We have a new version of this article! Check out our UPDATED 2019 version here: UPDATED: Why Directory Listings Will Help Your Business Win At Local SEO
The whole point of SEO is boosting your business’s visibility and credibility. You want people to find you and you want them to implicitly trust in your products or services. However, most people have a very broad, general approach to SEO. And while there’s nothing wrong with generalizing, SEO strategies that are focused on global recognition don’t work too well for local appeal. Thankfully, SEO citations links can help realign marketing strategies to boost relevancy to localized searches.
But what are SEO citations links, and is there a difference between them and regular backlinks?
Links vs. Citations
There are two basic types of links: internal links and external links. Internal links refer to hyperlinks that lead to areas on the same page or domain. For instance, the table of Contents section in a Wikipedia article is a good example of internal links.
External links, on the other hand, are hyperlinks that lead to a website or page outside the domain. Sticking to our Wikipedia example, the References and External Links sections of a Wikipedia entry all contain external links i.e. links that, once clicked on, will lead the user to a different website outside of Wikipedia.
Links are actually one of the top two most important ranking factors for Google search engine results. They’re considered extremely important in SEO as they boost your page’s visibility and credibility. When other pages “mention” your business via a hosted link to your site, your site’s relevancy and quality improves in the eyes of a search engine.
A citation is a little simpler: it refers to any mention of your business name on any website, usually accompanied with key information such as your location, industry, and contact info, regardless of whether or not there are SEO citations links involved.
That, actually, is the biggest difference between links and citations. All links can be considered citations, but not all citations have links. For instance, by simply mentioning Wikipedia in this article, this post can now be considered a citation for it. But it can’t be considered a backlink simply because we haven’t actually linked to the actual website anywhere on this page.
Types of Local Citations
Local citations can be categorized into three types: major local business data platforms, geo/industry-specific platforms, and the wider web.
Major Local Business Data Platforms cater to local businesses citations found on specific local business data platforms that publish this sort of data i.e. Google My Business, Localeze, Infogroup, and even review-oriented sites like AirBNB and Yelp.
Geo or Industry-Specific Platforms host citations that help business owners appear to a more specified target audience or industry. Some examples of such platforms are chamber of commerce websites or university websites.
On the other hand, the Wider Web refers to supplementary citations listed on authoritative blogs, news sites, government databases and the like. These citations aren’t the type you can simply list yourself or request a listing on. Most are earned through merit or public interest.
And now that that’s out of the way, let’s finally address the bigger picture: why do citations matter, and how can they help with your website ranking?
Why Citations Matter
We mentioned earlier that quality links boost your website’s visibility and credibility. This, too, is true for citations (which is why they’re always getting mixed up). Local citations serve to inform others that your business exists, and this is how you can be contacted.
Why the emphasis on local?
Because no one living in Tennessee is going to call a plumber from Florida to fix their pipes.
If a citation for your business doesn’t strongly reflect where you’re based or whom you’re catering to, your prospects won’t consider you an option. But if you are accurately and clearly listed as, say, a Florida-based plumber, then the chances of homeowners in Florida giving you a call during plumbing emergencies is quite high.
The Takeaway: For a stronger online footprint, citations on both major local business data platforms and geo/industry-specific platforms are needed.
Ergo, accurate citations do more than just boost visibility and credibility. They increase your relevancy to the people who matter aka your potential customers. The more authoritative websites accurately cite your business, the better influence these citations will have on your local SERP ranking.
In other words (still sticking to the plumber example), you might not come up on the first page for a ‘best plumbers’ Google search, but with enough quality citations, you could land in the top five search results for ‘best plumbers in Florida.’
Final Thoughts on Citations
As with backlinks, there are good citations and damaging citations. The number of citations a business has certainly affects its rankings. However, if the accuracy of the data and the quality of the platform is questionable, the affect could be negative.
For instance, if website A says you don’t have a direct email address, website B says you have one, and website C lists two email addresses that are radically different from website B’s information, the inconsistency causes Google to question your legitimacy. Consequently, your rank goes down.
The same inaccuracy can also negatively affect potential customers who are trying to contact you. If different platforms list different phone numbers, all of which are disconnected or lead straight to voicemail, their prerequisite trust in you is already damaged. Hence, it’s important that you regularly check your citations for inaccuracies, and do whatever you can to correct misinformation ASAP.