Why Citations Are Critical To Your Local Listing Optimization (And 4 Secrets To Building Them)

You need citations. They’re currently a major factor in giving your business’ local listing a boost in Google. There’s even an argument to be made that citations are just as important to your listing’s ranking as links – and possibly, even more so.

Unfortunately, lots of you may still be a bit hazy on what citations are, why Google cares about them, and how they are used to rank local businesses. And it’s tough to know how to start building them without first having that foundation. I’m going to devote today’s post to Google local citations and the “secrets” to building them. Getting citations isn’t hard, but it does take a little bit of effort.

Let’s start with a quick definition.

What Is A Citation?

In local search optimization lingo, a citation is a listing for your business. That’s it in a nutshell. It should include your business name, address, and ideally, your phone number. It does not need to include a link back to your site in order to count in Google’s algorithm. The listing itself is enough.

So, where are such listings found, and more to the point, where can you get your business listed? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are a number of well-established general directories that list businesses throughout the U.S. Superpages.com and citysearch.com are good examples. As long as your business is legitimate, they’ll list you.

A lot of directories are specific to the city or area in which the business is located. For example, if you’re in Los Angeles, you should get listed on the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce list. If you’re in Dallas, you should get your business listed on thecityofdallas.com.

There are also directories that focus on certain niches. The food space has several that Google seems to love, such as yelp.com and zagat.com. If you run a financial planning advisory, it doesn’t hurt to get a listing from fpanet.org.

Now that you know exactly what a citation is, let’s take a look at why Google loves them.

Why Google (And Bing) Loves Citations Of Your Business

Google wants to make sure you are who you say you are before it tells others about you. It can’t afford to get caught passing along bad info to its users. Think about it this way. You might claim to be a martial arts dojo in Lexington, Kentucky, but how does Google know you aren’t trying to sneakily build links to your credit repair site? And if you can get listed for Lexington, what’s stopping you from getting listed for every other city in the U.S.?

If you’re Google, that’s a problem worth solving.

Citations help to confirm your identity for search engines. For example, if the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce directory shows that you operate a Chinese restaurant in L.A., there’s a good chance you really do. And if Yelp, Zagat, and TripAdvisor say the same thing, Google is going to feel a lot more comfortable ranking your listing toward the top of the search results page for ‘LA Chinese restaurant.’

Citations prove your authenticity. They let Google know that you really are who you claim to be.

4 Quick Tips For Building Google Local Citations

Let’s talk about how to gather citations for your business. You’ll need to know how to look for places to get listed and then keep track of your progress. The rest is just window dressing. If you’re just getting started, here’s what I suggest you do:

#1. Search Google For Relevant Directories

Go to Google, and search for directories that focus on specific cities or areas. For example, you might search for “Seattle WA business directory” or “Orange County business directory.”

Next, search for listings focused on your niche. Here, you might look for “martial arts school directory” or “financial planner directory.”

#2. Check Out Your Competitors’ Citations

Take a look at the sites that list your competitors. How do you find them? Simple. Search Google for their phone numbers using quotes. If your competitors’ local listings are ranking highly, there’s a good chance you’ll find several citations driving their optimization. There’s no reason you can’t get listed in the same places.

#3. Look For Listings On Your Local Newspaper’s Site

A lot of local newspaper sites maintain their own small business directories. Many of your competitors won’t think to get listed in them, which gives you an advantage. Search Google for limited-circulation newspapers in your area. Then, perform a search for each paper to check whether it offers a business directory.

#4. Don’t Be Afraid To Pay A Fee

Some directories will charge a small fee to list your business. Don’t automatically write them off. Many of them are worth paying just to be included. If you notice your competitors are listed in them, it’s usually a good idea to shell out a few dollars to grab the citation.

One last note: Use a spreadsheet to track your progress. The simpler, the better. List the directories you intend to pursue alphabetically on the left side. Include a column for the dates on which you submitted your site to the directories. Add another column to list the dates on which your business was actually added to them. Two more columns are helpful for keeping track of your usernames and passwords for the sites. That way, you can easily find them in the event you need to make changes to your profiles.

Your Turn!

Have you started to build citations for your business? If so, are you relying on general directories or smaller, city-specific and niche-specific listings? Let us know in the comments!

photo credit: Pinteresting via photopin (license)

How To Get Positive Google Reviews — Without Getting Penalized

It’s becoming more and more apparent that local search rankings are heavily influenced by what others are saying about you across the internet. And as local search results continue to consume a more dominant part of the search engine results page, getting positive Google reviews and reviews on other review sites has reached a point of critical mass for local businesses. Customer reviews are playing a major role over at Google right now, and will probably do so for the foreseeable future. It’s all part of Google’s effort to make the user experience more socially driven.

For example, search for “chinese restaurant los angeles ca” at Google. Scroll to the local results and click the “reviews” link for the first listing. You’ll see a Zagat rating followed by a bunch of Google Plus reviews. Keep scrolling down the page. See the little blurb that says “Reviews from around the web” with links to urbanspoon.com, citysearch.com, and tripadvisor.com? Pretty nifty and very social.

And it’s not just the food niche. Search for “golf course dallas texas“. Click the “reviews” link on the first result in the local rankings. You’ll see customer reviews, some on Google+ and others left anonymously. Keep scrolling. Notice the links to golflink.com, yahoo.com, and kudzu.com? Again, very social.

Customer reviews are clearly important for your local search rankings. The question is, how do you get folks to leave them online for your business? I’m going to show you how below.

What NOT To Do At Any Cost

If you read nothing more in this post, do not write and publish fake reviews. Google employs some of the smartest minds on the planet and can no doubt figure out the pattern behind fake review writing and publishing. Plus, it’s just not good business.

Instead of sinking time and money into writing and posting fake reviews, spend that effort on improving your customer experience and putting a system in place to encourage real customers to write and post reviews.

The Challenge: Getting People To Do What They Don’t Want To Do

Very few people enjoy taking time from their busy day to leave reviews for businesses. (The exception are the folks who have had a horrible experience, and can’t wait to tell the world about it. That’s a different story.) You have to make it easy for your customers. It’s also a good idea to let them know how important their reviews are to the success of your business.

Create a “how to leave an online review” template for your customers. It should spell out everything they need to do in order to leave feedback for you online. Give them several options to make it easy.

For example, your template could say the following…

“We need your feedback! It will help us to meet your needs more effectively and continue thriving in this location. Please take a moment to leave an online review of our business. You can use any of the options below (all of them help!).”

List several sites on which you’d like to collect customer reviews. Some of the sites will be based on your niche. For example, yelp.com and urbanspoon.com work well for restaurants while golflink.com and greenskeeper.org are great for golf courses. Other sites will work for just about any type of business. These include citysearch.com, switchboard.com, and insiderpages.com.

Try to include sites that allow people with Facebook and Google+ accounts to use their logins to leave reviews. For example, citysearch.com allows people to go through their social accounts to leave feedback for businesses.

Speaking of Google+, you’ll definitely want to include them on your list. It’s fair to say Google is prioritizing reviews made by Google+ users in its local results.

For each site you include on your template, provide step-by-step instructions for your customers to follow. Remember, the goal is to make it as easy for them as possible. For example, let’s take Yahoo! Provide your customers with the following steps: “Visit this link, and click the ‘Write a review’ button. Log into Yahoo with your email address, or sign in with your Facebook ID, and leave your feedback.”

At the end of your template, thank your customer for taking a moment to leave an online review of your business.

The entire piece should be less than a single page. Keep it short and concise.

How To Ask Customers For Their Feedback

Now that you’ve created your “how to leave an online review” template, it’s time to get the word out about it. There are a lot of ways to do this, and you should be incorporating as many as possible.

Turn your template into a handout to give customers who visit your physical location. Send it in a personal email to several highly-valued customers. Mention it on Facebook and Twitter, and provide links for people to find it. If you maintain a company blog, mention the template in your posts.

One word of advice: there’s no need to scramble for hundreds of reviews. For most of the businesses we’ve seen, 20 to 40 reviews are enough to give a healthy boost to local rankings. In some niches, less than 10 is fine. Also, consider this an ongoing effort. Rather than trying to get the reviews in one or two weeks, focus on getting a few a month. It’s natural, which, as you know, Google tends to like anyway.

I’ll have more to say on this subject down the road. For now, create an easy-to-use template and start spreading your reach across the internet.

Your Turn!

Do you currently ask your customers to leave online reviews for your business? If so, what are some of the methods you’ve used to motivate them to take action? Did you notice a bump in your local search positions after the reviews started coming in? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!

4 Tasks For Improving Your Local Search Rankings In Google

If your business caters to local customers, you need to make sure your site is friendly to Google’s local search algorithm. You may have noticed that Google has been giving a lot of space in their organic listings to local results. Those results are currently displayed in packs of 7 entries (sometimes fewer) with a map at the top showing the locations of the underlying businesses. It’s pretty straightforward. If you want to show up in the pack, your site needs to accommodate the algo.

NOTE: If you previously had a Google PLACES profile, you will need to update it to the new Google+ Local profile. In order to do this, you’ll need to create a Google+ Business Page and fill in the Google Local profile section. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be posting more information about creating optimized Google+ Business pages.

Even if the search query doesn’t include a city or state term, Google does understand the types of search queries that are typically tied to local vendors. For example, the query below shows results for the term “Certified Financial Planner.” Because I’m currently in the Phoenix area on vacation, Google showed me results for CFPs in the local area.

The challenge is that local search is even more complex than general search. We’ve had several years to figure out what Google and the other search engines focus on for queries that are nonspecific to geography. The local algorithm, which is relatively new by comparison, is still somewhat mysterious. City-specific anchor text in your links won’t cut it anymore.

The good news is, we already know a lot of what is included in the local search algorithm. We’re going to share several of those items with you today. We also have a good idea regarding how important each one is to Google. In addition to creating an optimized Google Local profile, read on for 4 on-page and off-page local SEO factors that will help your site rank above your competitors.

1. Your Physical Address

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you want to rank for your top keywords for Los Angeles, your business should be physically located in Los Angeles. That sounds reasonable, right? That of course means your address should be clearly displayed on your site. I suggest placing the address in the footer of the website. This way, the term “Los Angeles” is associated with the general terms that your website is optimized for.

If you serve multiple cities, you may also want to include a list of the cities served in your footer or in the sidebar. This isn’t as relevant as a verified physical address in the city you serve, but it can help. If you serve so many cities that you feel it might visually clog up your footer or sidebar, try including a drop down menu with the city names. This way, the city names will be visually compact to the reader, but not “hidden” text from a search engine spider’s point of view.

The entries Google shows to people searching for your type of business in their area is driven partly by the users’ IP addresses. In other words, the listings are not driven exclusively by on-page text nor the anchor text in incoming links. (Hence, why local results came up even though I didn’t enter a local term, and why local Phoenix results appeared because I am using a Phoenix area IP address at the moment). Google can figure out users’ local intent and map their proximity to local businesses via the IPs.

2. Placement Of Keywords In The Business Name

This includes keywords that reflect your location as well as those that reflect the products or services you sell. Both should be in your business name. For example, suppose you operate an insurance agency in Denver. Naming your business “Get Covered!” won’t help your local rankings in Google. But naming it “Denver Insurance Unlimited” will.

The jury is still out on how much this actually matters. Google is definitely smart enough to figure out the location of your business, as well as the products and services you sell, assuming your site is properly designed. And as I mentioned earlier, they can match user proximity via IP.

This doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice a clever marketing name for something boring. It’s just something to keep in mind when referring to your business when optimizing your website and creating online┬ábusiness┬áprofiles. For example, you may want to refer to your business as “Get Covered! — Denver’s Favorite Insurance Agency”

Having said that, the majority of local search results are still showing businesses with their location and niche in their business name.

3. Number Of Citations

A citation is a mention of your business name, address, and phone number. For example, a listing on Yelp.com or Superpages.com would count as a citation. It doesn’t matter whether the listing contains a link to your site or not. What matters is that it appears on a trusted site, such as a portal that helps users find local businesses.

The more citations your business has online, the better your site will rank in the local listings. They inform Google that your site is actually located where you claim it is. The search engine’s trust grows with the number of citations.

Well talk much more about this later.

4. Reviews From Others

You’ll notice that each local search listing for any given niche is accompanied by the number of reviews and average rating the business has received. There is evidence that having reviews gives you a ranking boost over competing businesses that lack reviews.

It’s still unclear how Google is taking reviews and ratings into account; it’s very difficult to isolate this variable from all the others included in the algorithm. We can see that Google is more inclined to rank businesses more highly if they receive a lot of positive reviews than would be the case if customers hate them. That makes sense. After all, the search engine wants to send people to businesses that consistently deliver a good experience.

But it’s not clear whether the number of reviews is playing a role in the rankings, and if so, how big a role. It also unclear exactly how much the ratio of good to poor reviews matters. This is something I’ll be paying close attention to over the coming months. I’ll let you know what I discover along the way.

We’re merely touching the surface here. Realistically, there are over 100 factors currently at play in Google’s local search algorithm. Some matter more than others. Some are off-site while others happen on the page. We’re going to get into these factors in more detail in upcoming posts. So, say tuned!

Your To-Do List

  1. Add your physical address to the footer or the sidebar of your website
  2. Find and review places where your business is listed online and edit the name fields to include a keyword descriptive term — ensure that your physical address is correct and present on any business directory listings or review sites
  3. Add a business listing with optimized business name and current address to business directories and business profile sites
  4. Create a Google+ business page and complete the Local Profile info

Your Turn!

What have you done lately to spruce up your site for Google’s local rankings? Have you addressed any of the items we covered today? Have you pursued others? Tell us how they’ve worked out for you in the comments section!