If you know a little about SEO already, it’s likely you’ve heard of local search.

It’s the term for the results displayed when someone enters a query into a search engine with what’s known as local intent – something like ‘accountants near me’, or ‘accountants in Bristol’.

These results are commonly made up of the Google My Business map and directory, and search results.

Local SEO is any of the work you do to improve your business’s ranking in those results, and it encompasses a range of activities. Managing your local citations is an important one.

To find out more, I interviewed our SEO specialist, David Fowler.

To start with the basics, what is a local citation?

A local citation is an online reference to your business, relating to a particular location. Ideally, it should relate to your industry sector as well.

One example of a local citation would be your listing within an online directory, under a given industry category. For example, you might be listed on the Yell directory under ‘accountants’, and under a geographical area – let’s say Bristol.

That means Google can crawl the website and find your business name, associated with ‘accountants’ and ‘Bristol’.

So it’s a kind of backlink?

Well, a citation could be a backlink, but it doesn’t have to be a backlink to be a citation.

So, for example, your local Chamber of Commerce might refer to your business on their website, but not include a link. That’s still a reference to your business on a geographically relevant website which Google can crawl, and it still has value.

How do citations help with local SEO?

Local SEO is about ranking competitively, both in traditional organic results, but also within the Google My Business map pack. That’s the map and directory that often appears when people search for a service you provide while they’re in the same catchment area.

Google has to decide in what order to rank businesses that serve the same audience and offer the same services. And so local citations can be the thing that gives you the competitive edge over your competition.

But it’s also why you need to ensure that your NAP is consistent.

What’s NAP?

It stands for name, address and phone number.

And why is it important?

A consistent NAP is a really strong trust signal to Google.

What Google wants is the confidence of knowing that your business exists; it exists in the location that you say it exists in; and that you offer the services you claim to offer.

If you call yourself ‘Example Accountants Limited’ on your website, you want to call yourself ‘Example Accountants Limited’ in all your citations. The name and formatting should be the same each time, down to whether you write ‘Limited’ in full or shorten it to ‘Ltd’.

The way you write out your address needs to be consistent as well, and you might need to think about how you format your phone number.

Some people will put the area code then split up the following six digit number into two blocks of three. If you do that on your website, you want to do that for your local citations as well.

This is all about attention to detail, really, isn’t it?

Absolutely.

You’ve already mentioned directories and Chamber of Commerce websites – where else might you have a local citation?

Other examples would be local and regional newspapers, or industry directories such as the ICAEW directory of accountancy practices.

But it’s not always directory listings. A local citation could also be connected to your activity in the community. For example, if your organisation has sponsored a local charity, and that charity refers to you on their website, that’s a citation, too.

You could also have a Bing Places listing. That’s Bing’s version of Google My Business – it’s something a lot of people don’t think to set up because, frankly, hardly anyone uses Bing, but it is worth doing and, believe it or not, it can improve your ranking with Google.

There could be anything up to 100 or more opportunities to gain a link or a reference to your business, for an industry sector in a given geographical location.

Are some of those citations better than others?

Some will certainly be more powerful than others. Anything that is difficult to spam or game will be more valuable, so certain directories are more important because they’re more credible.

For accountancy practices, the directories of member bodies can be particularly powerful, because you can’t have a listing unless you’re a practicing firm of accountants.

That means Google can put more trust and faith in that particular citation than, for example, a listing on a local newspaper.

And someone reading it would also have more trust in the listing.

Absolutely. What I would say, though, is that I personally wouldn’t recommend that any business should be too specific in cherry-picking opportunities.

Whilst some are more powerful than others, all citations are worth having as long as they’re from a credible source.

How can you go about taking control of the citations that exist for your business?

Broadly, there are two approaches.

First, you can do it manually, by submitting or amending your information on directory listings.

It’s also worth reviewing your citations from time to time. If you move to a new office, for example, you want to go back and update and amend your address in citations where possible.

Or, if your website has been changed from HTTP to HTTPS, you should get your citations edited so they point to directly to the HTTPS version. Again, it’s about these small details.

The second option is to use a semi-automated online service, whereby you put your details in once, and it lists places where you’re not currently listed. You can then select which of these you want to be added to.

There are a variety of different services out there, and some are better than others.

How can you tell which ones are reliable?

Unless you know what you’re looking for, it can be difficult to tell the spammer services from the ones that are worth having.

Some services will charge you a relatively small amount of money but then submit your business to a lot of very low quality directories, which not only won’t help but could actually be damaging to your SEO.

It’s not necessarily going to be that obvious which is which, but if the service is offering up citations on credible sites, the service itself is, with care, worth using.

A good semi-automated citation service will also allow you to quickly and easily update existing listings, as well as find new ones.

Get in touch to discuss PracticeWeb’s SEO service and how we can help make the most of your local citations.

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