Links and Citations for Local Search – The What, Why and How

Links and Citations for Local Search – The What, Why and How
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Citations & links are powerful signals that influence both Local & Organic search rankings.

However it’s not uncommon for people to confuse the meaning and importance of links and citations. It’s important to recognise the difference between them though, because to maximise your site’s visibility for localised keywords you need to build both of them. Focusing on one at the expense of the other means that at best you won’t be as visible online as you could be, but at worst you won’t be visible at all (at least not on the 1st page of the search results).

Similarities & Differences Between Links & Citations

Links and citations are similar in that…

  • Both are online references to your business
  • Typically these references appear on 3rd party sites (at least that’s how most SEOs think of them)
  • They have approximately an equal weighting as (see below)
  • They can exist on the same page at the same time
  • Both have the potential to negatively affect your rankings if done incorrectly & particularly if they go against Google Webmaster Guidelines

They’re different in that…

  • A citation must include your Business Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP), but a link doesn’t have to
  • A link must be clickable (i.e. clicking it must take the user to your site), whereas a citation doesn’t have to be
  • All citations must be consistent, whereas links should be varied
  • Links improve rankings for both the organic search results & local business search results, whereas citations only improve rankings in local results
Local ranking signals

Local ranking signals (data from Moz.com)

 

What Do Links & Citations Look Like?

Links & citations can take many forms depending on the site & context that they appear on. These are some examples of what both links and citations typically look like…

Links:

this is a link within a phrase
click here
example.com
http://www.example.com

Links can also be embedded within images & widgets – think of Facebook icons which click out to Facebook.com)

Citations:

SEOmark, 34 Links Drive, Birmingham, West Midlands, B91 2DL (0330001152)

SEOmark
34 Links Drive
Birmingham
West Midlands
0330001152

SEOmark, 34 Links Drive, Birmingham, UK

SEOmark, located at 34 Links Drive in Birmingham, is run by Mark Walters. You can contact him at 0330001152.

Note: A full citation includes includes your complete NAP. A partial citation is one which includes only part of your NAP – maybe your name and phone number or name and address. A partial citation is better than nothing, but not as beneficial as a full citation.

Why Are Both Links & Citations Important?

double listing example

Google double listing

Links and citations are two of the primary factors that Google uses when deciding which businesses to rank in which positions in their local business search results (A-G listings). The basis of their thinking is that businesses who get mentioned a lot online are more popular than ones that get mentioned less and thus deserve higher rankings than them.

As well improving your local rankings, links and citations also provide more ways for people to find your business online. Consider each citation & link on as a small advert for your site. The more of them you have, and the more powerful the sites they exist on, the more people will see them and will visit your site or call you.

It’s important to build citations & links because if your site has lots of lots of one but few of the other, then competitors who have lots of both will almost always outrank you. Even for semi-competitive keywords, at least a few competitors will probably have 50+ links and 50+ citations, so if you you’re not able match them on both fronts, you’ll most likely be ranked below them.

For less competitive keywords, it can be possible to rank highly in the local business listings with lots of citations and few links, but building more links can achieve you a double ranking. This is where you rank highly in both the A-G listings and the 1-10 listings (see right).

How Many Links & Citations Do You Need?

How many you need depends on what keywords you’re trying to rank for and the strength of the competition for those keywords. If you’re trying to rank highly for ‘accountants Chicago’ then you’ll need a lot more links and citations than if you’re trying to rank for ‘accountants Durango’. Ultimately, in an ideal world you would want to have more of both than any of your competitors – Quality permitting of course.

Any general target for link & citation quantity can be argued against as it really varies from business to business, however, any small business should be looking to get at least 30 links and 30 high quality citations to get their SEO campaign off to a good start. Once you have that many of each, you can see after 4-8 weeks, where your site gets ranked, and that will give an indication of how much more work you need to do.

However it’s not purely a numbers game, as quality is at least as important as quantity. If your site has 25 links and 25 citations from good quality, authoritative sites, and a competitor has 100 links and 100 citations from low quality, spammy sites, then Google will favour your site. The competitor may initially rank higher, but over time either their site or the sources of the links and citations will get penalised, and they’ll lose their rankings. There’s more about what makes a high quality backlink on my site.

There are some useful tools that can audit your citations & help you benchmark your business/client’s business. Brightlocal offer a nice tool called Google+ Local Wizard which offers side-by-side comparison of your business vs top 10 competitors. It shows both the citation count, citation authority & also a list of each citation for you & each competitor.

Google+ Local Wizard report

Google+ Local Wizard

 


Finding Competitors Citations

It stands to reason that if a site is linking to or citing one of your competitors, then there’s a fair chance they would consider linking to or citing you also. In addition to this, finding out where your competitors have citations & links is a useful exercise in competitor analysis.

You can find citations in many ways, some manual & some automated. The benefit of using an automated tool is that it saves time & effort, but you do need to pay for them (approx. $20-50/month). Manual is free but more time consuming.

Automated Citation Finding

There are 2 well known tools that are used by many SEOs for finding citations. WhiteSpark.ca offer their CitationFinder tool which finds citations for your business & top 5 competitors.

BrightLocal also have a handy tool called CitationTracker. CitationTracker allows you to do 3 things –

  1. Identify your existing active citations
  2. See where competitors are listed but you’re not
  3. Find old or incorrect citations
CitationTracker report

CitationTracker

Manual Citation Finding

You can find your competitors’ citations by searching on Google for a competitor’s name and part of their street address. To do this, search Google for the keywords you want to rank for. Note down the name and street address of each competitor listed in the local business listings. Only 7 will be listed there, but you can find additional competitors by clicking on ‘Map results for…’ after the G listing.

Next, search on Google for each competitor using this search query:

“Competitor’s Business Name” AND “Competitor’s Street Address” -site:http://www.competitorswebsite.co.uk

As an example, to find out where my site is listed, you would search Google for this:

“SEOmark” AND “34 Links” -site:http://www.seomark.co.uk

Citation search

 

It’s important that you use both the quotation marks and the AND in the search query, and also to exclude results from the business’s own website (using site:http://www.), so as to keep the results as concise as possible. Also, don’t include road, lane, drive, etc. in the search query as some sites use abbreviations (Rd, Ln, Dr, etc.) for them.

Look through the first 10 pages of search results for each competitor and make a note of the urls where their business is cited. After combining the citation sources for each competitor, and removing duplicates, you should have somewhere close to 100 sources that you can get potentially get citations from.

Finding Competitors Links

You can find your competitors’ links by using a backlink analysis tool, of which there are at least 3 options: Ahrefs, Majestic SEO and Open Site Explorer. Ahrefs is recommended because it has the largest database of live links. It costs around $80 per month, however, you may only need to sign-up for a short time in order to complete all the research you need.

Search Google for the keywords you want to rank for. Note down the homepage urls of each competitor listed in the local business listings and in the main/organic 1-10 listings (or 1-20 for more competitive keywords).

Next, from your list, choose a competitor and enter the url of their site’s homepage into Ahrefs. You’ll be shown a list of sites that are linking to that competitor. Click on ‘External’ in the backlinks section, click on ‘One Link Per Domain’ to remove duplicated websites from the list, and sort the results by Domain Rank. Download the list, repeat the process for the other competitors, combine the lists together, and remove any duplicates.

Ahrefs referring pages

Ahrefs referring pages

 

Finding Additional Sources For Links & Citations

You can build on the list of sources found by researching your competitors by noting down the websites of…

  • Businesses you’re buying products/services from
  • Businesses whose products/services you’re selling
  • Local newspapers
  • Local charities
  • Local sports teams
  • Local clubs and groups

To find more sites, search for the below phrases on Google. Replace ‘keyword’ with a broad keyword (e.g. insurance, beauty, DIY, etc.) that covers your target keywords:

  • blog + intitle:”keyword” OR inurl:”keyword”
  • article + intitle:”keyword” OR inurl:”keyword”
  • website + intitle:”keyword” OR inurl:”keyword”
  • guide + intitle:”keyword” OR inurl:”keyword”
  • tag + intitle:”keyword” OR inurl:”keyword”
  • news + intitle:”keyword” OR inurl:”keyword”
  • magazine + intitle:”keyword” OR inurl:”keyword”

Look through the first 10 or so pages of the search results and note down any sites where the url, title and description indicate that it might be a good, relevant, realistic source to get a link from. Then, repeat the process with related keywords too. For example, if you’re a dentist, try replacing “keyword” with oral hygiene, cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening, etc.

To find location relevant websites, use the below search queries. Replace “location” with the area (town/city/county) that you’re targeting:

  • forum + intitle:”location” OR inurl:”location”
  • blog + intitle:”location” OR inurl:”location”
  • directory + intitle:”location” OR inurl:”location”
  • businesses + intitle:”location” OR inurl:”location”
  • magazine + intitle:”location” OR inurl:”location”
  • news + intitle:”location” OR inurl:”location”

Finally, use Google’s related: search query on all of the sites used in the methods mentioned above (including the competitor research). For example, related:www.yell.com. Note: this search query only works for some sites, so, if no results are returned, just move on to the next one.

Related: search

Related: search

 

Getting Links & Citations

Having researched the sources of your competitors links and citations, and run some search queries to find additional sources, you should have a list of at least 200 sites to potentially get links or citations from. The question then is – what reason is there for those sites to link to or cite your website?

If there’s no reason for anyone to link or cite to it, then few people will, and you’ll be left with only links and citations that you can generate for yourself (like profiles, blog comments and forum posts). Some DIY, free links and citations are ok, but those alone probably won’t be sufficient if you want your site to rank highly for even moderately competitive keywords.

In general, there are basically five reasons that someone will link to or cite a site:

  • They think your site is unique/interesting/engaging
  • They know you and/or owe you a favour
  • You link to or cite their site in return
  • You give them content to publish on their site
  • You provide them with a financial incentive – obviously not recommended!

A link is usually a result of one of these 5 ‘scenarios’ (whether good practice or not). The top one is obviously the best case scenario and that is what SEOs should aim for. It’s at this point that you really need to have something of value on your site that people will want to link to or cite. This is where you need to put your thinking cap on and start considering what it is that your business does that will engage / interest people. Create something good and maybe, just maybe, people will like it enough to link to it.

Additional Tips Related To Links & Citations

  1. For a citation to be beneficial to your site, it must match the NAP on your website and on your Google+ Local page. So, pick one NAP and use it consistently every time.
  2. Inconsistent or outdated citations can have a negative effect on your rankings, so reviewing and editing existing citations is as important as creating new ones.
  3. If someone has cited your NAP but not linked to your site, you can always contact them and request that they add a link. If someone has linked to your site but not listed your NAP, you could do the reverse and request that they list your NAP too. Not only does this benefit you but additional information also provides more value to their users.
  4. If your site has a link profile without a good share of branded links (like ‘Company Name’ and ‘www.companyname.co.uk’), it can signal to Google that you’ve been using manipulative link building tactics. This is obviously something you want to avoid.
  5. Building citations & links over time is preferable to building 100 in a week and then not building any again. The latter approach can signal to that you’ve engaged in unnatural practices.
  6. It can take weeks for your site to be credited for a new link or citation. First Google has to find the new link or citation, then they have to work it into their algorithm, then they have to update the search results.
  7. You can outsource link and citation building, but if you do so cheaply, the person/company doing it will be inclined to build easy, low quality ones, that may eventually result in your site being penalised by Google.
  8. There are a few online tools which offer Citation tracking & Citation building, including CitationTrackerCitationBurst from BrightLocal. –  perks of being the editor!

A note on buying links

Google and other search engines wish to minimise the impact of paid links in their search results. Whilst it is very difficult for them to detect and punish all examples of paid links, they spend a lot of time and resources into trying to do exactly that. Any websites caught buying links or partaking in unnatural link schemes risk severe penalties. For this very reason, we strongly recommend investing your time and effort on long term inbound marketing strategies that focus on building links naturally.


Got a different viewpoint on this subject or some useful insights you want to share? We’re interested in publishing unique content written by smart marketeers on our blog. Contact us with your details & ideas and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

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15 thoughts on “Links and Citations for Local Search – The What, Why and How”

  1. Great article Mark and well written. Some great information for SEO’s and local businesses too that wish to carry out the citation and link work themselves. BrightLocal are awesome and a company that I’ll certainly stay updated with. Thanks again for the impeccable info!
    Hans Storrie – SEO Northamptonshire, 6 Sheffield Walk, Corby, Northamptonshire, NN180NW. Tel: 07971366757

  2. Thanks for the feedback everyone. Andrew, do you mean you’ve seen plenty of examples of where lots of low quality links have outranked fewer high quality ones? I know it happens a lot, but I’ve found the Penguin updates to have been really effective at dealing with it. There hasn’t been a Penguin update for about 6 months now. I would expect the sites ranking highly at the moment using lots of low quality links to get hit on the next update, which hopefully will be very soon.

  3. Nice post. Nothing has really changed here though in a while, Google is still looking for quality and hints (links, citations, mentions, social signals) to confirm a business’s location and credibility to decide where to rank them. A couple of points here I always forget about, so good to be reminded of some techniques still available…

  4. Great write up Mark. Painting a clear picture of what a local citation is vs. a link is utterly important for us local search marketers when we need to explain the difference to our clients.

  5. Some nice info Mark. On the “quality v quantity” links argument, I think it would be helpful if you showed some real data/examples where that turned out to be the case. I don’t dispute the concept, but I have seen plenty of cases where it’s not the case.

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