Local citations are mentions that include your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) that appear on websites you don’t own, such as local directories. Learn how to leverage these listings to improve your online presence and increase local rankings.
Here, you’ll find:
- What are local SEO citations?
- Why are local SEO citations so important?
- Essential types of local citations
- How to get local citations listed
- How to optimize your local SEO citations list
- Best tools to check local SEO citations
- Checklist for creating local citations for SEO
You know your local business is legitimate. So do your customers. But to prove it to search engines like Google, you have to create and manage local SEO citations.
By prioritizing citations, you give your business more power to rank in local search results. Over time, you can increase the visibility of your business listing and drive more traffic.
In this guide to local citation building and management, we’ll cover everything you need to know about creating, auditing, and optimizing listings to improve local search rankings.
What are local SEO citations?
Local citations provide customers with more information about your local business details, such as location and contact details, cited from sources other than your website.
Here’s an example of a local search citation for HawkSEM on Yellow Pages:
Often referred to as local listings, citations can include more than basic NAP information. Like in the example above, some citations also include details like your:
- Business category
- Business description
- Industries served
- Social media links
- User ratings
- User-provided photos
Search engines like Google refer to these citations for accuracy and relevancy. Google local citations confirm your business is legitimate and that it’s really located where your Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business profile) says it is.
Why are local SEO citations so important?
Citations are crucial for any local SEO strategy. Without them, you’ll struggle to get your business to rank in any local search results. But with high-quality citations, you have a higher chance of landing top search engine rankings for local queries.
For example, HawkSEM worked with Happy Ears Hearing Center to attract more local search traffic. Our team grew the Phoenix-based business’s estimated search traffic by 396% and increased local conversions by 44% using a strategy that incorporated local SEO citations.
Citations as a ranking factor
The Google algorithm uses citations as a key ranking factor for local search. In fact, they’re one of the top six ranking factors for local SEO.
They’re also a top ranking factor for Google’s local packs. These search engine results page (SERP) features appear at the top of results pages for local searches, above organic search results.
In the example above, local packs display more than NAP citations. They also show ratings and details like open hours and number of years in business.
However, a single business citation won’t majorly impact your local pack visibility or potential to rank in organic search results. Google typically cross-references multiple citations across various online directories and other sites.
Alternative ranking tactic
Ranking at the top of search results for local queries can be incredibly difficult, even if your website checks all the local SEO boxes. That’s because, for many local searches, business directories and review sites take up most of the real estate on the first page of the SERP.
Many of the most established local citation sites would be impossible to outrank due to their high domain authority. Rather than compete with them, just join them.
Adding your business to top-ranking local directories gives your business added visibility on the SERP. Since customers already trust these sites, they can help increase brand awareness, drive traffic, or even generate business.
Citations vs. backlinks
It’s easy to lump citations in with backlinks. Both citations and backlinks are important. And citations usually include links, so the two may seem similar.
But technically, the two tactics are completely different.
Tuesday, January 23, 2024
- Backlinks focus on link building for the sake of establishing authority. As your site acquires more backlinks from relevant sites with high domain authority, the more authoritative it appears to search engines.
- Citations focus on creating mentions of your business that include consistent, accurate NAP data. As your site acquires more citations from relevant sources, the more likely it is to appear in local search results.
Essential types of local citations
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of citation sites. However, most fall into a few common categories.
Technically, local citations reside on websites you don’t own. Yet it’s critical to list your business correctly on your own website, which should always reflect accurate, up-to-date business information.
For a single-location business, you can list this information in your site’s footer or on a contact page, as HawkSEM does. For a multi-location business, local SEO landing pages are better.
Major search engines are the ideal places to begin creating local business citations.
- Google: Complete a Google Business Profile, which includes a Google Maps listing
- Bing: Create a Bing Places for Business, which includes a Bing Maps listing
- Apple Maps: Fill out an Apple Business Connect profile
Above is an example of a Google local SEO citation for HawkSEM. The listing includes NAP business data, ratings, reviews, and a category.
For most local businesses, major review sites and directories are also important for citations.
- Better Business Bureau: Get accredited by Better Business Bureau
- Facebook: Build a Facebook page
- Yelp: Set up a Yelp profile
Above is an example of HawkSEM’s local listing on Facebook. The listing includes basic business information, a category, an email address, and ratings and reviews.
Note, the list above is far from complete. Depending on your business type, sites like LinkedIn or White Pages may also be worthwhile places for building citations.
The structured citations above are mainly one-off listings. In other words, creating a listing on Facebook won’t lead to additional citations in other directories.
Data aggregators work a little differently. When you submit information to a data aggregator, it distributes your business data to a wide variety of sites.
These sites may not generate as much traffic as Facebook or Google Maps. But they can create more citation opportunities for your business, which helps with local rankings.
The most popular data aggregators include:
- BrightLocal: Create a BrightLocal Citation Builder account
- Foursquare: Claim your Foursquare for Business listing
- Neustar Localeze: Set up your Localeze profile
- Yext: Build a Yext listing
Many structured citations are free to set up and manage. However, data aggregators often require a one-time fee or an annual subscription to create and monitor citation sources.
Industry-specific business directories
While the citations above apply to most local businesses, there are hundreds more options that are industry specific. The most helpful sites and directories vary a lot from industry to industry.
For industry-specific directories, relevance matters much more than domain authority. That means you should focus on finding the right listing sites for local businesses in your industry.
You shouldn’t create citations in directories that don’t apply to your business. For example, dentists shouldn’t create citations on sites like Tripadvisor, which is geared toward tourism and hospitality.
For a complete list, reference this Moz citations by category resource. Search for your business’s industry and make your way through the top 10 citation sources.
Above is an example of HawkSEM’s listing on Clutch, a site for professional service providers. Along with NAP data and reviews, this listing also features social media links and founding dates.
Some types of citations only apply to businesses in specific areas. For example, a chamber of commerce listing can get your business in front of potential customers and boost local SEO ranking.
Everything we’ve covered so far is a type of structured citation, meaning the business owner creates or submits it directly. Whether you’re managing SEO for a new business or a long-established company, you also need to know about unstructured citations.
Third parties like journalists, bloggers, and customers create unstructured citations.
They may appear in:
- News features
- Blog posts
Unstructured citations are more challenging to control. Yet you can still influence these citations.
“We’re invested in connecting with local news stations. Just last year, our interview on FOX29Philly generated immense publicity for our brand around the heat of the basketball season. Local appearances are major for us because we get to repurpose the news on our social media to maximize our reach and exposure,” shares Michael Nemeroff, CEO and Co-Founder of Rush Order Tees.
“That in itself lends a hand to us generating more customer testimonials. People who watched the news or followed our post on X opted to buy our custom-printed products. After purchasing, they’d be prompted to leave a review about their experience with our company. We love leveraging their feedback on our website and social media to boost our credibility afterward.”
How to get local citations listed
As a local business owner, you have two options for submitting and managing local citations. Let’s walk through both.
The fastest and easiest way to manage local SEO citations is to partner with a data aggregator. If you go this route, the main thing you’ll need to do is provide your NAP data. Then the data aggregator will handle the process of distributing your information and creating local citations.
Make sure to choose your data aggregator wisely. Services like BrightLocal or Whitespark,got give you ownership over your listing, allowing you to update as necessary. Other services use a rental model, which can become expensive over time.
For more control over your local citations, submit and manage them manually. Either take a DIY approach and manage them yourself or contract an experienced agency to oversee the process for you.
The main downside of this approach is that it’s more time-consuming. But because you can review each listing manually, you get much more control over the process. You can also ensure that every citation is correct.
How to optimize your local SEO citations list
If you go the manual submission route, you’ll need to factor citation review and optimization into your workflow. Use the steps below as a guide.
1. Start with the biggest opportunities
First, focus on creating citations on the sites with the highest search volume and the biggest brand recognition.
“The most effective tactic for securing authoritative local citations is to focus on securing listings on prominent review platforms like Yelp, Foursquare, and industry-relevant sites first,” explains Edlyn Collanto, B2B Marketing Research Specialist at UpCity.
“These establish a foundation before expanding to citation aggregators. Particularly for reviews, providing good experiences that convert single interactions into enthusiastic advocates willing to publicly share experiences drives high-impact community promotion.”
2. Review and update existing citations
Take time to review your existing citations periodically. If your business information changes or if a third party suggests a change to your listing, you may need to review it for accuracy.
You may also find opportunities to add more detail to your existing listings. The listing management tools below can make this process faster and easier.
3. Check for duplicate listings
Ideally, you’ll have one listing for each business location on each relevant site or directory. More listings aren’t better. In fact, they can compromise your local SEO efforts.
A key part of providing search engines with accurate NAP information is addressing duplicate listings. Most of the tools below can alert you to these listings automatically.
4. Identify new citation opportunities
To continue to improve visibility for your local business, stay ahead of local competitors. That means performing competitive research and finding new listing opportunities.
With many of the tools below, you can automatically detect competitor listings. Then create new citations for your own business in the same directories.
5. Track SEO conversions
Securing the right listings is just the first step in managing local citations. It’s just as important to monitor conversions, especially for measuring the value of your SEO efforts.
“I worked with an RV rental business with multiple locations across the US. Obtaining local citations boosted their visibility in local search results, particularly in Google’s map pack. After listing on travel directories and local tourism sites, there was an increase in online bookings and inquiries, indicating a more visible local presence tracked through UTM codes from where those citations were placed,” shares content strategy director, Melissa Popp.
At HawkSEM, we take conversion tracking a step further. “Once you have a set plan for your local citations strategy, you want to make sure you have proper tracking in place so you can accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) from specific campaigns. We use ConversionIQ to help with tracking these campaigns,” explains Sam Yadegar, CEO of HawkSEM.
Best tools to check local SEO citations
When you manage local citations manually, you need a dedicated tool. Standard SEO tools won’t work for citations. Instead, use one of the listing management tools below.
BrightLocal Citation Tracker
The BrightLocal Citation Tracker rates your local citations, giving you a score out of 100. The platform considers the number of found, not found, correct, and incorrect citations.
With this platform, you can track existing citations and locate and address duplicate listings. It also has a project tracker that makes it easier to create and follow through on to-do lists.
BrightLocal’s competitor tracker helps you stay ahead of other sites in your industry. It automatically monitors your top five competitors to help you avoid missing opportunities.
The BrightLocal Citation Tracker starts at $39 per month per business location. All plans have a 14-day free trial to test out the platform.
Moz Local Listing Checker
With the Moz Local Listing Checker, you can look up your local business for free and see your score. Moz grades local businesses based on correct, incorrect, and missing NAP data.
This free tool provides a complete list of your local citations, including the NAP data that each lists. It also tracks whether the directory lists hours or includes photos of your business.
Using this tool, you can create a DIY to do list and begin checking the citations off manually. To manage listings with Moz, you’ll need a paid subscription to Moz Local.
With Moz Local, you can manage business listings, monitor reviews, and post offers and updates for local customers. Moz Local plans start at $14 per month per location. This tool doesn’t require a subscription to the full Moz Pro platform.
Semrush Listing Management
With Semrush Listing Management, you can look up your local business and see an overview of its online presence. The free version of the tool grades your online presence and shows the number of listings that need work.
It also provides an abridged list of the listings that are missing NAP data or that have incorrect information. To get the full list and start addressing the issues, you need a paid subscription.
Semrush Listing Management is part of Semrush Local, which is the SEO platform’s local toolset. In addition to local citations, this tool offers online review management.
Semrush Local is available as an add-on to a base Semrush subscription. Base subscriptions start at $129.95 per month plus $20 per month for Semrush Local.
The Whitespark Local Citation Finder is an all-in-one platform for checking, reviewing, and optimizing local SEO citations. The free version of the platform gives you a glimpse of your existing citations.
With a paid subscription, you can track progress over time, create to-do lists, and find competitive opportunities. Whitespark makes it easy to find relevant directories, check domain authority, and verify that your listing is submittable.
Whitespark has a free plan that you can use to run three searches per day and see limited search results. Paid plans start at $39 per month for up to five campaigns with 20 searches per day and unlimited search results.
Local citations can certainly be straightforward, especially with a checklist like the one above. But if you run a multi-location business or if you’re just getting started with local SEO, it’s often better to work with a trusted partner.
At HawkSEM, our local SEO experts can handle every step of the citation management process, including conversion tracking. Reach out for a free consultation with our SEO team.