- 1. Intro to Local Citations
- 2. The Local Citation Ecosystem
- 3. How to get Local Citations
- 4. Data Aggregators
- 5. How to Clean up your Citations
- 6. How to Update Existing Citations
- 7. How to Monitor your Citations
1. Intro to Local Citations
“Have you tried Gino’s pizza yet? We went there yesterday and had a blast!”
“What’s your favorite pizza place? Gino’s, I love their Margherita.”
Wherever you go, you hear about it. Around the water cooler in the office. When talking to your friends. You see their ads on pretty much any corner in the neighborhood.
How long will it take until you want to find out for yourself? Sooner or later you’d want to know out what the buzz is about. This is the power of citations.
What are citations?
In a very general sense, citations are references to something else. The first time we encounter citations is high school, when we have to reference a book as our source in a research paper. But for the purpose of this article, we refer to a citation when another website mentions you, your business or your website.
It can be by name alone, or together with your phone number and address, maybe with a link. This, for example, would be a complete citation of the White House:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
+1 (202) 456-1111
But even when somebody mentions “the White House”, it’s technically a citation. And the same applies when your business is mentioned on another website in any form.
Structured and unstructured citations
Generally speaking, citations come in two forms: structured and unstructured.
Structured Directories and business listing are considered structured citations because each entry has the same format. Typical examples include the websites of the
- Yellow Pages,
- Yelp or TripAdvisor,
- Google My Business,
- the local chamber of commerce or
- the website of your city or town.
Unstructured The other type of citation is used when your business is quoted or referenced as part of a text, for example in a
- newspaper article,
- press release,
- on a blog or in
- your signature when posting on a forum.
Every time a third party mentions it, your business gains influence through social proof.
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when humans have to deal with an unknown situation. Feeling ambiguous and not sure what to do, the behavior of others turns into our source of information. We almost automatically assume the people surrounding us to know more about the situation. So we mimic their actions.
This behavior applies online as well. A business that’s being mentioned over and over gains legitimacy. Of course, a positive review will carry more weight than a listing in the yellow pages.
But even just seeing name and phone number repeatedly will increase its status. This fact has been utilized by the advertising industry for several decades.
The logic of social proof not only has an effect on humans, but search engines as well. Google states on one of their sites:
“Google improves search results by aggregating information about your business from all over the web.”
They vet this information through the use of different sources. In the beginning, they counted how often a certain keyword appeared on a page. Over time, the search engines kept incorporating more and more human actions into their algorithm.
They started to count the number of Facebook likes for a business and how often it was mentioned on Twitter. Citations on third party websites is another of these social signals. If all other factors remain, businesses with a larger number of citations will rank higher in the search results. The quantity, however, is not all that counts.
Quality over quantity
Some citations count more than others, like a review compared to a listing. And the popularity of the citing website makes a difference as well.
Google & Co. treat a citation of a governmental website like www.whitehouse.gov differently than, some blogger mentioning your site. Official sources are a lot more reliable than private ones.
It’s not easy to fake an entry in the directory of a local chamber of commerce, or on an official city website. These carry a lot of weight. But to make a citation count, it doesn’t have to come from the New York Times either.
The smaller the niche, the more important
That applies especially to smaller and less competitive niches, where many businesses don’t even have a website. In sectors like plumbing, landscaping or electrical, a citation from a third party might be the only reference to a business at all.
With no other information available to the search engines, each citation will have a tangible impact on the search results.
What citations can do for your business
For humans and search engines alike, citations can change the image of your business for better or worse.
The more often your name is mentioned, the better. If influential sources refer to you, not only your social status in the real world will soar, but the one in the search engines as well. That’s why citations are one of the most effective way to improve your ranking, right after optimizing your own site.
To take advantage of their immense power, let’s have a look at how the Citation Ecosystem works.
2. The Local Citation Ecosystem
“Build a city. There’s no raw materials, use what you can find. You have to organize yourself, because there’s no leader either. And yes, you got a week.”
Tell this to any sane group of people and all you get back are bewildered looks. Tell this to ants and they will deliver, each and every time. Up until now, theories gravitated around group intelligence and super organisms. But latest findings show that each ant follow three rules when building a new colony:
- Pick up grains at a constant rate.
- If possible, drop them near other grains.
- Prefer grains previously handled by other ants.
Scientists programmed virtual ants with these simple rules and were able to create structures of a similar complexity as ant colonies. Out of the actions of individual participants and with no ruling power, the internet has evolved in a similar fashion. From a simple connection between a couple of computers to a complex network.
How to list your business, before the internet and after
Before the internet, life was simple for small businesses. At least when it came to being listed publicly: you either choose the standard listing in the Yellow Pages or you pay for a larger one.
But once the internet emerged, so did a multitude of directories. With the directories came agencies who offered to sign you up at all of the important directories. Soon there were inconsistencies between the directories. And with these inconsistencies between, clean-up services were born. Over time and out of the action of individual, this evolved into a complicated web of online connections, similar to an ant colony.
Citations matter to Google
If it wasn’t for Google & Co, none of this would matter for small businesses nowadays. But Google gathers information about your business from different sources and cross-references it. Here are some of Google’s sources
- Google My Business
- Data Aggregators
- Horizontal directories
- Local directories
- Industry-specific directories
- Unstructured citations
The problem for Google lies in inconsistent data. If different sources report different data-sets or even duplicate entries, the search engine will not display the company data in their local search results.
Let’s look at the different players in the online citation ecosystem to identify the most important data sources. The first two are the most important.
1. Google My Business
This is Google’s own business directory. For a quick overview, check this infographic
2. Data aggregators
Right after Google themself, data aggregators are the second most impactful group. They compile their data from different sources, like classic phone books, business databases or official registration directories.
After collected, the data is syndicated and sold to other businesses. Yelp, for example, doesn’t add information themselves to businesses with a review, they acquire the information from Acxiom and Factual.
Neustar Localeze: Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Twitter, Apple/Siri, Foursquare, Facebook, Yellowpages.com, TripAdvisor, Groupon
Infogroup: Google Maps, Mapquest, Bing Local, Yahoo Local, Citysearch/CityGrid, Twitter, Ask, AOL Local, Superpages.com, Yellowpages.com
Acxiom: Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, Apple/Siri
Factual: Yelp, Bing, TripAdvisor, Apple/Siri
Foursquare: Pinterest, Instagram
The four biggest data aggregators alone have listed more than 20 million business across the United States. As one of the primary sources, they have a big influence on other data providers.
If your business information is filed incorrectly in the aggregator databases, you can expect it to be displayed incorrectly in numerous other places across the web.
Because the data aggregators are flooded with updates from directories, agencies and businesses themselves, they developed algorithms to filter through that data. That’s why it’s not enough to just submit your information. To ensure consistency among all the primary data sources, including Google, you have to take [specific steps].
3. Horizontal directories
Updating Google My Business and the data aggregators with consistent information will be enough for most small businesses. If you want to go further, horizontal directories are next on the list.
These sites are active on a national level and in a variety of industries. Technically, Google My Business belongs into this category as well. Other prominent representatives are
4. Local directories
Local directories operate on a local level. They might have overarching websites like the Better Business Bureau, but their databases are separated on a local level.
Because local directories tend to be smaller, their entries are not always reviewed by humans. The sites with human editors will have a higher trust factor when it comes to the search engines. That means an entry in their listing will influence your ranking more.
Depending on the nature of the directory, it might not be possible to claim a listing through an online form. You have to be a member of a local chamber of commerce, for example, to be listed. This is another trust factor that increases the weight of the citation. Popular examples are the local databases of
Despite being location-agnostic, industry-specific sites and directories have an influence on local search results. Especially in smaller niches, like plumbing for example, listing on the plumber’s association’s website might show up fairly high up in the search results.
The last group is made up of sites that are neither listings nor directories. This includes being mentioned in an article of an online newspaper or a review on a local blog. Everything that is not unstructured.
The internet brought with it a lot of possibilities for small business to be listed online. But with the overwhelming choice comes the commitment to keep your information up to date, either in time you spend yourself of in money when hiring an agency to take care of that for you.
Out of the 6 types of listings, two are the most important ones for small businesses:
- Google My Business, Google’s own business directory
- Data aggregators that syndicate their information across the web
With the following steps, you can make sure your business information is listed consistently, as efficiently as an ant finding its way around the colony.
3. How to get Local Citations
By now you are probably ready to your business to a new listing. But before we go there, I want to make clear it’s a numbers game. That’s why I’d like to give you a couple of tricks that I picked up along the way. None of them is strictly necessary, but applying then will save you countless hours.
Quality over quantity
Speaking about repetition, it’s better to take your time with each listing and make sure you fill out all possible fields with correctly formatted information. Especially the categories for your business, try to be as specific as possible with them. If you end up with many inconsistent entries, you’ll affect your online profile more negatively than positively
The first step to take is to make a template with all the information you want to submit. Most of the directories will have similar fields, which makes it very useful to populate them by copy and pasting. This will also take care of an important issue, information consistency, because you will supply your data in the exact same format. A good basis will be
- Business Name
- Phone Number
- Email address
- Description (short)
- Description (long)
- Hours of operation
- Social Media links (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn)
- Images (logo, team, etc.)
Tim Hand of Page One Power created a great template on Google Docs that you can just copy and populate with your own information.
Right after you have been filling your template with information, it’s smart to make sure it follows Google’s guidelines. After all, it’s Google whom you want to use use information.
Once you made sure that everything is correct, the first place to enter your information should be your Google My Business listing. Here you will find a step-by-step guide on how to create an effective listing on Google.
Whenever you encounter a new field, e.g. “additional information”, on one of the citation sources, make sure you add it to your spreadsheet together with how you have been filling it out. Not every site will make use of it, but the ones they do should match.
Another point that deserves special attention is the address field, since some directories use a single line while others use two. So if your business is located at a suite, make sure it looks the same one and two address lines.
Last but not least, choose a complex password with upper and lowercase letters, number and some special signs, even if the directory does not require it. This you you can use the same password for all of the directories, which will simplify future maintenance.
Because you will fill out many web forms, it’s worthwhile to use one of the autofill extensions for your browser, like Roboform or Lastpass. Using them, you fill each field only once in the extension and then populate the actual web forms with one click.
When you start out your research for the best and most impactful citation sources, you can skip a couple of steps if you just search for your competitors business information. You can google for example
“competitor name phone address -site:competitorwebsite.com”
This query returns every mention of your competitor’s information with the exception of their own site. The more know your competitor is, the higher will be your chances of discovering their specific citation profile. All you need to do is enter your own business as well and you have cut the research time at least in half.
Slow and steady
Citations are a long-term effort. It’s better to keep adding a few citations consistently every week than trying to plough through hundreds in a marathon effort. The search engines rewards consistency more because it looks more legitimate that a one-time effort, which could be interpreted as spam.
To make the most out of your time, you can take advantage of the research that others have done. Here are a couple of lists with the most important citation sources. You can just go through them one by one.
Top Local Citation Sources by Country
The Best Citation Sources by U.S. City
The Definitive List of Local Search Citations
Top 50 Citations for local SEO
The Best Online Local Business Directories for SEO
Adding citations is a numbers game. The more you enter, the higher the search engines will place your website in their results. But all citations are not equal. It’s best to start with your Google page and then continue with the 4 big data aggregators. These 5 places will have the biggest impact on your success. After that, it’s down to pure numbers. With a few tips, you will be able to streamline your efforts.
4. Data Aggregators
He was not your typical scientist. Sure, he was smart, educated and well-spoken. But he was also a troublemaker, and that is an understatement. His job applications were flat-out declined and his lectures closed down regularly. This didn’t stop Vilfredo from speaking his mind and neither did the police trailing him or the intimidations from hired thugs.
He called it as he saw it, especially the government and its approach to income distribution. Vilfredo argued that in all countries and times, the distribution of wealth follows a pattern:
80% of income was earned by 20% of the population
He found this pattern in other fields as well and, despite it’s simplicity, Pareto’s Law has proved remarkably resilient in empirical studies.
The 80/20 also applies to the ecosystem of online business directories, where 20% of the companies influence 80% of the listings.
The ecosystem of online business directories
It’s no easy feat to navigate the complex ecosystem of online business directories. There’s the search engines, data aggregators, local directories, map systems and review sites.
With limited access to resources and time, where should you allocate your efforts as a small business owner?
Since the player most important to us is Google, it makes sense to claim and update your business profile there. If you haven’t done so, sign up there first. You can find detailed instructions in the [Google My Business] guide.
Then data aggregators
In order to cover the most ground with the least possible effort, data aggregators are the second most important group. The five major providers deliver their data to more than 90% of the business listing ecosystem.
How to add your business to the data aggregators, step by step
Before you add your business to any of the data aggregators, [check if it’s already listed].
- Link: http://www.expressupdate.com/search
- Click on “Add it now”
- Enter and submit your information
- You receive an automated phone call and have to enter the number you see on the screen
- Create an account
- Link: http://www.factual.com/contact#update_add_business
- Enter your information
- Detailed Instructions & Link: https://mybusinesslistingmanager.myacxiom.com/
- Create an account
- Add New Listing
- Verify your listing through a document scan
- Federal Tax License Letter
- State, County, or City Business License or Sales Tax License
- Doing Business as License
- Fictitious Name Registration
- Add/Update: https://foursquare.com/login?continue=%2Fadd-place
- You might have to create a free account to login
- Enter the information
Neustar Localeze is the only service that doesn’t allow free listings anymore. That means if your business is already listed, you can still claim and update it for free. But if your business is not already in their database, you either have to sign up to their commercial account for $297 per year or wait.
They do not pull their information from any other source, only from yellow page and white page books. You can get a free listing here. Once your business is listed there, it will be included in the Neustar Localeze database within the next 6-12 months.
Alternatives for busy business owners
It doesn’t take a lot of time to add your business to all 5 services. If you still don’t want to, you have two options:
1. You sign up for one service only
- Infogroup has the largest network and the ability to push your information in real-time. The also provide data to GPS devices.
- Factual is a great option for Yelp, Tripadvisor, Apple Maps, and Google+ Local.
- Foursquare is the data provider for Pinterest and Instagram.
2. You have Moz Local take care of the listing process
If you don’t mind their yearly fee of $84, Moz Local will submit your information to all five major data aggregators (Infogroup, Neustar Localeze, Acxion, Factual, Foursquare) as well as other online directories.
Listing your business in online directories is straight forward and doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s another field, where you can achieve 80% of the results by making an effort of 20%. Entering your information for all major aggregators should take you less than an hour.
All you need is one official business document for Acxiom. For Infogroup, there will be a simple verification of your phone number. Factual and Foursquare don’t require a verification at all. Neustar Localeze is the only service that doesn’t allow you to add a direct listing.
5. How to Clean up your Citations
I created a guide just for cleaning up your citations. If you are just setting up shop, feel free to go straight to the next chapter:
6. How to Update Existing Citations
By now you should have set up your spreadsheet with the initial information about your business and added your business to the big data aggregators and Google My Business. You have started to search for existing entries and found the first ones.
What to do next? Do the profiles have to match to the very dot? How much difference between your profiles on different directories is acceptable? And how should you deal with the listings that are wrong? This is the topic of today’s article.
The first thing to do when you find any new listing is to add it to your spreadsheet. Make a note if it’s correct or not as well as the date of your search. This is helpful because citation management is a long-winding process. Because it’s not urgent, you might dedicate only one or two hours per week to the process.
The spreadsheet with directories, notes and dates helps you to seamlessly continue where you left off a week ago without having to remember. But it also allows you to cluster your work, grouping similar tasks together.
For one hour, you might just [google business listings] and add them to your spreadsheet. In the hour after, you can start checking the listing for inconsistencies and contact them if necessary. And next week, you can just follow up with directories you have already been in touch.
But when is it necessary to correct a listing?
Which differences in profile listings are acceptable?
Do all the profiles have to match to the dot? What if there is just a slight difference, let’s say one profile says “5000 Rodeo Drive” and the other says “5000 Rodeo Dr.”?
Generally speaking, the search engines have become smart enough to understand abbreviations, especially when it’s common ones like above. They also understand the difference between a phone number like (###) ###-##### and ###-###-####. Slight variations in naming are also no problem, for examples with capital and small lettering.
Let’s look at the three most comment problems that you encounter when managing your online citations.
Problem 1: incomplete citations
Incomplete citations contain correct information but just miss some parts. This can be something vital as your phone number or something trivial as a name of a contact. This happens most often when the listing has been filled by scraping other sources. Or it could be caused by past, half-hearted SEO-efforts.
No matter how irrelevant the missing piece, you listing will gain authority by completing it. If you find any empty fields, i.e. category, description, images, opening hours or contact details, complete the profile.
Your profile will gain visibility and it might also have a stronger effect on your search engine ranking.
Problem 2: inconsistent citations
Inconsistent citations cause more or a problem to search engines. Now they have to decide between conflicting information. Google can handle minor differences and abbreviations very well. It becomes harder to figure out which phone number is correct if different sources state different numbers. There is no way for search engines to understand if it’s two phones or if one of the numbers is outdated.
Possible effects are that either the information in your listing is discounted, meaning it won’t be displayed in the search results. Or it can be treated as a different profile altogether, resulting in a duplicate listing of your business.
Problem 3: duplicate citations
Duplicate citations usually occur as a result of inconsistent profiles. Rather than discarding information, directories instead create duplicates. Once inconsistency, such as an old address, can turn into duplicates in many different directories. Then it’s harder for search engines to discern which listing is the correct one.
Duplicate profiles are not always easy to spot. You might find one listing on page one of the search results and the duplicate is buried on page 5. You can either use the search function of the directory itself and look for your business name, phone number etc.
Another option is to use Google to search only in that particular directory. The query would look something like this
site:DIRECTORYNAME.COM “business name”
You can find a detailed description in the section on advanced search tricks.
Business directories use more elaborate processes to remove duplicate listings. In contrast to an incomplete listing, a duplicate profile with different information could also refer to another business altogether. That’s why often, you have to contact the directories manually.
How to streamline communication with business directories
Many business directories operate free of charge. Their resources are likely spread thin across their entire operation. That’s why it makes sense to accommodate them as much as possible when trying to update your profile.
Sources Before you contact any directory, make sure that your business information is up-to-date in all major sources. Often, directories base their listings on these sources. If you request a change but the old information is still active in these sources, your profile might not be updated. The big sources are
- official databases like the Secretary of State database
- [data aggregators]
- [Google’s own My Business directory]
FAQ Consult the site’s FAQ. There is usually a standardized process for updating listings with specific instructions for duplicates. Either it’s filling out a form or contacting the directory via email.
Email In case you contact the directory via email, make sure to use your company email that looks something like this: email@example.com. This lends more authority to your request than a private hotmail address.
Phone Verification Some directories want to verify your identity. They will use an automated system to call the number on the profile. Be ready to receive calls on this number.
Notes The update process takes time, sometimes several months before the information appears online. You are not likely to receive any notification either. Apart from having patience, note down the date of your contact approach in your spreadsheet. After six weeks or more, follow up with the directory.
Continuous monitoring Once you finished working through your spreadsheet and made sure your information is up to date, set an hour a month aside to keep working on your citations. The citation eco-system is always in motion and your business will be added to more and more directories over time.
Keeping your business listings up-to-date consists of a lot of repetitive work. Using a spreadsheet as the center for your activities will streamline your process.
Then you can group similar activities together: for example just searching and adding listings to your sheet in one session and contacting outdated directories in another.
Search engines can deal with minor differences in your profiles, such as abbreviations. But look out for the following
- Missing information and incomplete listings
- outdated or plain wrong information in your listing
- duplicate listings of your business
If you have to get in touch with directories, make sure your business info is already updated in Google and the data aggregators. Then consult the FAQ of the directory in question and follow their procedure. It will take time, so make not of your efforts in your spreadsheet. Once updated keep monitoring your listings in regular intervals.
7. How to Monitor your Citations
Once you’ve been working through your initial list of citations, most of the work is over. From now on, you just need to do two things:
- following up with the changes you requested
- regularly auditing for new citations
1. Following up
When you find an incorrect citation of your business, you have to request the directory to change it. This rarely happens instantly and usually takes weeks.
If the entry is still incorrect after six weeks, it’s ok to follow up. If you have been grouping your citation tasks, and did all change requests on the same day, you can just set an entry in your calendar for six weeks after.
If you audited your citations every day for just 20 minutes, you might have noted the date of a request to change in your spreadsheet. Then you can just follow up with every directory after more then six weeks.
Sooner or later, you will have finished your existing list. Either the directories have followed your request and corrected your listing or you eventually marked them as non-responsive. Time for another citation audit.
2. Regular audits
Business directories get updates all the time. New directories are created. Having updated the big data aggregators will have an effect on smaller directories. In other words, the citation ecosystem is dynamic.
To stay on top, you should check again in regular intervals, using the same techniques to find existing citations. After the initial audit, the workload will be a lot smaller and you should be ok with allocating an hour every month. Keep recording everything in your spreadsheet.
How far should you go
In an ideal world, you’d have a clean and consistent citation profile for your business. It will be listed on Google, in major data aggregators and important business directories for your country as well as your industry.
In reality, you might always have inconsistencies in your listings and you will never be listed in all directories. But that’s nothing to worry about. You will be fine if your business is listed and consistent on
a) Google’s My Business and other Google services, b) the major data aggregators, c) the most important directories for your country and city
Here are four links that will get you started:
If an hour a month sounds still too much, you can audit your online profile every six months. But in between, you should at least check this one source.
If there is only one source you can check every month, it should be Google My Business. It’s Google one-stop shop for anything related to your business. After you set up and verified your profile, Google will keep searching the net for citations and reviews of your business.
- Open Google My Business
- Choose your location
- Open the “Reviews” section
- Check the “Reviews from around the web”
- View the full review
- Check for correct business information, like name, address and phone numbers
This will point you towards the reviews and listings Google mostly associates with your business. It’s far from complete, but will get you started.
After your initial audit, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to maintain your citations. It basically comes down to two steps:
a) Following up on changes you requested earlier b) Regularly checking for new citations
You don’t need to aim for a perfect online profile. If you make sure that Google, the major data aggregators as well as the most important country, city and industry directories have your business listed consistently, you will be fine. If all else fails, make sure to check at least your Google My Business page.
And that’s it. Taking care of your citations with everything you learned in this guide will set you apart from the majority of small businesses. It will give you an edge in the eyes of the search engines and the visitors as well.