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The Ultimate Guide To Local SEO Citations

Did you know that local citation building is among the top five ranking factors in generating local search results on Google according to Moz? Taking an active approach to managing your local citations can give your business an extra edge when it comes to improving your business’ visibility in both local search results and across the Internet. In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn the very basics of local citations, why they’re important, the different types of local citations, how to manage them, and, finally, how to build them.

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Why Are Local SEO Citations Important? 
Types Of Citation Sites 
How To Manage Local Citations 
How To Build Local Citations 

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What Is A Local Citation?

A local citation is any mention of your business across the Internet. For example, when a source mentions one or a combination of the following aspects of your business:

  • Business name
  • Business name and phone number
  • Business name, phone number, and address
  • Business name, phone number, address, and website URL
  • Business name and address
  • Business name and website URL
  • Etc.

Any mention of your business helps to further your business’ visibility. However, to reap the full benefits of local citation building, your local citations must contain three key pieces of information: business Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP). The presence of this information helps Google and other search engines validate your business’ information, which can help to improve your visibility in local search results.

Some citations will also include your website’s URL, commonly referred to as NAPW (W stands for website) or UNAP (U stands for URL) citations. In this scenario, you would have earned both a citation and a backlink.

Complete Citation Versus Partial Citation

A complete citation includes your business’ NAP details, and I’m not talking about a snooze on the couch! A partial citation, on the other hand, does not include all of your NAP details. For example, a source just mentions your business’ name or your name and website URL. While partial citations are not necessarily bad, it’s always important to monitor mentions of your business and add complete NAP details where possible to help search engines authenticate your business’ information.


Structured Versus Unstructured Citations

Diving in a little deeper, we can split citations into two buckets:

  1. Structured citations
  2. Unstructured citations

Structured citations are those found in online directories that feature a business’ complete NAP details. These include directories like Yelp, Better Business Bureau, Facebook, and TripAdvisor.


Unstructured citations are those found outside of online directories. For example, citations mentioned in news articles or blog posts. The example below is both an unstructured citation and a partial citation!


Source: The Beer Travel Guide

Other Citation Elements

Some online directories will let you provide additional information to further describe your business to their visitors. When these features are available, always take advantage of them. Examples of these additional features include the following:

  • Hours
  • Business Category/Categories
  • Service Offerings
  • Website URL
  • Business Description
  • Social Links
  • Photos
  • Reviews
  • Important Updates

Confluence Brewing Company in Des Moines, for example, takes full advantage of Yelp’s additional features to showcase their brewery. They include their hours of operation, photos, important COVID-19 updates, and upcoming special hours.





Why Are Local SEO Citations Important?

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dig into the importance of local SEO citations. The presence of your business’ NAP details in national and local citations helps search engines to validate your business’ information. The more citations you have in quality directories across the Internet, the better; this helps to legitimize and further establish your business in local search results.

Along with reviews and quality backlinks, citations help to establish prominence; essentially, the quality of your business. Plus, not only do citations help to influence your business’ ranking in Google’s local pack, but they can also affect your business’ position in Google’s local search results.

According to Moz, citation signals like NAP consistency and number of citations are among the top five ranking factors in Google’s local search results. Other search engines like Bing also use citation signals in their ranking algorithms. Again, the more citations you have in quality directories, the more prominent your business will appear to search engines.

For example, (ignoring other factors) if your business had 100 citations in quality national and local directories and your competitor only had 15 citations, chances are your business would rank higher in local search results.

In addition to establishing your business as a legitimate entity and building prominence, citations create trust among search engines and potential customers. Here’s how:

  1. You build a citation in a well-known, high-authority directory like Yelp.
  2. Your listing features your business’ information (e.g. NAP details, website URL, etc.) and information from customers (e.g. reviews).
  3. Search engine robots crawl Yelp to verify your business’ information against other sources across the Internet that feature your business’ NAP details.
  4. Potential customers search for services related to your business in search results, click a search result for Yelp, and find your business.
  5. Your business’ Yelp profile features a number of positive customer reviews and business details, helping to garner trust with the potential customers who land on your business’ Yelp listing.

Building local citations is a fairly straightforward process that you should absolutely build into your local SEO strategy (if you’re not already doing so). Before you hit the gas and start building citations, it’s important that you understand the different citation sites, which ones you should list your business in, and which sites you can avoid.  


Types Of Citation Sites

Citation sites come in various forms from high-authority, broad directories to industry-specific directories, and while having a high volume of citations is good, you need to make sure that the directories you list your business in align with your business’ goals. To keep it simple, you can bucket citation sites into five categories:

  1. Data aggregators
  2. Search engines
  3. Horizontal directories
  4. Industry-specific directories
  5. Local business directories


Data Aggregators

Data aggregators are essentially data distributors; they compile business data from public records and other sources across the Internet and feed it directly to search engines and directories. Data aggregators then rely on businesses and paid data facilitators (e.g. BrightLocal, Moz Local, Yext, etc.) to claim and verify a business’ information. The three primary data aggregators include Foursquare (recently merged with Factual), InfoGroup (soon to be Data Axle), and Neustar Localeze.

While slightly outdated, Moz created a graphic that depicts the chaotic nature of the local search ecosystem in the United States.


Source: Moz

By going straight to the source (data aggregators) or using a paid data facilitator like BrightLocal to maintain and monitor the accuracy of your local citations, you can avoid this confusion altogether. This also helps you to ensure that your business’ information is listed accurately in numerous directories across the Internet.


Now, let’s jump into the various citation sites that receive the data distributed from data aggregators.

Search Engines

Search engines like Google, Apple, and Bing represent your core citation sites. These sites have high domain authority scores (AS), so you want to make sure your business is listed in all three.


For Google, you would set up a Google My Business account; for Apple, you would add your business to Apple Maps; and for Bing, you would set up a Bing Places account. Again, data aggregators can push your business’ information to these sites, but it’s important that you claim and verify these accounts, and add any missing information if you do not set them up manually.

Horizontal Directories

Horizontal directories are broad directories that appear at both the local and national level. These include directories like Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List, etc. You can bucket horizontal directories into three buckets:

  1. High-authority directories
  2. Medium-authority directories
  3. Low-authority directories

High-Authority Directories

To put it simply, high-authority horizontal directories are those that have high domain authorities (e.g. 70 – 100). These include sites like Yelp, Facebook, Better Business Bureau, etc.

Medium-Authority Directories

Medium-authority horizontal directories are those that have middle-of-the-line domain authority scores (e.g. 40-69). A few examples include Thumbtack, DexKnows, and EZlocal. These directories are slightly less known and receive fewer visits than the high-authority directories; however, if any of these directories align with your business or you do notice referral traffic coming from these sites, then make sure you have claimed, verified, and optimized these listings.

Low-Authority Directories

Finally, low-authority horizontal directories are those that have low domain authority scores (e.g. 0-39). These directories are even less known and receive even less traffic than medium-authority directories. Since they have low authority scores, it’s normally best to avoid these directories and focus your citation building efforts on medium- and high-authority horizontal directories as well as industry-specific and local business directories. If your business is listed in any of these directories though, make sure you claim and verify each listing.

Industry-Specific Directories

Industry-specific or niche directories are those that align with your industry; these directories tend to be great sources of pre-qualified leads, especially in highly-competitive industries like the legal and medical industries.

Local Business Directories

Last, but not least, are local business directories, or those specific to your local market. Building citations in local business directories is a great way to get in front of potential customers in your area, especially if you know where your target audience goes to find information related to your business’ products or services. Similar to the strategy outlined in this article about finding local business directories to build backlinks, you can use the same approach to build citations!


How To Manage Local Citations

You’re almost there, but before you begin building local citations (or optimizing your existing citations), keep these tips in mind.

  1. Know where your business is listed. I can’t say this enough, if you don’t know where your business is listed, chances are you don’t know if you have duplicate citations or if the existing citations use consistent and accurate NAP details.
  2. If you can, use a paid data facilitator to help manage your citations. Excel spreadsheets are great, but your citations can change frequently, and without you knowing. Using a paid data facilitator to help maintain and monitor accurate citations is worth the investment and will save you time in the long run. A few recommended data facilitators include BrightLocal, Moz Local, and Yext.
  3. Use consistent and accurate NAP details across all citations. The presence of these details helps search engines to validate your business’ information, which can help to improve your visibility in local search results. These details also help to establish trust with potential customers. For example, if your phone number is listed incorrectly in a business directory and a potential customer tries to call your business, you could potentially miss out on a lead. It’s okay if there are some variations in your NAP details from directory to directory; if you’re not sure of a variation, see what variations Google approves and won’t affect your NAP consistency.
  4. Provide additional details about your business. As mentioned previously in this article, if a directory gives you the option to provide more details about your business, do so!
  5. Claim and verify all citations. Data aggregators find your business’ information across the Internet and can push your data to different directories without you knowing; because of this, it’s important to claim and verify all of your business’ citations. This also helps to further establish trust and prove your business’ legitimacy.


How To Build Local Citations

Now that you understand the basics of local citations and why they’re important to local SEO, you’re ready to start building! Luckily, there are several resources that have compiled lists of directories:

Use these directories to identify high- and medium-authority horizontal directories, industry-specific directories, and directories in your local market. Once you’ve identified your target citations, determine whether you want to use a paid data facilitator, or if you want to reach out to the data aggregators directly to distribute your business’ NAP details and additional information. Then, follow steps three through five above to build your citations and ensure they are accurate and consistent across all listings.

Note: Paid data facilitators cannot distribute your data to some industry-specific and local business directories, so you may need to manually submit your NAP details to these directories.

Taking an active approach to building and managing your local search citations is a critical component of a successful local SEO strategy. Use this ultimate guide to help develop your own local citation building strategy, or audit your existing strategy, so you can reap the full benefits and give your business an extra edge in local search results.

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