Regularly performing citation audits is an essential element of local SEO strategy for small to mid-size businesses in gaining ground in local ranking, which is how your business is seen and found by searchers.

What’s A Citation Audit?

Before you can ensure you’re doing it, you have to understand what it is, right? Local citations are any online references to your business found across the internet. By reference, this means any element of your NAP+W – name, address, phone, and website. Citation audits are preformed to ensure that all NAP information listed is accurate, consistent, and not duplicated.

What’s So Important About Citations?

First, your NAP serves as your business’s own unique identifier. Think of it like your online fingerprint or Social Security number for your business. No one else should have the same NAP, which ensures searchers you are who you are and helps potential clients and patrons find you in general and through targeted-local search queries.

Secondly, search engines use the info within citations to determine a business’s physical location, and they use this geographic info to provide targeted, accurate results to local searchers. Google’s Pigeon update and other similar updates by major search engines now mean that a business’s physical address’ proximity to a user is a major factor in local search ranking, making it imperative that businesses have accurate and consistent address citations.

Where Are Citations Found?

From directory listings and social media to your local Chamber of Commerce, your NAP has multiple landing spots. Sometimes NAP is collected independently by data collectors and sometimes you or your local SEO firm has put it there as part of your online marketing strategy. In any event, these are all opportunities to increase your local ranking, but only if the NAP is consistent and accurate.

Citations can broadly be categorized as structured or unstructured:

• Structured Citations

These are standard to most business practices where complete NAP information is submitted on business directories, review sites, and official business listings. Think Yellowpages, Yelp, Angie’s List, and Better Business Bureau.

• Unstructured Citations

These are mentions of your business that aren’t directory-oriented and may or may not include your complete NAP. Think local branding sources like newspaper and magazine articles, social media mentions, and the blogosphere.

How Does A Citation Audit Work?

It’s only three steps, but those steps can be time consuming. The payout, however, to your ranking and local branding efforts will be evident.

Step 1: Make a list of any deviations from your current NAP info, including old phone numbers, change of address, name variations, starter web addresses, etc. that you’ve used in the past. Note – consistency is key; all citations must have the exact same spelling and grammatical usages.

Step 2: Conduct targeted searches using old info. This will help you pick up the unstructured citations across the web. You’ll likely need to make a formal request to have the NAP info corrected or updated if it’s any anyway inconsistent with your current NAP.

Step 3: Review your NAP info on at least the top 50 structured citation sources. If it’s not there, then create and submit it. If it’s there, but it isn’t accurate, then correct it. If it’s in any way inconsistent with your current NAP, then update it. If it’s there, but isn’t claimed, then claim and verify it. If duplicate content exists, then remove all but one.

Remember that a citation audit isn’t a once and done deal. Sources often pull from existing directories, but that doesn’t make them infallible. Same with new NAP citations on your own end. Typos and mistakes happen from time to time, and this is true even if you source out SEO. It’s best if you can do a citation audit every quarter of the year, but do at least ensure it’s part of your annual SEO reviews.

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