Citation Consistency: The Key to Local Search Rankings

By Chris Suppa

It’s not all that uncommon to encounter varying degrees of local search cleanup as part of any campaign. Odds are a business’ name, address and phone number (NAP) has changed for any number of reasons since its establishment. We’ll admit it, we’ve recently moved offices and are still doing our own citation cleanup.

While many look at this as a tedious chore, let’s not forget the importance of up-to-date citations. As the local search experts have confirmed, even slight disparities in the ole’ NAP can have a detremental effect on the entirity of SEO efforts. Mike Ramsey so powerfully stated “Citations will always be a major factor and can help or seriously hurt a listing if the data is incorrect across the ecosystem. If your citations have bad information, you have set yourself up for duplicate listings and will ultimately divide your ranking power substantially.”

Even with the ever-changing landscape of SEO, one thing is certain: Local citations aren’t going away anytime soon and continue to play a pivotal role in your business’ SERP.  That’s why now more than ever, these troubling inconsistencies in your name, address and phone number should be located and resolved. I know it’s easier said than done, but with a little organization, some time-saving tricks and the right attitude, the effort to do so will go a long way. Finding these citations with inconsistent NAP also allows you the opportunity to optimize your listings, making sure your domain, all relevant keywords and information are present, and your categories are in order. As data is often harvested from third parties to create listings, inconsistencies can multiply, so it is imperative to make local search cleanup an early priority to improve your business’ visibility.

Search Operators

Finding those elusive faulty citations is the first part of this process. Before investing in paid tools, a quick and effective way to find outdated citations is to begin with Google’s advanced search operators. There is a bit of trial and error involved here, but plugging variations of your business name with the new and old phone number, as well as the new and old address in quotes will surely get your cleanup quest underway. An example of a query we’d use is “Thunder SEO” “3047 University” “619-618-2396” -“2920 North Park Way”.

Be sure to test out different combinations, as there will be varying degrees of inconsistencies with these variables.

Another effective way to find citations that need updating is to search specific directories via Google’s site: search operator. With the recent changes in local search, prioritizing your efforts around the most important directories is a wise plan. An example of a directory site search for a business is “business name”.

When using these manual approaches, it helps to scrape your results with available SERP scrapers. I’d recommend expanding your results to 100 per page and using SEOmoz’s MozBar, which lets you export a CSV of your search to expedite sorting through results.

Free Local Citation Tools is a free tool for checking the state of your business’ citations across major search engines and directories. Put simply, this is probably the best place to begin, as the citations provided carry the most weight.  In the accuracy tab, alerts you to errors in your NAP, as well as whether or not the listing has been claimed. In the details tab, you can look at how your listing looks for each individual result. They also provide an accuracy score, reflecting the current condition of your local search profile. Another helpful feature is the To Do tab, which provides advice on optomizing the listing for each result.

While Whitespark‘s local citation finder is generally a paid tool, you can also try it out for free. With the free version, you can run three searches per day under one project. Although they limit the citation results, it may be worth it to see if Whitespark finds any citations you may have missed manually.

To find citations, run a search by keyphrase, using your business name and relevant location data. You can also run a search by phone number, using your current and/or old phone numbers for a wider range of results. Their monthly pricing and options are quite reasonable if you’re pleased with the tool.

Premium Local Citation Tools

BrightLocal’s Local SEO Check-Up Report provides a rather extensive explanation of the various factors that contribute to a healthy Local SEO profile. You can also get one report for free, but pricing starts at only $2.49. Among the many features are a summary analysis of your Local SEO results, offsite SEO metrics (domain authority/pages indexed), SERP’s, onsite factors (tags/keywords), and the landscape of your local citations. In addition to helping with cleanup, BrightLocal’s report will come in handy while you’re tracking the progress of your future efforts too.

Organization is Key

It probably goes without saying that the most important task in doing local search cleanup is staying organized. At Thunder, Google Docs is a lifesaver in this department. Maintaining a spreadsheet of existing citations and all of the relevant data required for new citations makes the process all the more efficient.

If you’re already doing so, great. If not, take this opportunity to get a document going from the ground up. With the sheer volume of directories and the varying degrees of cleanup required, it is also best to retain consistency with logins and passwords and to keep track of any issues you may run into. As local search cleanup requires some upkeep, this document will also be great for tracking citations; incorrect citations found, those being updated and those that are correct. Changes are often not immediate and you can easily lose track without proper maintenance.

Claiming Listings & Deleting Duplicates

Once you’re up to speed with locating incorrect citations and have established a means for documenting your local cleanup efforts, the actual clean up is in order. For some directories, this is a simple process; for others, not so much. Be prepared for plenty of captchas, phone verifications and email correspondence.

In most cases, there will be edit and claim functions within the directory’s listing, which is where creating a login will come into play. Again, keep logins consistent under one email if possible and always try to claim the listing as a business owner to secure the ability to edit the listing in the future. Here’s an example of our listing that is in need of some cleanup.

After locating the listing, we want to “improve this listing” or “Edit info for this business” depending on the page we’re on.

This will bring us to this page where we can claim the listing by clicking the link under “Are you a Representative of this Business?“, which will allow us to manage the listing under our account.

Once you have set up or logged into your account and can now edit your listing, it’s time to optimize.  Apart from NAP and domain, it’s essential to have a keyword rich description as well as quality photos and videos, and hours of operation. You’ll also want to make sure you’re choosing the right categories and being specific about your services.

Since citations can be created by local data providers, it is likely you’ll run into duplicate listings; multiple incorrect ciations on the same directory. Most directories will allow you to delete duplicate listings or have them merged after claiming and cleaning one up. Odds are if you’re doing cleanup, you’ll encounter many unclaimed and incorrect citations. Therefore, you’ll want to claim the most accurate listing, and then contact the directory support staff to request the removal of the incorrect citation (Warning: this can get tricky). As is the case with Yelp, once ownership has been proven through claiming and updating your listing, you can contact Yelp through their help section, and report duplicate listings while logged into your account.

While executing local search cleanup may not be the most lavish of a SEO’s job, it certainly ranks high in importance. By following the steps outlined in this post, you’ll be able to get your citations in order and secure a consistent NAP across the web.

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  • Great points here, Chris. One of the things my team and me are doing every single day is dealing with wrong/outdated/unclaimed/unfinished/duplicate local citations, and yes, organization is everything. The main problem is usually when the directory website requires phone verification. We’ve created specific coloring system in order to tackle all possible scenarios in a structured manner. I’d say citation clean-up is the hardest SEO work overall…

    • I agree Nyagoslav, citation clean up can certainly get tricky and become a harder task than expected. That’s why organization and some time saving tricks are so helpful. Coloring systems are a great idea as you’re bound to run into related issues time and time again. Unresponsive and or hard to reach directories only make it more troubling. Yet, as stressed throughout the post, it is like it or not a very important part of the SEO process and will continue to be a priority

      • Chris, I currently see as the biggest plague websites that REQUIRE you to pay to claim YOUR listing on their directory. It is even worse if the listing is incorrect. As I like to out such businesses, I’d gladly mention Judysbook and Merchantcircle here. Citysearch is very close to this, too.

        P.S. Gosh, the captcha on Thunder SEO’s blog is one of the hardest I’ve encountered!

  • Chris – great post. Thank you for putting this together. Without a doubt, consistent use of NAP is of the utmost importance, especially considering that not only is a business responsible for keeping its own online profile up to date, but also monitor and manage the conflicting listings that are created separately. Looking at Thunder’s situation in particular, it makes me realize that Google and “local search” don’t really reward companies for moving :-) Again, great post and very helpful illustration of the various tools.

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