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Just how important is local SEO for small businesses with a physical location? According to a recent study, 78% of local searches on mobile and 61% of local searches on laptops result in offline purchases. 

If you take a moment to consider the 7 billion monthly unique local searches that take place on Google in the US alone, that's a pretty decent conversion rate no matter how you slice the data.

So what exactly are these people searching "locally" for? Here's a breakdown of the top tasks that consumers perform when searching locally:

  • Searching for address/location
  • Finding a business with desired product/service
  • Searching for a phone number
  • Finding out hours of operation
  • Getting driving directions
  • Discovering coupons/special offers
  • Reading ratings and reviews

If any or all of those above tasks apply to your small business, then you'll undoubtedly want to pay attention to local SEO and make sure your business is covered when consumers are on-the-go or doing their research. Previously, I wrote a post that was intended as a primer on getting started with local SEO and all the different components that you need to pay attention to. 

In this post, I'll be getting into the nitty-gritty of what some consider to be at the core of local SEO, creating, double-checking, and optimizing local citations across the multitude of local business listing channels out there.

Let's take a deep breath in and dive right into it. 

Critical Local Business Listing Attributes

As a small business with a physical location, implementing local SEO best-practices may be just as or in some cases more important than traditional or broader SEO approaches. For example, have a look at the image below which highlights results from a study that captured eye-tracking data to determine that end users gravitate towards Google Places listings over organic listing:

Now, let's have a look at what a citation is, why is it so important, and why they're going to be the core of your local SEO strategy.

According to local SEO expert David Mihm, citations make up roughly 25% of the top twenty factors in his annual Local Search Ranking Factors. Additionally, during one of his presentations, he showcased the following visual breakdown of local ranking factors, but not without a disclaimer that they were based solely on his opinion.  

In case you're still confused about what a local citation is, as I mentioned in my previous post, a citation is simply put, a "mention" of your business name on webpages other than your own, followed by your address, phone number, or both, regardless of whether there is a link to your website or not. 

An example of a citation might be an online directory, like Yellow Pages, where your business is listed but not necessarily linked to.

Now another term you'll hear thrown around quite often in association with citations is the acronym NAP, which stats for name, address, and phone. However, there are other key items for consideration which includes photos, videos, and perhaps most importantly proper categorization.

Let's take a more in-depth look into the the top four main factors for when you're creating a listing:

1) Business Name

Your business name, otherwise known as your business title, is arguably one of the most important factors for ranking well in local search engine results. The key here being that above all you have to make sure that your title remains 100% consistent across every single data source on the web, it'll help establish trust in your existence and location tremendously. 

For example, if you decide to call yourself "Anne's Apparel Shop" in one listing and "Anne's Fitness Apparel Shop" in another, there's a big chance that Google as well as other search engines view them as two separate businesses when indexing your business. 

For extra measures, here's are the following provisions outlined by the Google Quality Guidelines for Local Businesses which go as follows: 

  • Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title.
  • In addition to your business’s real-world title, you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers.
  • Marketing taglines, phone numbers, store codes, or URLs are not valid descriptors.
  • Examples of acceptable titles with descriptors (in italics for demonstration purposes) are "Starbucks Downtown" or "Joe’s Pizza Restaurant". Examples that would not be accepted would be "#1 Seattle Plumbing", "Joe’s Pizza Best Delivery" or "Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas".

If you happen to be an aspiring business owner just finalizing your name, it'll help to really do some keyword research a head of time to get the perfect and "most optimized" name down.

2) Physical Address

The biggest thing to remember with NAP is consistency, consistency, and you guessed it, more consistency. Why does this matter for your physical address? Let's look at an example:

Here is your actual business NAP:

  • Anne's Fine Footwear, 123 Decadent Avenue, Toronto, ON, M5T 14L, 647-890-4555

However, on yellow pages, the sales rep listed your business as: 

  • Anne's Fine Footwear, 123 Decadent Av., Toronto, ON, M5T 14L, 647-890-4555

And, your Google Places account listing has the following information: 

  • Anne's Fine Footwear, 123 Decadent, Toronto, ON, M5T 14L, 647-890-4555

Well, guess what? Because of the meticulous and detail-oriented nature of search engines, they're going to consider all three listings as different businesses, which will ultimately lower their overall confidence and negatively impact your rankings.

Another factor to keep in mind is your actual physical location, as Google factors in how close or far your location is from the actual city center happens to be. Hypothetically, let's say you're a chiropractor, if your office is located near Google's idea of your city center, you have a better than of showing up for searches that involve location-based keyword searches like "Denver chiropractor" or "chiropractor is Denver;" especially when compared to other chiropractor offices located further away from the city centre. 

3) Phone Number

The same note about the importance of consistency applies equally to phone numbers, especially on the web. If search engines find several different phone numbers for your business location, you can be sure it will trigger red flags with their algorithms.

This also applies if you're in the habit of using several phone numbers for the sake of "call tracking," SEO experts recommend strongly against their use, if you're already running a campaign, they also suggest creating the number as an image as opposed to indexable HTML text. 

4) Categorization

According to Moz's 2013 survey of top local SEO experts, proper category associations were the most important signal of relevance.  But what is proper categorization you ask? 

When you proceed to create a local listing for your business in search engines, you'll be asked to pick 2-10 categories that best describe your business, which search engines then use to serve up results relating to keywords to users. Improper or absent categorization will severely impair your ability to rank for local keyword searches.

So, how do you go about optimizing category names? SEO expert Chris Smith has an in-depth blog post dedicated to help you do just that. Some of his top recommendations include: 

  • Do keyword research to discover common industry names consumers may be using to find companies like yours. 
  • Use Google Sets to discover search terms that Google considers to be semantically associated with category names you’ve already chosen.
  • Don’t restrict yourself to only broad category names

 Next up, let's look at where exactly to create online listings and citations for your business. 

Where to Get Citations

Alright, so that we've covered why citations are the foundation or cornerstone of any effective local SEO campaign, it's time to cover where exactly you should list your business for maximum impact. Here's a list with examples to get you started:

1) Local Search Engines

2) The Big 4 (Data Aggregators)

3) Social Media & Local Blogs

  • Make sure to have your NAP listed on all your social profiles. (Pro Tip: use the service knowem to snag your name for all major social networks and web services)
  • To find the top blogs in your local region, go to Google and search for "[your city] blog" to get the best candidates, as since they show up at the top of the serp, they'll be well-indexed by search engines

4) Local Directories & Newspapers

  • Search for either "[your city] + business listings" or "[your city] + directory" to get results, and be sure to get on your city's Chamber of Commerce website.  

The Best Local Citations for Your Business

To help you better understand what the best local citation is for your business by category and city, Moz Local teamed up with whitespark (a citation search tool) to come up with an impressive number of resources with helping you be on target. I highly recommend checking out: 

1) The Best Local Citations by Category

2) The Best Citation Sources by U.S City

Options for Managing Your Citations 

When it comes the actual implementation of your local SEO campaign, you have generally three options:

  1. Do-it-yourself
  2. Pay for subscription software
  3. Pay an SEO agency

Obviously, you'll have to account for things like the size of your small business and most importantly your budget when you make your decision, but below I break down these three popular choices so that you can make an informed choice.

Doing-It-Yourself Approach

The best post I've found on DIY citation building has to be Casey Meraz's "Finding and Building Citations Like an Agency" on the Moz blog. Not only does he do a great job of breaking down his recommended approach which I'll mention below, but he also provides a great citation building template for you to get your hands dirty with and start your local SEO campaign.  

The essence of his approach are the following three steps process called Check, Fix, Add, outlined below: 

  1. Check to see if the listing is there
  2. If the listing is there, make sure the NAP is 100% accurate. If not, fix it!
  3. If the listing does not exist, add it

Another neat hack he outlines which I think requires mentioning is the use of a tool called Roboform and it's feature called Form Filler which can help you automatically fill out the time-consuming forms for each of the platforms where you're looking to list and build citations.

Using Software to Do It

Here are the top software options you can subscribe to help you manage your citations: 

1) Moz Local

2) Yext

3) UBL

Not to be biased towards Moz Local, but I did find the pricing chart they put together on the DIY and the other software options to be helpful, and thought as someone reading this, you might too:

Hiring an Agency or Consultant 

Depending on how deep your pockets are or how much you've done or haven't done in regards to managing your local SEO campaign, an agency or SEO consultant can certainly be a viable option. Especially if the above options appear too daunting and are something you don't necessarily want to think about. To give you a gist of how much you might be paying, I've included this super handy infographic by the folks at, you guessed it, Moz in partnership with aytm:

Conclusion

Building citations for your physical location regardless of your industry is the cornerstone of local SEO and helping you get in front of consumers eyes in this most ready state for purchasing. Whether they're researching your location at home or on-the-go, you can't afford to overlook how well you currently rank and what the potential possibilities local SEO can open for you. Hopefully, this will get you started on the right foot. 

P.S. If you liked this post, you'll love A Beginner's Guide to Local SEO for Small Businesses and The Beginner's Guide to Keyword Research for Ecommerce.

P.P.S Running your own retail store? Check out Shopify POS. 


About The Author

Humayun Khan is a Retail Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from him on Twitter and Google+.