What Are Citations?
Doing Local SEO is a great way for your business to be found online but, the problem is that most of us don’t know where to start. There are many local directories that have an option to submit a free business listing to their website. This business listing within the local directory is known as a citation.
If you’re not looking for citation building opportunities in local directories, you’re probably not doing local SEO.
Usually, the local business directories will link back to your site and we recommend linking to your specific location page if you have one. Some local directories don’t link back to your website. And that’s ok. They may or may not have additional information, too, like geo-coordinates, customer reviews, business hours or more.
Whether we like it or not, Google’s local ranking factors and other search engines use these NAP references to evaluate the online credibility of your business. The number of citations mentioned in many places across the local SEO ecosystem impacts your local rankings and whether or not you’ll show in the local three pack.
In addition, it verifies to Google that the NAP they have on file for you, if it matches, is likely accurate and they are more confident in promoting that information.
This local SEO strategy works best when you have individual location landing pages that are optimized for local geo appended keywords. This is known as a local on-page SEO strategy that ties into your citation building campaign.
Google did research that showed conversions were more than twice as likely after consumers did a local search.
What it really comes down to is this: how many times your local business is listed on a local directory. A citation for local SEO is the same as saying a listing on a business directory.
So, let’s get into how to get your local citation out there.
Doing Local Citation Building
The first place to start is on online directories. Think through three different directory arenas: locally-based, review sites, trade or industry-specific, and broader. If you don’t have time to manually build out all the listing yourself you will want to look into hiring SEO experts to handle your local SEO services. If you are a small business this is crucial to literally get on the map.
Locally, check out your neighborhood and community hubs.
Review sites include Yelp, Angie’s List, Super Pages, or TripAdvisor
Trade business directories should certainly include your local chamber of commerce and professional association websites. Your industry will dictate the rest. For example, are you a plumber? List yourself on MyZipPlumbers.com. Authoritative, niche websites like this help search engines confidently categorize your business.
Most directories provide a free option. The kicker is that you can’t link back to your website. Good enough. For SEO purposes, you’re really focused on the mention anyhow. Only pay for a listing if the traffic it’ll generate (and theoretically convert) would justify you spending money.
Broader options include local business platforms like Google My Business (absolutely your most important platform, for the record), Apple Maps, Superpages, Factual, Bing, CityGrid, Acxiom, Localeze, Facebook, Yelp, and more.
Tricks that you can use:
- Set up a unique email address for this purpose only, as they’ll spam you to death from here on.
- If asked to pick a business category, be sure to keep yours consistent.
- Verify your listing if that’s an option. This establishes more credibility for you.
- Overshare!—give them everything they ask for (and some they don’t, if applicable). Email addresses, business description, store hours, pictures, you name it.
Vertical Measures, a content marketing website, argues that these are the 10 most important sites for citation building.
If you’re new, start with this list:
Next, size up the competition. Do some digging. Find out where your competitors are listed.
It’s simple. Type your competitor’s business name and zip code into Google in the following format:
Competitor’s Name and Zip Code.
Write down every local listing you see of them that you are not on. Do this for the first 10 pages of your competitors. You could wind up with many.
Get busy getting yourself into each of them. Some may be as simple as a quick form, others may require inquiring, a phone call, or submitting a blog or article to them.
Think about unstructured citations—places that aren’t business listing directories, in other words. Press releases, profiles, article quotes, forums, and a whole host of other sources can carry your NAP. Pitch yourself to blogs as a feature article or make a splash on social media. Get newsworthy.
These unstructured citations really are the most potent. If they’re on respectable sites, it’s the best form of PR. If they’re on platforms you don’t readily acquire customers from, it opens you to a new pool of potential clients.
Value quality over quantity. A piece about your business from a university, government organization, or esteemed news provider will go far.
Once your citations are built out, know that you’re not done. In fact, you’ve only just begun. Now, you have three options for citation management: do it yourself; outsource it or automate it.
If you choose to manage it internally, plan to reevaluate your listings (and your competitor’s) every six months. Best to go ahead and pencil that into your calendar now—a very necessary best practice.
How To Do a Local Citation Audit
There a lot of reasons one may conduct an audit on their local citations. Have you neglected to keep up with your citations? Have you recently changed one of your business details: phone number, name, business hours?
Do you have a business that operates in multiple cities and may end up in disarray if not kept a close eye on?
Whatever you may have heard about audits whether good or bad but, audits are very important. Inaccurate or duplicate citations is bad business. It hurts your SEO rankings and provides the wrong information to potential clients.
If you plan to do this on your own, imagine combing the internet. With a fine-toothed comb.
You’ll want to find every instance of your NAP, ensure its accuracy and consistency, and quickly make corrections. Even a discrepancy as seemingly minor as “Road” vs. “Rd.” can penalize your business.
One of the downsides is that it is time-consuming, which is why most businesses pay an agency to to it for them.
There are services that can do this for you for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The turnaround time is usually between 6 to 10 weeks but, could possibly take about 6 months if they are starting from nothing (no website, no social media, and no internet presence).
However, if you’d like to do it yourself, there are free resources, like Moz Local, that will tell you how your business appears across a few major search engines: like Google, Bing, and a dozen or so others. Yext also provides a similar service to scan major directories. Synup has a free scan feature that reveals your business’s NAP across top citation sources and will also identify incorrect listings.
Check government sources too—they’re given credence by search engines. The Better Business Bureau and the Secretary of State’s Filing for Business. Are you listed as a “DBA”?
Check out Google Map Maker to track all changes that have been made to your NAP.
Use a basic spreadsheet to keep track of every citation location. This will prove useful now and in the future as you practice good maintenance habits. Color code it by priority. Green indicates that the citation is correct; yellow indicates minor edits are needed, and red indicates a priority revision is needed.
Doing Local Citation Cleanup
Let’s be honest. Your NAP is going to get messed up somewhere along the way. A number will get superimposed, or your old address may still be listed, or your phone number is just flat out wrong. Having a consistent name, address and phone number across all local directories is crucial for your local rankings.
So, after you’ve scanned for all of your listings in an audit, it’s decision time. Decide how you want your NAP to appear (likely the way you have it on your website) and stick to it. Every listing, every reference. In fact, ensure that every employee writing about your business is writing it the exact same way.
I’m going to repeat this because it’s important: For a citation to earn you points toward your SEO, it must match exactly to the name, address, and phone number on your website as well as your Google My Business page. That’s right. That even means the difference between leaving out floor number within your address or “Inc.” within your business name will hurt your SEO.
A partial citation (like your business name and address, but no phone number) will still earn you a few points but ideally, you’re going for the big three. That will earn you the most “credit” from Google.
Fix your information in major data aggregators first (like Acxiom). The bright side is that most of these major directories are interconnected. When you fix one, often times, it will fix others automatically. These major data aggregators will usually verify your changes through the phone number associated with your business so standby.
Then, focus on your local or industry-specific sources.
Remember to delete any duplicate listings.
Know that some sites will be more difficult than others to correct. Some will allow you to claim your citation on the spot; others will require a call or email. Draft a template that can easily be copied and pasted to save you time.
Synup recommends something like:
State the Problem – duplicate listing, wrong NAP etc
Provide Link for reference
Provide the link of the duplicate citation (if you want a duplicate citation to be removed)
Give a time frame and ask for a notification mail once the problem is fixed
Name & Business Name
Keep in mind this isn’t going to always happen overnight. Google, for example, can take up to three days to update your stats.
Going forward, it’s a good idea to create a plan and nail down the specifics for the inevitable: mergers/acquisitions, moves, rebranding, new phone numbers or email addresses, etc. You may not foresee these events happening now, but when they inevitably do, you’ll be glad you have a seamless method to clean up behind yourself.
Make sure you have a running document like a Google doc to track all your citations and have your username, email, and password handy.
Lastly, your freshly-scrubbed local citation work should be the promotion of your business. Log in frequently. Encourage reviews. Respond to complaints, feedback, and photos. Keep the door of communication open and your presence alive and recent. Make a splash in local headlines and generally give local news outlets something positive to talk about when it comes to your business.
A strong presence with local can be achieved by building a number of citations in a variety of top-tier to lower tier local directories.
My advice is to clean up what’s out there. Audit your presence. Then, put some elbow grease in to get it spotless and consistent.
After you have everything in order, then work on building up your citation presence online.
In no time, you’ll be enjoying the rewards of a clean, consistent, positive local citation existence.
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