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Guide to Citations for Local SEO

Citations are a key ranking factor and a core part of local SEO. Learn more about managing and optimising local citations to build a proper local SEO strategy.

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Brodey Sheppard
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Did you know that citations are one of the most important ranking factors in Google? Even if you have a strong link profile, without citations your SEO efforts will not be as effective. In this blog post, we’ll cover what citations are and how to use them for local SEO purposes.

As one of the key ranking factors in local SEO, the accurate citations of an online local business can help improve its rankings in local search.

All you have to do is create a listing of your website on any of the local directories and platforms available out there and include its crucial details. That’s what we mean by a local SEO citation.

Guide To Citations For Local Seo

But there’s a lot more to know when it comes to creating citations for local search engine optimisation. Building a citation is not enough if you wish to attract more customers; you need to get your website out there with all the necessary information regarding its operational hours, services, etc.

Even if there’s a change in any of the details, it’s better to make it in the original listing to prevent the creation of duplicate listings. Here’s where the concept of management and tracking also comes into play.

In this guide to local SEO citations, we’ll be discussing all that there’s to know about the topic. So, let’s begin.

What Are Local Citations In SEO?

A local citation refers to business listings on platforms like Yelp and Facebook. It’s the mention of your business name, address, and phone number - often referred to as the NAP information. However, online citations may even take the forms of business opening hours, products or services, images, videos, and social media links.

Steps To Having Consistant Nap Results

Those searching for information about local businesses on the internet may come across citations on business directories, Google My Business, review sites, social media platforms and other local media outlets. Search engines like Google use these citations to verify the relevance and authenticity of data, while consumers use them to compare and find local businesses.

Let’s take a look at the list of additional components of local citations:

  • Business categories
  • Additional phone numbers and email addresses
  • Business description
  • Operational hours
  • Directions on how to get there (physical location)
  • Reviews
  • Images
  • Links to business pages on social media platforms
  • Payment acceptance forms
  • Google Maps and co-ordinates
  • Videos
  • Taglines

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Types Of Citations For Local SEO

Now that we’ve briefly introduced you to citations let’s discuss the two types of citations - structured citation and unstructured citation.

1. Structured Citations

A structured citation lists the NAP information of a business in a consistent format, i.e. its name, address, and phone number. Social media profiles and directory listings are suitable examples of these types of citations. The business profile for each company is displayed in the same way, and the service page is built around the mentioned data.

Most structured citations are commonly found on general and local business directories like Yelp and the Better Business Bureau for the area. Industry-specific directories like TripAdvisor are also good places to look for the name, address, phone number, and opening hours of a local business.

Preparing For Nap Building

2. Unstructured Citations

An unstructured citation is not that common in local SEO, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. These citations don’t follow any structured listing format with data grouped under a specific field like the name, address, and phone number of the company. Instead, the information can be spread across. For example - when a local newspaper or blog post mentions your business in an article.

The contextual mention of the local business is also usually seen in blogs posts or forum threads. Now, search engines may find unstructured citations difficult to scrape, but even then, they are important to local search engine optimisation (SEO).

Importance Of Citations In Local SEO

Let’s now take a look at how citations are important when it comes to building a business or local SEO strategy.

1. Improves Local Pack And Local Rankings

Data accuracy, quality of directory listings, and the number of business citations serve as crucial ranking factors for SEO. And although citation signals may not serve as a powerful ranking factor, they do have an impact on the local pack and organic search rankings.

If the data obtained by search engines like Google is consistent throughout different business listings and platforms, the business will have a better chance of ranking higher on the SERPs. On the other hand, inconsistent listings and NAP information mentioned in directories may negatively impact local SEO rankings.

So, it’s important to choose citations wisely as Google perceives the online presence of any local business based on relevance, consistency, and quality.

2. Helps Earn Referral Traffic

Citations help earn valuable referral traffic, so make sure your business gets listed in as many directories as possible. After all, potential customers will head to different directories and platforms like Yelp to find relevant products and services using the local search citations within the business listings.

For example, customers looking for a restaurant to dine in might check out TripAdvisor, while those in search of a hotel will head to Booking.com. Most users tend to directly go to these apps or websites instead of conducting a Google search. That’s why it’s important to ensure that your business is visible on industry-relevant directories.

3. Boosts Online Visibility On SERPs

Reputable directories like Yelp, Google My Business, and Foursquare tend to rank high in organic local search results. You could try competing with these giants, but it’s a better idea to join them instead. In fact, these online business directories provide local businesses with more opportunities to rank on the first page of the SERPs.

After all, Google considers these citation sites trustworthy; as such, the local directory listings dominate the first page of the search results.

Local Seo Statistic About Nap

For example, if you conduct a search for a plumber or electrician, the first page of results will be dominated not by websites owned by the local plumbers or electricians. Instead, you’ll come across sites like Yelp and Yellow Pages, displaying the contact details of a plumbing service or electrician in the area.

In fact, as per a local SERP study, these directories get the majority of clicks on the first page, including local pack and PPC, when a consumer searches for a local business. So, it’s quite evident that directory listings are important for local business visibility.

4. Provides Link-Back Opportunities

Getting link-backs to your website from reliable and authoritative sites is important for SEO, and here’s where citations play a vital role. Nowadays, most business listings contain a website URL, and most sites display them as “dofollow” links. As such, search engines like Google use them to pass link equity to your website, boosting SEO.

5. Provides Third-Party Review Opportunities

The three pillars of ranking in the Google local pack are relevance, proximity, and prominence - defined by positive online mentions and a positive reputation in the industry. That being said, many citation websites serve as review sites, which allow customers to describe and grade their local business experience.

The business listings on GMB, Yelp, and other platforms, provide a huge benefit, provided you ensure prompt and reliable customer service.

A Guide To Local SEO Citation Building

Now that we’ve established what citations are and why they’re important for local SEO let’s move on to “citation-building.” Consider this as a complete guide to building citations and business listings for local SEO purposes. Before that, let’s understand the concept of local citation building.

What Is Citation Building In Local SEO?

Local citation building is a process involving the creation and management of online business listings. If your business is mentioned online in the form of a citation, then building citations will produce more mentions of your local business across the internet.

Citations Vs. Link Building

Marketers in the SEO field often group citation management into link building. But there’s a difference between a citation and a link. Keep in mind that citations refer to a local business or company’s name being mentioned online, and they may or may not include links.

A citation is available in various forms - the company name itself, company name and phone number, name, address, and phone number, or just the phone number by itself. That being said, avoid considering citations only as a link-building exercise as they don’t get their value from links.

There’s no need for the citation to link back to your website unless absolutely needed. Google will identify your local business based on the details listed on online directories. But that doesn’t mean links are not important - both play vital roles in local search engine optimisation (SEO).

How Many Local Citations Are Needed For A Successful Local SEO Campaign?

The more citations a business has, the higher the chance of boosting local search rankings. But it’s important to build as many citations as possible on quality websites. The directory listing should be specific to your niche and local area; also, domain authority is a good measure of quality - a few factors to keep in mind.

Apart from that, creating relevant and credible local citations on Google My Business and other online directories will help generate more leads and sales. However, building citations with accurate data, including your business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP information), on good-quality sites take up a ton of time.

There are no quick fixes for the same, but certain citation builder tools can help make the process a bit simpler. Just make sure you are consistent while building citations and provide relevant data and backlinks for search engines like Google to boost your local SEO ranking.

How To Build Local SEO Citations?

Local businesses will benefit from having structured and unstructured citations, but that doesn’t mean overdoing it in terms of quantity. Instead of getting your local business listed on every online directory, focus on quality and authenticity.

That being said, you could build citations for your business manually using a citation building tool or take the help of a local SEO agency. Irrespective of how you build structured and unstructured citations, the following approaches have to be given prime importance.

1. Data Aggregator Listing

With thousands of business directories on the internet, ranging from Google My Business (GMB) to Yellow Pages, manual or direct submission of NAP information might lead to a lot of gaps. This, in turn, will compromise on data accuracy across the different directories online.

The problem can be solved using data aggregators - they collect the relevant information about local businesses and then distribute it to the various other websites on the internet. This will help your business establish a ton of citations to build a successful local SEO strategy.

Some of the largest data aggregators are as follows:

  • Foursquare
  • Data Axle
  • Neustar Localeze
  • Express Update
  • Factual

Express Update and Neustar Localeze are free and automated data aggregators, using which you can claim, submit, and manage your business listing. All you have to do is search for your local business and claim the listing. If it’s not there, submit a new one. Just make sure you claim any duplicate listings. Remember to check that the name, address and phone number (NAP information) of your business is correct.

Claiming the listing is important here as it helps verify that you’re the owner of that particular local business. This gives you the authority of maintaining its presence on the internet. That said, every local business index comes with its own claiming process, involving unique steps for verifying the listing.

Most directories and websites will ask if your business already exists in their index. The chances are that there exists some record of its presence online because of user-generated content. Or, you’ve worked with a local SEO agency in the past.

To know if your business already has a Google My Business profile or has already been listed, enter the business name or phone number. Next, review the business information by updating or adding relevant information. After all, you’d want the NAP information to be consistent across all platforms.

Google My Business Example

Once the information is filled out, the verification process will take place in either one of the three ways:

  • Via phone call - verification using a pin
  • Via email - by clicking on a verification link
  • Via post - pin number verification

Just keep in mind that the time between completing the verification process and seeing your business listing online will vary from one platform to the other. Avoid making any changes to the information or data of the submitted business listings while waiting to prevent further delays.

Most Important Elements Of Citations

2. Direct Submission To Core Sites

Data aggregators will distribute your NAP information to many reputable sites, but not all. That’s why it’s important to also submit your accurate business details to core sites. This needn’t just have to be your business’s name, address, and phone number; you could also include other relevant information like operational hours and the products or services you offer.

Some of these sites are Apple Maps, Bing Places, Yellow Pages, BBB, Yelp, and Facebook. Now, you don’t necessarily have to submit to all the citation sites you come across, as some of them don’t even get proper traffic. Look for sites and local directories that are worth it.

3. Submission To Reputable Industry-Specific Local Sites

As a local business, it’s important to look for industry-specific opportunities within the local area. For example, if you own a hotel, it’s important to get listed on TripAdvisor.

The physical location of your local business will give more local SEO citation opportunities. As such, you should also get listed with local business associations like the local Chamber of Commerce.

Here are a few ways to find these citation opportunities locally.

A. Google Search

Conduct a local search on Google by entering your location and industry, following by the phrases -“business directory,” “business listings,” and “chamber of commerce.” You’ll come across a range of sites to submit to; use your judgement to decide the one that’s worth it.

B. Industry-Specific Citation List

You can use an industry-specific citation list (usually available online) to find a relevant citation opportunity for your business. These lists save a lot of your time, as they help you get listed on sites relevant to your business.

4. Make Use Of Unstructured Citations

As mentioned earlier, blog posts, reviews, and press mentions are the sources of an unstructured citation for your local business. This means they are more difficult to get compared to structured citations. Here are a few ways to find an unstructured citation with both backlinks and follow links to your website.

A. Using Google

Supplier pages are sources of unstructured citations; they list and link to the local businesses and companies they supply. These pages are easy to find - all you have to do is make a list of the suppliers and find their websites.

B. Using Ahref’s Site Explorer Tool

Most unstructured citations include links to the company’s website, making it easy to find citation opportunities by simply checking the backlinks of competitors. For example - you run a coffee shop in Melbourne, simply enter the domain name of a competing local business into Ahref Site Explorer and set it to the URL mode.

Once that’s done, access the Backlinks report and filter for the ’dofollow links’. This will help you come across trends with the potential to translate into citation opportunities.

5. API Citation Submissions

You can use APIs (application program interfaces) to submit citations through an automated process. There’s no manual effort involved here as APIs are coded to function autonomously. That’s why most citation providers use them to submit to local business directories.

Each API comes with a set network that it usually provides information to. Companies might even have exclusive partnerships, like Yahoo and Yext.

That said, it’s important to note that API solutions have two distinct versions - the first version provides accurate data to business directories like a “data layer.” This information is then layered over the existing online website.

In other words, you will be paying for your business information to be placed higher than the existing page data. Then again, this is a temporary solution, and you’ll have to continue paying for that listing to remain active.

Coming to the second version, here API is used to directly submit data to the database, which should result in permanent business listings, but this isn’t always the case. This is because the information provided by these APIs relies on data pushes. And even if you cancel, the listings will most likely revert as there’s no ground to confirm that the data is inaccurate.

Having said that, there are instances where API citation submissions are both worthwhile and preferable, especially if you’re a multi-location business. These businesses are more focused on having an up-to-date shop window than sending trust signals to search engines for API solutions to work well.

Optimising Local SEO Citations

Local citation building is not just about spreading your business’s NAP information across the web. To maximise the benefits of your business listings, it’s important to optimise them so that you attract potential customers to your website.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to optimising local citations:

1. Use Descriptions

Help search engines like Google and potential customers understand your local business better by providing proper detailed descriptions, explaining what it’s about and what it offers. Describe your business listing accurately without stuffing keywords or focusing too much on sales.

2. Add Images

While submitting your business listing on platforms like Google My Business (GMB), make sure you add photos to boost online visibility and conversion rates. Try sharing a variety of images, including the photos of the products you offer to showcase your business.

3. Include Business Categories

Local citation platforms, such as Google My Business (GMB), allow you to choose between primary and secondary categories for your local business. This will help search engines match your business with the right areas of expertise and search queries. You can also cross-reference the categories with that of the competitors to ensure that you’re on the right path.

4. Having Positive Reviews

A local business website backed by positive online reviews will be gaining a significant boost in its local rankings, as having great reviews is a vital SEO ranking factor. Google will gauge the quality and authenticity of the business by looking at the review sentiments on third-party sites.

Citations Seo 78 Percent And 40 Percent Statistic

5. Use Your Website Link

If you’re a business operating in multiple physical locations and offering different services, your website link will help direct search engines and readers to the specific pages of the site. This is important for such businesses as it prevents search engines from getting confused.

6. NAP Information Consistency

The NAP information of your business is its name, address, and phone number, which should be consistent across all online business directories and platforms. This is something you have to ensure as research says that consistent NAP information is a crucial ranking factor that helps boost the local rankings of any online business website.

How To Choose The Right Citations For Local SEO?

There is a wide range of local citations out there; as such, getting your business listed in all of them is not quite possible. It might be time and cost restraints, due to which you may find it challenging to narrow down the list of business directories. In fact, even tools have a limit on the number of directories they can sync with.

4 In 5 Consumers Use Search Engines To Find Local Information

When deciding on the citations to list your business in, search for online business directories most relevant to your niche or industry. Platforms like Moz and WhiteSpare list top industry-specific citations by category. You may get a list of general citations after establishing a business in the list of industry-specific business directories.

Keep in mind that the best and most popular business directories are the ones potential customers tend to use. Consider the directory Health Direct; people use this platform to find a doctor as it establishes healthcare relevance while driving referral traffic from third-party websites.

Duplicate Citation Listings

Duplicate citations on local directories and platforms like Google My Business might get created accidentally and derail your local SEO citation-building efforts. The details under each listing might be different, but if it relates to the same local business it will be considered a duplicate.

There are many reasons as to why this happens - an agency working for you may create a citation on a site where you might already be listed. This happens because you may have lost track of the site and listing, or the agency might not have a list of your current listings. That’s why tracking is a vital step.

If that’s not the case, your business phone numbers might change over the years; as a result, a new citation might be created without deleting the old one. So, make sure to store the login information of your local directories to avoid losing access to the original citation.

How To Fix Duplicate Local Business Listings?

We’ve discussed this issue briefly in our previous section, but now it’s time we highlighted the problem in detail and provided a solution to it. Once you come across a duplicate listing for your online local business, remove it so that only a single and complete listing with accurate data remains.

To highlight the process, you’ll first need to consider the business directory or online platform hosting the particular listing. For example - GMB or Google My Business has a specific process to follow when it comes to fixing duplicate business listings.

You’ll have to find the duplicate locations in your account summary by opening Google Maps and then click the location you wish to remove. Then click on “delete this listing,” and for multiple listings, click on the three-dotted menu icon and select the option “remove.”

It’s important to keep in mind that whenever and wherever you come across a duplicate listing - log in, claim, and then edit. Removing hundreds of duplicates can be a long and tedious process as it requires a ton of manual effort, but the results make up for the invested time.

You may also use the help of services to suppress duplicates or merge them. The tools first create an account, claim the business listing or submit a removal or update request. Then again, the process will differ from service to service.

A Guide To Local SEO Citation Management

Even as a single-location business owner in a small town, the management of citations is not an easy task. This is because of the following reasons:

Competitor websites and the public, in general, might edit your local business listing, allowing bad and inaccurate data to get published. Only through proper management, will you be able to prevent this from happening.

Then again, inaccurate data or NAP information will easily spread across the web. As such, it’s important to control data upstream to prevent the downstream flow of wrong data for accurate citations.

Lastly, major citation platforms incorporate third-party reviews into local business listings. You need to be alert so that you can manage, analyse, and respond promptly to public feedback.

Now, when it comes to active location citation management, there are three options to consider. Let’s discuss them briefly:

A. Manual Citation Management

This type involves manually building citations, editing, and managing them. You’ll have to start by creating a database, which lists existing accurate citations and their status. If there are any inaccuracies or duplicates, fix them.

It’s also important to audit the citations frequently to discover new citations, new duplicates, and new inaccuracies. You should be able to audit and update the citations in case of mergers, moves, or changes to phone numbers, hours of operation, and other such information.

The best part about manual management of citations is that you get direct control over the company information. Plus, you get to choose the platform or business directories to build local citations.

However, there are a few downsides to manual citation management as well, including the amount of time needed to carry out the tasks. Then there’s the risk of making expensive mistakes while building citations on local business directories. You might lose track of the citation status and existence, which again might lead to a loss in time and more duplicate or inaccurate listings.

B. Semi-Automated Citation Management

Certain services automate the push of local business information and data to platforms and then supports the manual citation building approach. This is what we mean by semi-automated management.

The management approach will work well for small to large local businesses, especially if the service quality and price are high. However, it’s important to note that most of these services tend to set a fixed fee per citation, so careful research is a must to know what you’re signing up for.

Now, semi-automated management of citations offers a variety of online business directories and platforms to consider, based on pricing, location, and industry category. So, you can simply pay the services offering this kind of management build citations. The only drawback is the overall cost of using these services.

C. Automated Citation Management

The process of management is completely automated here to reduce the need for manual efforts. All you have to do is purchase a service, input the business data, which is then automatically transferred to a number of business directories and platforms - there’s no manual effort required.

Just make sure you take note of the tools, features, partner platforms, dashboard, and capabilities of the automated platforms before signing up, as they tend to differ. For example - you’ll need to consider whether that platform permanently removes duplicate business listings or simply suppresses them.

It’s also important to consider the outcome of your business listing once you decide to cancel the service. That said, there’s no doubt that any automated process will reduce the time spent in managing citations. Additionally, with high-quality solutions providing helpful dashboards, you’ll be able to control, track, and analyse your local business data more conveniently, giving the brand a more competitive advantage.

But then again, this management type is not without cons, related to quality, price, and limitations. The solution you consider shouldn’t produce a bulk of business listings on low-quality directories.

How To Track And Measure Value Of Local Citations?

Local citation management is deemed as a long-term investment with clients and stakeholders wanting to know if that investment will pay off and offer returns of local SEO dividends. That’s why it’s crucial to track the statuses and performances of local citations using the right tools.

Now, there are a few different ways to track and measure the value of your local citations, irrespective of the fact that you’re building citations manually or working with local agencies and services. You might come across tools having open APIs with online business directories to help keep citations active and in the right place.

On the contrary, certain citation building and tracking tools simply establish the listings and leave them at that. Using the right tools, you’ll get to easily manage and track the state of your local SEO citations while closely monitoring factors, such as NAP information inconsistencies and missing business listings.

You’ll be able to see if the number of citations has increased or decreased and how they’re performing compared to competitors in the industry. Most tools also have the feature of physical location reports to provide citation scores. Using the feature, you’ll also have an idea of the number of active and pending local citations.

Setting the reports to auto-run regularly will also help you see the summary of the citations. You’ll also be able to find errors if there are any. But then, it’s crucial to find the right tools to track local citation values, and that, again, involves time and effort from your end.

When it comes to deciding on which tool to use for tracking or managing citations, there are a few factors that need to be considered.

1. Variety Of Citations

The tool should be able to offer the option of selecting industry-specific directories. Apart from this, it’s important to check if it allows you to select specific directories or it picks them for you.

2. Duplicate Suppression

As you already know, your local business might have duplicate listings across the web. So, opt for a citation management tool that can detect and remove duplicate citations.

Even if not entirely remove the duplicate citations, the management tool should manage to suppress them.

3. Tracking Features

Check the tracking features of the local citation management tool - the kind of tracking it offers and its accuracy. The tool should also sync to other citation management tools.

Tracking Citation Performance

It’s important to keep in mind that most citation management tools might not be able to track how citations perform on your website. You may use these tools to track individual website performance via acquisition reports, but you won’t be able to track the global effort performance of the site without creating a custom citation report.

A simpler alternative would be adding UTM tracking to URLs while adding the same source or campaign name to the URLs. The method is simple - all you have to do is conduct a local search for “citation” on Google Analytics under medium or source report.

Local Citations For SEO

That brings us to the end of this comprehensive guide. Note that citations are basically publications of your core local business data across the internet. And they strongly impact your local search rankings and customer discovery.

This is why it’s crucial to be accurate and consistent while creating citations for your website. After all, inaccurate NAP information will only adversely affect the reputation, rankings, and revenue of your online local business.

Of course, you’ll need a solid local SEO strategy for both the creation and management of citations. But it’s also equally important to find the right citation tools to keep track of your listings. These tools will help you edit the citation data with ease if there’s a need to change any of the NAP information, be it phone numbers, addresses, or hours of operation.

Getting your website listed in local directories and platforms can help you rank higher for local SEO. To get started, all you have to do is create a listing of your website on any of the available sites out there and include its crucial details. If that sounds like something you want to try but don’t know where or how to start, give us a call or email us with questions!


Photo of Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey is the CEO of sitecentre and a data-analyst in the SEO, Paid advertising space who uses machine learning and AI to advance sitecentre as an industry-leading digital marketing agency across Australia.

Find them on their website: sitecentre, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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