How and Why You Need to Get Your Citation Mess Under Control
Hello, business owner in 2017. I’m about to tell you why you should get a listing with the Yellow Pages. Yes, that Yellow Pages. Sort of. I’m talking about yp.com now. See, we’re modern, right? No?
Ok, bear with me. This isn’t some nostalgia trip or something I’m saying because I’m completely out of relevant SEO ideas, I’m talking about Citations. We’re going to talk about what they are, who needs them and why and how to get them.
So What Are Citations?
According to Moz, “Citations are defined as mentions of your business name and address on other webpages — even if there is no link to your website.”
There isn’t much more to it than that, really. Citations are your business name, physical address and usually your telephone number and website URL listed on the internet. While that sounds simple, it can be a nightmare for reasons we’ll talk about in a few but for now, just know that it’s basically just what you’d put on a letter (see how I’m staying with the old school theme?) if you sent something to your business…along with the telephone number and URL since we’re not really in the dark ages.
Got it…But You’re Already Boring Me, Do I Really Need to Read to This?
Simple answer: Yes, you do.
Complicated answer: Everyone does but some types of businesses need to pay a lot closer attention than others.
Everyone needs to pay attention to how their business is listed online, whether you’re an eCommerce only site, a Service-area business, an International Corporation or a Clicks & Bricks (eCommerce storefront with physical locations/stores) business. At the root of why everyone should care is simply how easy is it for potential customers to find you and give you money. Having all of your information be accurate across the board is just a good business practice, builds trust with customers and Google and makes it easy for customers to find you.
That being said, if you do not have a physical location, a physical storefront or you’re not a service area business and you only conduct business online (e.g.: most eCommerce shops), you can get away with letting your NAP (Name, Address & Phone number) Profile slide a little bit and it probably won’t hurt you too much. On the flipside, if you have physical locations or are a service area business, there is almost nothing more important to your online life than this.
Bottom line: Online only businesses can slide a little with this (but really shouldn’t!), everyone else needs to be on top of this because its critical for physical locations and service areas.
Ok, I Follow. So What Do I Do?
The first thing you need to do is figure out how you want to be known. You’d think this is a simple task but this is where a lot of businesses struggle. You need to pick ONE name, ONE physical address, ONE telephone number (preferably a local number) and ONE URL. You can’t be ‘Magic House, LLC’ on your homepage, ‘The Magic House’ on YP.com, ‘Magic House’ on Hotfrog and ‘La Casa De Magia’ on Google My Business. It just doesn’t work that way. Also, if you have about fifteen different telephone numbers for your business, then you need to go ahead and pick the one you want to use. Google would prefer it be a local number but if that’s not possible, an 800 is fine. If you’re doing Call Tracking…well, you have fun there, try using CallRail or a similar service and make sure you do it right unless you want NAP nightmares.
The point is to canonize your information on one set of information for your business and stick to it. Easy, right? Once you do that, go ahead and stick that information on your site, mark it up with the proper Schema and there you go.
So I Have My NAP Ready, Am I Done Yet?
Nope. Not even close, my friend.
Now it’s time to find out who’s calling your business what and thinks you are who. Meaning, it’s time to run a NAP/Citation report.
For this, you are going to need some kind of tool. Personally, I use BrightLocal’s Citation Tracker service, which comes with a paid Brightlocal subscription. If you don’t want to pay for a tool, Andrew Shotland and the guys over at Local SEO Guide have a Chrome addon called NAP Hunter. I’ve used this one too and it’s great for manual citation work. Regardless, you’re going to need a tool. People say you can do it all manually and it’s true, but who has eleventy-billion hours to do this?
Anyway, once you have your NAP reports, you’ll probably notice that you have a bunch of places with weird names like ‘Hotfrog’, ‘Cylex’ and ‘DexKnows’ that have you listed as a bunch of different names and places and none of them are accurate. Congratulations! Welcome to the internet! I’ve never once in my life ever seen any business with a clean NAP across the web right off the bat, so don’t start freaking out. This is the first step of getting things under control: knowing exactly how ridiculously off the internet has it and where.
Now that we know where you’re listed incorrectly, now we can take steps to go to each directory and/or data aggregator and get this corrected!
There’s Literally Like Five Billion Directories on This Report…
I know and you need to go to all of them one by one and give them money and clean your listing!
Nah, I’m just messing with you — for now anyway. Though it seems that if certain companies out there had their way, you would have to pay to clean up your listings on all those sites but I’ll get back to that later.
Ok, so the real answer: yes, there’s like a million directories on that report but no, you don’t want to be on all of them. In fact, there are a lot where you probably are that you definitely don’t want to be.
Spammy & Horrible Directories
Thanks to Internet scrapers and other data collection methods, you probably have citations on sites with completely weird names like ‘findzeeplacez0rz.com’ and ‘hourzdayzweekzobiznizz.biz’. Yeah, nine times out of ten, sites with names like that are low quality, spammy directories that no one uses and are created just to have a place to stuff a backlink hoping you get a rise in position. This doesn’t work, Google knows these sites are spam and you do not want your business there.
A good tool like BrightLocal’s Citation Tracker will give you the Authority Score and Citation Value for each directory and this is extremely helpful but the best thing to do is to just use your eyes. Click on it, hope you have a strong antivirus program on your computer and just see if the thing looks like spam or not. If the directory looks like an old school link farm, contact the place and get your site removed. If they tell you to pay for it, ignore it. Don’t give those people a dime. Google knows about scrapers and bad link directories and realizes you probably didn’t ask to be there so they usually wont penalize you. Bottom line with those is to remove your listing if you can and if it’s free. If not, don’t worry about it.
So you sell T Shirts in Sioux City and you see that you have a link on a directory called ‘bestpizzajointssanantonio.com’? Wonder how you got there? You can thank the scrapers again. Bots are stupid. Bots usually don’t pay that much attention. Maybe the bots thought you can make a really good slice. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. If you checked your Google My Business listing and saw that you have your category correct there, don’t worry so much about how you got on a random weird directory, just worry about removing yourself.
Same as with the spammy directories, there is usually a way to request removal from the sites. Each directory has its own procedure so when in doubt, check the site itself. If they’re a legit directory, it shouldn’t cost you anything because they want a clean directory as possible. If its spammy and they ask you to pay for it, see above. Don’t give them a dime. No reputable directory — well, no, that’s not completely true for reasons we’ll discuss later — will ask for a fee to correct or remove data because they want a clean directory for people to actually use.
Quality Directories with Bad Information
So you have a listing on a quality & relevant directory or two? That’s great! The information is wrong? That’s bad! Fortunately, the fix is simple. All you need to do is create or sign in to your account on that particular directory and claim the listing and fix it. Each directory, again, has its own verification methods and procedures on how to do this so you’ll need to follow the instructions on how to do this.
Quality Directories with No Information
Easy! Sign up for an account and create one. That’s all there is to it.
The Yext Network
Ok. Here goes. Remember I kept saying if certain companies had their way, we’d all have to pay and almost no quality directories would charge you and we’d come back to that? Well. We’re back to that.
Ok, before we keep going, just imagine the heaviest sigh that one human can make because that’s what I do every single time I have to explain the ‘Yext Network’ to someone.
I’ll be brief because I don’t want to get sued but Yext is a Citations company that will clean up, submit and manage your citations on several different quality directories which they own, known as the Yext Network. Sounds great, right? I bet you want to know why all the sighing, don’t you?
Two basic reasons: It’s yearly fee is way too expensive for small to medium businesses, most of the times, you don’t need it to do what you want to do also that if you stop paying them, guess what, all your ‘corrected’ citations revert. Meaning they go back to the bad information they had before — but your money sure isn’t going back to where it was before! It’s complete insanity to me, but that’s just one person’s opinion. Also, for places like Yahoo local (I know, its Yahoo but the citation is still quality!) and a few other valuable directories you basically have to go through and pay Yext to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, if you are a huge business with lots of physical locations that it would be almost insurmountable to manage on your own (think: Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, etc) then Yext is totally worth it. They’ll do all the heavy lifting for you and the yearly price they charge is a drop in the bucket to you but if you’re a guy in New Jersey with 2 struggling T-Shirt shops, this is nothing to sneeze at. Also, it would be overkill because you can usually knock out citation work on a weekend or evening if you only have 2 locations if you’re only going after quality sites and you don’t even need this service…but you do if you want to get on the quality sites because now there’s no other way, at least from what we’ve seen the last time we tried. At this point, we don’t even bother.
The decision is yours to make but my advice is if you’re a huge chain with several locations, someone who is trying to drive traffic into your local stores, a service area business or someone who’s business is not focused around eCommerce, go for Yext. If you’re mostly eCommerce, skip it.
The Bottom Line
So there you have it. Now you have no reason to have a dirty NAP, incorrect citations or to be sending confusing trust signals to Google and your potential customers. Another tip before we conclude, Whitespark & Moz keeps and updates a list of the most valuable local citations on their website and it is indispensable to anyone looking to get this work done.
Or just give Yext a bunch of money, I dunno…