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    If you read my article on Building Citations & Directory Listings, you got an introduction to the importance of local SEO and how citations and listings can have a huge “bang for your buck.”

    While it’s important to keep building your arsenal, it’s equally important to make sure that your existing appearances are consistent across the web. You don’t want to spark confusion with conflicting information available to people or to search engines. Neither will be too pleased with you.

    NAP consistency helps customers and search engines build confidence in your business’s web presence, which is non-negotiable for higher rankings and beating out your competition.

    Buckle up, this is a NAP know-how lightening round.

    What Is NAP Consistency?

    NAP stands for

    Name, Address, Phone number.

    So the term means that these 3 items are clearly-defined, accurate, and consistent across all forms of your web presence, particularly directory and review sites.

    Fast Vocab: Web citations are any online mention of your business featuring any (or all) of your NAP data.

    While this is the traditional jargon, your website URL is another critical element. You might see this labeled as NAP+W or NAWP.

    As you might recall from my other article, any online mention of your business that features all or some of your NAP data is commonly referred to as a citation, while directories are full, structured citations.

    NAP consistency is important across all web citations, especially directory listings like:

    Check out these directories where your NAP might be listed and make sure they’re correct.

    • Google Maps
    • Yelp
    • Bing Maps
    • Yahoo! Local
    • Yellow Pages
    • Manta
    • Better Business Bureau
    • MapQuest
    • Superpages
    • Indeed
    • …and hundreds more.

    How Does NAP Affect SEO?

    “In last year’s local search ranking factor study, citation consistency was ranked the number two most important factor, second only to just actually having a business in the city you’re trying to rank.”

    – Darren Shaw, founder of WhiteSpark

    Simply put: Inconsistent NAP information makes your business less credible to search engines, which directly lowers your ranking.

    Search engines can be thought of as complex and sophisticated computers, constantly crawling the web and relying on accessible information to draw conclusions about the relevance and categorization of a business. That’s how they rank websites.

    Even the slightest variation in your NAP information on any listing is enough for a search engine to register it as a different business. For example, naming conventions like Corp. versus Corporation in the business name.

    You want to keep the search engines happy and all the search engines want is consistency. If you keep search engines’ confidence high, you will be ranked higher. Simple as that.

    A 2-Step Process to NAP Consistency

    The process is pretty straightforward: conduct an audit, then clean and conquer.

    Step 1: Conduct a Consistency Audit

    The first step in ensuring NAP consistency is searching the web for any instances that your business is listed.

    Since there are hundreds of citations to sort through, it’s important to have a strategy if you decide on the manual route. Darren Shaw of WhiteSpark made this easier by creating a hierarchy of sorts for you to work your way through.

    Try tackling NAP consistency in this order to cut back on overwhelm.

    1. Primary Data Sources: US aggregators and others outside the US
    2. Tier 1 Sources: the 5 to 10 most prominent US structured citation sources
    3. Tier 2 Sources: the next 10 to 50 sources
    4. Tier 3 Sources: the hundreds of other business listing sites out there

    Conduct your own audit of the most impactful sites by Googling your business’s name with the city it’s in, then scrutinizing each result.

    Check out this handy Citation Repair Spreadsheet from Moz’s Casey Meraz to help you keep track of all the issues you encounter.

    There are also some resources to help (but make sure you’re double-checking their results for accuracy):

    Step 2: Clean Up NAP Issues

    Unless you’re using a web service, this is a manual labor kind of job.

    If you’re doing it yourself, I recommend doing a Google search of your company and working your way down the front page in chronological order. If they’re the first listings you see, they’re the first your potential customers will see.

    You can create an account to claim the listing on each site where you find inconsistencies, which will give you admin capabilities to edit them. Even if you don’t see inconsistencies, I still strongly recommend claiming them all. This gives you full control over the info and prevents internet trolls or confused good Samaritans from making incorrect changes in the future.

    Pro Tip: Claim listings even if there are no current inconsistencies. You want full control of your company’s online image.

    Look for some top perpetrators of NAP issues over time, including (but not limited to):

    • Business name changes and acquisitions
    • Store closures and moves
    • Phone number changes
    • Address inconsistencies from suite numbers
    • Listing a tracking number instead of a main phone number
    • Multiple phone numbers for a single location
    • Inconsistent naming conventions: Corp., Corporation, LLC, Inc., etc.

    Save Time – Use a Service

    While it’s possible to tackle this project yourself, you may want to use a web service depending on the scope, size and amount of work to be done. Here’s my recommendations.