Citation Building: The Key to Ranking on Local Searches

When you conduct a local search for any type of business in town using Google, the results will be a list of these businesses each with a brief description including the name, star rating, location and business hours.

Additionally, there will be a Google map indicating the locations of these businesses. A quick local Google search for the best coffee shops in Laval for instance will return the following:


There could be tens or even hundreds of local businesses matching your search criteria, but Google displays only three (Local 3-Packs) – the top three results in terms of search ranking.


Why is this important to know?

Clickthrough research data reveal that click through rates, or CTR, decline drastically down the search engine results page (SERP).

CTR decline drastically down the search engine results page (SERP)
Source: Smart Insights


As such, the business listed at position 1 on the Google SERP will normally get more clicks, which translate to more traffic to their website compared to the businesses at the 2nd and 3rd positions.

The more the traffic that goes to your website the more the leads and potential buying customers you are getting.

Imagine how much traffic the several other local businesses that do not make it to these three positions lose.


 Just how does Google determine who to list at the top?

The tech giant, like do other search engines, analyzes information from local business listings on the internet and uses it to generate these results on local searches.

When a potential customer does a local search, Google wants to provide them with the most useful, relevant information on their searches. So, it will often consider the businesses with the best star ratings, user reviews and a few other factors for these top positions.

The assumption is that these are the businesses that a friend might recommend if someone asked. Good reviews and ratings are key pointers in that regard. Citations however have the lion’s share of role to play in determining which business stands a chance to hit the top three positions.

They are some of the most important factors that Google uses in its algorithm to understand the level of a site’s authority on local search engine optimization, SEO.


So, what are citations anyway?

Citations in the local SEO universe, are the references or mentions of your business across the web. Local citations are simply the mentions of local businesses’ names, addresses and phone numbers (NAP).

Citations can appear on different places on the web. They can show up on local business directories, listing websites, apps and on social media networks.

Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP)

Regardless of where they occur, they will show the name of your business, address (location) and phone number to Internet users within your locality, enabling them to discover your business on local searches.

To search engines like Google, citations are an indication of popularity of your business or authority of your site’s URL. They therefore use citations as a basis for awarding local search engine rankings.

Citations may or may not have hyperlinks pointing to your website, though search engines use them the same way whether or not they have links.


Generating local citations

You probably wonder where citations come from. These important local SEO signals can appear in two ways: either through the intentional effort of the local businesses to create them on local business listings and platforms, or on merit – when people other than the business share information about it.

1. Major local business data platforms

If you own a local business (brick and mortar business with a physical location), you can create citations on the various major local business data platforms available for publishing this type of data.

Of all local business data platforms, Google My Business (GMB) is the most important to create and manage your listing on. This is because Google dominates local searches making your listings there tremendously valuable.

You can build your local business listing on popular social and review-oriented websites like Yelp, and Facebook.

2. Industry-specific platforms

Away from the major local business data platforms that serve different industries, local businesses can build their listings on websites that publish listings only from that specific industry or geography.

Examples of geography/industry specific listing platforms for local businesses include chamber of commerce websites, websites for guilds and those of professional associations.

3. The broader web: merit-based citations

Local business listings also appear as supplementary citations across the wider web. Your business can earn such mentions on a broad range of publications such as news articles, blogs, news websites, maps, apps and other databases such as those of the government.

You earn merit-based mentions (citations) through public sharing of information; when you create a product or offer services that the public is interested in.


Categorizing citations

From the foregoing, local business citations can be categorized into structured and unstructured citations.

  • Structured citations are all the standardized business listings that your business develops and actively manages. These are the listings that you find on directories and review sites. As a distinctive characteristic, these citations tend to display complete and accurate NAP data.
  • Unstructured citations on the other hand are the spontaneous mentions of your business across the wider web. These can be found anywhere and are typically not standardized. Sometimes they do not have complete NAP included. Nonetheless, these unstructured citations still represent a major local SEO boost.

Other than develop structured citations, local businesses should be keen on managing both forms of citations to ensure the accuracy of data.


Manual vs automated citation data submission

When it is time to create your local listing on select platforms, the procedure to follow would look something like this:

  1. Visiting the listing website that you have identified,
  2. Navigating through its pages to see if your business is listed there,
  3. Creating an account on the website,
  4. Submitting your business information to create your listing or update an existing one
  5. Verifying your account through email or phone.

Sometimes you do not control the flow of your citation data across the World Wide Web.

There are companies that collect data about local businesses then distribute or sell them out to networks of local search engines, mapping services, third-party directories, mobile apps and GPS services.

These companies are referred to as Local Data Aggregators, or LDAs, and are responsible for the automated data aggregation that creates the flow of local businesses’ data from platform to platform.


The Local Search Ecosystem (United States)Image source


Since you do not control the original distribution of this data, it is critical that you monitor your citations wherever they appear and ensure the accuracy of the data provided.


Why the accuracy of citation data is critical?

Internet users rely on citation information to discover your business. Inaccurate data can mislead prospects leading to loss of customers and potential revenue. Customers who encounter misleading information about your business can also leave negative feedback and reviews that can hurt your local search rankings.


Citation audit: ensuring your NAP information is accurate and consistent

When building and managing your citations, one thing is crucial: the accuracy of your business name, address and phone number.

An incorrect name may send your prospective customers somewhere else, a wrong address may mislead them, while missing any digit on the phone number will mean that your customers cannot contact you.

It is therefore important to have accurate information that is consistent across your website, Google My Business account and the local business directories and review sites where your business is listed.

Your business Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) format is essential for better local SEO.

If any piece of information regarding your business appears differently on different platforms, the resultant mismatch can mislead users and subsequently impact your rankings.

Actively managing your local citations helps you keep the key components of your citation (name, address and phone number) consistent at the different places where they appear across the web.

Managing and auditing your citations may involve checking each website for any inconsistencies and correcting them one-by-one.

To manage your citations easily, you may want to use our free local citation tracking report for an easier, more accurate and efficient citation audit. It will show you all the errors and inconsistencies about your listings on top local directories.


General steps to follow on a citation audit

  1. Record your previous and current NAP information.
  2. Compile a list of authoritative and structured citations (up to 50 of them) to review. You may approach this by searching for primary keywords or the business name and noting the directories that rank well.
  3. Identify, create or claim your business’ existing listings on platforms such as GMB.
  4. Update any out-of-date information and remove all duplicate listings.


Last words

Directories are always pulling data from other outside sources. So, to make the most of local citations for your local SEO initiatives, be sure to not only build your own citations on authority sites but also audit your existing citations at least every two months to ensure your business information remains up to date and current.


Beril Anyango

LinkoPlus Contributor
Professional Digital Marketing Expert

Beril Anyango is a freelance digital marketing specialist with experience working for Creative and Digital Marketing Agencies globally. For the past 5 Years, Beril has been providing content marketing blogs, Facebook advertising and digital strategies for hundreds of small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs.

You can reach me on LinkedIn.

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