Local Citation Building
Management of local citations is one of the core principles of SEO and one of the most effective ways to build the reputation of your business. If you want to lay a great foundation for improving your online presence as well as rankings, your efforts should go to citation building for local SEO.
In this comprehensive article, we’ll be answering many important and eye-opening questions:
- What are citations in SEO, specifically in the context of local SEO?
- Why does your business need it?
- What factors go into the optimization of Google local citations?
- How do you know if your strategy is the right one?
- What is NAP, and is it important for local SEO?
What Are Local Citations?
Local citations in SEO are any online mentions of a local business on a third-party website. The mention includes at least one of the following (sometimes, all three) - name, address, and phone number.
Local citations can occur on local business directories, websites, apps, and social media platforms. From the perspective of users, their goal is to help them find essential information about the business. From the perspective of a business, it helps promote the brand.
What Types of Local Citations Are There?
There are two main categories: structured and unstructured. Below is a brief description of what each of them means.
Structured citations are displayed on directories that provide the same info for other businesses. Along with the name, address, and phone number, these sites often feature logos, photos, website links, hours of operation, the description of the services, videos, categories of business, reviews, and other data.
Both general business directories and industry-specific directories feature structured local SEO citations. Since the latter will vary based on what niche your business operates in, it makes sense to list examples of general business directories that suit everyone:
- Google My Business
- Apple Maps
- Yahoo! Local
- Yellow Pages
By unstructured citations, SEO specialists usually mean any third-party mentions on non-directory mentions. For example, a news website can reference a local business’s complete or partial contact information, thus, creating an unstructured citation.
Some citations may even include a link, at which point, it will also count as a link building activity. But! They are not the same.
Link Building vs. Citations
Both activities are crucial for building your online reputation and beneficial for SEO. But it’s still important to outline the difference so that you can maximize each.
The most apparent difference is how they are structured. Citations have distinct elements (name, address, and phone number).
Whereas backlinks can be any anchor text with a direct link to your website.
They can sometimes overlap, but in most cases, citations have nothing to do with direct links to your pages - citations in SEO are just about the accurate info.
Another difference is intent. Link building activities are meant to drive outside traffic to your site based on the relevancy of your content, whereas the management of local business citations rarely does the same. While it will likely inform users where to find and contact your business, the intention isn’t tied to your content.
Importance of Local Citations for Local SEO
Citations ensure discoverability. Does it matter? Absolutely; here are the stats:
- 86% of users rely on search to find a local business.
- 72% of users say that local merchants are the first choice.
- 46% of all Google searches are related to local information.
This shows us the scale at which people are looking for local information and how many visitors can stumble across your business. And when these people are searching, local SEO citations help you manage what they’ll find about you.
Besides, there are three areas of influence that any business can benefit from.
Improve Local Rankings
Citations affect how search engines perceive your business. If they are certain that your business exists, citations in online directories indirectly will improve your position in search results.
Here is how local SEO works. Search engines look for information about businesses all over the Internet. If the same information occurs on a number of reputable directories, the engine will count it as the validity of the data. Effective citation building for local SEO will also show that your business can be useful for the local community. Therefore, it will be more likely to present it to users.
Get on Page One With Little Effort
This is another indirect yet very important effect of local SEO citations. Some online business directories dominate page one of local search, like Yelp and YellowPages. You may not be able to beat giants, but you can join them on page one of SERPs.
Even though your business name may not appear on Google results for a certain query, you can get to the top through these directories. It will be only one click away from a potential customer.
For example, a person may be looking for a local restaurant. Even if your GMB card doesn’t outrank Yelp, your restaurant listing can be displayed on Yelp.
Earn Referral Traffic
Let’s continue our example with Yelp. Most people are essentially conditioned to go there before visiting a new place. In some cases, it may be their first choice before Google. If they find your business listing on Yelp, they often go to your website for more information. This creates valuable local SEO traffic.
The same algorithm usually happens with most consumers in the research phase of their buyer’s journey. Consumers go to different directories for different needs, so it may also be Booking or Tripadvisor. The takeaway is that without searching for your business, thanks to a high-quality citation, they can quickly get to your website.
How to Optimize Citations
To get you started, we’ve prepared a checklist to prevent citations from working against you:
- Include as much valuable information about your business in the citations as possible (emphasis on “valuable”). For example, you can include a backlink to your website, which should also be consistent (e.g., https, www, or non-www).
- Make it easy for others to understand your business information. Providing a lot of valuable information doesn’t mean making it incomprehensible. You want people to find everything they need in a quick glance.
- Choose local SEO keywords carefully. Competitor analysis can help with this task but make sure not to blindly follow what others are doing. Understand why it works for them and how it can be adapted to your business.
- Remember all other elements that need optimization, such as your content, UX and quick load times, and the website’s schema markup and metadata.
For more details about certain citation building components, read on.
Usually, you will have a 750-character to fill the description. This doesn’t include the name of your business, address, or phone number. The description section can be used to tell users a little bit about your brand, history, mission, and your current offerings.
But it’s not the place to share your sales and promotions. Reputable directories like GMB ban any promotional messages for any business.
It is possible to include a full link to your website. But one of the recent GMB updates introduced a feature called Google My Business Short Name.
Any business can choose a short name (5-32 characters) and attach a link to it. The short name can include the name of the business, the location, or anything else that doesn’t go against the guidelines.
A gigantic website URL with a long string of random numbers and letters was not exactly memorable. So, you can “spice up” your business link now!
For easier navigation, business directories usually include primary categories and additional categories. If you want the right people to find your citation, these categories should align with exactly what your business offers.
You want online visibility to come from a relevant detailed category. For example, restaurants serving pizza can be listed under “Italian restaurant” instead of just “Restaurant.”
To attract even more attention to citations, upload images to provide visual information about your location. Here are a few recommendations for what you should have:
- Several exterior photos of your location (preferably on a sunny day) from common angles;
- Several interior photos, also from common angles;
- Popular products and services;
- Common area, such as the reception;
- Photos of your staff.
You’re not even limited to that. You can also attach images to separate posts, upload 360º photos, videos, and virtual video tours.
Directories also tend to feature photos made and uploaded by customers. You don’t have much of a say on what gets uploaded. But if there is an offensive or inappropriate photo, you can report it.
Reviews can help you build customers’ trust, which is one of the reasons you manage citations at all. Having people talk about your business is a great way to enhance your message.
Encourage your customers to write reviews on the most popular directories so that they can be displayed for potential customers. Of course, this also requires making an additional effort to improve your service.
How to Build Citations for Local Businesses
Before you start actively adding new citations, there is a preparation stage. This includes going through your existing listings to find NAP (name, address, phone number) variations for your business. GMB can recognize a few variations but as long as they don’t contradict each other. Ideally, you need to have them all identical.
It’s recommended to look at changes made in Google Map Maker. There is a History tab that shows all edits so that you can record all variations and past changes.
We also suggest a few citation building strategies as part of your “homework”:
- Learning from competitors that rank higher than you based on relevant keywords and phrases;
- Finding all the industry-specific citation opportunities you don’t use, like new listing platforms that have recently popped up;
- Choosing the right opportunities for your business that give a lot of weight;
- Reaching out to local sites for cooperation.
What Is Local Citation Building?
Citations are mentions of your business online, so citation building is a process of creating and managing citations and listings they are posted on. This article is precisely about everything that goes into this multi-step process.
In theory, citations and citation building are close to links and link building. But we have already reviewed where the similarities end.
How Many Local Citations Do You Need for Better Local SEO?
Local businesses ranked in the highest positions have an average of 85 citations. But in reality, no business can have too many citations: the more citations, the better. The catch is that all of them need to be high-quality.
High-quality citations imply that they are coming from reputable, trustworthy directories with high domain authority. These mentions should be tied to niche and local areas for maximum impact.
If your business has the resources, it’s definitely worth chasing the best directories for your business to appear in. Don’t waste your time and manpower on directories that are rarely visited by online users or those that don’t have a good reputation (due to the content they are using and the types of businesses they associate with).
How to Pick the Right Citations
You don’t actually pick citations; you create, edit, or remove them. Where you do have the power to choose is the listing platform. The highest number of citations are featured in directories, which are online catalogs of websites. Some of them can be accessed by everyone, and some may be specific for a region.
Prioritize directories that are geographically specific to your business. Since you’re doing local citation building, you want to reach your local target audience. You can be as broad as choosing West Coast vs. East Coast, but local SEO benefits more from small targeted searches, like a specific area in a city.
You would also need to find web directories that receive site traffic from within your business niche. Lastly, go for leading directories that receive a lot of activity with established web traffic.
How to Build Local Citations
Citation building is not the same process for every business - you typically decide between three options. Some pass more SEO value than others, so when reading the next section, make sure you correlate each option to your business needs and current resources.
Manually Submitting Citations to Directories
If you want to start small and save money at the beginning stages, you can make submissions on your own. This will give you more control over the information about your business.
The downside of manual citations in SEO is that the process is mundane, especially if you have a large-scale operation. Imagine sending 300 submissions, with each taking about 10 minutes. It can easily take you a few weeks. This doesn’t even include the time spent on managing your existing directories.
The money saved on tools may not cover the amount you spend on manpower. Besides, you need to take into account that you’ll likely have to verify them via:
- Immediate phone call
- Postal mail postcard
Using Data Aggregators to Submit Citations
There are five main data aggregators for citation building:
- Factual maintains data for more than 100 million local businesses and feeds data to publishers like the Weather Channel and Yelp.
- Infogroup licensed data with over 40 additional attributes to clients that make up about 95% of search traffic.
- Neustar Localeze distributes data to over 90 search platforms and validates the data submitted against over 300 data sources.
- Foursquare has more than 55 million monthly active users and an average of 9 million daily check-ins.
- Acxiom works with 75 local search businesses and over 200 distribution partners.
If you want to end up with citations in lots of reputable listings, send these companies your information. You will only need to type out the details of your address, phone number, etc., a few times, and it will be successfully redistributed further.
Using an API to Submit Citations
Another way to automate the citation building process is to submit through APIs, which are coded to function autonomously. This will require a bit more effort than the previous option because each API has a limited network of companies they supply information to. Some even exclusively work with only one partner, like Yext and Yahoo.
APIs are very popular with large multi-location businesses that have frequent updates and changes to their information. If this is your case, expect a steep learning curve but also quite effective results.
How to Fix Duplicate Business Listings
Duplicate listings do not appear on directories like Google Maps. So, if you make the mistake of adding a location you’ve already verified, you need to remove it from the listing:
- Go to your account summary and find the “Duplicate Locations” tab.
- Select locations you want to delete.
- Click “Delete This Listing” (the exact wording may vary on different directories).
If you accidentally delete duplicate SEO citations that have been verified, you’ll need to go through the process once again.
Duplicate citations can also be created by someone outside your business, perhaps even a competitor. If you’re not the creator and owner of a listing, you can report it:
- Find the location you want to report on the website.
- Find the “Suggest an edit” button.
- Provide the reason for the edit as “Duplicate.”
How to Track & Measure the Value of Citations
As with any other SEO method, you need to follow the metrics to understand the impact. Below are instructions to do so.
How to Track Citation Statuses
The first thing you need to track is the status of your citations because those you currently have may disappear for various reasons. You can do it manually but automating such processes is the way to go.
The SEO tool you use for other metrics may provide the status info. But if it doesn’t, there are many open APIs with directories to determine which citations are live. There are also special third-party tools for local search citations to keep track of their statuses, which we will mention below.
How to Track Citation Performance
Normal SEO KPIs apply for measuring citation performance as well. If you want to get a comprehensive view of your site’s presence, look at engagement metrics (conversion rate, time on page, pages per visit, bounce rate, scroll depth), search traffic (isolate organic traffic, traffic to your site over time, traffic from a specified campaign, click-through rate), domain authority and page authority, and keyword rankings.
For a more precise view on citations, you should check for:
- Ranking of your business on “The Big 3” - Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Run searches for relevant keywords in all the cities where you are located;
- Ranking of your business for specific keywords on Yelp, Facebook, Citysearch, Superpages, and other third-party local sites;
- Number of reviews per business location on services like Google+, Yelp, Yahoo, etc. and average review ratings;
- Consistency by comparing and matching local business data.
Tools to Help Manage Citations
Some of the most popular ones for local SEO citation building and managing are:
- Moz Local
- Little Warden
- Screaming Frog
There are free versions of some of these tools. But unsurprisingly, they are not as detailed about citations as paid versions.
What to Look for in Citation Management Tools
To make the right decision, consider each of the following categories:
- Variety of citations: There should be info industry-specific directories, an option to select a specific one, API direct to the directories, aggregator search, and duplicate detection and management.
- Tracking options: Look for multiple tracking features, accuracy, synchronization with other software.
- Price: Don’t splurge on citation management tools - only choose those within your budget with the features you really need.
NAP and Data Accuracy
Another crucial parameter influencing local search is the consistency of NAP (name, address, phone number). This came with Google’s recent algorithm to ensure that you have a legitimate business and Google can display it to users searching for it. Learn more about the role of NAP in Google’s Local Pack results below.
What Is NAP?
NAP in local SEO is not a new concept for this article. It stands for name, address, and phone number - the three components of business citations. All search engines, most importantly, Google, take this data into account for all geo-targeted searches.
How Can NAP Data Become Inaccurate?
Not only can inaccurate NAP make your users frustrated, but it can also mean losing a potential customer and facing unfortunate consequences from Google. If you want to prevent this, you need to know the roots of the problem.
You may end up with duplicate citations when there are multiple people working on it with poor communication. For example, you may have an employee who has no idea that another employee already submitted a listing. What’s worse is that if at least one of them provides inaccurate information, both citations become worthless.
Make sure each team member and outsourced agencies working on your SEO have all information regarding citation statuses and what they consist of.
Some listing sites may use multiple sources to aggregate their data. If several listings have inconsistencies, they will display slightly different data, making the aggregated one inaccurate.
Loss of Login Details
Let’s say your business has changed the location, the contact page, or even its name. Under normal circumstances, you would simply change this information in your listings. But if you have no access to editing certain listings, you have no way to correct it.
If you lost your login or forgot your password, contact the listing site and ask to be verified as the owner of the business. Follow the instructions of the platform you’re listed on to retrieve your account. If a third party has set up the account, consider asking them first for login information.
Attempting to Boost SEO
At some point in the local SEO practice, it was believed that having as many listings on the same directories was a positive thing for SEO. Since then, the consensus has changed towards accuracy and consistency.
If you carried out citation building activities in the past without focusing on accuracy, you need to go back and correct it. You might also be a victim of black SEO practices that valued quantity over quality with citations.
Why Is Accurate and Consistent NAP Data Important?
Just as having consistent NAP data can help you, inconsistent data can be damaging. Here where it has a direct effect:
- Search engine rankings: Search engines use local citations to gather information about a business. If the data doesn’t form a consistent picture, it will be a red flag for them. Too many red flags can tank your rankings completely.
- Consumer journey: If you have incorrect data, potential customers can easily fall off the path. These days, people seem to be unforgiving about such mistakes and move to the next best thing.
- Reputation: You also risk positioning your business as untrustworthy if you don’t pay attention to NAP data. This makes sense: a business that doesn’t care about fixing inaccuracies is likely to not care about other aspects of customer experience.
- Voice search: People look for a quick and reliable way to access information about a local business even when they turn to voice search for hands-free moments, such as when driving and need directions.
Don’t expect citation building to be quick and easy. Managing your location(s) across multiple citations is very time-consuming and prone to human error. You need to be prepared to catch mistakes in time and update information across all channels.
Using citation automation tools for local SEO will help with repetitive tasks. But even then, make sure you understand the complexity and importance of citations in SEO without solely relying on software. This way, you will build up confidence in your business in the eyes of real users and Google bots.
Here is our final piece of advice. In addition to submitting citations on your own and optimizing existing citation, there are many different ways to generate them organically, such as:
- Guest posting
- Posting queries relevant to your niche
- Commenting on forums and blogs
- Working with local influencers and content creators
- Participating and sponsoring local events
- Having an active social media presence
Take advantage of at least a few of these techniques and carry these activities out on a regular basis. This will not only be helpful for citations. Remember that citation building is only helpful if all aspects of your marketing strategy complement each other.
FAQ on Local Citation Building
Can I Build Citations If I Don't Have a Physical Address?
Yes, the only drawback is that you slightly limit your opportunities for local SEO. A lot of directories don’t require a physical location - only entering your local business’s name and category. For example, such directories include Foursquare, Yelp, Yellowbook, MerchantCircle, Superpages, and Yellowpages. Alternatively, for local SEO, you can set up a P.O. box, a virtual office, or a co-working space.
Can I Use a Toll-free Number as the Main Number on GMB and Citation Listings?
Yes, but once again, you might not be able to maximize your citation building efforts. GMB listings do allow toll-free numbers as the main number as well as many other directories. But if you can, try to use a local phone number with a local area code instead of a central call center helpline number. This will make citation building for local SEO easier.
Are There Workarounds to Phone/Mail Verification on Citation Sites?
Yes, by manual verification. To do this, you need to contact GMB support and confirm that you are connected to the business. You may be required to provide some photos or go through video verification. But the confirmation process itself will require you to reach out through phone or email. The requirements may vary depending on a local citation site so check with them directly in your own time.
Can Enterprise Businesses Benefit From Citation Building?
Absolutely! Even though we mostly focused on small and medium businesses, there are no restrictions for citation building. If you’re a business with hundreds of locations, your reputation and search rankings can both benefit. Just keep in mind that because of a larger scale, it may take more time or require the use of special tools.