Do You Even NAP, Bro? Keeping Up With the Citations

Remember the days when, if you needed information about a business you reached for a gigantic book with a blue cover? No? Then GET OFF MY LAWN YA DANG WHIPPERSNAPPER! For those that do remember, it weighed about 8 pounds, always got your fingers full of ink, and was prone to leave paper cuts if it got half a chance. However, it was the SOURCE OF TRUTH and filled with all of the information anyone could want! If only things were still that simple. Back then, when the coolest cell phone tech was a slider keyboard, it was so simple to keep information about your business consistent and up to date. You sent your business info to the publisher; they published said info. Usually, the only reason anything would be wrong was if the printer made a mistake or the edition was out of date.

Today, things are decidedly different.

The Internet contains more info (and cat videos) than anyone could ever need to know, and has changed the landscape of how business information is displayed to searchers, especially those looking for local information. But, this means there are more ways than ever that business information can become discombobulated. To prevent that, we’ll look at how NAP citations are created, how they can go wrong, and why it’s important to keep them consistent.

To start off, let’s get the acronym out of the way – NAP. Simply put, it stands for:

Name. Address. Phone Number.

A NAP citation is any place that those bits of information show up on the Internet. There are other types of citations, but for our purposes, we’ll only be focusing on instances where those three show up together.

So, exactly how do NAP citations show up on the Internet in the first place?

I’m not going to break this down into ultra, super duper technical speak (mostly because it’s long and boring). What I can tell you though, is that there are still SOURCES OF TRUTH out there called data aggregators, and search engines like Google use those data aggregators to gather information, and then scrape together other relevant pieces of that information from other local directories and sites into NAP citations. There are 4 main data aggregators in the US that search engines get their local business information from. They are: Neustar Localeze, Infogroup, Acxiom and Factual. These sources contain vast amounts of NAP information and push that information out to places like YP.com, TripAdvisor, Superpages, Yelp and many other local and national directories and mapping properties. These pages then send out fresh signals to search engines, helping your business show up to searchers in the results pages and on maps.

However, if your NAP information happens to be incorrect in one or more of the aggregators, then there is the possibility inaccurate citations get filtered down to local directories, which can cause confusion in search engines, and even result in multiple listings showing two sets of conflicting information on places like Google Maps. If that happens, it will throw off your local search results and can cause confusion for searchers and people wanting directions to your business. Google can also penalize listings by bumping them down in local and organic search results. And a loss in rank means a loss in searchers finding your business, and could ultimately contribute to a loss in your bottom line.

If there is inaccurate information in a citation, people are going to move on to the next local result because: 1) there are other businesses that show the information the user seeks, and 2) they can do so very easily. Surprise! People are impatient! If the information someone seeks isn’t right in front of them instantly, it’s almost a given they will move on to the next listing. Would anyone drive to your business just to find out your phone number if it’s not listed along with the address and name? Of course not.

So how do these citations end up going so wrong?

Any number of ways really, but some of the usual suspects include:

  • Changing the name of the business or moving locations and hoping that things will just work themselves out
  • Misspelling the name of the business somewhere
  • Forgetting to update the suite number
  • Not listing a suite number when you have one
  • Using multiple tracking or cell phone numbers across the web
  • Having news stories print incorrect or incomplete information to their online editions.

It is also good to keep in mind that these aggregators are just giant banks of code that scrape information from other places, and are not infallible. It really is up to the local business owner (or their agency) to make sure that the information being displayed on the Internet is correct and up to date. If something shows up in Yahoo or on Google that is incorrect, there is most likely a legitimate reason for it, and should be dug into further.

NAP Consistency

Earlier I mentioned that having bad NAP can cause a drop in rank (both organically and locally), but how can one prevent that? The simple answer is consistency. Keeping your citations consistent is going to contribute to an overall stronger business signal, which will help your business information appear higher in the local search results. For instance, if your store is known as Finkle & Einhorn Shoe Laces, but it shows up in other directories as Finkle and Einhorn Shoes, it can cause issues in local search rankings because, to a search engine, those are two separate citations for very similar, but ultimately different entities. The same goes for keeping the address and phone the same. Consider the two addresses below.

Finkle & Einhorn Shoe Laces
123 East Main Street, Suite 1
Eagan, MN 55123
651-777-1245

Finkle and Einhorn Shoes
123 Main St, #1B
Eagan, MN 55123
651-777-1244

They may seem similar, but a search engine will see those as two separate citations and can reduce their rank in local search results. Google, in particular, could take those two citations and create two separate business listings for them on their Maps property. This will result in unnecessary confusion all around, but might even lead to a penalty being served for having duplicate business listings, and Google will drop the business down both organic and local ranks!

In order for there to be consistency for your NAP information, make sure to follow these guidelines:

For business names:

Keep them limited to what is on your street sign or business card. The official name of the business is your best bet. Anything else is only going to muddy the online waters.

For addresses:

Spell them out fully, meaning “Street”, “Boulevard” or “Suite”. Each local directory has their own way of displaying address information, and not much can be done about how they show up, but Google recognizes synonymous things like St vs Street, and won’t penalize for that. However, it’s best to know that everything is consistent when you enter it or update it on listings.

For phone numbers:

Utilize the most direct line to the business. Usually this is a landline, but if a tracking number or cell phone must be used, make sure to display only that number in all citations. Phone numbers cause a lot of unnecessary conflicting data.

Keeping Up With the Kardas-…Citations

Keeping up with your NAP consistency can be a daunting task, but the long-term results are going to outweigh any headaches or bumps along the way. As long as you (or your agency) are willing to take a bit of time to make sure that your business data is as consistent as possible, you can keep your listings from suffering ranking losses and possible local listing penalties from Google. Knowing this should make it a bit easier to understand why it is important to keep NAP citations consistent and up to date. And knowing is half the battle!