Improve your local SEO with these citation essentials

Posted by Darren Shaw on 4 Feb, 2015
View comments SEO
Customers in your neighborhood are looking for your local business online, but will they be able to find it?

According to Google "4/5 consumers use search engines to find products, services or experiences nearby."

Local Search Engine Optimization addresses this need as it deals with increasing your local businesses' visibility in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP's) within a specific targeted geographic region. The main focus is on "local intent" and queries containing geographically related keywords that return results in both Google and Bing (Yahoo! too but really, it's inconsequential). Think of your potential customer searching “cafes in Brooklyn” or “plumber in Manchester”.

Cartoon of local businesses with orange markers above them

When it comes to performing well in local search we can narrow it down to these 5 main categories:

  • Website Optimization

  • Citations

  • Reviews

  • Google+ Local

  • Links

One of the easiest areas to tackle when working on your local SEO is focusing on your citation profile. Your citation profile is the mention of your business details on any web page and will be referred to going forward as NAP: Name, Address, Phone number. Citations can be structured (think, Yelp or Foursquare etc) or unstructured a mention of your business on a blog post, a newspaper website, or a government website, and so on.


Why Citations Can Be a Quick Win:

  • Citations help customers find you

  • Citations impact local search ranking factors because search engines rely on the consistency of your business information in online databases

  • Not every local business has a website to optimize, but they have business contact details and the ability to create citations

Your essential citation to-do list

Anyone who has dabbled in citation building will tell you that while it is relatively easy from a technical perspective it is also time consuming so be prepared to invest time and patience.

1. Create your ideal business listing

Before you get started on building you need to compile all of your business information (put it in an Excel spreadsheet so that it's all in one place and easy to track).

What information to include in your listing (the more the better):

  • Business Name (your doing business name)

  • Address (Suite/Floor Number, City, State, Zip/Postal Code)

  • Phone Number (Local number - with local area code -)

  • Toll Free Number

  • Website (link to your location landing page if you have one)

  • Description (you will need one short and one long - don't forget to include relevant keywords to this)

  • Hours of operation

  • Company Contact Name

  • Company Email Address

  • Social Media links (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn)

  • Company images (logo, team, storefront, etc)

Remember, your business listing is essentially your business identity, it reflects your company and for some potential customers it will be the first interaction they have with your business. Make sure you spend the time creating a listing that best reflects your company and what you do/offer.

2. Google My Business listing

Do you have a Google My Business listing (Google+ Local page) for your business? If no, go get one now.  When you have a listing on Google My Business it means your business now has a higher chance to show up in Google searches that are related to your business, location, product offers, and services. Your company also has the potential to show up in Google Maps, Google+, and organic search results.

Google my business listing

If you already have a listing, is all of the information correct? Is your profile 100% filled out? Have you selected the best possible category(s) that represents your business? In 15 minutes you can have a comprehensive pimped out Google+ page that reflects your business, your products /services, and the awesome team behind it.

Your Google listing needs to be accurate and correct. All your listings going forward should reflect the same information that you have listed on your Google+ Local Page.

If your business has had multiple locations and listings in the past, if you have inconsistent and incorrect citations across the web, or if you have had multiple listing owners, you could run into duplicate listing issues on Google. The only way you'll know is if you do a comprehensive search (this article shows you the best ways to find duplicates).  If you come across a duplicate, one of the best means to eradicating it is to call Google directly or report the listing.

Duplicate listings

3. Clean Up Inconsistent Citations (if you're a new business -1-3 months old - skip to #4)

Having consistent and correct citations (all your business listings reflect the exact same information) is a must when it comes to local SEO. If your business has moved location over the years the potential for conflicting NAP information is high and this means that you could be splitting your citation equity and risk creating duplicate listings in Google. In turn this could result in unreliable data and a reduction in Google's trust in the information.

With multiple incorrect listings you also run the risk of losing out on attracting new customers if they can’t get in touch with your business due to incorrect contact information.  

Updating incorrect citations, building new citations, and enhancing your profile with as much data as possible can lead to major local search wins.    

Cleaning up incorrect citations and enhancing them to reflect your correct business information is far more beneficial than just building more listings and making an even bigger mess.

A) Complete an audit of your listings

Complete custom Google searches for your business using ALL your current contact information, past names, old phone numbers, tracking numbers, old locations, fax numbers and so on. Any of these combinations can look like:

  • Business Name, Address, Phone Number

  • Phone Number

  • Business Name + Address

  • Business Name + Fax Number

  • Old Business Name, Old Address, Phone Number

  • Old Business Name + Old Postal Code/Zip

  • Portion of Business name -Phone Number -Toll Free Number, etc

For example, I looked up London cafes and came across one I thought was interesting – Prufrock, based on their NAP,  here are the searches I would conduct for an audit:

  • Prufrock 23-25 Leather Lane London, EC1N 7TE

  • Prufrock Coffee23-25 Leather Lane London, EC1N 7TE

  • Prfufrock + "44 20 7242 0467"

  • Prufrock +"20 7242 0467"

  • "Prufrock" -"20 7242 0467"

  • Prufrock +"london"

  • Prufrock +fax number (if they have one)

Any such combinations will help them create a fully exhaustive list of existing citations

search for Prufrock location

Pro Tip: Save yourself time by using tools like Linkclump (Chrome) or Multi Links (FireFox),  right-click and select any of the results on your page and view in a freshly opened tab.

For many business owners short on time and patience there are plenty of services and tools available that will audit, clean-up, update, and build citations for you. Here are just a few of them:

  • Whitespark (wink, wink)

  • UBL

  • BrightLocal

  • Yext (US Only)

B) Remove duplicates & incorrect citations

A duplicate listing is when your business has more than one listing for a single location within an online directory. Duplicate listings often include old or incorrect and misleading information and frequently this information is "transmitted" to other sites, thus spreading the "plagued" information to other data providers and networks, ultimately reaching Google's local data cluster; which can have huge negative impacts on a business's local search rankings.

Duplicates are extra weight your business does not want to carry around and it is always best practice to remove them!

During your audit if you have duplicate listings, you should come across them, however; always double check by:

  • Using the internal search feature on the citation site

Yell directory listing

  • Do a Google search for "your business name" or “your business phone number” or “old business name” or “old business phone number," searches subtracting "business name", "old phone number" and so on, to see if any other listings show up (you can use other business details as well).

how to do a site search on Google

C) Update all listings

Auditing and cleaning your citation profile is a total pain in the butt and there are services out there to help you. Your company could potentially have thousands of business citations that require clean up, duplicate removal and detail enhancement. Your long term goal should be to have a fully clean citation profile. Ludicrous I know, however, the most important areas to clean up citations are on the Top Citation Sources for your country (more details below), your industry citations, city related citations, and all your social profiles. Then work on cleaning up the rest over time.

Top citation sources

4. Citation Building - Top Citation List

If you are a brand new business, you may find that search engines can't locate any relevant data on your business. Now customers can't find and engage with your business.

At the bare minimum depending on your country these are the Top Citation Sources that your business should absolutely be listed on (for businesses in the UK, USA, AU and CAN). If you're just starting out this is the best list of citations to start building your profile.

Top citation building

5. Niche & Location Citations

After you've created your top citations sources, building city specific and industry specific citations is the next step. Here are some starting points to help you find these resources:

  • Join local business associations and chambers of commerce

  • Join industry related associations and websites - London + Travel

  • Is your business in a trendy neighbourhood – look for neighbourhood specific business listings

  • Do you have partnerships with other local businesses that may vouch for you and list you as a friend of their business on their website?

  • Use Google and customize searchers to find opportunities based on your +location and +niche

  • Use the Local Citation Finder tool to search your competitions citations and then get them

  • Host an event, post job opportunities online, or offer discounts/coupons

  • Get unstructured citations. Is your business worth visiting? Maybe you are a traveller’s destination, a local favourite hot spot, there are many opportunities to be found in all markets.

Here is one example of an unstructured citation, a local artist who showcases work at coffee shop and lists the locations:

blog post example of unstructured citation

The Do's & Don'ts of Citations Building

When it comes to the best practices for citation auditing, cleaning, and updating your citations here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind:


Prioritise and start with the most relevant to your industry and location


Fill in all the fields and include product/ service details and images


Keep the details as consistent as possible


Remove duplicates


Claim and owner verify all available listings


Follow the rules of the site you are creating a listing on


Think you have to build thousands of citations


Leave listings sparse and unexciting


Freak out over 100% address consistency (e.g. street vs st etc)


Use a forwarding URL, a virtual office or P.O box


Use call tracking numbers on citations


In local SEO accurate and quality business listings are critical factors that impact your local rankings. Investing time in cleaning up inaccurate information, duplicate listings, and creating new listings can result in positive wins for many local businesses.

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