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The Smart SEO’s Ultimate Guide to Building Citations for Local SEO

Local SEO and citation building are often mentioned together, and rightfully so. As one of the most talked about areas of SEO, it’s important to clear the air and discuss different areas of citation building, clean up, and dispute some popular myths and misconceptions.

This blog post is actually inspired by a great webinar today hosted by Bright Local with Darren Shaw and Matthew Hunt.

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When To Build Citations

So you just landed your first client, or maybe you’re handling SEO for your own business and you have the website complete and because people tell you that you need citations you’re starting to fill out a bunch of information on different directories, right? Well not so fast… there is a right time to build citations.

For my clients, I never build citations first, in fact, they are one of the last things I do. Proper on page optimization is always the most important thing for me to do, followed by Google My Business listing optimization. Following this structure, I’ve been able to rank businesses in multiple cities, even with duplicate content on city specific landing pages as displayed on my Local SEO Tutorial.

Darren Shaw of Whitespark said to build citations a couple months before you even add or claim your Google my Business listing. He says that it builds up trust and makes ranking easier in his opinion but also said he hasn’t done any testing to prove it and that it is speculation.

Darren tweeted, asking if I’ve seen rankings occur for brand new businesses without citations to support the business data.

It’s pretty cool how responsive Darren was after the webinar checking #insidelocal on Twitter, but what is even more eye opening is how quickly in the world of SEO, even Local SEO that expert opinions can change almost immediately. I need more hands and feet to be able to count how many times my opinions have changed when it comes to SEO!

Let me explain my stance on this.

The reason I believe citation building should be one of the last things you perform in local SEO isn’t because I believe citations are useless, or just not important. I just don’t believe they are as important as they once were. I also believe there are many more important things to get squared away before worrying about citations. Such as:

1.) On page optimization

2.) Competitor Analysis

3.) Google My Business Optimization

The main reason I build the Google My Business listing before citations is because you can rank locally with very little effort in many cases. Sometimes in as little as 1 week, maybe 2 weeks I will have clients ranking locally. There’s no reason to wait for building citations if you’re able to rank relatively well in under a month or even under 2 months.

Citation building takes time.

Right now I have a roofing client ranking in 34 cities with only 10 citations, but killer on page optimization and a very good GMB(google my business) listing. I have a garage door repair man ranking for 80+ keywords in 25-27 cities (depending on the day). To me, it makes sense to get started on your GMB listing before building citations because without the listing, you will never know if you could have been ranking faster!

Does Darren’s initial stance on this subject make sense? Possibly, but not for low to medium competition in small to medium sized cities. His initial stance certainly could be correct in very large cities like NYC, LA, Chicago if it is highly  competitive but to be honest, I’ve never tested it out. Perhaps we both can test this out, and you could test this out as well to see which is more effective.

Performing a Citation Audit

If you’re working with a brand new business that has no citations, you may be thinking that you don’t have to audit citations, check for NAP consistency, you probably think you can avoid that altogether. However, it would be a mistake to ignore it.

Just because it is a new business doesn’t mean the citation profile is clean. In fact, you could have all kinds of crazy data from old businesses at the location, to user submitted citations or even data aggregators that submitted information to different sources based on secretary of state filings.

Always do an audit of citations before starting to build your citations for yourself or your clients.

  • Check for correct information
  • Confirm NAP Consistency
  • Report “Closed” businesses at the location

Which Citations Should I Focus On The Most?

Something that isn’t said enough in regards to building citations, is the same thing I discuss when referring to backlink building. Focus on the sources that can generate traffic.

When offering local SEO services to clients, it’s important to deliver the end result. People want your services because it will help them rank, if they rank well they get more traffic and more traffic means more leads and phone inquiries.

Easy way to see what’s ranking, is to search keyword + city and look at the top directories. You might see Yelp, Manta, Yellowpages, Thumbtack, etc. Focus on getting these citation sources first. Not only will these be great citation sources but they will also help by bringing in traffic, and possibly phone calls directly from the listing.

If you place importance on the citations that bring in traffic before non-traffic citation sources, you’re giving results to your clients almost immediately, but you’re also not relying on Google for traffic which is beneficial to a long term marketing strategy.

Comparing Different Types of Directories

When you break down the possible citation and directory sources they usually fall into one of these categories:

  • Based on Industry
  • Based on Local Area
  • National Directories

When you look beyond traffic, there are so many different directories you can submit to for citations. In terms of traffic some citation sources are better than others but that doesn’t mean you ignore every citation source that likely won’t generate traffic, there is still certainly a use for them.

Does domain authority matter?

I kind of touched on PR and domain authority in a recently blog post but for this purpose, and I know it may not be a popular stance, but I believe domain authority of the citation source doesn’t really matter. Perhaps it does effect whether you would want to use that particular site for tiered backlinking purposes but for building citations, I don’t look at the authority beyond targeting the most common ones that can produce traffic.

If you use a tool like Bright Local, it makes sense to target the top citation sources by authority, because they are usually also the citation sources that generate traffic, but in my opinion, there are two things that matter when it comes to Local SEO.

1.) Location Relevance
2.) Keyword / Industry Relevance

After acquiring the top citations that you believe can get you traffic, it makes sense to start looking for local directories, and industry based directories.

Stealing Competitor Citations for an Extra Boost

Okay, so maybe it isn’t stealing, you’re just doing competitive analysis and seeing what citations your competitors already have. You can do this by searching your competition’s phone number, and doing a lot of cross referencing, or you can use a tool like Bright Local in order to see a citation matrix like the one displayed below:

brightlocalcitationmatrixThere are probably 200 or so that are listed, but I’m just sharing a screenshot comparison of the top few citation sources for the search term “Plumber in Atlanta”. This is useful for us to determine who has what, who doesn’t have what, etc.

Analyzing your competition before you even start doing SEO is extremely beneficial. In most Internet Marketing circles, people talk about keyword research and competition research to determine whether you should target a certain keyword or niche, but in my opinion competition analysis is more about making your job easier when performing SEO.

When you analyze the competition, you already see the sources of citations they have, you’re basically taking the guess work out of the process and somewhat developing a formula that will have you or your client better situated in the search results.

Citation Clean Up Tips

I’ve heard from a lot of people that they’re manually going to 50+ directories and trying to update citations to clean up outdated information, but sadly many sources don’t respond.

Have you ever had a situation like this? It’s normal, happens all the time, and even though I’m not a big believer in this really “penalizing” you, it’s best to address the issue when you can. Sometimes the only way to do it is to go to the data aggregators, or I should say, it’s usually the best thing to do.

Data Aggregators you should be using not just for cleaning citations but building citations include:

  • InfoGroup
  • Acxiom
  • LocalEze
  • Factual

Now some sources, like Acxiom do require a business license or tax ID letter to prove it is a legit business and that you are the owner or acting for the owner. Submitting information to data aggregators can be extremely helpful in cleaning up those stubborn, outdated citations and it can save you a lot of time.

Manually cleaning up citations

If you’re trying to manually submit a listing change or asking a directory to correct the information,  you will want to make sure you have a branded email to do so.

One of the first times dealing with a NAP  issue was a listing on yellowpages and I kept submitting requests to change the information but it was never done. 4 or 5 months went by and it was still displaying outdated information. Nothing I tried worked. It wasn’t until I submitted an additional request with an email I generated to include the @domain.com and even then it took about a month for it to update.

If citations keep popping up with outdated information…

Sometimes you will notice a nightmare of a citation when citations continue to popup with outdated information, you know you’re not doing this, and the client isn’t doing this but somehow it keeps happening.

This is often due to a data aggregator that is reporting information you’re unaware of. They are getting this data from somewhere.

One thing that isn’t mentioned enough is business filing information. Usually, and I would say 90% of the time if you’re having this issue, it stems from the Secretary of State database where the business filed their incorporation or LLC papers. Sometimes a different address or phone number was listed.

The easy fix? Usually having your client file a statement of change of address or contact information is good enough and in most states it only costs $5 for that to happen. You would probably be okay by submitting to the different data aggregators the business information, however, some directories populate their website based on Secretary of State filings.

I forget which directory it was a couple years ago, they already came and gone and no longer exist, but they were accidentally pulling information through the secretary of state websites and instead of the business address they were pulling the address of the “registered agent”. This created a nightmare for those businesses and registered agents out there. This became a problem because other directory scrapers were released and repurposing the incorrect information on their own directories which led to 15-20 national directories with incorrect data. I know this because I dealt with 3 registered agent services in trying to clean up that mess!

Maximizing the Power of Citations

To really generate more “power” in some of your citations, you’ll want to take a similar approach as you would when building top tier properties for reputation management, or as you would when creating top tiers for tiered backlinking.

One way to do this with citations, is to be active in that community. Yelp, Merchant Circle, and Manta are excellent examples of citation / directory sources that have an active community that allows internal linking. The more active you are, the more your profile is linked internally and that is nothing but good news for you!

In fact, internal activity is a strategy I use when trying to sculpt branded search results, trying to set up the SERPs exactly how I want, based on brand property. This is extremely useful when developing your online brand but also managing and marketing your reputation as discussed in the recent reputation management webinar.

One more thing about maximizing the power of your citations. If there is an option to include a coupon code, there are coupon directories that will syndicate directory listings that display coupons. If your business has a coupon, chances are you will be picked up by other directories and adding to your overall citation count.

Quick tip: Always make sure to make the most of your citations, if they allow you to post photos, do it. If they allow you to link to social media, do it. If they allow you to link to other citations, well… you get the point, do it.

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Alternative Citation Sources

You don’t need to think inside the box like everyone else does. There are other sources of citations you can grab for yourself and clients.

Press Releases – This is one of my favorite, non-conformity sources of citations. Press releases not only build up the reputation and trust of a business, they can sometimes include some decent backlinks and at the very least can be a nice source of a citation. You never know, sometimes the press release can be picked up by a local newspaper or local blogger and can mean additional backlinks and citations for you or your client.

Blog Posts / Article Submissions – Author bylines are another great thing you can utilize for citations. Not only are you generating authority and furthering the brand reputation and possibly generating direct traffic, you’re building an additional citation a lot of people miss out on.

YouTube – Possibly the most effective citation source you can have. You can create a slideshow video with NAP and a link in the description. Sometimes the video will rank for targeted keywords, but worst case scenario you have an overlooked citation source from an extremely dominate site.

The Conclusion!

There are many different ranking factors when it comes to SEO and even Local SEO. It’s hard to digest all the information available on the internet, and even harder to discern what information is up to date and which is useless.

Citations are an important part of local SEO and should be included in your overall strategy.

I hope this blog post, diving into citation building is helpful to you. If you enjoyed this, help me out and click like, share, tweet it, or leave a comment below!

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