- 1. The problem with inconsistent citations
- 2. Streamlining your citation workflow
- 3. Supercharging your workflow
- 4. Finding inconsistent citations
1. The problem with inconsistent citations
“Excuse me, where’s the Museum?” “Just down this way. Turn left right at the second traffic light.”
A right turn later.
“Hello, the Museum is supposed to be here. Can you please tell me where?” ” The Architecture Museum? That’s on the other side of the city! You have to take the bus to get there.”
Nothing can be more disruptive for a search than wrong information. On the internet, the consequence might be as simple as using the browser’s back-button. But what humans can decide within seconds, poses a real challenge for search engines. When in doubt, they just pass over inconclusive results. That’s why it’s so important to provide clear information about our business.
Even if you have never actively submitted your business information to an online service, inconsistent information might be circulating online.
Common reasons for inconsistent business information
Especially when your business exists for more than half a year, it’s common to find inconsistent information online. Since you registered your business to the county clerk’s office or with your state government, certain details might have changed:
- your business moved physically
- your phone number changed
- your business changed type (Ltd, LLC, LLP)
A change in infrastructure can influence your public online profile, too:
- you inherited a “dirty” phone number with an online history of a former business
- you used an 800 number as well as a local number
- when signing up for and extended ad in the Yellow Pages, you used a tracking phone number
Past marketing efforts could have created an old business listing without your awareness:
- you hired an agency to get listed on online directories
- someone in your organization created listings without considering consistency issues
And once your information has been online, inconsistencies might have perpetuated:
- data aggregators picked up incorrect information
- the incorrect information has been submitted or scraped by other directories
No matter the reasons, inconsistencies in your business listing have negative consequences.
Consequences of inconsistency
All parties involved suffer from the consequences of an inconsistent business listing.
Consumers are confused
Like the museum tourist above is likely to give up after enough detours, so are your visitors. Yext, a well-known information provider service estimated that in 2013 alone, $10 billion of revenue were lost due to incorrect business information.
Customer communication is lost
Apart from mere confustion, customer communication might be lost as well. Inquiries sent to a duplicate profile are left unanswered and customers frustrated. This will have a direct impact on their relationship with your business.
Social media loses effectiveness
It’s also common to find multiple entries for the same business on Yelp. And even though 300 reviewers were talking about the same shop, their ratings are spread among the different accounts. The correct listing might end up with less then a hundred entries. That means less social proof for prospective visitors and search engines, too.
Search engine cannot make sense
As soon as search engines find new information, they compare it to what they have stored already. When they encounter an inconsistency, they apply an algorithm to determine which is the correct entry.
While it’s not a problem for them to recognize “St” and “St.” as abbreviations of “Street”, it’s difficult to make sense of two different phone numbers stored under the same business name.
- Did the phone number change? Is one of the two outdated? Which one?
- Does the business have two numbers, say one for the sales department and another one for customer service?
- Does the business have two locations, maybe one in Los Angeles and another on in New York City?
- Is it two different businesses altogether, just sharing a similar name?
Search engines might not be able to find conclusive answers to these questions. In case of doubt, they won’t display your business in their results. Inconsistencies in your business information will impact your search engine ranking negatively.
Consistency is rewarded
Consistency about your business’ information, on the other hand, has a positive effect. Many different sources clearly referencing the same business is a form of social proof for search engines. They conclude it must be a good fit for the search query and bump your business up in the search results.
Both of these examples are simplified, but their principle remains true: consistent information helps your business while inconsistencies harm it.
Inconsistent information arises for different reasons. If your business is open since a while, it might have moved, you changed phone numbers or infrastructure. Information that was once up-to-date, might have been picked up by online data providers and perpetuated incorrectly ever since.
Inconsistencies have adverse effects on all parties:
- customers grow frustrated because they cannot find the information they are looking for; they might have even contacted you in vain
- social media is rendered useless for interactions are spread among inactive duplicate profiles
- search engines don’t show your business to avoid displaying possibly incorrect information
The overall loser in all cases is your business. It’s not as visible as it could be. The results of your effort are cut short because people share a wrong profile. You might even lose customers due to confusion and frustration.
If you invest 1 hour per week [cleaning up your business listings], you will avoid these negative consequences. Directing your efforts towards the right listing will gain you momentum among search engines, social media networks and customers alike.
2. Streamlining your citation workflow
Chip was the more responsible of the friends. Right after graduation from high school, he started saving $200 every month for the next 8 years. Dale wanted to live a little fist, and started saving only when he was 27. But he kept putting $200 aside until the friends retired at 65.
Both got an astounding interest rate of 9%. Most people assume Dale would had more money in the bank. After all, he saved for 39 years, compared to Chip’s 8. But in reality, Chip was still better off with $69,280, thanks to the power of compound interest. Starting 8 years earlier made a huge difference.
As a budding entrepreneur, you probably don’t think much about saving. During the first years it’s all about surviving and growing. Nevertheless, there’s many ways you can take advantage of the power of compounding interest. One example is when cleaning up your online business profile.
The most efficient way to clean up your online business profile
Cleaning up your online business profile means making sure the information about your business that’s available online is up-to-date and matches everywhere. Especially things like your business Name, Address and Phone number (NAP).
With hundreds of business directories, that entails a lot of repetitive work. This is exactly where you can save a lot of time by doing a little work upfront, like Chip did.
The goal of this preparatory work is to create a spreadsheet with all the information about your business. It’s also where you store notes aboout your progress. You streamline your comminication with the directories. And last but not least, you use your browser to automate filling out the their forms. But let’s start at the beginning
The spreadsheet will do most of the heavy lifting, especially if you organize it into three sections. The first contains your “ideal listing”. In the second, you store all the informtation that’s different, for example an old address. In the third section, you simply your progress.
1. Your ideal listing
Write down how your ideal business listing looks like. At the very least, it should contain the following fields:
- Name of your business
- Phone number
- Description (short & long)
- Social Media Profiles
- Images (logo, team, location)
Most of these fields are straightforward. The only two that are ambiguous are description and images.
Some directory sites provide you with enough space to write a detailed description while others insist on just a sentence or two. That’s why it makes sense to have two descriptions, a short one and a long one.
Another factor is when your listing is shown as a result in Google rather than on the site itself, the description is cut off between 140 and 160 characters. This makes the ideal length of our short description around 150 characters.
The long description, with a detailed account of your business’ doings, can be two or three paragraphs long. A neat little trick: if you use your short description as first sentence, it will look good even when it’s cut.
Having both versions ready allows you consistency among the different formats. Also make sure to add some keywords and phrases that prospects would actually type when trying to find your business online.
Many directories offer you one image per listing. For most businesses it makes sense to use their logo. But since the required dimensions for each directory differ, you can store two versions of your logo. A square one and a horizontal one.
Once in a while, you can upload more than one image, for example on Yelp or Google My Business. It then pays off to store even more pictures. These help prospects visualize your business while keeping its image consistent.
If you set up your Google My Business profile before, you have a great selection of images. If you haven’t, this should be your next step. In Google’s eyes, this profile is worth more than others. That’s it for the first section of your spreasheet.
The second section deals with deviations from your ideal listing. That’s an outdated phone number, an old address or a different spelling. You want to note any of these in the second section. You do this to make it easy to find as many outdated versions of your business listing as possible.
When you google
"name of your business + location" or
"name of your business + phone number",
you will mostly find correct listings. But since you are hunting incorrect listings, it helps to google for that as well. Whenever you find anything that is different or outdated, take note of it in the second section. Later, you can easily search for these variations.
The third section of your spreadsheet deals with your progress. Updating an existing listing can take a while. Sometimes you can claim the listing with a form but at other times, you have to email the listing provider with changes.
Chances are you won’t remember what you did last time when you spend just two hours per week on your citations. By keeping notes on who you contacted, you avoid duplicate requests, but see quickly when it’s time to follow up.
This concludes your work on the spreadsheet. Here is an example of the working spreadsheet of Tim Hand.
Setting up a spreadsheet will bring you a long way in streamlining your cleanup process. But there is even more you can automate.
Instead of reapeatedly copy-and-pasting the information from your spreadsheet into a web form, you can have your browser do that for you. Most people already take advantage of this function when they save their passwords.
With an extension, your browser can fill the complete form. Here are the two great ones:
I myself use LastPass because I can configure it to fill the right information even when the field names differ. One directory might ask for “directory” while another asks for “directories”. Or one form field is called “Founded” while another on says “Year Established”. LastPass fills all of them correctly. The next chapter will guide you on setting it up.
The last tip to save time when updating your online citations is to use a dedicated email account.
With no more than two hours per week, the clean-up process will span over a couple of months. Also, the back-and-forth between the directories and you will not have the same urgency than your regular business emails.
Setting up a separate email, like email@example.com, keeps your normal inbox tidy and clean. If an additonal email addess sounds like too much work, you can also just tag the emails within your current provider or store them in a separate folder.
A spreadsheet, a browser extension to automate filling online forms and a dedicated email address. That’s all you need to streamline your citation clean-up.
Gathering the information beforehand and keeping track of your progress with a couple of free tools will shave valuable hours off the process, which you can invest elsewhere. Your business will profit from this early preparation much more than both Chip and Dale together.
Now it’s time to learn how to [set up your browser’s autofill function] to save even more time.
3. Supercharging your workflow
The more often your business is listed in local business directories, easier it will be to find and the more legitimate becomes in the eyes of the search engines.
But adding your business to multiple directories can be a daunting task, mostly because it’s so repetitive. You have to enter the same information into each business directory, over and over again. Yet, you can make your life a lot easier with a little trick.
Everybody knows the “Save Your Password” function of their browser. Few people know that you can do the same with whole forms. Instead entering their name and address by typing or copy-and-pasting it from your citation spreadsheet, you can do it with one click. You just need a free extension like LastPass for your browser that remembers the information and fills it for you.
Why the LastPass extension
LastPass is one of these extensions. On top of storing passwords and complete forms, it outstands other extensions with these three capabilities:
Profiles allow you to store a set of information together in one single group. Let’s say your business has locations in two different cities.
Between the two, some fields remain the same, like the name of your business or the owner. Other fields will be different, like the address and phone number. By storing each location in a separate profile, you can keep filling a form completely with one click.
Not every directory will ask you the same information. Some of them want to know the year the business was founded, and others want to have the name of a contact person. On top of that, they are asking for it differently. One directory might ask for “Street Address” and another one wants the “Business Location”.
LastPass let’s you create custom fields, where you tell it the name of the field and what it contains. You basically tell it to fill a field named “Street Address” and another field named “Business Location” with your address. Further down, we will go into more detail.
But the arguably biggest advantage of LastPass is that it’s free. It cannot get better than that.
Now that you know why LastPass is a great choice, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details of using it.
Setting up LastPass
LastPass offers an extension for all major browsers. Let’s get started by downloading the right one.
1. Downloading the browser extension
Here are the links for the three most popular browsers:
2. Creating an account
Once installed, the next step is to create an account. You can either do it directly from the new extension or from their Home Page
You just need email and password–which will be your master password. You’ll need to access all the other passwords in your LastPass account; make sure you’ll not forget it.
Now click on the new symbol on the right of your browser’s address bar, fill in email and password and log in.
Most of the default settings work out of the box. There are only two improvements to be made. Under “General”, activate the option “Automatically Log out when all browsers are closed and Chrome has been closed for 0 mins”. This makes sure nobody has access to your saved passwords after you close the browser.
The other setting is for convenience. Under “Advanced”, check the option “Show Matching Sites in top level menu” to save another click when logging in.
Creating your profile
Let’s create the first profile. Activate LastPass again with a click on the symbol and click on “Form Fills”. Then on “Add Profile”.
Unless it’s mentioned specifically, fill all fields. You might not need each field in every directory, but when you do it should have a consistent value.
Tab One: Personal
The first tab of the profile focuses on you as a person.
- First Name
- Middle Name
- Last Name
- Username: often this will be your login. To keep it consistent, pick something unusual that is not likely to have been picked by someone else, for example “company name + founding date”, in my case 1derweb2015
Tab Two: Address
The address tab is straight forward. The only thing to make sure is to put your suite number, if you have one, under “Address 2”.
- Address 1: your address without suite/apartment/unit
- Address 2: suite/apartment/unit number
- Address 3: not necessary
- City / Town
- ZIP/Postal code
- Time Zone
Tab Three: Contact
There’s only two or three fields to fill out here.
- Email Address
- Phone Number
- Fax Number
You can skip over both “Credit card” and “Bank account” and move straight to “Custom Fields”.
Tab Four: Custom fields
The real power of LastPass shows in this tab because business directories are likely to ask for the same information in different ways. One directory calls it “Year Established” while another one asks for “Founded”. With custom fields, you can make sure that even esoteric sounding form fields will be filled correctly.
There is one quirk to remember. In “Text to find”, which is the name of the field to be filled, you can only use two entries. That means you have to create another custom field if you have more than two names. For example, you need one field with
and another one with
Business Category Industry
despite all of them have the same value. That being said, here is a list with common fields
- Categories, Category, Business Category, Industry
- Year Established, Founded
- Business Name: Another field for your company name
- Postal Code
- First Name
- Contact Person, Contact Name: Full name
- Job title, Role
- Password, Re-type Password
- Email address
- Business Website, Website, URL
- Short Description, Business Overview, Description: This is where you enter your 150-character description
- Long Description:This is the field for the longer description
That’s it. Filling in these forms should you prepare for 9 out of 10 business directories with their field forms. Whenever you have to manuall fill a form field, go back to your LastPass profile and add it to the custom fields. After a while, all forms can be filled with a click alone.
Using the Autofill
Talking about filling a form with one click. Let’s try it out over to Factual.
Filling the form
Once you find the “Add your business”-page, you click on the LastPass Button, which is located to the right of your browser’s address bar.
In the window that opens, select “Form Fills” and your profile. In my case, it’s called 1derweb.
That’s it. Most, if not all fields of your profile should be populated. Which brings us to the next step.
Verifying your information
Verifying the information is an important step because you had the form fill automatically. Go through each field to make sure everything is correct. As you see in the example, there is one field or two that cannot be auto-filled.
The additional time it takes of verify is nothing compared to the time it will take to correct the listings once they have been published.
Submit and update your spreadsheet
After submitting, it’s a good idea to update the progress in your [spreadsheet](Article Preparation). This helps you check back after a couple of weeks to see if the directory has been updated and, if not, to get in touch with them.
Another reason to keep a spreadsheet with your progress: should you ever need to change your busines profile, e.g. in case you moved, this sheet will make an effective starting point.
Voila, you just set yourself up to save lots of time. Investing this time upfront to enter the details in LastPass allows you to fill out forms with the click of a button. All that’s left to do is verifying everything and noting your progress. After a couple of weeks, you can check if the directories have been updated and if you need to clean anything up.
4. Finding inconsistent citations
As the owner of a small business you wear many hats. Because it has no immediate effect, the last thing on your to-do list probably is adding your business to a multitude of business directories. At the same time, you can use your funds better than for citation services.
But if you want to stay competitive in todays environment, and be visible for customers who search for your service online, you have to take certain steps. Out of the array of possible steps, citations offer big results for small efforts.
So how do you strike a balance between your financial budget and your time? The most efficient way to go about it if you don’t have a budget to spend is to do the minimum amount that brings you the biggest results.
We follow this philosophy when search for existing citations today to find inconsistencies we can fix. Because inconsistencies among your business information lowers your trustworthiness in the eyes of the search engines.
To find existing citations, we first
- use free citation services,
- leverage Google itself and
- check other important databases
for our listing. Let’s start with the most convenient ones, free services.
Many professional citation services offer you a glimpse into their workings in form of free trials or partial listings. Even if you cannot access their whole databases for free, they give you a very convenient starting point.
All you need to do to get a partial list of their database is to enter your business information. Moz Local has the smallest list, Yext offers around 50 entries and Deluxe has the most comprehensive list with roundabout 160.
Entering the listings in your citation spreadsheet will give you a great base to start with. The services also show you inconsistencies in your profile. Of course, they offer to fix them for you, but if you are short on budget, you can do that as well manually for free.
As a bonus, these sites also show you directories that have your business not listed yet. It is worthwhile to take note of these as well. After you fixed inconsistencies, you can add your business to these directories as well to increase your online visibility.
The free directories get you started, but utilizing Google for your search will give the you most results.
The challenge of Google is not find information but to filter it. It’s not uncommon to receive tens or hundreds of thousands of results when searching for your business name, especially when it’s a common name.
Disclaimer: When you read through this section, it might look technical and confusing. It’s really not. If you just do each step one after another, starting with the first one, all the technicalities will explain themselves.
1. Searching for the company name
Even when searching for an unusual name like
already you get hundreds of irrelevant results. Try yours
It’s probably not any different. So let’s get more specific with the next step
2. Searching for the company name and one detail
To filter your results better, let’s add one detail to our search. Try these variations:
Business Name City
Business Name Address
Business Name Phone Number
Business Name Address Phone Number
This will limit the number of results already. You can check the first one or two pages to see if you find any business directories in there.
3. Searching literally
If there are still too many unrelated results, it might be because Google not only searches for your exact business name, but also words related to it. If you search for “apples”, the fruits, you will also get information about “Apple” the company. Most of the time that’s helpful, but in your case it might bring too many unrelated results. To avoid that, use quotation marks:
"Business Name" City
"Business Name" "Address"
"Business Name" "Phone Number"
"Business Name" "Address" "Phone Number"
Your results will be more specific, but you might still get too much. Many of these results might come from your own website, which is not useful in your case.
4. Searching everywhere but your own site
Google offers an option to filter results from a specific page. If you wanted to display only results from my own site, you would type
This would display any page Google has indexed from 1derweb.com. But since our goal was to display results from any page that is NOT 1derweb.com, we will negate the query with the minus symbol:
By itself that doesn’t make a lot of sense. It basically tells Google to show any page that is not on 1derweb.com, which is pretty much the whole internet. But if you combine this tip with the details from the previous section, your search becomes a lot more targeted:
"Business Name" City -site:yoursite.com
"Business Name" "Phone Number" -site:yoursite.com
These two queries bring up any page that mentions your business with the exception of your own site. You can scan the first couple of pages for any business directory that lists your business.
The site-filter is not only useful to exclude certain sites, it can also be used to search only on specific sites.
5. Searching specific sites
Whenever you want to know if your business is listed in a specific directory, you can tell Google to search just on that site. The addition to your query will be
So let’s have a look at how we can use that practically to check for listings on Google+, Yelp and Facebook. Yelp is the most straight-forward:
site:yelp.com/biz name of business
site:yelp.com/biz "name of business"
This first query with the quotation marks is more precise, which is helpful if your business name contains common words. If that doesn’t yield mentionable results, you can try the second version without the question marks.
Both show pages on Yelp that mention your business, both profiles and comments. But profiles show up as the first results on the page.
With Googgle+, you can be even more precise:
site:plus.google.com (###) ###-##### "about"
The first part of the query limits the search to just Google+. The second scans all pages for your phone number. The last part, the “about”, makes sure to look just on profile pages. Unlike Yelp before, you won’t see any comments in your results. Last but not least, let’s look at Facebook:
site:facebook.com (###) ###-##### -m. -m2 "reviews"
Facebook results include the separate pages for mobile devices. Since these are just mirrors, we can safely ignore them with the “-m. -m2”. To avoid comments in our results, we also add “reviews” to the search criteria and you will just have profile pages left. Last but not least, Yellow Pages
site:yellowpages.com mip "Business Name"
site:yellowpages.com mip (###) ###-###
The only difference is the “mip” in the middle of the query to limit results to profile pages only.
This concludes our section on targeting specific sites. One of the reasons you search for your business in the first place is to find inconsistent listings. Instead of just combing through everything in the hopes of stumbling over something, you can directly search for outdated information.
6. Searching for outdated information
If you already know outdated information about your business, such as an old phone number, you right away target directories that still list your business with it. It only makes sense to apply everything you learned so far, and apply it on incorrect information:
"Old Business Name" City
"Business Name" "Old Address"
"Business Name "Old Phone Number"
"Old Business Name" "Old Postal Code/Zip"
These are just examples, you can search for your business in all the ways above mentioned, just with the old number/address.
We will fine-tune even more, but before, let’s recap. You want to search for your business
a) through a combination of details, like name & address
b) more precisely by using “quotation marks” that allow you to search literally
c) by excluding your own site from the results
d) by specifically searching for outdated information
Using Google itself to search for your business listing is the most comprehensive free way to search for citations online. But there are other search engines out there, some of them specifically geared towards local business listings. Let’s have a look at how we can use these as well.
Some advanced duplicate detection
Searching for your business via google.com will likely return may results and you can go through them one by one. If you just want a quick win to get started, this section will cover some tricks to unearth duplicate listings in some of Google’s local databases. They all work with phone numbers.
Admittedly, they might look even more daunting than the last part, but in the end, you can plain old “copy and paste”. Give it a try, you can’t break anything.
This method allows you to find unverified Google+ listings:
The next search returns all listings on Google Places
Google My Business
You can also search Google’s My Business database for existing entries.
This leaves us with the last tip for today, governmental databases.
Secretary of State database
Governmental databases, like the ones the Secretary of State keeps, are a major source for all business directories. Sometimes you keep bumping into the same outdated information for your business. No matter how often you update the directory or contact their customer service, the outdated info doesn’t go away. Then it’s possible it comes from an governmental database. There are different registries for different states and business types, but here is a good starting point for your search:
Now you know many different ways to find your business listed online:
- Free services
- Local Google services
- Governmental databases
You know how to focus your search to specific details and sites. And you learned about shortcuts like searching directly for outdated information. Best of all, none of this has any cost attached to it. You can search all of these sources for free.