Skip to content

How to Build Local Citations to Improve Online Visibility

Corey Batt

You’ve probably looked for a new restaurant to try on Yelp or checked Angi to find a reliable plumber. 

Well, the sites listed in these types of directories didn’t get there by accident. 

Enter local citation building, an SEO tactic where you list your business’s NAP (name, address, and phone number) and sometimes other information (photos, reviews, etc.) on relevant websites. 

Most commonly, this takes the form of uploading your NAP to online business directories, but you aren’t strictly limited to them. You can also build citations through social media platforms, blog posts, press releases, and other types of web content. 

41% of consumers use three or more review sites before visiting a local business, and 91% report that local reviews impact their perceptions of brands – so it’s crucial to maintain a strong presence on relevant directories and review sites. 

In this article, we’ll teach you how to build local citations for your business like a pro, so stick around. 

Why are Local Citations Important for SEO?

Are you not sold yet on why you should spend time and money building local citations?

If so, you should know local citations play a significant role in how search engines like Google rank local businesses in search results. 

After all, Google wants to ensure that it ranks the highest quality, most trusted businesses at the top of its rankings to provide the best user experience. 

How does Google verify each business’s relevance, quality, and trustworthiness?

The algorithm cross-checks local business citations online. 

In particular, it checks:

  • Your Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) 
  • Business directories 
  • Third-party content (review sites) 
  • User-contributed content (social media posts, forums, etc.) 
  • User ratings and reviews 
  • Any available photos of your products or services 
  • Your business’s address on Google Maps 

This is why local citations are integral for local SEO campaigns. If your business isn’t mentioned or listed on any directories, social media platforms, or forums like Reddit – you’ll have a hard time ranking for your most important local keywords.

Why consistency is key 

That brings us to the other core component of local citation building: consistency. 

Why is remaining consistent so important?

It is because the last thing you want is outdated business information floating around online. 

For example, a picture that you’re listed in 200 directories, but 150 of them contain your business’s old address and phone number. To make matters worse, you don’t have a way to manage your citations, so you have no idea that there are 150 web pages with incorrect information for your business. 

This means you’ll miss out on a lot of potential business because customers cannot get in touch. 

You can avoid this nightmare scenario by practicing local citation management, which entails keeping track of all your business’s citations in one central location. 

Most companies outsource this process since it’s a bit of a headache to do manually, but more on this in a bit. 

How to Build Local Citations in 6 Steps 

Before we dive into how to start building local citations, we need to make an important distinction. 

There are two types of local citations you can build: structured and unstructured. 

Here’s a look at the differences between the two 

Structured citations 

A structured citation means the business listing follows a unanimous structure that applies to all citations on the website. 

Online directories are examples of structured citations, as they provide their business listings in a uniform way. 

Most commonly, this involves listing a business’s NAP, but structured citations may also include:

  • Photos of your location 
  • Product photos 
  • User reviews
  • Business descriptions 
  • Industries or audiences served
  • Links to your business’s social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.) 

Local business directories and review sites often feature structured citations, and they also go by the name ‘NAP listings’ (since they always list each business’s name, address, and phone number). 

Meme of man sleeping with caption not the type of NAP meant

A few examples of structured citation websites include:

These sites are great because they provide a consistent format for your business information, and they’re the types of sites Google’s algorithm checks when ranking local businesses. 

However, some structured citation directories require a monthly fee due to their ‘premium listings,’ which is something to note when browsing citation opportunities. 

Unstructured citations 

These are citations that don’t follow a specific format and often appear on blogs, press releases, and news articles. 

An example would be a blogger listing your business’s NAP (and possibly a backlink) after posting a positive review. 

Or you could use HARO (Help-a-Reporter-Out) to get your business listed in a related news article. 

Unstructured citations tend to be more difficult to obtain than structured citations due to their nature. You can’t simply upload your business’s information to a news site, for instance. 

Instead, you’ll need to do some outreach to acquire unstructured citations, which will likely bleed over into your link-building efforts. For example, HARO is a popular tool for both link-building and local citation-building, effectively letting SEOs dig two holes with one shovel. 

infographic on ways to build local citations

Step #1: Optimize your online presence 

Local citations are undoubtedly an important ranking factor for local SEO, but they’re by no means the only one. 

You’ll also want to optimize your Google Business Profile, Google Maps address, and Google Reviews profile. Lastly, don’t forget to tweak your on-page SEO until it’s picture-perfect. 

Google Business Profile verification

Let’s start with setting up your Google Business Profile (GBP). 

If you want your site to rank for relevant local search queries (and to appear in the ‘local pack’ SERP feature that integrates Google Maps), you’ll need a fully fleshed-out Google Business Profile. 

The good news is that creating a Google Business Profile (or claiming an existing listing) is completely free. 

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • First, log in to your Google account (you’ll need to create one if you don’t have one already) and search for your business. 
  • If there’s a listing for your business, select it. 
  • Click the ‘Claim this business’ button if it’s available. 
  • Follow Google’s verification process to confirm ownership of the business. 

From here, there are a few options for verification, including the following:

  • Mailing a postcard with a verification code.
  • Verifying ownership over the phone. 
  • Receive verification instructions via email. 

If you verify through phone or SMS, you’ll receive instant verification and can move forward with the rest of the optimization process. 

Optimizing your GBP 

Now that you have a Google Business Profile, it’s time to start filling it out. If you want to appear in local SERP features and rank higher for local queries, your GBP needs to contain the right content. 

Here are some quick best practices to follow:

  1. Fill out your NAP and add a detailed description of your business that highlights what makes you unique (don’t forget to include relevant local keywords throughout). 
  2. Choose a primary category that most accurately describes your business. Don’t forget to include additional categories to further clarify the specifics of your product and service offerings. You can add up to 10 additional categories, and they’re perfect opportunities to capitalize on relevant local keywords, so include as many as you can. 
  3. Upload high-quality photos of your products, services, and business location (if applicable). 
  4. Post regular updates for your customers that highlight upcoming promotions, events, and specials. 
  5. Encourage customers to post reviews on your GBP and then respond to them enthusiastically. 
  6. Enable the messaging feature so your customers can interact with you through GBP. Responding to customer inquiries will help build trust with your audience. 
  7. Add a Q&A section where you address and answer common questions about your business. 

Once your GBP is up and running, you’ll start to appear in Google Maps searches by default, so you don’t need to take any further action to appear in Google’s ‘local pack’ SERP feature. 

Infographic on how to optimize your GBP

Tweaking on-page SEO 

Besides your Google Business Profile, you also need to optimize your website for local SEO. 

As with traditional on-page SEO, you’ll want to add crucial local keywords to your content, metadata, image alt tags, and headings. 

Speaking of headings, they’re especially important for your landing and product pages, so you should try to localize each one. Headings carry quite a bit of SEO clout since they’re one of the first things Googlebots crawl on your page. 

Therefore, if you throw some localized keywords in there, it’ll help the algorithm associate your business with related searches in your location. 

Here are a few examples of localized landing page headings using St. Petersburg, FL, as an example:

  • Reasons to Get (Service) Done in St. Petersburg
  • Why Our (Products) are The Best in St. Petersburg 
  • Who Is (Your Service) Right for in St. Petersburg?

Also, don’t forget to include your NAP on your website in a place where it’ll be hard for your customers to miss. Popular locations include your Contact Us and About Us pages, as well as the footer on your homepage. 

Step #2: Submit your NAP to core online directories

Next, you should upload your NAP to ‘core’ sites, which are the most recognized and widely-used directories that provide local business citations. 

Specifically, you’ll want to highlight the ‘big 4,’ which consists of:

  • Facebook
  • Yelp
  • Foursquare 
  • Yellow Pages 

Regardless of your industry or niche, you’ll want your business listed on these major directories for two reasons.  

First, these are the main directories Google’s algorithm looks at to determine how well your business matches a user’s local search query (for instance, if someone searches for a service you offer in your location, Google uses directories like Yelp to decide if you’re a good fit). 

Next, these are the most popular online business directories, so you’ll likely receive referral traffic from being listed on them. People turn to directories like the Yellow Pages and social media platforms like Facebook to discover all sorts of products and services, which is why it’s worth submitting your NAP to them. 

When uploading your NAP to these sites, the #1 most important thing is to ensure the information is accurate and up-to-date. Ensure that your phone number, address, and website URL are all correct before submitting. 

Remember, if your business ever changes locations, gets a new website, or changes its phone number, you’ll have to update your NAP in every directory it’s listed in. 

That’s why it’s essential to have a way to manage all your citations once they’ve been submitted. Manually updating each listing will quickly become too cumbersome, especially if you go beyond uploading your NAP to the ‘big 4’ (which you definitely should). 

We’ll cover the best local citation tracking tools in a bit, so stay tuned. 

Step #3: Submit your NAP to local and niche directories 

Once you’ve covered the major directories and social media platforms, it’s time to move on to more industry and niche-specific citation opportunities. 

There are thousands of niche business directories and local news outlets out there, and they can help your local search rankings through citations. 

However, it’s crucial to note that not every industry-specific business directory is worth uploading your NAP to. 

For every niche directory that’s actually popular, there are hundreds of others that don’t receive a lot of traffic, and thus aren’t worth your time.

A good rule of thumb is to stick to directories that you’ve heard of before. Another vetting technique is to do a Google search for ‘(your industry) in (your location)’ and see if the directory shows up in the top 20 results. 

If it’s nowhere to be found, you’re better off uploading your NAP elsewhere. 

Claiming existing listings on directories like Yelp 

Before you call it quits on structured citations (i.e., business directories), it’s a good idea to do a quick search on major directories to see if there are existing listings for your business. 

Why is that?

It’s because there may be inaccurate listings for your business floating around that contain inaccurate or outdated information. 

Most major directories like Yelp and the Yellow Pages have a feature where you can claim an existing listing, granting you the chance to correct any errors. As a bonus, many of these directories let you upload reviews and photos once you claim a listing, so it’s worth the trouble. 

Step #4: Find or create unstructured citations 

By now, you’ve uploaded your business’s NAP to the most important directories, so you’ll have plenty of structured citations. 

However, structured citations are only half of the equation. 

To make the most out of local citations for SEO, you’ll also want to target unstructured citations. 

As a quick refresh, unstructured citations don’t follow a unanimous structure and appear on blogs, news outlets, press releases, and other types of websites. 

They differ from structured citations in that you have to earn them instead of simply uploading your NAP. 

An example would be earning your business a shoutout on an influencer’s blog after they positively reviewed one of your products. 

Targeting unstructured citations is a lot like building backlinks in that it involves a lot of outreach. 

Let’s take a look at the most effective methods for acquiring unstructured citations. 

Find unlinked brand mentions online 

A popular link-building tactic that also works great for local citation building is looking for unlinked brand mentions. 

What are those?

An unlinked brand mention is where a website mentions your brand but fails to link back to your website. 

When targeting backlinks, your goal is to convince the site owner to add a backlink to one of your web pages. 

Citation building has a similar yet different goal. While acquiring a backlink is never a bad thing (and there’s no reason why you can’t ask for both), your primary concern is that the website lists your business’s NAP (maybe a better word for it is unNAPPED brand mentions). 

Ideally, your business’s NAP and backlink should accompany every mention of your brand, but that’s not always possible. 

Either way, pursuing unlinked brand mentions is a great way to build backlinks and local citations for SEO. 

But how can you find blogs, news outlets, and social media posts that mention your brand?

Ahrefs’ Content Explorer is your best friend in this regard. 

All you have to do is enter your domain into the search bar while excluding your domain (to avoid your own web pages appearing in the search). 

Voila, you’ll have a lengthy list of nearly every website that’s ever uttered your brand’s name. 

You can also filter the list to only include websites with a high DA score, a certain amount of organic traffic, specific publishing dates, and other parameters. 

If you don’t want to use any specialized tools, you can also find unlinked mentions using plain old Google, albeit with the assistance of the ‘intext’ search operator. 

Search for ‘intext: “your brand name”, and you’ll generate a list of websites that mention your brand. 

Use HARO to build Google local SEO citations 

Help-a-Reporter-Out is a goldmine for backlinks and local citations, so you should definitely add it to your bag of tricks. 

It works by hooking up reporters and journalists with business owners and industry experts. They send out several emails each day containing reporter queries (requests for sources). 

They usually need a quote or some information from a reputable source. 

By responding to these queries, you can land valuable backlinks and citations (listing your business’s NAP) if the reporter chooses your response. 

HARO is a time-consuming endeavour, though, as you’ll need to stay on top of the reporter queries that go out each day if you want to land a citation. The early bird gets the worm 9 times out of 10 on HARO, as timely replies are always preferred. 

Step #5: Upload your NAP to the major data aggregators 

Since there are so many business directories online, there’s no way they can rely on manual submissions only. 

If they did, they’d have significant gaps in their data, rendering their directory essentially useless. 

Data aggregators are how obscure directories are still able to have long lists of accurate business information. These services collect business information and then distribute it to other websites. They typically ‘mine’ the information by scouring the internet for public records. 

You can also upload your NAP directly to these data aggregators. 

Why would you want to do that?

It’s a good idea because if data aggregators have your business information, they’ll distribute it to thousands of online directories, and you won’t have to lift a finger. 

Step #6: Regularly monitor your local citations 

Lastly, you need to keep track of your local citations to ensure their accuracy. Should your business go through a chance, you’ll have to update all your citations, which is where citation tracking tools come in handy. 

Not only do inaccurate citations create a poor user experience, but they can also harm your local search rankings. 

Beyond that, it’s also important to keep an eye out for duplicate listings, as they can tank your local SEO. 

As long as you keep your citations up-to-date, you shouldn’t run into any trouble. 

Start Using Local Citations to Improve Your SEO Today 

To summarize, local search citations are integral for local SEO campaigns, and they can take several forms. 

Structured citations appear on business directories, and Google’s algorithm checks them to learn more about local businesses. 

Unstructured citations show up on blogs, social media posts, and news outlets, and they carry lots of local SEO clout. 

However, getting your business listed can be an arduous and time-consuming task (after all, it took this massive article to explain how to do it). 

Data aggregators can speed things up, but you don’t have any control over the listings. Incorrect spellings and inaccurate details happen all the time, and they take a long time to correct. 

The solution?

Sign up for our Local Citation Building Service, where we get your business listed on relevant, high-quality directories that directly relate to your industry and location. Our citations are always accurate and up-to-date, so don’t wait to try our citation service to take your online visibility to the next level.          


Need help?