Winning Online With Local Citations
BY: DUSTIN HEAP ON FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2013
Not only is there an inherent gap between big and small business marketing resources, but often the same can be said of an existing knowledge gap in regards to digital marketing. While big businesses have built out digital marketing teams, small brick and mortar stores, often family owned or Mom and Pop type shops, excel in customer service and word of mouth marketing but sorely lack in any kind of digital know-how. With this in mind I wanted to discuss one of the most high value and low effort tactics these businesses can do to increase their online visibility.
The What and Why of Local Citations
The tactic I’m referring to is that of building or creating local citations, or just citations. In SEO or digital parlance this is simply the mention or occurrence of the name, address and phone number (often called the “NAP”) somewhere on the web. Both the quality and quantity of these mentions in aggregate play a big role in how visible a company’s website is in the search engine result pages. In particular, these citations help a company appear more often and higher in the SERPs for local or geographic related queries that trigger local results. With an increasing number of consumers who use Google to find local stores and small businesses who traditionally rely on a local market to drive revenue, visibility in these local search results is more and more critical to long term success.
While there are other factors to local search visibility and I would strongly advise avoiding putting all your marketing efforts (or anything even close to it) in the Google basket, local citations undoubtedly can be a high impact marketing initiative for small businesses.
Paid or Manual?
When it comes to actually building these citations there are numerous ways in which one can do them as well as a complicated web of local information providers. So let’s walk through the options and process step by step.
The first thing you want to decide is whether you want to build the citations yourself or used a paid service. The advantage of a paid service is that it is done very quickly. Services such as Yext and BrightLocal offer paid packages. Most of these services have some kind of dashboard of live/pending submissions so that you can monitor and verify that you’ve got what you paid for. The alternative is to build these manually as I’ll outline below.
I’ve gone both routes in the past and can honestly say that it really depends on your situation. If you have no desire to learn how to do it, or need these citations and their potential impact on your bottom line right away, then I would suggest the paid route. Again, as a word of caution, though these can in fact increase online visibility there is never any guarantee so make sure you are using other marketing strategies in addition to this one.
On the other hand, if you want to do some simple learning and are willing to spend some time (perhaps when your brick and mortar location is empty and you are sitting at a computer anyways) then going the manual route is cheaper and can have the same impact. It will just take longer to do the submissions. Paid services simply expedite and make easier what tends to be a monotonous and time consuming task. There is no added visibility because you pay to have someone do it for you. Don’t let their advertising copy tell you otherwise.
Building Citations Manually
The end goal of citations is to list your business in as many relevant places online as possible. All of these listings should have a consistent name, address and phone number and should include as much information as possible in whatever fields are provided. I would recommend that you first submit your business to the search engines’ local solutions first. Google, Bing and Yahoo! all accept business type listings that you can submit to for free. To build additional citations manually you can actually use the paid services free diagnostic tools to get started.
The easiest way to find out where you are and aren’t currently listed is free diagnostic tools designed exactly for this purpose.
The following three tools or services require basic business information and will then give you a “report card” of sorts for your online citations.
For example, I used a local bakery that has been around forever on the original main street in the small city where I live. While everyone knows the business because of their awesome donuts and because they’ve been there forever, as can be seen in the image on the right, they need to do a better job of being consistent in the name of the company listed online. They also have various additional places on the web where they could list the business. All of these tools are designed to whet the appetite and push people to pay for the services offered. But if you are doing it manually you simply just navigate to the website where the listing is missing or incorrect and add or fix it as needed. You use their tools but avoid having to pay the fee to have them do it.
Local Citation Finder
Another excellent tool you can use is Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder. LCF is a local SEO tool by Darren Shaw of Edmonton, Canada. The tool allows you to compare your online citations against your main competitors. By putting your business information as well as your competitors information into the tool it will give you a list of places where your competitors appear online but you don’t. Similar to the free diagnostic tools noted above, it is then just a matter of manually submitting to each of these locations. Local Citation Finder is a paid service but at $20/month it is often much cheaper than the bigger paid submission services. I’ve found that one months worth of access will allow you to match all of your competitors’ citations and then you can cancel your subscription. If you need to return in the future to see if there are new citations to match, you simply pay another month of access. LCF offers an easy to use dashboard and matching process. I’d highly recommend it if you are going the manual route.
PRO TIP: If you are going to be doing lots of manual citation submissions I’d recommend setting up an Excel or Text document with the fields that are common across all submission such as name of company, address, phone number, etc. You can either copy and paste these, use auto-fill features or even look into extensions and/or paid options to facilitate this part of the process. Casey Meraz talked about a similar process here. Whatever way you choose to do this it will speed up the process and you’ll thank me later.
Whether you decide to do it manually or use a paid service, increasing the quantity and improving the quality of your citations on the web can have a tremendous impact on your businesses’ bottom line. Go beyond your reputation and word of mouth marketing to tap into the growing online audience that your competitors are surely aiming for as well. I’ve seen the results first hand, it’s just a matter of learning some basics of local search and then getting the citations on the web to be crawled, indexed, and impacting your local search visibility.