Local SEO For Your Business Part 2: Citations & Competitor Analysis

Jonathan Foster
Apr 6, 2016 · 15 min read

This post originally appeared here: Local SEO for Your Business Part 2: Citations and Competitor Analysis

Citations are one of the most important elements of local SEO, whether you are a local business owner giving SEO a shot yourself or an experienced SEO consultant helping out a client.

Citations are very similar to backlinks in that they do typically provide a link back to your website. However for local businesses, citations are even more powerful. A citation specifically refers to a complete listing for your business — typically including your name, address, phone number and website along with miscellaneous other information. Citations usually include a link to your website, but not always. A citation is just a listing on another website that mentions your business, usually along with location-related data and a link.

Citations help you with local SEO by showing Google consistent data regarding your location and contact information. This reinforces that you do business in a specific area, and therefore should be ranked for search terms related to that particular region. Without citations, your business website will be unable to reach customers in your local area and for the most part, search engines will be unable to tell where exactly you do business.

Although there has always been some debate regarding the value of citations for local SEO, it is generally accepted the citations are necessary at least to some degree. I have personally found citations to be a very powerful tool for local SEO, and building citations effectively can also open up opportunities for lesser-known SEO techniques such as ‘barnacle SEO‘ — which we will cover in a later post.

Local SEO citations must be consistent

If you read part 1 of this series where I took you through a local SEO audit and some basic on-page optimization, you will remember that it is crucial for all of your citations to be identical in spelling, formatting and wording. Feel free to shake things up in your business description, but all contact information, location data and official business information should be identical.

Since citations are what primarily influences Google’s understanding of where your business is located, citations with mismatched addresses, phone numbers and other information tends to confuse search engines and hurt your local SEO rankings.

You should still have your local SEO audit worksheet — keep this worksheet open while you complete these steps to ensure that all of your citation data matches and is up-to-date.

For this post, we will be using a new worksheet. Get your local SEO citation + competitor analysis worksheet here!

Begin by auditing your existing citations

Similar to performing a local SEO audit, you should always begin by analyzing your current business citations.

Since most of you probably do not have a list of all your citations on hand, I highly recommend using BrightLocal to find your current listings. BrightLocal is a paid service (and very handy for building citations after this step is complete), however they do offer a free trial period that you can use to find and edit your current citations.

A note on paid citation building services

In the course of this tutorial, you will probably see ads for services like Yext that claim to help you build citations.

While these services do work, I do not recommend using them — Yext in particular. Manually building your citations is much better than a paid service in my opinion, particularly since if you decide to unsubscribe from Yext, your citations return to whatever they were before you purchased Yext’s services.

Manually building citations gives you much finer control over the citations in case you need to alter them alter on. Additionally, Yext’s monthly fees are a bit unreasonable considering you are literally just paying them not to delete your citations.

There are some exceptions though, as Yext does offer guaranteed inclusion in certain data aggregators and harder to access directories. If you have the budget for that specific service, go ahead. However understand that those are not absolutely necessary, and that most of Yext’s services are unnecessary and overpriced.

Change any existing citations to match your current business information

Now that we have that out of the way and you have a list of any current citations, go back through your local SEO audit worksheet and verify that all of the information on each citation is accurate and up-to-date.

If you do not have any citations currently, you can skip this step. However if you do have citations (for example a YellowPages.com listing) you need to check this extremely thoroughly. Inconsistencies in your citations can be a huge headache to deal with later on.

What citations should you use for local SEO purposes?

There are numerous websites that allow you to list your business on them. Most of these websites are referred to as directories. Remember a citation is any listing that also includes location or other information regarding your business.

While directory listings by themselves can be valuable for SEO, for most local businesses you will want to focus on citations at first.

Top 15 citations every local business needs

Of course, some citations are more valuable than others. Below I have included the top 15 citations I try to acquire for every SEO client I take on. While you do not have to get listed in all of them, try to get your listing in as many of them as possible. Some are free, others are paid. Do whatever makes sense for your business.

1: Google My Business

If you followed my last tutorial on local SEO audits and on-page SEO, you should already have this set up. If you do not currently have a Google My Business page set up for your business, I would highly recommend checking out that article to set up your page.

Google uses My Business pages very heavily in local search results. Information like hours, prices, address, website and even photos are pulled from your Google My Business page and placed directly in search results. Obviously if you do not have a page configured, you are missing out on traffic and exposure. This should be your top priority if you do not currently have a Google My Business page.

2: Bing Places

Bing Places is essentially Bing’s version of Google My Business. While Bing gets far less search traffic on average than Google does, having the citation will still count in your Google rankings and also opens up the possibility of getting additional traffic from Bing.

It only takes a few minutes to set up, and it has a lot of potential for both exposure and traffic.

3: Yelp

Yelp is the titan of local business citation sites.

Yelp allows users to leave reviews for businesses and find great businesses in their area that can solve their problems. For our purposes though, it’s another great citation. Yelp gets massive amounts of traffic each month, so depending on what city you live in you may get a fair amount of traffic directly from Yelp.

Be warned though, Yelp tends to act kind of like a bunch a mobsters. They will likely try to pressure you into purchasing Yelp advertising in exchange for some ‘protection’ against bad reviews. It’s a dishonest practice that makes lots of people very angry (myself included). However, you can typically ignore their threats and just keep your citation.

4: Facebook

If you are not on Facebook already, you should be on Facebook as a business.

Not only does a Facebook business page offer you extra exposure locally, it also gives you another way to connect socially with your target customers. Since 90% of businesses are on Facebook nowadays, users are sometimes wary of companies that do not have an active profile here. Additionally, having your contact information and a link to your website makes a great citation here.

5: YellowPages

YellowPages is a pretty obvious citation to acquire. YellowPages.com gets huge amounts of traffic and is a go-to resource for many people searching for local service providers. YellowPages is particularly useful if you offer a local service rather than a specific set of products.

6: LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be used much the same as Facebook when it comes to local SEO citations. Having a business page on LinkedIn will give you additional exposure, contribute to a more professional image, and help to facilitate more communication between you and your target audience.

7: Angies List

Angies List is specifically meant for paid subscribers, so if you are already a paid subscriber to Angies List, all the better. However they do allow you to create a free listing quickly and easily. Although the information provided with the listing is pretty minimal, it does provide a fairly high authority citation for your website.

8: Merchant Circle

Merchant Circle, although not as well known as Yelp or Yellow Pages, is a top citation source for many businesses. Personally, I love that Merchant Circle allows you to include so much detailed information for your listing and that the listings themselves actually look pretty good.

Merchant Circle citations are also very high authority, and are a great way to get started with Barnacle SEO.

Additionally, Merchant Circle offers some very interesting lead generation and advertising options that you may want to check out if you have a little extra in your marketing budget.

9: Manta

While Manta primarily focuses it’s attention on smaller to medium-size businesses, it is still a great citation source for any company. If you are a particularly small business or you only serve a very small area, Manta should definitely be a focus. Manta also has extremely high authority behind it, so your time spent setting up this citation will NOT go to waste.

10: BBB

The Better Business Bureau is a highly-trusted business organization that is quite valuable whether you are an accredited business or not. If you have the cash on hand, paying the dues and being accredited by the Better Business Bureau is definitely worth it. Being an accredited BBB member changes your NoFollow link in their directory to a Follow link, thereby making it more valuable.

Even if you do not choose to pay to be accredited, you can still list your business for free and acquire a very high-authority citation.

11: Super Pages

Super Pages is very similar to Yellow Pages, although it does tend to focus a little more on small businesses. While this one isn’t the most powerful citation source out there, many businesses neglect setting up a citation here. By setting up a listing on Super Pages, you can get an extra citation that your competition may have forgotten about.

12: Foursquare

Foursquare has been a top citation source for a long time. With it’s integration on Facebook, it can provide some additional exposure to your Facebook page as well. This is particularly useful if you have a physical location that your customers may want to check in at.

13: Mapquest

Mapquest is now partnered with Yext, so they have gone to some additional trouble to encourage paid listings. At first glance, it appears that they do not support free listings. In fact they do offer free listings, you just have to look in the right places.

If your business is not yet listed on Mapquest, you will need to send an email to their support department requesting to be included in their directory. You will need to include your business name, address, phone number, website, appropriate categories for your business, and the latitude and longitude of your business. You should receive an email back within a few days telling you that your listing has been added. It typically takes an additional 2–3 days for your listing to actually show up in their search results.

Be sure to check whether your business is already on Mapquest. Do a quick search on their site, and if you find your business just go ahead and claim it.

14: Youtube

YouTube is not the most obvious citation source, but it is certainly a powerful one.

Maintaining a YouTube channel for your business can really help you connect with your existing customers and boost your exposure to reach new customers as well.

If you choose to set up a YouTube channel, you can turn each video you post into a citation by including your business information and a link to your website in the video description. If possible, try to set up your YouTube channel using the same email that you use to manage your Google My Business / Google+ page for your business.

When you post a video, include the video recording location under the Advanced Settings section. This will geotag your video and help tie your business information to the location of your business.

15: Your local Chamber of Commerce, or a similar local government website

You may have to pay membership dues or some other type of fee, however getting listed in your local Chamber of Commerce’s members directory or your local government’s Local Businesses page can do a lot to legitimize your business and make everything look official. This is particularly useful if you are a very small or very new business.

Bonus: Try to get listed in major data aggregators

Large data aggregators tend to take longer to get listed in, and sometimes require a membership fee. However these aggregators are specifically designed to take in massive amounts of data and then distribute it to relevant sources.

By getting listed in a couple of these aggregators, you can have a hands-free citation building source. Typically data aggregators will only share data with larger citation sites, but this will still reduce your workload quite a bit. Having this done can also allow you to search for more niche-specific citation sources or web directories that could be valuable for your business.

My two favorite aggregators are Factual and Infogroup. They are the least hassle to deal with, and are usually pretty quick about verifying your listing.

Local SEO and competitor analysis

Now that we have a good base of citations to work off of, we can start the really fun part: stealing your competitor’s links.

Don’t worry, it’s not dishonest even though it sounds like it.

Competitor analysis (among other things) allows you to take a peek at your competitor’s backlink profile (a list of links and citations pointing to their website). By analyzing their backlinks and citations, you can then search out the most valuable links and replicate them for yourself.

Competitor analysis and replication is honestly one of the quickest ways to get results in your local SEO. This is particularly true since most local sites will have links from free citation sources, web directories or similar sites. Many of your competitors will also have several bad links pointing to them that are actually dragging them down in search engines. By avoiding the bad links and replicating the good ones, you can build up your authority without those bad links dragging you down — thereby pushing you higher than your competitors in search engine rankings.

How to spy on your competitors

There are several different ways to get valuable data about your competitors’ websites. Depending on which one fits your personal needs, I would recommend checking out one of the following:

  • Majestic SEO
  • Ahrefs
  • Moz Pro
  • SpyFu (SpyFu offers some additional information that can be very valuable, like your competitors’ most valuable SEO keywords and PPC terms)

Each of these services will allow you to look at a basic (albeit limited) competitor report for free. However if you want to view the complete stats, you’ll need to pay for a membership.

Alternatively, you can typically find someone on Fiverr who will run the report for you. If you’re a particularly small business, getting the report done on Fiverr is probably your best option since it’s quite a bit cheaper and you can just get new reports as needed.

When you get a report for your competitors’ websites, you will see a lot of different information. Right now we are primarily concerned with their backlinks though. Specifically we want to know how many they have, how valuable they are, and which ones we might be able to replicate.

Find the list of backlinks in your report, and you should see a couple of metrics associated with each link. On Majestic you will see Citation flow and Trust flow, on Moz you will see Page authority and Domain authority. Sort your list so that it shows the links with the highest Trust flow, or the highest authority metrics. This will show you the most valuable links that your competitor has, and you can then start trying to replicate them.

For example if you see a competitor who has been listed in a business directory, and that directory has high trust / authority metrics, you would do well to get your own website listed in the same directory so as to match your competitor. Some websites will require a fee to be listed. If a directory is particularly high authority, go ahead and pay the fee for membership. However you will want to ensure that it is a very high-authority website. Some directories will request a reciprocal link (a link from your website back to their directory). I would recommend not using reciprocal links. They tend to be categorized as link schemes by Google (which they are), and you risk getting penalized for them.

Replicating only the best links

Remember that not every link your competitors have is going to be valuable. Every website will have some spam or otherwise low-quality links pointing to it. Our goal here is to replicate the backlinks that are the most valuable, without picking up any bad links along the way.

Before you replicate a link, take a good hard look at the website and try to determine if a link from that site will appear spammy. Does the site look trustworthy? Does it have high trust and/or authority ratings? Does the website look up-to-date and modern?

If you have doubts about whether or not a website would provide a high-quality backlink, don’t submit a link until you are sure.

Although PageRank (PR) is a bit outdated, it is still a fairly good way of determining the value of placing a link on another website. There are several toolbars you can install on your browser to check a websites’ PageRank, and Moz provides a really nice toolbar for most browsers that will automatically pull the target site’s Domain authority and Page authority. The higher the PR and Domain/Page authority, the more valuable the link.

Just remember that if a website appears spammy or suspicious, probably best to leave it alone even if it does have high trust metrics or PageRank.

Cautions and considerations

In some cases, you may feel the need to replicate some lower-quality links to outrank a particular competitor. Only resort to replicating low-quality links if youabsolutely have to. In general, if you have replicated all valuable links a competitor has and they are still outranking you then they are probably ranking higher based on the volume of links that they have and not the quality of those links.

Having a high number of spammy links is a huge red flag for Google and will definitely come back to bite them in the end. Before you start replicating lower-quality backlinks, look for citation and backlink sources that are high value but that your competitor does not have in their backlink profile. Getting just one or two high-value backlinks or citations may make all the difference for you.

Remember that your backlinks need to be natural. It is totally fine to link to your website when you comment on a blog post or two, but suddenly acquiring 5,000 blog comment links in less than a week is clearly not natural, and Google will notice. Build up your backlinks and citations consistently, but not all at once. A sudden spike in backlinks and citations is another red flag for Google even if those links are totally natural — Google doesn’t know what you are doing and has to judge whether or not you are spamming based on your behavior.

I would also recommend doing some research on your own to find potential citation and backlink sources that could be particularly valuable to your business. Try searching Google for niche-specific web and business directories, blogs you could guest post on, things of that nature.

All in all, just be patient, be reasonable, and be very picky when it comes to the volume and sources of your backlinks and you will begin ranking before you know it.

Conclusion:

Citation building and competitor analysis and replication are both extremely powerful SEO tools for local businesses. However, if you use them incorrectly you can land yourself a Google penalty very easily.

Any time you are working on your SEO, keep in mind that you need to be patient. In SEO, people who play by the rules will always win in the long run. Be patient, keep working on your SEO by building up your authority in a natural way, and you will see results.

If you want to start ranking higher, I would highly recommend checking out my local SEO audit and on-page optimization worksheet and guide first, then moving on to citation building and competitor replication.

Call to action:

Now it’s your turn! What has been your biggest issue with local SEO for your own business? Which of these tactics do you plan on implementing first? Tell me in the comments!

Want to learn more?

If you want to learn more about boosting your local SEO for your business, you should sign up for my local SEO masterclass on April 27th! We’ll be covering everything you need to know about performing your own local SEO audit, analyzing and replicating your competitors and developing your own SEO strategy.

Sign up by clicking here>>

Jonathan Foster

Written by

Kentucky-based web design and SEO consultant who loves all things internet, reading and (lately) Blab.im streams.

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