If you have a business listed on Google you may have heard the term ‘citations’. Citations are, in the sense that they give your site credibility and higher ranking with Google, similar to backlinks.
What is a citation and does it differ from a backlink?
Some business owners are familiar with or have heard the term ‘backlinks’ but backlinks more simple than citations. A backlink could be just one word whereas a citation has more info, i.e. business name, business address, business phone number, and sometimes even more information about the business.
Both have similar purposes but citations are somewhat more complex and they often have more impact on a business’s Google ranking because most businesses don’t understand how powerful they are (or can be).
Most business owners have no idea how powerful a strong citation program can be for their business. And in fact, many so-called SEO professionals don’t even fully appreciate the power of citations or know how use them competitively.
A citation is any mention of your business out on the web, with or without a link. This mention can come in various forms:
Company Name, by itself.
Company name & phone number.
Company name, phone number, & address.
Company name, phone number, address, & link.
Even just the phone number by itself can be a citation. Collectively, #3 is considered the most and basic and essential citation requirement and is referred to as “NAP” (name, address, and phone number).
Considering the many possible permutations of these factors, it’s easy to see why submitting them accurately and uniformly to citation directories is so important. Business which do not do this part of the job correctly not only lose a lot of the power of citations but there is actually a negative result because of the confuse it creates in the databases of Google and the other citation platforms (e.g. Yelp, Manta, Citisquares, et.al.)
On the other hand, if done correctly, having enough good quality citations can give a business a big ranking advantage over their competitors (assuming other factors are equal). Some SEO professionals are even beginning to say that, for certain types of businesses, the importance of citations outranks backlinks.
What is the right number of citations to have?
Answer: More than your competition (and it is possible to find out not only the number of citations they have but also exactly where they are. Thus enabling you, albeit perhaps with professional help, to build that same citation profile (you know it works, right?) plus a few more.
A complete citation should include the company name, address, and phone number (some people consider a citation incomplete without a website URL too) but one which does not have these items is sometimes referred to as a ‘partial citation’.
There are two primary differences between backlinks and citations:
A traditional backline is actually a hyperlink. The hyperlink, if correctly coded, is what Google's indexing robot ‘crawls’ to ascertain what backlinks a site has. On the other hand, a citation is usually not hyperlinked (although, if it includes the company’s URL as mentioned above, that URL could be hyperlinked).
Another way to describe the difference is to note that a hyperlink is usually just a work or two…or perhaps a URL, whereas a citation actually has a finite set of information which is useful to a customer, (e.g. business name, address, phone number… commonly referred to as NAP), thereby influencing customer behavior in way a simple backlink usually does not and cannot.
Also note that citation sites which include customer reviews, e.g. www.yelp.com, www.manta.com, Google+, and most others could have negative information about a business
Generally speaking, the more serious a business takes its SEO and Google ranking, the more advisable it would be to outsource their linking building and citation building to professionals.
Why outsource your backlink and citation building?
The reason is because this is a project that takes a lot of time. Depending on your situation, you might have more money than time. Of course, if that situation is reversed then you’ll just have to settle for a longer project.
Another point to remember about the issue of who does this kind of work for you is that not only can doing it correctly be very advantageous (relative to your competition) but doing it incorrectly can confuse Google so much that your Google ranking is negatively affected.
Another way of saying this is: “These are trained professionals. Don’t try this at home! You could hurt yourself.”
Another point to note is that your business should always set up a new, fresh, email address for use specifically with your citations. The reason for this is that you’re going to get a ton of SPAM email to that address.
It’s best to do this after you open your citation site account. If you’re having a professional do this task for you, you’ll need to give them access, initially and briefly, to your email account.
Which citation sites have the most influence?
That depends. There are actually hundreds of citation sites. Some are better for certain types of business than others. Some are general and/or global in nature while others are more niche focused. This is one of the ways in which a professional, who knows where these citations sites are, can save you time and ensure that you get the strongest citations possible.
How soon do you see results from citations?
Generally within a few weeks but it is also possible that some citation sites might take much longer to …perhaps even months. The reason for that is because each site has schedules within which they refresh their databases. Google’s schedule is every 6 to 10 weeks (so… with them, it depends on when you submit your data).
What is the ‘claiming’ and ‘verification’ procedure?
This process applies primarily to Google My Business but also to some of the other citation sites. In the claiming process, the citation site has, through its extensive database, already ‘noticed’ your business.
But they don’t ‘know’ you yet. And they usually do not, at this point, have all your business’s customer oriented information. For this reason, what they do have could be incorrect and (most likely) incomplete and it illustrates an excellent reason why you should claim (and update) as many of your listings as possible.
Claiming your listing is usually something very easy to do online.
The ‘verification’ is a subsequent procedure, usually by mail but sometimes also by a phone call. You tell them where to mail the postcard (Google’s preferred method) or where to call you, they mail a postcard with a verification code or give you the call (it might be automated) and give you a verification code.
Once you go online and input that code into your claimed (but not verified) listing, the listing becomes officially yours….i.e. claimed and verified.
Note: Verification should be done by the business owner. If someone is handling this project for you, they should give you a list of which verification notices to expect.
How quickly should you ‘do’ your citations?
As quickly as possible. The reason for this is because you never know how quickly the citation cite (Google, Yelp, or any of them) will merge your new data into their online database. Most professionals agree that there is no evidence that Google considers citation velocity one way or the other.
Can anybody guarantee when, or even if, your citation will go ‘live’?
The answer to that is ‘no’. Nobody other than the companies that maintain the citation sites have any control over what happens after a listing is submitted. But….the more reputable sites can be reasonably expected to go live sooner than later That’s why you should consider hiring somebody who knows that kind of stuff.
Some of the smaller, geo-specific or niche specific sites are managed by a single person who reviews and approves submissions. That can take a while to get your listing live.
A general rule of thumb is that about 30% of submissions you do will go live fairly quickly and about 70% will be active within 4 weeks of submission. A professional who does this kind of work should keep you advises how the process is going.
A professional who does this sort of work also offers you another important advantage. They have trained personnel who are very accurate at doing these submissions accurately. You want it all done right…right?
Once the work is done, there is very little further work required other than the occasional update which you can do yourself.
Professionals who provide this kind of service offer the following advantages:
Manual, by hand submissions.
Availability of hundreds of quality citation opportunities in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Holland, and Singapore.
Citation opportunities specific to your industry and city and get you listed on these sites for local ranking boosts.
Detailed reports with usernames/passwords for all sites in case you want to make edits to the listings.
Flexible pricing to accommodate ‘just a few’ or ‘a bunch’.
So that’s the basics of citations. With the confluence of review sites, more consumers with mobile devices, and Google’s increased consideration of social metrics and authority, no smart business owner can afford to not know about and use citations to promote their business.
Google My Business consultant, Case Study Writer, Markethive Developer