In local SEO, a citation is a mention of key business information – name, address, and telephone number (NAP) – anywhere else on the web.
Local citations may appear in directories, on social networks or review sites, in apps, and on all kinds of other websites.
Clearly, these are an important part of a researcher’s experience; NAP information is how a local consumer will find their way to your store or call you.
But do quotes help you rank higher in Google’s search results?
The claim: local citations as a ranking factor
Some quotes only allow the name, address, and phone number of the location.
However, you may be able to add a website link, business description, photos, and more, depending on the directory or platform.
The idea here is that each of these optimizations will help you rank higher in local search results:
- Have your NAP information displayed on multiple external sites.
- Ensure the accuracy of your quotes.
- Optimization of each by adding all the support details allowed by the fields of that site.
WhiteSpark’s Industry Survey of Local Classification Factors provides a good picture illustrating the variety of considerations at play when it comes to local citation cues. Citations are evaluated based on:
- Quality / authority.
- Improvement / completeness.
The evidence for citations as a ranking factor
Quotes have long been widely accepted by SEO professionals as a key local ranking factor.
“Citation Consistency” came in fifth in Moz’s 2020 industry survey of what SEO professionals believe are local ranking factors. (They also ranked fifth in the 2018 survey, for both Local Pack / Finder and Localized Organic Search Results.)
However, what matters most about citations has been a matter of debate over the years.
When BrightLocal surveyed the industry in 2016, 90% of respondents said the accuracy of citations was “very important” to “critical” for local search rankings. Additionally, 86% said the quality of those quotes was more important than quantity.
In this video, Google confirms that local results are primarily based on relevance, distance, and prominence.
And while you can’t control all of these factors, they say:
“First, make sure all information about your business is complete. It is important to have accurate information, including phone number, address and business category. “
Google also recommends that to ensure the accuracy of your GMB listing and “help you stand out,” you should:
- Double-check that the hours of operation are accurate.
- Use special vacation times.
- Add photos of your location, services or merchandise.
- Check your location to let Google know that you are the correct business owner.
In their help resource “Improve your local ranking on Google”, the advice is clear:
“Local results favor the most relevant results for each search. Companies with complete and accurate information are easier to match with the right searches.
Evidence against local citations as a ranking factor
It could be argued that citations are too difficult to maintain and therefore not a reliable signal.
And you would be right.
It is incredibly difficult to ensure that all citations in the local search ecosystem are kept up to date.
With so many aggregators, user suggestions, manual errors, and other elements that wreak havoc on citation information, how can Google trust that the information they’re finding about a business location is accurate?
This is exactly why managing local listings is so important, and providing Google with a single source of truth through your GMB profile is critical.
Tracking citation errors is essential so that you can correct them before incorrect information is collected by aggregators and distributed more widely.
Citation inconsistencies can occur for countless reasons:
- Companies move to new locations.
- Brands open and close shops.
- Staff and owners create lists without documenting them, and they become obsolete as the business evolves.
- Consumers create duplicate lists by making spelling mistakes when attempting to leave a review.
- Google researchers suggest changes to lists with the best of intentions but with the wrong information.
- And more. Much more.
Google acknowledges that all of these issues can affect the accuracy of citations, which is why it relies on such a wide range of sources to determine if the information is reliable.
Local citations as a ranking factor: our verdict
Bottom Line: It is almost officially confirmed by Google that Google uses local citations as a ranking signal in Local Pack / Finder and localized organic search results.
Google’s goal is to provide the best and most reliable answers to every searcher.
Citations are an important cue to verify that key business information is correct and that location is the best answer for a local researcher’s relevant query.
If you’re just getting started, check out John McAlpin’s Citations & Local SEO: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.
Ready to get more advanced? Make sure your citations are accurate and complete on as many relevant sources as possible. WhiteSpark’s free Top Local Citation Sources by Country finder allows you to extract a list of major directories, networks, websites, etc. in 15 countries.
And if you really want to power up your local strategy, we recommend that you download Local SEO: The Definitive Guide to Improve Your Local Search Rankings.
Featured image: Paolo Bobita / Search engine magazine