You’ve probably heard that search engine optimization (SEO) can improve your local search results so your business is found on Google and other search engines. There are literally hundreds of proven tactics for improving those odds, but one of the simplest, yet most important, ones is citation listings.

A citation is a mention of your business on a web site other than your own that includes your company’s name, address and phone number (NAP). The listing does not have to link back to your web site, but SEO and usability are improved by links.

Citations are the No. 1 ranking factor in competitive local search markets and can dramatically improve your local search results by strengthening search engine “trust” in the validity of your business’s existence.

Are you a brand new business? Then citation listings are critical for getting your footprint on the Internet. Creating citation listings is not a difficult process, but it is time-consuming. However, the benefits make it a worthy process to undertake.

Here are some tips and guidelines to follow when setting up your citations.

1. Create a spreadsheet to gather all the information you need in one place and help you track your progress. Information that you will need to gather includes the following.

  • Business name as it should appear in the listings
  • Exact address to be used (more on this later)
  • Phone number to be used in all listings
  • Company logo
  • A description of the company services
  • Photos of products/services or your company location
  • Addresses for social media accounts
  • Relevant industry certifications
  • Payment options
  • Hours of operation
  • Business categories (two to 10)

You must use exactly the same information on all of the citation sites. Search engines do not know that Suite 400, Ste. 400, and #400 all refer to the same unit address. Moreover, having multiple listings that are slightly different can actually hurt your SEO, so this is a critical point.

Before you fill out your first listing, spend time deciding how you will be listed. Some sites accept a two-line address; others don’t, so use a single line if possible.

Due to space limitations on the address line, you may need to abbreviate long addresses, especially those that include longer words, such as boulevard. If it doesn’t already, make sure the NAP information on your company web site is updated to match the one used for these listings.

2. Create an e-mail account that is used specifically for the citation process ([email protected] or [email protected] are good) or use the e-mail address of a company principal. Don’t use an administrative person’s address that you may not have access to in several years if you need to make changes.

Be sure to record the password you used for each site. It’s easiest if it is the same e-mail address and password for all the citation sites. This information will be critical if you need to make any updates at a later time so be sure to record the information on your tracking spreadsheet.

3. Go to the citation sites and create your listings. Some of the top sites include Google+, InfoGroup, Superpages, Localeze, YellowPages, Bing, Yahoo, Axciom, CitySearch, Factual and Hot Frog. Some of these are data aggregators that syndicate their data to smaller directories.

There are many other places to get citations, and while an Internet search will provide a host of ideas, some good ones to consider are your local chamber of commerce, business associations and industry and networking groups.

Every mention of your NAP data strengthens your search engine trust ranking, but be careful not to fall into the trap of buying listings from low quality paid directory sites. Also, although many of these citations have paid “upgraded” listings available, most basic listings are free, and that’s really all you need.

4. Be prepared for the verification process required on many sites. This can be in the form of a phone call or postcard sent to your business address with a code that you then enter online. Or it can be an e-mail with a link sent to the address you used to create the citation.

Each site will have its own verification process. Just track it in the spreadsheet so you know where you are in the process. If the site uses phone call verification, be sure to answer the phone with the exact business name used in the listings.

Some sites take longer to post the data than others, so don’t worry if you don’t find your NAP immediately after the verification is complete. Check each site a couple of weeks after you complete the verifications and use your login information to see if there are any errors or notifications on your account that need to be handled.

Are you an existing business? See how your NAP citations look by visiting When you enter your company name and zip code, a list of possible matches is returned.

If you are not the original provider of the NAP information, you likely will find several possible matches with variations of the NAP information. This can actually hurt your SEO efforts as the search engines will be uncertain which listing is correct to present in the search results. If you were at a previous address and didn’t update your listings, customers can be sent to a location that is no longer valid. If you are fortunate enough to just see one listing, click through and see which site listings are complete and what sites are recommended for further listings.

Cleaning up erroneous listings is a lengthy, painstaking process that might be best left to the professionals, especially if you do not have the login information used to create the original listings. But if you have the time (or a limited budget), the process is certainly one most business owners can tackle.

There aren’t many examples of marketing tactics that are simple, fairly inexpensive and enormously beneficial, but citation listings are one such tactic. It may not be easy, but it is simple.

Terri Hesse is the digital marketing manager at IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations in Columbia. She can be reached at 410-312-0081 or [email protected].