There are a ton of acronyms floating about in the world of digital marketing. You’ve got CRO, CTA, SERP and NAP to name but a few. NAP is one that we hear a lot about, simply because it’s such a fundamental part of local search. The mere mention of NAP can cause panic because it does sound like it may be something awfully complicated. Happily, in this case its bark is worse than its bite.
While the concept of NAP is actually fairly straightforward, there are nuances that must be observed – specifically, NAP consistency. It’s worth getting this right and paying attention to the details because it’s one of the core components of attaining high-profile local search visibility.
The benchmark 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors Study by Moz has NAP listed twice within its top five local pack ranking factors. It cites the presence of NAP within both on-page signals as its fourth most important ranking factor and NAP consistency within the number five rated citation signals.
NAP consistency is important not just to search engine ranking algorithms; it can also have a direct impact on consumer perception of your business and dictate whether they have a positive or negative experience of your brand. So, while NAP itself is simple enough, there is much more going on under the surface to ensure your local search presence is optimized and working well for your business.
What does NAP mean?
Simply put, NAP stands for:
- Phone Number
These three nuggets of information are important details in their own right but add them together and that can be the reason why a customer walks into your store – or the cause of them getting lost, being frustrated, wasting their time or, visiting a competitor.
As we’ve seen, NAP is an important ranking factor, but you may well find that you have lots of NAP listings that you haven’t actually set out to build. That’s because NAP listings occur naturally, simply as a result of you going about your regular marketing activity.
If you open a Facebook business page and fill in the profile details requested, for example, you’ve created a NAP citation.
If you create an event and publish details of that event online, perhaps so customers can buy tickets or for local residents to attend at your place of business, you’ve inadvertently added another NAP citation to your collection.
Likewise, if you exhibit at a conference and that conference publishes exhibitor information online, or if you’re referenced in a local blog, newspaper or magazine article, or if you add your site to an industry directory in order to direct niche traffic to your business, you’ve racked up yet more NAP mentions without even trying.
Does NAP include your website?
We’ve established that NAP mentions can take many forms and occur in a whole host of different spaces, from social media profiles to directories, newspaper articles to reviews, but these days NAP consistency also includes your website. This is a place where you will naturally reference your business name, provide customers with your phone number or give directions to your store. Whether they are clustered together in the same part of the page or split up on the page, that information still counts as a NAP citation.
With that said, you’ll need to be vigilant about how you reference your name, address and phone number on your own site just as you do when building citations or providing this basic contact information elsewhere.
How can NAP become inconsistent?
It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking of NAP as a purposeful thing you do when you’re specifically seeking to build citations. In fact, it’s something that often occurs very naturally in the course of a marketing action such as writing an article or creating a new web page.
For that reason, it’s easy to be caught unawares and fall into the trap of neglecting NAP consistency simply because you’re more concerned with the actual task at hand, not the NAP you’ve generated as a byproduct of your focus at the time.
Another reason that NAP consistency can be less than perfect is that not all NAP occurrences follow the same format. Because you may find yourself inputting the NAP data in a range of different ways for a whole host of different reasons in a multitude of different locations, consistency can be hard to maintain. This is especially true if you’re completing a social media profile one minute and purchasing a directory listing the next.
Likewise, you won’t always be the one physically creating the citation. It may be that you’re interviewed by a local reporter, for example, and in their article, they truncate the name of your street or neglect to give the zip code. They may use a colloquial form of your company name or not use LLC alongside your company name for style purposes.
You may also have other people, such as your local SEO agency, working on your behalf that inputs your NAP data slightly differently to you, creating inconsistencies over time.
Why does NAP need to be consistent?
As I point out in a related article about how local citations help local SEO,
Building good quality local citations for your business is often recommended as a first step in any local SEO strategy. The reasons for this are threefold: citations can help (or hinder) your search ranking, they can aid local business discovery, and they can make or break a new customer’s trust in your business.”
NAP is a ranking factor
As per the Moz Local SEO Ranking Report, NAP information is a top five ranking factor. It contributes to on-page signals and citation signals, both of which contribute to a strong presence in the local pack.
According to Moz findings, only Google My Business signals (which includes NAP within the business profile), review signals and link signals are more important for local pack rankings, with behavioural signals, social media signals and personalization all judged to be less important.
Our own recent BrightLocal research, SEO Citations Study: How Many Citations Do Local Businesses Need? also backs up this data, with our findings showing that local businesses ranking in the top 10 of local pack rankings all have an average of 81 citations. Those ranking in the top spot have an average of 86 citations, while the business ranked 10th had an average of 75 – suggesting the more citations containing NAP you’re able to build, the better your local rank position.
It’s also known that Google (and other search engines) use citations to gather information about a business. Google essentially wants to amass as much data as it can about a business to understand it. This means that the number of citations it can find, the accuracy and consistency of that data, and the quality of where that data is pulled from all help the search engine to build a picture.
If NAP consistency is apparent across the board, it’s taken as a signal that the information is accurate – meaning Google can confidently provide that same info to search users. On the flip side, a lack of NAP consistency is a red flag, eating away at trust and hampering rankings.
NAP consistency is important for consumer trust
It’s impossible to over-emphasize just how important NAP consistency is for consumer trust. More than 9 in 10 consumers in our 2018 Local Citations Trust Report say they are frustrated by incorrect information in online directories.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, especially when you factor in that local searches tend to be driven by high intent. Figures from Think With Google show that 88% of consumers who use their smartphone to conduct a local search will visit a local store within seven days.
If NAP data is inconsistent, or worse, incorrect, that consumer is likely to be significantly inconvenienced. They may travel to the wrong location. They could have a wasted trip. They may need to perform additional searches to find the correct NAP details – all of which adds up to feelings of frustration, and inevitably erodes trust in your brand. Ensuring NAP consistency removes this threat.
NAP consistency sets the tone for the consumer journey and path to purchase
Google research data concludes that 96% of users turn to their smartphones when they have a need to get something done, with 87% of those consumers making a search engine their first port of call. This makes search results the first step on what you hope will be a path to purchase.
A consumer is just as likely to find a directory listing, a Google My Business profile, a favorable article or a social media link as they are your web site. These are all discovery portals, making it even more important your NAP is consistent and up to date across the web.
Just as having consistent and accurate NAP moves the consumer along the purchase journey, incorrect data can lead them to fall off that path. Plus our local citation trust report found that consumers place the onus for correcting incorrect information on the local business, not the directory site displaying the wrong details.
Inconsistent NAP data could mean you’re losing customers you may not know you had
Nine in ten consumers also say they look up the address of a business online before their first visit. As a brand, you need NAP consistency to ensure the address they are finding is correct. If that consumer finds two different addresses, or inconsistencies such as a different zip code, they won’t know where to go and this could lead to them abandoning their planned visit before they even set off, costing you a sale you never knew was in the balance.
Likewise, consumers who struggle to find a business when they arrive due to incorrect or inconsistent NAP data are increasingly likely to give up and go elsewhere. Almost half say they’d stop trying and around a third would go to a competitor. The potential revenue lost makes NAP inconsistency incredibly costly.
The more consistent your NAP, the clearer it is for consumers and the more trustworthy you appear.
NAP consistency results in more and better referral traffic to the site
So, we’ve seen that NAP consistency is critical to the consumer journey and can help a local consumer transition from search user to your customer – but only if that information is consistent and accurate.
We’ve also seen that NAP data can be an important part of local SEO rankings. It allows Google to build a credible picture of your business, verify what it thinks it knows about you and confidently return your business information within relevant searches to local search users. It can only do this if your NAP is consistent. The more consistent you can be, the more you help the search engines trust your business.
Local consumers additionally appear to be a somewhat unforgiving bunch when it comes to spotting flaws – they expect the local business to get it right and fix mistakes when NAP is wrong.
It follows, then, that there’s another layer to this. Regardless of whether your NAP appears in a blog post, a review, a Facebook profile or within the Yellow Pages, it needs to be accurate to garner search visibility (leading to website visitors or bricks-and-mortar visits) and to usher the consumer along the path to purchase. That will often involve visiting your website. If your NAP is inconsistent or inaccurate, you’ll restrict your local ranking positions and put local consumers off visiting your site.
The bottom line is that the more consistent your NAP, the more referring traffic you’ll get to your site, whether as a result of a clickthrough from a search results page or from a trusted third-party site displaying accurate business information.
Accurate NAP makes the likelihood of appearing in voice search higher
Google says that the speed at which consumers have adopted voice search has been faster than the adoption of any type of technology since the smartphone.
eMarketer predicts 76.5 million people will use smart speakers by the end of 2020, up from just 16 million in 2016. Voice search also includes mobile devices, of course, meaning the total audience is actually much larger.
Why does this matter? Voice search and mobile search are very closely linked – with many smartphone users turning to voice search for hands-free moments, such as when driving and in need of directions to a local business.
According to the 2016 Kleiner Perkins State of the Internet Report, 22% of people use voice search for finding local information. SEMrush says by 2020, around half of searches carried out are expected to be voice-based. In its 2019 voice search study, SEMrush concluded that 80% of answers returned by voice search were taken from the top three organic search results. With NAP a known local SEO ranking factor, having accurate NAP makes it much more likely that you’ll appear for voice searches.
In a piece on voice technology strategy, Google’s Jared Belsky underlines exactly why this is so vital, saying “Smart speakers give one answer at a time, so if you’re not first, you’re last.”
Consistent NAP makes Maps experiences much more reliable
Maps are, of course, are all about NAP. Ensuring your NAP is accurate means the user experience is much more reliable and can help people find your physical bricks-and-mortar location when planning their journey. Again, this could equal an in-store visitor or, in the case of inaccurate information, lead to the loss of a potential customer.
Google My Business information is used to populate Maps along with other Google properties, so it’s well worth checking that the information you have provided is still accurate. If not, it’s easy to edit – our guide here details how to do that.
What other business data is important to keep consistent?
In addition to NAP consistency, there are several other items of business data to keep consistent. Your website URL is an obvious one along with your main contact email address.
Product and service data should also be consistent across your online presence. If a product or service has been omitted from your Google My Business profile, for example, you could be missing out on leads or sales.
Likewise, if a product or service you have listed is discontinued, it should be removed from your online presence as soon as possible to avoid customer frustration and distrust.
Many consumers turn to social media to find local businesses or source business information so ensure that your profiles are all consistent, too. If you have older, outdated profiles that are no longer in use, remove those links and replace them with your active social media handles.
NAP data plays an important role for both search engine visibility and consumer trust. It can give you a leg up in the rankings or stint your local pack and voice search visibility. It can make it easy for people to find you or frustrate them and eat into brand trust.
Taking time to ensure you have NAP consistency is an easy way to feel confident that you’re doing all you can to optimize your search presence and drive consumers to your doors.