I specialize in translating online marketing jargon into plain English. If youâ€™re running a small business, especially a small business with a local focus like dentistry, self storage, legal, or accounting services, and have looked into running a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, chances are youâ€™ve run into the term â€œcitationsâ€ or â€œweb citations.â€ Nobody wants to look like a fool, and upon hearing the term you may have thought, â€œCitations? What the heck are those? Well, better just nod my head and act like I know what this web geek guy is talking about.â€ To make you feel better, allow me to confess that I run an online marketing firm, and I thought the same thing the first time I heard about citations from one of my employees.
What Is A Citation?
Itâ€™s not Googleâ€™s version of a speeding ticket. The kind of citation Iâ€™m talking about is a good thing. Loosely defined, any time someone mentions your company on their website, thatâ€™s a citation. You might also call it a reference, shout out, or mention, but in SEO-speak itâ€™s a citation. Is it a citation even if there isnâ€™t a link to your business? Yes. What if itâ€™s just the name and nothing else? Well, yes, you could still call it a citation, although a citation is more effective if itâ€™s not just the name of your company with a logo link, but the company name accompanied by a phone number, address, or other identifying information that tells search engines exactly who you are. For example, my firm is named â€œMWI,â€ which is a rather generic name that is shared by perhaps hundreds of other companies around the world (we even ran into a few in Asia when we decided to open a branch office in Hong Kong). Unless the name of my firm is accompanied by a link, phone number, address, or other identifying information itâ€™s difficult for Google or any other search engines to know if that citation belongs to my firm or one of the other MWIs in the world.
Some examples of citations might include a listing on an online phone directory or the member page of a chamber of commerce or other industry association. If your business sponsors a charity and they list you as a sponsor on their website, or you make a presentation at a local college and they list you and your company to promote the event, those are also citations.
As Nyagoslav Zhekov says on a Whitespark blog post,Â even a phone number by itself could potentially be a citation that search engines would pick up on, inasmuch as it can be matched to a particular company.
Why Are Citations Good?
Citations are good for business regardless of any effect they have on your online marketing. Anytime someone mentions your business on their website theyâ€™re bringing attention to you and providing you with exposure to potential customer or clients. But when it comes to SEO there is an added dimension in that Google and other search engines pay attention to citations, and the more citations you have, all other things being equal, the better your website will rank on those search engines for searches related to what you do and where you are geographically located, which will bring you more web traffic, and more web traffic means more customers.
Citations are especially important for businesses that operate within a limited geographic range, like a certain city, because it is in part by citations that Google can determine that a certain business is active within a certain city and not the one next door. Through the effective use of citations and other SEO tactics a small company can outflank a large company on the search engines because it can prove itself to be more relevant to local search results than a national firm that must focus on a very broad market.
In fact, some small businesses that donâ€™t even have websites can benefit from a little SEO know-how when it comes to citations. As pointed out at getlisted.org, â€œCitations are particularly important in less-competitive niches (like plumbing or electrical) where many service providers donâ€™t have websites themselves. Without much other information, the search engines rely heavily on whatever information they can find!â€
How Do I Get Citations?
Benjamin Beck of LocalStampede, a Utah-based online marketing firm, has created the best resource I have yet to see on how to get citations for local businesses. Much of it will seem like common sense, but most of your competitors are not doing these things, or if they are, theyâ€™re doing 2 or 3 of them, rather than 20 or 30. All of Beckâ€™s suggestions are great, but one of my favorites is sponsoring charities that list sponsors on their websites. Beck says, â€œThere are a lot of great charities out there that could use business support. To find the right charity for your business check out Charity Navigator. You can use the advanced search to find specific type of charities within your zip code. Be sure to check out the charities websites to see if they cite their business sponsors, some of them do not.â€
Let this also be a hint to charities that they might gather more SEO-savvy sponsors if they provide those sponsors with citations. It costs the charity nothing and benefits sponsors by giving them exposure and SEO benefits. Whatâ€™s not to love? To see how simple this is, check out the website for Arizona Brainfood, a charity that provides needy schoolchildren with proper food and nutrition. Notice that they prominently placed a â€œSponsorsâ€ link in the main navigation at the top of the site, as well as creating a box for sponsors under the right-hand side of the main image. Their sponsors page shows logos of all their sponsors, and these logos link to the respective sponsor websites. Is this the best form of citation? Perhaps not, they might be more effective for the sponsors were they accompanied by some identifying text for each company, or if Arizona Brainfood even provided an entire page for each sponsor, but my gut tells me that having a mix of citations is healthy, and a linked logo here and there is just fine.
One citation-gathering suggestion I would add to Beckâ€™s list is business partnerships. For example, my firm has a subsidiary that provides websites for small self storage companies. We are currently integrating the websites we provide with a major software vendor in the self storage industry. When the time is right, weâ€™ll approach that vendor to try and become an official partner and get a citation on their website. Not only do we hope this will drive traffic to our website, but weâ€™ll get the SEO benefit as well. And we, of course, will also list that vendor on our website as a partner, since it adds to our productâ€™s credibility and usefulness. Thus our vendor also benefits. Note: To anyone who might cry â€œThatâ€™s a reciprocal link! You canâ€™t do that! Bad!â€ Iâ€™d point them to Tom Robertsâ€™ comments in a discussion on legitimate reciprocal links over at Moz.
Getting citations is not difficult, but may take some time. It will require that you send emails, make phone calls, and in many cases invest significant time developing relationships. But like any business strategy, if it were easy everyone would do it, and it wouldnâ€™t be a strategy at all. If you invest the time, youâ€™ll see the payoff, definitely in terms of your SEO results, but in many offline ways as well.
What citations have worked best for your small business? What creative means have you found to get more citations? Let us know in the comments.