Life has trained us to believe that anything worth getting must cost money. But in the world of citations and local search, this just isn't true. You really CAN get something for nothing. If you aren't familiar with the term, "citations" are online references to your business and its location (address, phone number, etc.). The term exists because many people believe these "citations" are more valuable than links in optimizing for local search. People started talking about citations a couple years ago, after David Mihm wrote an very influential post on the subject, which you can read here. For now, the least you need to know is that citations are not always links, and links are not always citations. But let's back up a bit. If you own a small, local business, you may feel intimidated by the size and scope of the Web, and you may feel as if you are at a disadvantage going up against major corporations. And to some extent, Google agrees. That's why they built local search into their results pages. If you type "books boston ma" into Google, you'll see something like this at the top of the page:
Although in this case we included a geographic location (Boston, MA) in our search query, in some cases Google will return local results even without this identifier. "Pizza", for example, will return pizzaplaces near you (or at least near where Google thinks you are). So in this way, even if a local pizza shop will never show up in the regular search results (hard to compete with Domino's and Pizza Hut, after all), they will still have a place on the first Google search results page. While the pizza place down the block will likely never get to the top Google result, getting to the top of the local results is a much more manageable goal. This brings us back to citations. Citations (along with geographic location) are the primary means Google uses to select the businesses that will appear in local search results. Where can you get citations out on the Web? Here are a few ideas:
- Directories of local businesses (chamber of commerce sites, tourism info sites, etc.)
- Yellow pages sites and other business directories
- Yelp.com and other business review websites
- Search engines. Make sure you are listed in Google LBC, Yahoo Local, and in other search engines' local business listings.
- Social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook, et al.)
- Industry directories (like a directory of plumbers or wedding planners)
- Your own site! Include your address and contact info on every page (perhaps in the site footer).
Make sure that your business information is consistent (identical) in all of these places. Even if you are already listed in some of these places, you will need to edit your info if it is not consistent. Just remember this: Google has made all of their money by returning accurate search results. If they see inconsistencies in your information, they simply will not risk listing you over a business with consistent details across the Web. On most of the websites listed above, a citation will cost you nothing but a few minutes of your time. Yet their value is very real, and the potential gain is substantial. If an Internet search isn't the very first thing that someone does when they need to find a local mechanic, florist or bike shop, you can bet that it will be near the top of most people's lists. Fortunately, Google has been kind enough to provide your small business with the opportunity to appear on the first page of search results for people in your area. You should take advantage of it.