The perplexing nature of local SEO presents a unique challenge to even the most savvy marketers. Google takes into consideration many different off-site factors to determine the organic, local, and Google Maps rankings (yes there are three possible placements in which your business can be found; four if you count PPC).
The ideas surrounding on-site SEO are an entirely different beast. So in this post, we’re going to focus on two of the biggest off-site variables that influence local SEO: citations and backlinks.
Local Citations for SEO
The simple definition of a citation is purely the mention or reference of a business’s name, address, and phone number, otherwise acronymed “NAP.” Citations are an important variable in determining the ranking of a location in Google Maps search as well as the local 3-pack shown in Google Search.
Google crawls this NAP information wherever it may be found. This includes but is not limited to: local directories, social media sites, chamber of commerce sites, industry directories, press releases, news releases, and other publications. Additionally, Google uses the NAP information mentioned on your business’s website and Google My Business listing as a primary point of reference. For businesses with multiple locations, such as franchises, this underscores a key point in ensuring all of your locations are properly organized on the website.
In a nutshell, Google compares the website’s NAP information with that of surrounding sources throughout the web. This mechanism is used to assess the legitimacy of a business’ location. If there are discrepancies in a location’s citation data (i.e. inconsistent phone number or address information), it sends mixed signals to Google and rankings can suffer as a result.
As a result, having a plethora of perfectly accurate citations, and from many sources, is a hot commodity for SEO. In turn, NAP clean-up and citation building have become integral strategies to attain premium placement in the Google Maps and local 3-pack listings (both offering some of the best advertising real estate available.) Some of the most common and authoritative sources are Yelp, Yellowpages, Citysearch, Superpages, Manta, and Yahoo. As for the latter, we highly recommend checking out Andrew Shotland‘s free guide on how to add your business listing to Yahoo Local.
SEO Citation Building Tip
There are a number of tools that you can use to efficiently optimize citations. Just be aware of how these tools are priced. Yext is one of the most popular services for citations, however, it’s subscription-based. So when you stop paying for the subscription, your citations could go back to they way they were from the beginning. Alternatively, it’s best to use a service or tool that builds and fixes citations manually, and thereby permanently. This is a service we offer at Captivate. You can contact us to learn more about it.
Backlinks for Local SEO
Similar to citations, backlinks are off-site signals that Google use to assess the credibility and authority of website. Backlinks, also known as external links or just “links,” have defining characteristics, like referring source (or referring domain), anchor text and DoFollow or NoFollow. The figure below is a representation of backlink metrics we look at using Ahrefs.
While this tools has defined its own metrics, we’re primarily looking at is Backlinks (which is the total volume) and Referring Domains (or how many websites are supply all backlinks). The diverse backlink ratio with plentiful referring domains often lends to greater trust and credibility from a SEO standpoint.
Specifically, referring domains looks at where backlinks are coming from. This includes the particular websites (and how authoritative and relevant it is), as well as where the backlink is located on the site, such as a blog post, advertising graphic, or directory listing. Backlinks from authoritative sites with a high degree of relevancy are gold for SEO.
For example, in the case of local restaurant based in Augusta, GA, a backlink coming from an advertisement on Augusta.com’s homepage will probably offer greater SEO value than the backlink from a DexKnows.com listings. In essence, building and earning backlinks is a multi-layered strategy that includes a high level of effort. It’s easy to build listings on relevant directories and social media sites, but it’s often the hard-to-earn links that lend to greater domain authority and overall ranking potential.
Other Backlink Variables
The other two variables that Google considers when evaluating backlinks is anchor text and DoFollow or NoFollow. Anchor text is the words and phrases that make up a text-based link. Common anchor text can be “click here,” “visit website.” or “DomainName.com”.
Anchor text can also be optimized in such a manner that it includes targeted keywords, like “search chiropractors in Atlanta” or “Seattle seafood.” While optimized anchor text can increase the SEO value of backlinks, too much keyword-relevant anchor text raises a big red flag with Google. In turn, it’s best to strike a balance when doing any sort of active link building, leaning on the side of a very natural looking backlink profile. In other words, when given the opportunity to customize anchor text, use keywords sparingly. Based on the anchor text distribution of CaptivateSEO.com below, our backlink profile is very natural.
The last quality of a backlink that influences its SEO value is whether or not it’s DoFollow. This a technical term used to describe how a link may be coded in HTML. If a backlink is attributed with a NoFollow tag, then it’s telling search engine bots not to follow the link to its destination and remain on the referring source. That’s not to say NoFollow links have no SEO value. It’s just that DoFollow links typically carry greater weight. Again, it’s all about balance and keeping it natural.
SEO Backlink Building Tip
Before investing in a link building service, it’s very important to understand how a provider goes about building links. Contextual links from blog posts, articles, and press releases are some of the most powerful backlinks for SEO. However, link diversity is critical. For optimal link equity, it’s best to have a balanced strategy that involves earning links naturally through content marketing and social media.