Local Citations: The Most Important Part Of SEO That Nobody Talks About

Banner with the text 'Local Citations: The Most Important Part Of SEO That Nobody Talks About' behind is image of a map with 3 markers

What if I told you that local citations can help your SEO more than Facebook or Twitter?

Of course, Google would never tell us exactly what is in the secret search sauce, or how much weight their search algo gives each ranking signal. This means that every SEO company and freelance SEO consultant in the world has to look at the data and make educated guesses. But most signs point to local citations being incredibly important.

In fact, Moz has estimated that citations are the 5th most important ranking signal for local queries. That’s absolutely massive. How massive? Social signals like engagement on Facebook and Twitter ranked 8th.

So, if you have unclaimed local citation opportunities on industry websites, or inaccurate information out there, you’re shooting yourself in the SEO-foot. And you’re doing your competition a really big favour.

Two pie charts titled 'Local Pack/Finder Ranking' Factors and 'Localized Organic Ranking Factors'. Number 1 for local pack is Google My Business, Number 1 for Localized Organic Ranking Factors is Link Signals.

Most people see these directory sites as lead generators and a part of a sales strategy, and of course, they are. But they also hold tremendous value for your SEO strategy.

Today, we’re going to show you how valuable local citations can be, and walk you through how to take charge of them. This can help you boost your SEO value and unlock organic traffic.

What are Local Citations?

On the simplest level, a local citation is any time that your company’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) is listed somewhere online.

These listings help people find your business, while they also help to legitimize your business in the eyes of Google.

These citations/ listings can help your SEO if:

  1. They are on a high-quality and respected site
  2. The content is accurate

Both of these aspects are incredibly important. A local citation from a low-quality site isn’t going to help your SEO. In the past, some thought it would hurt you and you might get struck with the Penguin Penalty if this site linked out to you. But that’s not the case. They won’t hurt you, but they won’t help either.

On the other hand, inaccurate information can actually hurt you! First and foremost, you could be sending customers to the wrong address, or giving them the wrong phone number. This is basically gift wrapping sales and leads for your competition.

But inaccurately posted information can also hurt your SEO. If Google sees several accurate local citations across the web, this is a good thing. But if Google sees 2 or 3 different NAPs for your business across several different sites, this will hurt your SEO.

That’s why it’s crucial to stay on top of all of your local citations. If you are changing locations, or opening a second location, updating your listings/ citations is literally the first thing you need to do. Consider it as important as making sure the hydro in the new building is turned on.

The Different Sources of Local Citations

Image of a person sitting on a laptop visiting Yelp

When you’re making sure that all of your local citations are correct, or making sure you’re appearing everywhere you can, these are the types of sites you will see.

Major Business Data Platforms

You will likely want to start by looking at major sites like Google My Business, Facebook, Foursquare, Acxiom, Localeze/Neustar, and Infogroup. Their missions are to build huge databases full of local businesses for customers, so you want to ensure you’re there.

Industry-Specific Niche Review Sites and Directories

Beyond the general business listings, your specific industry may have a site or two to look at. The obvious examples would be Yelp if you’re in food service, or if you’re in hospitality. 

Do a search for your specific industry. There could be much smaller sites that are still very much worth your while.

Geographic/ Local Directories

There may also be opportunities close to home that you don’t want to miss. Do a Google search for ‘small businesses + your city’ and you might be able to find some. A city’s local Chamber of Commerce often publishes an online directory to help promote their members.  

If you make a product that is proudly made in Ontario, you could apply for Ontario Made certification and gain a listing in their members’ database.

Other Websites

It’s also possible to build local citations through more general websites like government databases, blogs, news/media sites, some apps, and some map sites.

How Do I Earn and Manage Local Citations?

If you’re too busy running your business to worry about your local citations, the easy answer is always to find an affordable SEO services company. They can manage all aspects of your local SEO work, and make sure you’re showing up for the crucial searches on Google, Google Maps, and Apple Maps. They can ensure you get the high rankings, organic traffic, foot traffic, and phone calls that result from a well-managed local SEO presence.

If you’re looking to do this yourself, you have a few options.

Image of a person holding a phone with Google Maps open showing many different markers

The first option is doing all of the research, outreach, and follow up yourself. This is obviously the most time-consuming way to do things, but it is certainly better than taking a passive approach to a very crucial part of your SEO.

This would basically involve Googling around to find your own opportunities. You would seek to find the local and industry review/ directory sites that you would want to appear at. You could take things a step further by using something like SEMRush’s Backlink Checker. Enter all of your competitors’ URLs and see who is linking to them. Some of these sites will be local citations and they will probably give you an opportunity to post your business’ NAP.

The non-citation sites still hold a tremendous amount of SEO value for you. Maybe they covered your competition in the news, or maybe they published a guest post from their CEO. These are valuable links and an important part of any successful SEO strategy. Take note of all of these sites and use them to build a reach-out list for guest blogs and other link building opportunities.

Alternatively, you can invest in an automated solution like Moz Local to take care of a lot of this for you.

How Important Are Local Citations?

These are far too important to ignore, and too many companies do ignore this opportunity. As we mentioned, this could be in the top 5 most important things you do to help your SEO. Yet a shockingly high number of businesses don’t actively manage their local citations. This is silently hurting their SEO and helping their competition!

Local citations are not strong enough to carry you all by themselves. You still need to do all of the other things like conduct good keyword research and optimize your site. At the end of the day, good content means good rankings and there is no substitute for publishing quality content, on and off your site. No amount of local citations can save your site if you’re not doing the other things.

But when you combine a well-optimized site and strong content with high-quality local citations, mmm, -chef’s kiss-, now you’ve got something.

This is SEO ground you cannot afford to simply give away. These are highly impactful chances to build your website’s off-page presence. The SEO value and the organic traffic aside, these local citations can be a tremendous lead generation machine for you.

If your company’s (accurate!) address and phone number are listed on multiple sites on the web, this can only help to send foot traffic and phone calls your way. And most of these people are buy-ready.

Consider these stats:

That is the power of being there when people are Googling the products and services that you sell, and local citations are an absolutely key part of carving out and claiming your local SEO space.

Do you have a competitor that is within walking distance of your business? If you don’t show up in local searches, your competition will happily take all of those leads and sales. The more competitive your industry is, the more local SEO will drive your bottom line.

The History of Local Citations

Image inside a library with a big computer screen showing

Like most parts of SEO, local citations were a lot less regulated at the turn of the century. This is why we tend to call that era The Wild West of SEO, where there was no sheriff and no law.

In the early 2000s, small businesses were constantly being pitched listings in primitive business directory websites. We will invent one and call it Dan’s Directory, but there were hundreds of these in the day.

Here’s how it would work. They would sell you a page in their directory. This page would list your contact information and business description. Some companies claimed that this page would be so effective that many of their clients didn’t even need a website… Sorry, what?

Some of these directories would hold a little bit of value… For a little while. But there were several issues with them. The first problem was that most of these sites were never more than 2 or 3 Google updates away from being put out of business.

The second issue was that searchers didn’t love landing on these pages. They’d Google your restaurant and land on the directory page, but the text-only landing pages were not nearly as sophisticated as today’s Yelp or Foursquare listings. Where are the pictures of your dining room? Where are the pictures of your food? Why can’t I just go to your website? Don’t you have one?

Yes, these listings could show up on the first page of Google, but people preferred to click on actual websites. If you had a listing at Dan’s Directory on the front page, but your competition’s actual website ranked on the front page, they most often got the click and the business.

And thirdly, right around that time, The Yellow Pages people were in the process of re-inventing their business and moving it online. They were backed by a century-old brand name, so I’m afraid that Dan’s Directory was not going to out-Yellow Pages The Yellow Pages.

You have to give The Yellow Pages a lot of credit. They were able to evolve their business and carve out a new niche. They were on the brink in the early 2000s and could have easily gone the way of Blockbuster Video. But they targeted small business owners and sold them SEO space the way they used to sell print ad space. Against all odds, they fought off extinction and made themselves a factor in SEO in the last decade or so.

All of those factors meant that the sites that didn’t really offer any real value to a searcher kind of died off. But the good ones – the ones that offer reviews, detailed write-ups, and pictures – evolved, earned Google’s respect, and became a great way to build your local citations.

Today, high-quality business directories are big business. Most of the biggest directories you see today have claimed their corner of the room and locked into a specific industry. Yelp claimed restaurants. TripAdvisor and claimed tourism. Angie’s List and HomeStars claimed home services like plumbers and electricians.

Need Someone To Manage Your Local SEO?

As you can see, staying on top of all elements of your local web presence can be a lot of work. It can be overwhelming and it’s often best to get a proven SEO company to do the work for you.

If you’re not showing up in local searches, we can help! We can help you find out why you’re not ranking, and show you how to get on the first page of Google and stay there.

If you’re ready to unlock organic traffic and more sales, click the Connect With Paul button at the top of the page, or call 647-448-4449.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.