Having your business information posted across the web does more than just get more eyes on it. It also helps Google and other search engines verify your company’s legitimacy and put you in front of local customers.
So, for local businesses, citations are more important than they initially seem. The good news for you is getting, managing, and tracking them isn’t too hard. In today’s article, I’ll show you exactly how.
Local SEO citations explained:
Local SEO citations are mentions of your business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) on third-party websites. When a local business directory, review site, app, or social media platform mentions your company and includes its info, that’s a local citation.
There are two kinds of citations: structured and unstructured citations.
- Structured citations are mentions of your NAP information on business listing sites (i.e., what we’re talking about here).
- Unstructured citations are any mention of your business online that doesn’t follow the standard citation structure. This includes name, address, and phone number mentions on blogs, news articles, social media posts, and online reviews.
In local business SEO, citations are a foundational ranking factor.
Google’s local search interfaces rely on NAP information (among other things) to display accurate and reliable results to users. If the info on your Google My Business profile matches the info on your website and other listings, its local algorithm knows you’re a legit business that’s actually operating at that location.
Why are local citations important for SEO?
To understand the value of local citations, it helps to understand how Google’s local search functions work.
When someone searches for a local business (think “coffee shops near me” or “coffee shops in Beverly Hills”), Google uses three main factors to determine the results:
- Proximity — How close is the business to the searcher’s current location?
- Relevance — Does the business match what the searcher is looking for?
- Prominence — How well-known and popular is the business in its local area?
Search engine users will sometimes complete a search directly in Google/Apple Maps.
Or, they’ll type it in on a search engine and see a map interface with 3-5 top recommendations, plus several more clickable red dots on the map.
Having a Google business profile is one thing. It’ll help you show up on the map.
But put yourself in your customers’ shoes. When you’re looking for a coffee shop, do you click the little red dots? Or do you expand a few top results first?
It’s way easier to click the big, obvious links (that also include pictures and ratings). And people will always go with what’s easiest.
That’s why the #1 search result gets 27.6% of all clicks, and the two below it get most of the rest.
In a nutshell, that’s why local citations are so valuable. If you want to rank high, your listing needs reviews and NAP info on other sites that match what’s on your GMB profile.
Local SEO is a zero-sum game — if you aren’t showing up first, a competitor is. And, simply by being easier to find, they’re taking the lion’s share of customers, foot traffic, and sales.
Plus, people actually use business directories.
Besides being a massive ranking factor for local search rankings — i.e., more sales and revenue for you — it’s worth mentioning people find huge value in online directories.
If you’ve ever used…
- Yelp to find restaurants,
- Angie’s List to hire a contractor, or
- TripAdvisor to search for hotels,
…you know what I’m talking about.
Ranking #1 on these mini “search engines” — which, themselves, rank on the first page of Google for many searches — is fantastic exposure.
What if, instead of using Google Maps, I went to Wanderlog to find my coffee in Beverly Hills? Here’s my result:
Right beside the map, there’s a #1 recommendation, followed by 42 others. Each comes complete with pictures and ratings.
This page alone (which, by the way, doesn’t even rank top 3 for this keyword) gets ~300 organic visitors per month.
The site itself, though? An estimated 2.75 million unique monthly visits across all traffic sources.
So, each time someone goes straight to the website and looks for Beverly Hills coffee, they’re landing on this list.
Any local café that isn’t on there is missing out on, at the very least, several thousand people who could have otherwise discovered their small business.
TL;DR: Building citations gets your business information placed in multiple top-ranking local directories and it gets you in front of potential customers who used something other than Google Maps.
Basically, you’re capitalizing on dozens of different traffic channels instead of just one. And you’re improving your chances of being discovered by powers of ten.
How to get local SEO citations
The good news is, local citation building isn’t that difficult. If you have an hour or two to spare, you can probably get multiple citations under your belt.
Here are the best places to get started:
Data aggregators are companies that collect business data and distribute it to thousands of other sites and directories. They solve the problem of inconsistent business information and the need to submit yours to each site, one by one.
There are three main data aggregators in the US:
Getting your info to these three platforms means you’ll end up with plenty of citations simply through data distribution.
The good news is, it’s easy (and completely free) to submit your business or claim an existing listing.
All you need to do is enter your business name, location, and/or phone number and hit “Enter.”
From there, it’ll tell you whether the database already has it, or if you need to submit it.
It’s worth checking all three because even if your data is submitted to one, one or more of the others might not have it.
The “big three” will send your business info to tons of different sites all across the web, but they won’t give you 100% coverage. That’s why you also want to manually list your business on the “core sites” millions of people access to find businesses like yours.
- Apple Maps Connect
- Bing Places
- Yellow Pages
These are the generalist sites everyone should add business listings to, regardless of their industry.
For US-based businesses, you can find the full list of core local citation sources here. If you’re international, you can find the most essential sources for countries like Brazil, Italy, and Spain here.
Industry-specific listing sites
Submitting your info to hundreds of different business listing sites probably isn’t worth your time. A lot of them don’t even get that much traffic.
You’re better off starting with industry-specific listing sites. Those are the ones that will dominate local search results when it comes to businesses like yours. Plus, they get the most traffic.
- Healthgrades for medical professionals
- Hostel World for cheap hotels
- OpenTable for restaurants
- TripAdvisor and Booking.com for activities, accommodation, and attractions
- Zillow for real estate
How can I find the most relevant sites for my business listing?
Search for something relevant to your business (say, “pet stores in Miami”) and look at the top few results. Scroll past the map.
Not all of the results on this page — or even the next five pages — will be relevant. You’ll see individual businesses, news articles, and lists of top stores.
But many will be listing sites that are either specific to your industry or general directories that have categories (e.g., “pet stores”). Just by browsing through the results, you should come away with at least a few good options.
Localized directory sites
Local/municipal government listing sites and listing sites specific to your area are also pretty easy to find.
- [location] + “Chamber of Commerce”
- [location] + “business listings”
- [location] + “directory”
- [location + [business type] + listings
- best [business type] in [location]
Most cities will have dozens. Start with the Chamber of Commerce.
Every city’s is different, but they all require some sort of basic form. And I promise it won’t take you more than a few minutes.
Then, you can get creative. Go down the rabbit hole. For example, a marketing agency might want to get listed on a ranking site like these:
You might not realize it, but plenty of these sites allow you to submit your business to receive a ranking and placement.
Top “rankings” sites won’t always place your company there for free, but it’s worth looking into (and potentially worth the investment even if it’s paid).
You should also be able to list your business on a bunch of local “white/yellow pages” with a simple search for [city] + “directory.”
Link finder tools
You can use the Ahrefs Link Intersect tool to find where your competitors have citations, but you don’t.
First, find your competitors. For this example, I’ll use coffee shops in the Beverly Hills area again, pretending my business is Urth Caffé.
First, head to Site Explorer.
From the Overview page, click on Link Intersect.
Then, paste a few of your competitors’ URLs.
You’ll see a massive list of all the pages that link to at least two of the sites you entered. Most of them aren’t business listing sites, and they’re kind of hard to identify on the surface.
You can narrow your results by clicking the dropdown menu to see more about the link’s context.
This site (Zaubee) looks like a listing site.
And we can verify that by visiting the linking page.
Managing and tracking your local search citations
All-in-one SEO tools
In addition to what I showed you above, there’s a lot you can do with an all-in-one SEO tool. Businesses normally use one of two main ones:
I personally prefer Ahrefs (it has the most accurate data). You can use it for rank tracking, competitor analysis, backlink research, and just about everything else imaginable.
But Semrush offers add-on features specifically for local SEO, including listing management, position tracking, and on-page SEO auditing for local pages.
You can see all sorts of granular insights, like where you rank on Google Maps compared to other businesses around you.
It’s a great way to keep a birds-eye view of your most important citations, all in one platform. You can even update them if you need to.
Standalone local SEO tools
There are also citation-specific tracking tools like BrightLocal. With BrightLocal, you can monitor and manage your local business listings across multiple sites to ensure consistent and accurate information.
It also provides additional features like review management, analytics, and reporting on local search performance.
You can also use Grid My Business to visually manage your Map Pack rankings for keywords and search results in the area around your business.
Local citations vs. backlinks
Local citations are sometimes confused with backlinks because both involve mentioning your business on other websites. However, there is a distinct difference between the two.
The main difference is that a citation refers to a third-party website mentioning your NAP information. They do not necessarily include a link to your website but serve as a way for potential customers to easily find your business information.
And most of the time, when relevant business directories do link out to your page, it’s a nofollow backlink.
Backlinks are extremely important for SEO. They’re one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm.
Unlike local citations, backlinks specifically refer to other websites linking to your website. When you earn dofollow backlinks, they pass on a portion of their authority to your site, which improves your overall ranking in search results.
While listings help your local search rankings, the number of dofollow backlinks in your link profile will have a greater impact on your overall organic search performance.
It’s all part of your balanced local SEO strategy…
If you only list yourself on business directories and call it a day, you won’t get very far. To compete with businesses around you, you need to do more than the bare minimum (they already are).
- Actively seeking out reviews
- Creating location-specific content
- Optimizing your on-page user experience
- Earning backlinks from relevant and authoritative sources
- Utilizing social media for local engagement and promotion
- Getting PR brand mentions from local news outlets
It’s all about building a strong online presence in your community (and, of course, having a great product/service). Citations are only one piece of the puzzle.
Work with us, and we’ll help all those other pieces fit together.