What is a citation?
A citation is any mention of your business out on the web. It can come in various forms and consists of any combination of one or more of the following four items:
- Company name
- Company address
- Business phone number
- Website address
Note: It does not matter whether the information links to your website or not.
The accompanying spreadsheets provide links to various sites which contain citations for your business at its current location, and for the new location.
Citations come in various formats, following are examples:
- Company name only
- Company name & phone number
- Company name, phone number, & address
- Company name, phone number, address, & link to website
- Company name with website address
Why do they matter?
Citations are a basic part of helping your business be found online.
For local businesses (businesses with a shopfront or who work within a service area), citations are a must-have ingredient in your mix. Local SEO is all about “entity signals” – in other words, bits and pieces on the web that confirm your entity (your business) is for real, is where you say it is, and has a good reputation.
Citations play a key role in the overall “findability” of a business – as in, when people are looking for a business in their area. They also create many other avenues for people to find your business and read reviews.
When you want your business in the top 3 or have higher visibility overall, one of the your tasks is to “clean up” (correct the information) and claim your citations.
After claiming a listing, update it to be consistent with Google and other listings. In other words, don’t have your business listed as Fred Nerk Enterprises in one place, Fred Nerks on Google, and Nerk Inc on still another site. Google does tolerate some minor variations, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say to make them all the same.
And that includes the street address, phone number, hours, business categories and more.
One really good thing about business categories on citations is they help search engines better understand your business. Often people will say Google’s categories don’t accurately describe my business. Many citation sites will have the exact category, or even better, allow for a hierarchy of categories.
Where do they come from?
Citations can be found in a wide variety of places – some a business can control, some not. You may have the idea that since you haven’t built any citations yourself, they won’t be there. Unfortunately that’s not the case. And if you haven’t built these yourself, there’s a high chance they will have *wrong* information about your business.
Examples of sources include:
- Yellow Pages™
- Local business directories (such as TrueLocal, Womo, and lots more)
- Industry related websites (such as the Australian Dental Association)
- Newspaper articles online
- Social Media pages
On the image above (links not active), you can see a citation of a business from the Yellow Pages™. This has all sorts of info about the business including all four key elements. Citations can be this extensive, or completely minimal such as a business name written in a blog post.
[swpm_protected for=”2″ custom_msg=”<i class=”fa fa-exclamation-circle fa-2x” style=”color:#fb2056;background-color:;padding:0px;border-radius:0px;”></i> The remainder of this content is reserved for members”]
Please do the right thing. Do not share this information with anyone. It is provided as part of your package, you’ve paid for it (or gifted it as a way of saying thank you for your business). There are countless hours & years of effort, research and testing to accumulate this information; it is provided for your benefit. And the heavy stuff – it’s copyright protected under Australian Law.
All product names, logos, and brands remain property of their respective owners. All company, product and service names used in this document are for identification purposes only. Use of these names, logos, and brands does not imply endorsement.
Citation sites come in many shapes, designs and intents. Very often the sites you’ll be using for citations will be business directories.
Some are fully automated. They scrape the web, collect the information, and then post your business info amongst ads. Their aim is to generate revenue through advertising and they have little/no interest in the quality of your information.
The better ones of these will allow you to claim and manage the information about your business.
Other sites are both automated and tended with loving care. These sites typically offer free listings with the aim of getting business owners to pay for promoted or premium listings.
The diagram demonstrates how sites on the Internet spread information about businesses in the US. Australia and the UK work similarly, with different key sites as part of the network. You don’t need to know this in detail, it’s more important you understand the concept.
Always look for a pre-existing listing on a citation site.
Sites that already have your business listed will be on the spreadsheet. For sites listed that do not have a link to your business, double check before creating a new listing.
Didn’t receive a sheet? Download my template
The document accompanying this guide contains a list of sites where your business information has been found. When moving or changing significant details about your business, it’s important to people and search engines, that the information they find “out there” on the Internet is consistent.
Your sheet may contain multiple columns: Tier, Domain, Citation Link (URL), login, password and Comment/Link. If it differs, it will be due to customisation specifically for you.
- Tier is described below. In a nutshell it indicates the urgency and priority.
- Domain is a formula to help you identify duplicate websites and find important sites quickly. No need to enter anything.
- Citation link is what you’ll use in your browser to go straight to your listing. If blank, investigate the site to put a listing there.
- Login & password are for your records. Some sites use emails, others pseudonyms. This is an important registry to help you manage your online presence, so keep these details up to date.
- Comment / Link is where you’ll find important info about this particular citation.
- The rest of the columns are up to you – we’ve added the kinds of info we track.
Because it’s so easy to scrape or buy data and throw it up on the web, many local business directories started up as a means to generate revenue from onsite advertising, charging businesses for premium listings, passing leads onto businesses, or other “enterprising” means of making money.
Many of these local directories are good and credible, many more are not so much. Several of these sites also gather data and resell it. That’s one reason why you’ll find your business listed on websites you’ve never heard of before.
- Tier 1 – most important and most urgent
- Tier 2 – important, do soon
- Tier 3 – average, can work through over time
- Tier 4 – low quality site :-irrelevant, not geographically appropriate, too many ads, absolutely full of spam / fake listings, no way to update
Quality / quantity
More is not better. Quality & relevance over quantity.
Some people believe more is better when it comes to citations. That used to be true. Experience has shown quality counts over quantity. The list we’re providing you with is comprehensive, and may include some sites which are not as beneficial to your online footprint as you might like. Nevertheless, it helps for you to know your business is there.
You don’t need to do the whole spreadsheet at once. Do the whole top tier first (Tier 1), then work your way through Tier 2 over a week or two, then the Tier 3 over 3 -6 weeks. Tier 4’s are sites where there should be no harm in asking for your listing to be removed.
If you see a listing on a website that looks of poor quality (hard to navigate, looks cheap or covered in ads to the point you find it hard to find your info on the page), feel free to check back in with me about it.
If it’s a low-quality site you may want to ask your SEO to “disavow” any links from this domain for you IF your SEO can determine the site is a low quality site.
Claiming a Listing
Emails to use
For your own protection, contact these sites using an email that is associated with the domain of your website. This helps reduce listing hijacking. Yes, that’s a thing…
Create a second one just for managing the Tier 2 & 3 citations. Use your primary business email for the Tier 1’s.
If a second email isn’t possible, then use a gmail account.
The reason I ask you to create a second email for Tier 2 & 3 is that some of those sites are full of self-importance. They spew out automated messages, seeming to need to hear frequently how good they are for you. Others will try to convince you they can build the perfect website for you that will make gold rain from the sky.
Emails from the Tier 1 citations tend to be more important (such as the Google listing) and usually are important! As well, the Tier 1 sites tend to give you options about the type and frequency of messages you receive.
Examples of emails:
- Tier 1 – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tier 2&3 – email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Record and remember your passwords!
Claiming / Adding a citation
If you have the opportunity to claim the citation, do so by following the instructions on the webpage.
Typical phrases sites use to let you add complementary listings include “add your business”, “add listing” and so on. Typically, these are in the very top or very bottom of the web page.
Typical phrases to let you claim the listing include “is this your business” or “claim this listing”. Usually you find the link near the name & address.
Most will ask you to sign in to claim it. More on this in a bit.
Verifying Claimed Listings
Most citation sites that require verification will allow you to do everything via email. The very top ones often require phone calls. Those services will call the phone number on the business listing and provide a verification code that you then type in. These include: Apple, Bing and Yelp. Sometimes these codes are time sensitive, so set aside a block of time to do these all in one go.
Yellow Pages™ do everything over the phone if you’re a paid advertiser. If you’re using one of their free listings, you may have to become a paid advertiser for a short time to get anything done. This is a critical and key citation for Australian businesses, so it’s important the information here is correct. And unlike other parts of the world, the YP online are still a good source of clients for many businesses.
Google’s verification process is very often by postcode, and takes around two weeks. If you’re in a regional area it seems to take anywhere from 2-5 weeks. If it takes 5 weeks, the card will have expired and you will need to start again or contact Google Support.
Occasionally a listing will be able to be verified via Search Console or even more rarely by phone. Your Google listing may display in the local pack before it’s verified, but you won’t be able to respond to reviews or keep the information updated.
One more important note about Google verification process. Once you request the postcard, don’t do anything with the listing until the postcard arrives and you’ve entered the code. If you edit the listing while the postcard is in transit, it voids the verification code and you have to start the process all over again.
Nothing needs changing
If everything about your business listing correct including taglines, business hours, description and any other details possible. Mark as complete in the spreadsheet.
Logins needed to update information
Try not to use the social media login shortcut many of these sites offer, as it gives them access to information about you and your business they don’t need to know. Instead use your primary or secondary email, depending on the Tier level.
Updates often take weeks or months to get processed, so marking these as In Progress allows you to check on them periodically.
No logins needed to update information
If you do not need any type of login to change the information, change or add as needed. Sometimes this will be in the shape of an online completion form.
If verification is needed from the tech team, they will email you at the listings email you give them. You will be checking that email for the verification that it’s been changed.
Once done, note that one the sheet and mark as In Progress.
Only phone number belongs to your biz
If you come across a citation that doesn’t belong to you but has your phone number – change the info for that other business if possible (or alert that website that this is false and give them the correct phone) and make a whole new business listing on that site for yourself.
Sometimes a site will have more than one listing for the same business – typically it will be due to a variation in name or address. Claim & edit one, request the duplicate be deleted.
There are a few instances the best course of action is to ask the citation be deleted from their site. If in doubt, mark on sheet and feel free to ask us.
The site may require you to fill out an online form or you may need to email them directly if you can find an email address on the site somewhere.
- Any site that won’t let you sign up via email and only lets you sign up via a social media network fails the quality test.
- Sites with no way to login, change or request information to be updated.
Citations in Progress
Check on the In Progress listings once a month. If there’s no progress at the first 30 days, send an email inquiring as to the progress if you find a contact form. Repeat for the second month if needed.
If the site doesn’t update or communicate back within 3 months AND it’s not a key citation site, include it in the “disavow” list. Mark those citations as complete.
Once an In Progress site has updated the listing as requested, mark it as complete in your spreadsheet.
Login and claim your business listing here- https://mapsconnect.apple.com/business
If you don’t already have an Apple ID (email@example.com) account, you’ll be asked to create one.
This listing is important from a navigation perspective. While Apple Maps was initially very poor, the app has improved dramatically and is used more and more by iPhone users.
Login and claim your business listing here – https://www.bingplaces.com/
If you don’t already have a Microsoft account, you’ll be asked to create one.
Depending where you are and what your industry is, Yelp can seem critical or like a waste. Even if you’re sure none of your customers or potential customers will ever see you on Yelp, you need to create or claim this listing. Yelp feeds Apple Maps, Bing Places, and a few other key sources around the web.
If you’ve come to the article without a spreadsheet provided, this information is still for you! The only difference is you’ll need to do the legwork and fill out your own version of the template you can find here ->
Below is a list of sites I recommend as a minimum.
|Global||Yelp||https://biz.yelp.com||change domain to reflect country - eg Australia=.com.au, UK=.co.uk|
|Global||Google My Business||https://business.google.com|
|Global||Industry / Professional Association|
|Global||Local Council/ Chamber Commerce|
|Global||TripAdvisor||http://www.tripadvisor.com||change domain to reflect country - eg Australia=.com.au, UK=.co.uk|
A more exhaustive list of suggested sites can be found here: https://whitespark.ca/top-local-citation-sources-by-country/. I generally would recommend only their top 20 in any list.
Be mindful of what you read earlier – more is not better. Be choosy (if you’re a plumber or real estate agent, why would a site like TripAdvisor be relevant for you).
Another way to find good citation sources is to “google” your competitors. Do this with 4-6 in your region. Look down the list of sites in the organic listings and make a note of the sites. Keep track of how many times that site comes up in your searches. From that list pull the top 20 and add to your spreadsheet.
Clearing an old business out
If you’re moving premises and another business has been there before you, chances are their business will have citations as well. If search engines find two businesses listed at the same place, the older business is likely to be considered a safer bet to display to searchers.
Previous business gone out of business
If the premises belonged to a business that has gone out of business, then the previous owner has zero motivation to clean up”the old data. In that instance, you get the “pleasure” of tracking their listings down and reporting the business as closed on all the sites.
It’s important to do this so search engines and people don’t have conflicting information about which business is at the physical location.
Previous business moved
If you’re able to contact the owner, encourage them to update their data, as it will only serve to help them in their new location.
If they don’t understand or can’t be bothered, then you get the job. It’s nice if you update their listing to the new details, but not required.
A word about Sensis (in Australia)
Sensis is a huge organisation with multiple brands under its belt. Data that comes from one source can be spread across multiple sites. That can be a problem if the data is incorrect.
Sites that can be good for citations or marketing that also fall under the their banner include:
- True Local (only site you can set up and maintain the listing entirely)
- Yellow Pages
A Final Note (or two)
Citations might seem overwhelming and confusing at first. Every site has its own way of going about things, and every site has its own design. Take your time, be patient with yourself, and feel free to leave one and come back to it later. Sometimes it seems “that wasn’t there when I looked yesterday!” – it’s OK, it happens to everyone.
After a while you realise they’re more tedious than anything.
Examples of Claim Options
In page links/buttons
Keep your sheet!
You may not have realised in the process of fixing your citations, you’ve created an asset for your business. You’ve created a registry of where your business is found online.
You have also likely created a registry of sites where customers leave reviews.
Should you ever move locations, use this list to update your business info to your new location.
This sheet now becomes a living document, one you can refer to regularly. As new mentions for your business are found, simply add them to your list.
This registry also would be something you would hand over to a new owner should you sell your business.
The not-so-pretty truth
Cleaning up and creating citations is tedious and time consuming. There, I said it.
The truth is it’s not anyone’s favourite job. However, this is the sort of task you can do in bits and pieces and over time. The faster you do it the better, but you don’t *have* to try to do it all in a day or a week.
You can pay people to do it, but be wary. If the deal is cheap, then they will be using one of two things:
- Automation – OK to a point. Not typically my preferred option unless the volume is huge and the budget just isn’t there to do this manually and properly. Even then I reserve the automation to some of the level 2 & any 3 Tier citations. Level 1 is just too critical to rely on a machine getting this right. As well, some services have gotcha’s if you choose not to pay month after month, year after year.
- Cheap Labour – attention to detail is not their forte. They make mistakes it can be nigh-on impossible to fix some of them.
If you’re on a tight budget, do what you can manually yourself. That’s why I published this guide.
If you get part of the way through this and simply cannot bear another minute of doing this yourself, let me know and I’ll get one of my team to help.
Send me an email with a couple of options for when you’d be free to have a chat. You can ask me questions about anything that’s not making sense, or needing help with a site or two.
I have been working with local businesses as a Local SEO specialist since 2010 and as a Google My Business Product Expert (formerly called Top Contributor) since 2016. I write about GMB suitable for most folks, business owners included.
When not working for clients, I volunteer with the local businesswomen’s network, volunteers on Google’s forum, and the Local Search forum.
Away from the keyboard I’m a very busy mother with two boys, nine chickens, two cows, three sheep, a cockatiel and a stupidly happy dog.
Read more about me on the “about” page!