What Are Citations?
Citations are really quite simple – they’re sites where your NAME, ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER are displayed. I’m going to take a pretty roundabout way to explain why that’s important for SEO purposes but please, stay with me – there’s method in my madness.
Do You Remember The Yellow Pages?
While it would be entirely premature to say that Yellow Pages advertising is dead, there’s no doubt that Pay Per Click advertising has unapologetic-ally shoved it to the side with a mighty digital elbow. Back when I was a lad, the Yellow Pages was a cumbersome, heavy, square-shaped bible of business advertising. It could easily have been two more manageable volumes but I guess that was their point – “there’s only one Yellow Pages!
Its only real rival for the Local Business advertising dollar was our local newspaper, The Illawarra Mercury’s classified ads. However, the Yellow Pages was way more interesting, visually. Firms were obviously paying graphic designers good money to make their block ads – particularly the larger ones – really stand out and I can only surmise that if you were in business, the Yellow Pages was the place to be.
Australian Yellow Pages ad, 1985 (0.30)
Thirty years later, the Yellow Pages has – in my home town, Wollongong, at least – shrunk to become little larger than a paperback novel. Yet, paradoxically – in the world of Search Engines – having PAID advertising in the online Yellow Pages is still well respected. It’s a clear validation that you have a genuine business, especially if you’ve been maintaining your ad for a number of years. That link from the Yellow Pages to your site is considered a CITATION of your business NAME, ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER.
As a result, in pure financial terms, while the $X cost of your Yellow Pages ad may be generating you $Y worth of business, directly, it may also be generating you $Z worth of business from Search Engines by earning you a higher position in the Search rankings through the enhancing of your reputation. It’s considered a very valuable link – though what $Z’s value would be difficult to quantify. Still, the point is that the Yellow Pages Citation is valuable from an SEO perspective.
Different Types Of Citations
So, with Citations being, technically, any reputable web address with a reference to your NAME, ADDRESS & PHONE NUMBER, they became the flavor of the month for a while with many SEO companies suggesting you get Citations (both PAID & UNPAID) from wherever you could get them. I was always far more skeptical, because for me, there are only four types of citations for Small Business that are worth anything in the real world (and I’m ambivalent about #4):
- Citations that deliver Traffic, leads & customers (e.g. Yellow Pages, Foursquare etc.) – these almost always come with a price-tag but they do generally provide traffic and most definitely, a valuable link. It should be noted that quality Review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor also function as Citations.
- Citations that uphold or help build your Reputation e.g. if you’re a member of a professional guild, or your business name pops up as sponsors on websites for local charity, town celebrations etc.
- Citations that add Prestige. If you’re quoted by a university website or interviewed by an online magazine or newspaper or TV Station as a specialist in your field, then that citation is considered important &
- Citations that come from Local Business Directories – I can see why Google values them but in the real world, I can honestly say that I don’t know of anyone who uses them. If they’re free, it can’t hurt, I suppose but if they cost – well, that’s up to you. The highest profile directory in my area is Local Search, which has been around for a while – I believe it has recently been acquired by Yellow Pages and I often now see their adverts on the sides of buses. Here’s their generic ad re-branded for Wollongong. [It should be noted that in industries where many businesses don’t yet have websites, such as electricians, links from Local Business Directories to your website could be very helpful for your website’s SEO and therefore, your bottom line.]
Some Doubts About The Value Of Too Many Citations
I’m not the only one who’s less than convinced about local businesses having a lot of Citations that aren’t directly related to your local area and which don’t tend to deliver traffic. In 2015, 71% of surveyed SEO companies thought that the authority and relevance of a citation site was important & only 23% of them thought that citations were becoming more important. So, while Citations will undoubtedly continue to be sought, I’m convinced that within a few years, the major metric for judging a business’ SEO worth will be:
- the number and quality of the reviews on their Google My Business listing, principally because those reviews are being posted by Google users. Over time, each of them will have created a profile, comprising of the searches that they make, the ads that they click, & the purchases that they have made. Therefore, their review will have a great deal of history behind them and ultimately, be very trustworthy
- Similarly, Google can scrape reviews from other Search Engines, like Bing & Duck Duck Go, Facebook Business Pages etc. and while Google won’t have been able to compile a history of the reviewers, their reviews will still be of influence.
Finally, the #1 reason for not getting too many citations is that they can be quite time consuming to set up and if you’re getting an SEO firm to do it, you might be paying top dollar for links that are quite possibly of little value.
Citations Updates From The Web
Acceptable Google Maps NAP Abbreviations & Variations – December 2016
[NAP = Name + Address + Phone Number]
The Irritating Consistency Of Citations Problem – March 2016
A great read for discovering what an SEO company has to do fix discrepancies in your Citations – business listings that might be old or out of date – and why that process is not cheap.