Local SEO citations: The complete guide & best practices

Local citations are one of the most important signals for local SEO. They build trust with search engines and – more importantly – potential customers, but they also generate valuable leads: web traffic, phone calls, store visits, etc. The problem is, managing local citations involves a lot of work – and you don’t have full control over all of them. In this article, we break down the full process of building and optimising local citations without the headaches.

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What are local citations?

A local citation is any online reference to your business that includes your basic contact info: business name, address and phone number (NAP).

Vertical Leap's Google Business Profile

Citations can also include a range of other info:

  • Link to your website
  • Links to social profiles
  • Email address
  • Opening hours
  • Business description
  • Business type/category
  • Business characteristics (services, product ranges, etc.)
  • Customer ratings and reviews
  • Images and videos of your business, products, staff, etc.

In terms of ranking signals and boosting visibility, citations should include your NAP details, as a minimum.

Types of citations

Broadly speaking, there are two main categories of local citations: structured and unstructured.

  1. Structured citations: Group your business details into a profile or logical structure – eg: Google Business Profile, directory listings, social media profiles, etc.
  2. Unstructured citations: References to your business info without any formal structure – eg: blog posts, news articles, forums, etc.

Structured citations typically include a complete set of business info, usually on platforms designed to help potential customers find local businesses. As a result, structured citations are often more valuable for driving commercial traffic.

Unstructured citations are often informal references to your company. They usually include less info and they’re also harder to track and manage. They may not drive as much commercial traffic, but they’re still valuable for boosting local visibility and they’re a strong indicator of brand awareness.

Citations vs link building

Citations are an online reference to your business while link building specifically creates links to your website. Citations may include backlinks and citations that include do-follow links are particularly valuable. That being said, any citation that includes accurate NAP details adds value to local visibility, even without a link.

Why are local citations important?

If we use Google as a reference, it specifies three key ranking factors for local SEO:

  1. Relevance: How well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for.
  2. Distance: How far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search.
  3. Prominence: How well-known a business is, based on links, articles, directories and other online info.

Citations build “prominence” and consistent information also helps search engines trust the legitimacy of your business. The more references, news coverage, customer reviews, etc. you have, the more trust you earn from search engines – and potential customers.

1. Improve local rankings

Aside from prominence being one of the top three ranking factors for local SEO, independent research finds citations specifically are the sixth-most important signal for local rankings.

2023 local search ranking factor groups

Citations are the sixth most important signal for local packs and (joint) fifth most for local organic results (Whitespark; 2023 Local Search Ranking Factors).

2. Build trust with potential customers

Legitimate businesses have profiles (structured citations) across a range of relevant places: Google Business Profile, social accounts, review websites, etc. Customers expect to see these profiles with consistent business info – especially NAP details. Furthermore, unstructured citations in articles, blog posts, relevant forums, etc. all build a stronger sense of trust around your brand name.

3. Become easier to find

People use a variety of platforms to find local businesses and choose the best one for their needs: search engines, social networks, directory listings, review websites, etc. The more citations you have in the right places, the easier you are to find for the people most important to your business.

4. Earn referral traffic

Citations that include links to your website can drive referral traffic. Any user who actively clicks on a citation link wants to know more about your business – so this is particularly valuable traffic.

How to build local SEO citations

1. Optimise your Google Business Profile

Your Google Business Profile is the biggest asset for local visibility on Google Search. This is also the first off-site citation in your local SEO strategy – so make it count.

In 2022, Google made it even easier to claim and manage your Business Profile from results pages in Google Search.

Complete your Business Profile in full and keep it up to date when anything changes – eg: your opening times. Make sure your business details match with your website 100% and use the information in your Business Profile as the template for all other citations.

2. Don’t forget about Bing Places

Yes, Google is the biggest name in search (by far) but over 100 million people use Bing every day. A modest 3.42% share of the global search market still adds up to a lot of business opportunities. So, don’t forget about Bing Places (its answer to Google Business Profile).

Bing local search results

Optimise your Bing Places profile – and visibility on Bing, in general – with just as much care and attention as you do for Google Search. Again, make sure your information is 100% consistent between your website, Google Business Profile and Bing Places.

3. Get listed with the big local citation sites

Now it’s time to build citations on directory listing sites. Start with the biggest, national directory listing websites like Yell and Yelp, filling out all relevant info to match your website, Business Profile and Bing Places profile.

4. Find other niche directories & data aggregator sites

Next, you can seek out local directories in your target areas and industry-specific platforms – eg: TripAdvisor for restaurants or attractions. In the UK, data aggregators collect business info from a range of sources, including government institutions (eg: ONS, Company House, etc.), the Royal Mail, BT and many more. As a result, your business details are spread across a wide network and you have to track this information to make sure it’s all accurate and consistent.

5. Monitor and update your local citations

The UK’s open data aggregation infrastructure means it’s even more important to monitor and update your local citations. This starts with making sure your information matches 100% across the platforms you control: your website, Business Profile, Bing Places, social media profiles, directory listings, etc.

Citation example on Facebook

Next, you need to track citations on third-party platforms where you have no access or control (data aggregators, third-party content, etc.). By tracking citations, you can identify any that include outdated, incorrect or incomplete information.

With many aggregators and directories, you can simply submit updated business info and the changes are automatically processed. However, with some platforms, you might need to send a request for updates – and this can take time.

How to optimise citations

NAP consistency

Make sure your name, address and phone number for every business location is 100% consistent across all citations. Use citation management tools to monitor references to your business and take active steps to update any inconsistencies or inaccuracies.

Business descriptions

Provide accurate, descriptive summaries of your business for all platforms that support them – including your primary keywords. Monitor citations for missing, outdated or inaccurate descriptions and submit accordingly.

Website links

For citations that include a website link, you have to decide which page to link to. For smaller businesses with a single location, the homepage is usually fine. However, companies with multiple locations should generally link to the specific location page the citation references.

Business categories

On some platforms, citations include business categories to help users find the right business or dataset. Where possible, try to match categories with your primary keywords and Business Profile business category. For any platforms that support secondary or subcategories, match with your secondary keywords where possible.

Photos & video

Images and videos help local users choose businesses with more confidence. These assets can also show in image and video searches. Provide compelling images and video where possible, optimising file names and alt text (on platforms that give you the option) for search.

Reviews

Google and many other platforms aggregate review scores for businesses, including data from third-party sites like TrustPilot. Create and verify business accounts on all relevant review platforms – these all add to your citations and potential review scores.

How to track & optimise local citations

Many SEO tools include citation tracking features with major names including SEMrush, Moz and BrightLocal. If you’re already paying for an SEO tool, it may offer all of the citation management features you need.

At the very least, you want the following three key features:

  1. Citation tracker: See which platforms and directories you’re already listed on.
  2. Citation analysis: Identify citation inconsistencies and citations that need updating.
  3. Citation finder: Find new citation opportunities you’re not yet listed on.

Automation is important with any citation management tool. Ideally, you want the ability to automatically submit your business details to all relevant directories and platforms from the same tool. These tools aren’t 100% reliable but, even if you can successfully submit your details to 50-80% of the platforms you need to – and manually add/update the rest – that’s still a big win.

Before you sign up for any new SEO or citation management tools, make sure you know what you’re paying. Many tools set limits on how many citations you can manage and some charge a fee for every citation. If you find citation management tools are getting too expensive, it might be worth speaking to some local SEO agencies that already have access to these tools or their own systems.

You may find a complete local SEO service offers better value for money.

How do you track the value of local citations?

Tracking the full value of local SEO citations is tricky because they add value in several ways. For example, you can’t measure the ranking boost citations give you in local search. However, you can measure the value of local citations in the following ways:

  • Google Analytics: Referral traffic to your website from citation sources.
  • Google Business Profile reporting: Profile views, website visits, phone calls, etc.
  • Bing Places insights: Profile views, website visits, phone calls, etc.
  • Social media reporting: For example, Facebook local page views, referral traffic, demographics, etc.
  • Directory listing insights: Major directory listing sites like Yelp have their own reporting features for insights like profile views, interactions, website visits, map views, directions, calls, etc.

Given that your citations are split across so many locations, you need the right analytics setup to get the most complete possible insights. Ideally, you want to pull all of these insights into a single reporting system so you can view and manage citations from one place.

Local SEO citation FAQs

How many citations are good for SEO?

The average “local” business has around 80 citations but this varies a lot, depending on industry, company size, etc. Smaller businesses should aim to have at least 10 quality, 100% consistent citations and focus efforts on managing/updating them.

How often should I review local citations?

As a general rule, you should review local citations at least once every quarter. This includes checking your existing citations for inconsistencies, duplicates, etc. and new citation opportunities. You can automate quarterly (or even monthly) reviews with citation management tools, but you should also run manual reviews every 6-12 months.

How do local citations work for multiple locations?

Every business location you’re optimising for local search needs its own profile of citations. This means a Google Business Profile, Bing Places profile, directory listings, etc. for each business location. Yes, this involves a lot of work but this is the nature of multi-location SEO – another instance where a local SEO agency might be the most cost-effective option.

How long does the local citation process take?

Local citation optimisation is an ongoing process so the work never really ends. The good news is that – with the tools and processes in place – the workload usually decreases over time and you can automate a lot of it.

Having trouble with local SEO citations?

If you’re struggling to manage local SEO citations, you’re not alone. Along with all of the other work involved in optimising for local search, managing citations is a challenge for most local businesses.

Our local SEO team can help you build and optimise citations or provide a complete search strategy to maximise local visibility in every target location. Call us on 02392 830281 or send us your details and we’ll call you back at a convenient time.

Dave Colgate profile picture
Dave Colgate

Dave is head of SEO at Vertical Leap. He joined in 2010 as an SEO specialist and prior to that worked with international companies delivering successful search marketing campaigns. Dave works with many of our largest customers spanning many household names and global brands such as P&O Cruises and Harvester. Outside of work, Dave previously spent many years providing charity work as a Sergeant under the Royal Air Force Reserves in the Air Cadets sharing his passion for aviation with young minds. He can often be found in the skies above the south coast enjoying his private pilot licence.

More articles by Dave
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