In short, citations can be defined as mentions of your website on the web, in some cases even if there is not an actual backlink to your website. Citations have been considered one of the top SEO ranking factors for a very long time, particularly with local business websites.
Some businesses get some, most or all of their traffic from citation sources. For example, a small restaurant doesn’t have a website, but they have an active Yelp profile with 20 reviews.
During the SEO citations building process, you might encounter some of these terms:
Structured Citations: These are the most popular type of citations, it is a mention of your business on the web accompanied by a backlink.
Unstructured Citations: A mention of your business on the web, without a backlink. There are a lot of terms used by SEO’s such as “co-citation” that has been used over the years. For the majority of SEO’s in the early stages of citation building, you don’t have to worry about this.
Verified Citations: A citation that has been verified by email, phone, or postcard. Manta.com for example, requires you to verify your business listing by phone before you listing goes live. This helps validate the real businesses vs the fake ones. Other websites such as Google My Business requires either a phone call verification or a post card verification.
NAP and NAP Consistency: NAP or name, address, and phone number is a term that is used a lot in the citation building industry. Having consistent information across multiple is an important aspect of local SEO.
Terminology and definitions can get tricky with citations. From a broad perspective, a “citation” really can mean any reference or links of any kind. For the purpose of this guide, we’re going to use the word “citation” from a local SEO perspective i.e. a local citation source.
Another topic that a lot of SEO’s disagree on, is what is considered a citation source. Some people consider websites like “YouTube” to be a citation source, while others don’t. Here are a list of the top 15 local (broad / general) citation sources that we consider SEO citations:
When considering the popularity of SEO citations, it really varies depending on the industry / niche and location. For instance if you are in Albany, NY a great citation is Albany.com. Plumbers and Electricians do great on Service Magic and Angie’s List, while restaurants and bars do great on Yelp, Urban Spoon and Trip advisor.
The best route to take when first building citations is to do some good old fashioned competitor research. Google your keyword and your competitors keyword to see what the top citation sources are. Don’t be afraid to dig into the 2nd and 3rd pages of Google.
Very often at the start of any new SEO campaign, begins a discussion about how to build citations. There are times when some citations already exist, other times there are no citations (clean slate) and other times when most citations are already built. There are a few different ways to get or build citations.
Manually Build Citations
The preferred way to build SEO citations is to build them manually. This means navigating to a place like Yelp.com, signing up for an account, registering, and confirming the result. The pros to building them yourself manually is you won’t make any mistakes when entering in your data.
Use a Citation Building Service
There are dozens if not hundreds of services out there, SEO citation building is a multi-billion dollar industry. Companies like YEXT and Yodle employ thousands of employees and have been in the citation building business for years. The collect your data including name, address, phone number, company title & description, and use their “custom platform” to sign up to 100’s of different citation sources.
Outsource / Use a VA
We’re not going to lie, signing up for citations is a monotonous and time consuming task. It doesn’t take an SEO expert to sign up for citations. It can take as little as a few minutes to up to an hour to complete a citation profile, depending on how thorough the website is. Some companies have enormous questionnaires to fill out in order to get started.
There are hundreds of VA’s out there that are up to the task. You can also do a combination of outsourcing and manual citation building. For example, have a VA sign up for all the citations, and verify the emails. Then go in manually and complete the fields yourself. This way you can take more care for each field, rather than copying and pasting each field yourself.
Pro tip: Roboform is not only one of the best password managers ever, but it is also a great way to help you build citations. Just add an “identity” of the business you are adding a citation for and save it in Roboform. Then each time you encounter a new form, you just have to click a button and all the fields (or most of them) will be filled in automatically.
A citation can have many more, or far less details depending on the website. Some citations don’t have any photos, reviews, etc. Others have copious amounts of information, it all depends. The only thing that really matters is the name, address, and phone number. Citations may consist of some or all of the following characteristics:
The most important takeaway with building citations is this: quality and consistency. Use unique and original content, and be consistent with the standard information such as name, address, phone number and website.
Since 2013 we started seeing the presence of more and more citations in the top 10 SERP results. Google is obviously favoring brands and companies like Yelp, and last time I checked Yelp is one of the biggest brands out there.
In 2013, if you did a quick search for “boca raton restaurants” it yielded a SERP primarily populated by citations. 100% of the listings for the majority of these local keywords on page 1 were citations. That’s right, not one actual restaurant website. Performing the same search query in 2017 reveals similar results:
The only minor difference between these two SERP snapshots is that the 2017 version has 2 non-citation sources (Boca Magazine and Broward Palm Beach) but even those might be considered citations by some SEO’s. Still, very little results for actual websites appear in the results.
The takeaway from this is kind of obvious: citations are important, especially if you aren’t doing pay-per-click. Citations carry a tremendous value. Yext, one of the biggest citation providers in the world does around 90 million dollars per year in annual revenue. Yodle does around 200 million in revenue. Citations are a high stakes game!
One of the hottest services offered by SEO’s right now on the web is citation cleanup service. It is also one of the biggest scare tactics companies like Yext are using. It is a great service, the problem is it is being sold to people that don’t need it.
Example: we had a customer recently that moved locations, and changed their name. They desperately needed citation cleanup, which consisted of:
This was a very tall order and took over 10 hours to complete in total.
Most customers do not need citation cleanup, because nothing changes day to day with them. Some websites need some minor maintenance from time to time. Other websites will stand to benefit from citation optimization or citation curation, which is what we’ll talk about below.
I’ve worked with a lot of SEO’s in the past few years, and the general attitude when working with local businesses is to “build citations.” This is a one-track mindset that you need to build as many relevant citations as possible, in order to please the gods of Google. This is a really outdated mindset that must be shed from your repertoire.
Far too many SEO blogs focus on automating or outsourcing this process. There are dozens of services, companies, consultants, individual brokers, fiver gigs, and even tools that will do this for you. While some of them do offer a quality service, the great majority of them are lacking in many areas.
Professional SEO’s know that building citations is not a race, or something to skimp on. There are no “points” for getting them done as quickly as possible. Furthermore, automated tools and services aren’t able to give proper attention to the details of each individual directory. Most of them have standard fields to fill out then move on to the next.
The sooner you realize the cold hard fact that automation of citations can ruin any chance for a powerful citation that might actually bring you customers – you will be way ahead of most of your competition. This is why we are so adamant about not using the “big” citation building sources.
Building citations is great, but optimizing them is how to really give them power. Fill out every single field possible, with as much detail as possible. Even better if you opt for the paid version of the citation, such as Yelp. For the next week, you want to live in the world of your citations. Encourage customers to leave reviews. Under no circumstances should you attempt to game the review system by leaving fake reviews.
When signing up for new citations, be take note of your competitors permalink and category. Remember, the name of your business will determine what your URL / permalink looks like.
With citations such as Yelp, category is very important. Consider it carefully when signing up for the first time. Also be sure to always reference the address on your Google My Business listing, as well as your contact page. Consistency, consistency, consistency.
Do yourself a favor and ignore the citation audit tools. It isn’t that hard to do a manual citation audit. Most of the local SEO citation audit tools are just lead generation tools that will contact your client anyway.
Remember you can’t give customers an incentive in exchange for a review, but you can remind them. At least in the US anyway.It is a catch 22, reviews can give your citations a huge boost, but you can’t ask for them.
Don’t get stuck on the small details like suite numbers. Google really doesn’t care, at least that is what we’ve found after optimizing 100’s of clients. Make sure you don’t have duplicate listings, this could cause major problems.
For the love of god, don’t do something crazy like sign up for a car repair citation if you are a lawyer. This is literally sending mixed signals to Google. Follow the rules and terms of service on each site. Also don’t sign up for a new account on one of these citation websites before you’ve thoroughly checked to see if you have an account already.
We’ve said this before, but if it is a directory with a ton of authority in your niche, consider paying for a “premium” listing. If you want a great example of this, email me and I’ll show you one of the best examples of how one citation is driving traffic for an entire website.
One of the biggest reasons why most local SEO citation audits, optimizations, and cleanup services take so long is because people never have their information handy. When signing up for new citations, keep everything organized. There are a few ways to look at local SEO citation organization. The easiest way is to use the same username / email and password combination. This is probably the easiest way, but the least secure. If not, at least store your information in a spreadsheet. Your future self will thank you!