We all know SEO is all about the links. More than any other factor, an absence of links translates into an effective absence of ranking, while a large quantity of quality links usually translates into a site that ranks well.
Local SEO is a little different – it’s not so much the links, it’s the citations that show up in Google Places. If you’ve been in business for a while, your business identity is probably already listed on websites across the web, without you even knowing. If you own a pizza shop, a tourist who stopped in for a bite may have blogged about how good (or bad) the pizza is. If she mentioned your business name, that’s a citation. You may have an entry in your hometown’s chamber of commerce – that’s a good citation as well.
Your identity as a business is made up of several small components. While your phone number, your address, and your company name are the most frequently discussed citations, a true citation could have up to a dozen or more factors – website address, email address, fax number, cell number, business license number, contact name, and several others.
All else being equal (and it never is), a business with 10 citations will outrank a business with 5 citations of equal strength. A citation’s strength is determined these four factors.
1) Consistency with other citations. This is why, if your business has multiple phone numbers, only one should be used on the web. Make sure all listings use the same address, unless you have multiple locations – in that case, create a separate Google Places listing for each address, and each address should have its own unique phone number, and if possible, unique “contact us” or “store location” page on your website. If you have two stores named “Ray’s Pizza,” then you should call them “Ray’s Pizza on 5th Avenue,” or “Ray’s Pizza Downtown”
2) Comprehensiveness of the citations. A citation with a company name, phone number, and address, is better than name and phone number alone, and a citation with a fax number, website, and hours of operation is even better. The more information, the better, just make sure you don’t cross rule #1 – consistency.
3) Industry relevancy of the citation website. Sure, InsiderPages, CitySearch and Yelp are all great citation building sites. And you should definitely put in the time and resources to building citations from these and other IYP sites (especially because they’re great sources for reviews – more on that some other time). But this isn’t going to help you stand out from the crowd. I can pretty much guarantee that the 7 businesses currently dominating the top ten are already listed on those sites. What you need to do is find as many citation sources as possible that are industry relevant – if you’re a pizza shop, get listed on restaurant review sites, or pizza specific sites, if possible. Plumbers can usually get listed on their local plumber’s union website, or one of many find a plumber type sites that also offer free listings.
4) Local relevancy of the citation website. This is just as important as #3. If your business is located in Wichita, find business directories that focus on Wichita. If you’re in New York, get listed in New York business directories. As a bonus, combine rules #3 and #4 – getting listed in a NY directory of pizza shops could give your listing a huge boost.
This is enough to get you started. I’ll try to follow up on this with another article on how to find good citations. You can also read David Mihm’s slightly dated, though still excellent Why Citation is the New Link. Have I missed anything?