone types “(your industry) in (your town)” into a Google search (or Yahoo or Bing, for that matter), you need to be showing up.
And speaking of your industry and location, there is another good source of listings or citations: the county Chambers Of Commerce and trade associations. These are great for connecting with people in your own town and trade, which again will help promote your business, and likely help with search results.
For me, this was something like the Professional Copywriters’ Network. You will probably have to pay an annual fee to join any organisation, but once there you’ll be listed on a site with some weight, and able to network with people who may offer mutual support. It could be an ideal chance to exchange backlinks with a trusted tradesman, for example.
Using citations in online directories has been a tactic mostly used by businesses targeting local SEO, especially for those with a mainly local client base. They would be aiming to rank a website high for keywords/phrases like ‘Plumbers in Birmingham’ or ‘Picture framing in Wrexham’, etc.
But the Internet is an inherently democratic place. Yes, listing yourself in directory sites is a must-do for anyone who wants to be found by their regional public. It is now also a must to indicate you are a serious concern for wider SEO too.
The only downside is that it can take ages to create all the listings on those sites… no wonder someone has set up a service to help people to do it. Good luck!