What is a local citation?

What is local citation?

A local citation is any mention of your business (name, address, website address, and your business phone number) on the web. Citations allow online users to discover your business and are a key factor in improving your local search results. Precisely, having proper essential citations can help you rank correctly on Google Maps.

How does it work?

The term "citation" was coined by David Mihm in 2008 in his pivotal post, Local vs. Traditional SEO: Why Citation Is the New Link. A complete local citation must include the company name, address, and phone number, commonly known as "NAP." Any citation that doesn't include all three of these is sometimes referred to as a partial citation. Sometimes you may also stumble across UNAP or NAPW. The U stands for URL and W for the website. In addition to this, a citation may include some or all of the following elements:

  • Business description
  • Business categories
  • Driving directions
  • Images
  • Alternate phone numbers
  • Videos
  • Hours of operation
  • Geo-coordinates
  • Reviews
  • Attributes
  • Links to social and other forms of media
  • Payment forms accepted
  • Email addresses
  • Taglines
  • Fax numbers
  • Owner responses

How should citation look like?

Citations can be formatted in many ways. A partial citation can include only some of your NAP, such as your name and address, or your name and phone number. There's no doubt a partial citation is better than none at all, but you really should have the whole NAP to reap full benefits. NAP continuity means consistent names, addresses and phone numbers in all lists.  

Several independent studies have shown that clear NAP listing can be a predictor for local SEO. Therefore, our citation will read:

Name: Probill Software Services, Inc 
Address: 1175 Summerset Bay Dr, Cross Hill, SC 29332
Phone number: (800) 409-4997 

 Here's how Google shows this software company's NAP:

probill citation example

Here, you can see FourSquare that shows the same NAP information:


Citation consistency

Incorrect citations can have a huge impact on your citation profile on the different listing directories. That underpins the importance of ensuring your listings have the correct NAP on the most significant directories in the local search ecosystem. To remove any inconsistency, search for all NAP variations, remove all duplicates, and update your business information on all listing websites. Regular audit and cleanup are essential, and we can help if this is exhausting for you.

You want your NAP information same as possible. However, there are some platforms that might and +1 before your phone number, or abbreviate Ave, instead of Avenue. And these are perfectly fine. However, if your company's name "Probill Software Services, Inc" is now "Probill" on a different listing, it can confuse search engines.

Inconsistency in citations is not bad for local SEO but also erodes the trust consumers have about your business.

Why citations are important for local search rankings?

You as a business owners know the value of updating your online contact details. You're unlikely to draw potential clients if they don't know how to get in contact with you, and you'll likely raise suspicion if your address and phone number aren't mentioned. Who would trust a seemingly off-grid business?

Verification and trust

Your company mentions help search engines verify your business exists. And once several reliable sources have similar information about your company, that signals your business' credibility to search engines. Overall, by listing your company on popular local and national websites, you boost your ability to rank local search results. Search engines like Google collect market data. If what they encounter is correct, the search engine trusts data validity, which is assumed to enhance the business' chance to rank well. However, if encountering data search engines is inconsistent, this confidence is undermined, decreasing ranking opportunities.

Increase search visibility

Another underreported advantage of building citation is that certain online company directories dominate local search page. Sites like Yelp and YellowPages seem to rate high with most local searches. So if you are attempting to outrank them, better to join them instead. Many people are loyal to various platforms, like Yelp. Many foodies are taught to go to Yelp for new restaurants before going to Google.

Improve local SEO rankings

Citation factors make up about 13.31% of the top factors. These factors are used by local ranking algorithms when it comes to local search rankings. In other words, the more your business appears on multiple websites, search engines will see you as a more popular business, and that can give you a boost in your rankings.

Boost your website traffic

Improved local SEO ranking results in increased visibility in local search results. More visibility in search results in increased website traffic.

Types of citations

There are two types of citations: structure and unstructured.

Structured citations

A structure citation lists the NAP of your business on a business listing directory. You have control over these citations. Some examples of structured citations can be found on:

  • Foursquare
  • Yelp
  • Facebook

Unstructured citations

This happens when your NAP appears on websites that aren't exactly a business directory. They normally show up in social media, newsletter, review websites, blogs, magazines, etc.

Link building vs citations

Unstructured citation sounds more like link building, right? Most tend to group citation and link building together. You can definitely say all citations can be link building, but not all link building are citations, The primary focus of this "citation campaign" is to include NAP (Name, Address, Phone). It would have its own different purpose than adding contextual links or author bio. Here's a few things you should know as well:

  • Citations don't need to link to your site to be valuable, some directories might not include your URL. The value in a citation is the mention of your business NAP. The more mentions your business gets, the more prominent it appears to Google, and that helps with ranking.
  • Actual links from most business directories are typically a  nofollow link <rel="nofollow">. Which means it is a link attribute that is used to signal search engines that they should not follow that particular. However, Google treats the nofollow link attribute as a hint rather than a directive, and they might choose to ignore or pass link authority. So if majority of your citations might be a "nofollow" link, that does not to mean links aren't valuable. They are, and citations that include links are much better than those that don't include.

Not all citations are created equal

Hundreds of possible websites list a company online, but not all of them might be important to your business. Therefore, citation divisions exist. Many different types of companies have many types of citations. Attorneys, healthcare, real estate, you name it; there's a category. 

 Although some citations have a higher domain authority than others, relevant category is more important than domain authority. That's why being listed in these categories is important. There is a huge difference in the value of citations. 

A mention of your business on a popular directory is worth far more than a mention on a spammy website that was established exclusively for low-quality link building. To help you understand citations vary in their value, we have grouped our top citation and data sources into different classifications by the rank of importance.

Core search engines

Receivers of business listing data, not distributors. We can agree that the following Citations are “must-haves":

Major local business data platforms

Local marketers and business owners can create citations on a variety of essential local business data platforms that exist to publish this type of data. Data aggregators that amass and validate data from different sources and then met out this data to several other sites. Core platforms include Localeze/Neustar, Infogroup, Google My Business, and Acxiom. 

Core local business listings can also be built on popular social and review-oriented sites like Facebook and Yelp. Prominent websites on Google and are regularly used by people searching for businesses. This tier also includes city/state and niche/industry citations that add substantial value to your citation profile.

  • Yellowpages
  • Yelp
  • BBB
  • Facebook, etc.

Hyper-Local & Niche

  • City of Chicago.org
  • Lawyers.com
  • Denver.com

Geo or industry-specific platforms

Aside from building local business listings on the main local business data platforms that serve all industries, your company can seek to build listings on platforms that are specific to its unique geography and industry. Examples of these sites would include the websites of professional associations and guilds or chamber of commerce websites.

The wider web

Additional citations can either be built or earned on a wide variety of publications, including apps, government databases, blogs, news sites, maps, etc. You can either purposely create these citations for your business, or earn them based on merit and public interest or sharing of information. 

Spammy sites

Adding citations on suspiciously spammy online directories is now called black hat SEO. Google's algorithm can penalize websites with links from bad directories, just like it can with bad link building practices, so it's important that citations with links are only applied to high-quality directories and those with local relevance. In 2011, Google's Matt Cutts made a video illustrating the difference between poor-quality directories running "link schemes" and high-quality directories that respect search engines.

How to find citations for local businesses

If you're ready to start adding citations for your business, you can check out our directory listings section under our free SEO tools, to help you get started. There are other ways to find these directories:

Use industry citations list 

Start with Whitespark, Moz Local, Bright Local. Each of these curated list of citation sources by country is a great starting point. It offers a handy local finder tool that provides plans for every business. Just work your way through their list to manually build your citations.

Review websites

Reviews are one of the ranking factors that search engines take into account when examining your website authority and can be a valuable source for citations. Check review platforms for existing information on your business and ensure it is accurate. Some of the websites you can check include:

  • ConsumerReports
  • Influenster
  • BBB.org

Social media

A social media account provides an opportunity for citations. According to Matt Cutts, "Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index, and so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we're able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results." Therefore, set up several social media accounts for your business and ensure your NAP, UNAP, or NAPW are correct.

Submit to popular industry and local sites

Once done with the basic citation listings, the next step is to leverage industry-specific citation opportunities. For example, if you are a lawyer, then make sure you are on findlaw.com. If you run a hotel, then you should be on TripAdvisor. The physical location of your business also gives ways for more citation opportunities. Here are some of the ways to find these opportunities:

Use Google

Go to Google and search for things like:

  • [location] business directory
  • [industry] business directory
  • [location] chamber of commerce
  • [industry] business listings

Once you find possible websites to submit to, use your best judgment to identify those that are worth it.

How to check your local citations

  • Manually.This involves manually auditing all local citation sources. It is time-consuming, and that is why we recommend considering an automated approach.
  • Automated local listing checks. Moz offers a local listings tool for your business. Leverage them to check your local business listings across the web for both accuracy and inclusions.

How to create a good citation listing

Apart from adding accurate NAP information, here are a few things you should include in your citation listing, if they are made available. Most tend to just list their company on every listings they can find, so it tends to get repetitive. However, it's not just providing accurate NAP and calling it a day, it's really about providing users who might go to that directory listing to find more information about you. In order to build trust, here are additional items you should include:

  • Descriptions: Business descriptions will boost local rankings by adding keywords to your top. It can also help search engines understand your company better. And of course, help your user know what your company is about. 
  • Website URL: While most people tend to just add their main website URL to the citation, there is a need to add a specific location landing page. This eliminates user steps to get the information they're searching for and has the same impact for search engines. This applies to both one location store or multi-location. Having the actual city or neighborhood targeted landing page goes a long way.
  • Business Category: Some citations like Google My Business, lets you pick categories and secondary categories. This can help rank secondary targeted keywords. 
  • Photos: Adding images of your company can help boost customer conversion rates and, if optimized correctly, can help you rank in image searches. My tip for image optimization is to optimize image file name and alt text if the directory gives you the option.
  • Reviews: Having great feedback not only lets you win new company, but also improves your rankings. Google looks at 3rd-party sentiment review to gage company efficiency. This is where online reputation management goes a long way.