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If you’re trying to bring customers into your store, local SEO is crucial. A great way start to tackling the beast is through citations and directory listings. In fact, citations are one of the most important factors for strong local SEO rankings.

In this blog, we’ll outline all the info you need to understand the basics of citations and give you actionable advice on how to get started.

Local SEO vs. National SEO

If you’re an SMB, you may find that competing at the local level is more practical and affordable than competing against larger brands nationally. Building out a large online “footprint” using directories and citations are a great way to get more exposure for your business at the local level and improve SEO.

I’ve found that for many local industries, even just doing the bare minimum in Local SEO puts you above your competitors – who often aren’t doing anything and likely don’t understand that they should be.

In my experience, working on building out citations/directory and increasing the number of positive online reviews (on sites like Google+ and Yelp) have been the easiest biggest mover in improving local rankings.

What’s the Difference Between a Citation and a Directory Listing?

A citation

is any mention of your business online. There are generally two types of citation: full and partial – also called structured and unstructured, respectively.

  • A full citation

    includes your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) and may also include your website.

  • A partial citation

    might just include your business name, or your name and any combination of the other important NAP bits. An example might be an online news story posted about your company.

Here is a good article on what a citation is.

A directory listing

has one purpose in life: to be a full, or structured, citation for businesses. They’re basically the digital form of those heaping Yellow Pages. you used to get on your doorstep. These days, they’re sites like Google My Business, Yelp, Yahoo! Local, Merchant Circle and – you guessed it – YellowPages.com.

So a golden tip to keep in mind is that every directory listing is a citation, but not every citation is a directory listing.

Citation First Steps: Cleaning Up & Making More

There are two basic tenets to dominating this realm of local SEO: clean-up and make more.

Step 1: Clean Up Your Existing Citations

This is pretty straight-forward. Find all mentions of your business online, and ensure the websites’ mentioning your business have profiles that are completely filled out and accurate.

According to “best practices” for cleaning up existing listings, your citations should contain the exact same info, every single place they show up. This is known as NAP consistency. Check out my post on NAP consistency for some tips on finding existing listings and cleaning them up.

Cleaning up existing citations can be mind-bogglingly tedious if you do it manually. Citations will often pop up without your knowledge, and if your business info ever changes, it can be a nightmare to update every citation. This snowballs for businesses with multiple locations.

You can do it all manually, use an automated listing management tool, or hire a pro to handle the headache for you–and I’ve recommended some services below for creating new citations and directories. For cleanup, however, I recommend checking out Whitespark’s Citation Audit and Cleanup Services.

Step 2: Make More Citations

Find more places to list your business. And just do it.

There are thousands of directory websites – from generic “everyone’s welcome” sites to niche directories catered specifically to your area or industry. As a general rule of thumb, start with the heavy-hitters like Google, Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc. – then move to more specific websites that relevant to your industry.

Start Here:

Don’t Have Time? Use These Services

I’ll be frank: I don’t recommend taking the manual route, as it can be time-consuming and overwhelming. And you have much better things to do with your scarce time, anyway.

Luckily, the 21st century is quite self-aware. There are a myriad of tools, apps, and software to help you mobilize your citation troops. Take a look at a couple of my favorite automated listing management tools, WhiteSpark and Moz Local. I use both in tandem for all of my clients.

Thoughts?

Have any other recommendations? Tips or services? Leave a comment below.