There are a lot of similarities between local search ranking factors and traditional SEO ranking factors. For example, its pretty well-known that you have to optimize your website and then build links to your site as a signal of popularity, trust and relevancy.
For local search, think of your Google Places listing as your website and citations as your links. To get more specific, citations are your businesses name, address and phone number listed on a 3rd party website. As Google crawls the web and finds instances of your name, address and phone number (no HTML link required), it records that as a citation.
Google Places (now Google+ Local) has historically been the victim of unscrupulous marketers trying to game the system by stealing competitors listings, hurting their rankings or using the system as a lead generation company without an actual location. One way Google tries to combat that is by trying to identify real businesses based on them having citations on other websites like Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, etc.
Google can also learn a lot about a business by citations. For example, if your business is prominently listed in many city/regional directories, its a strong indication about your location and popularity in those locations. There are also many industry directories you can obtain citations from which provides more signals to Google.
Step 3: Where to find citations
There are quite a few places you can obtain citations to improve your local search rankings. In addition to improving rankings, building citations around the web also can also list you in some major online directories which may actually drive calls and website traffic.
If you followed along in Step 2, youre already on your way to creating citations. In Step 2, we talked about managing your business data at the top local search sites and the 4 major data aggregators. If youve claimed, optimized and fixed those listings, youre creating citations.
One of the most efficient ways to create citations is through the data aggregators like Localeze and Infogroup. These companies can take months to distribute your data but when they do, its made available on hundreds of other websites, potentially creating hundreds of citations for you.
Google places a lot of value in industry-focused citations. If you spend much time online, youre probably pretty aware of some of the more popular websites for your industry. If you havent already, make sure to create your profile and match up your NAP data with the data in your Google+ Local profile.
For example, Avvo is a very popular website in the legal and health niches. Not only does this website have listings for lawyers and other professions, they also have a rating system, Q&A and other cool features built-in.
For most common professions, there are sites just like these available to build out a profile and participate in. In addition to popular sites like these, there are also general industry web directories that are more basic and just provide Yellow Page-style listings. Search on Google and Bing for terms like [industry] [city] directory or [industry] directory to find more citations sources in your industry.
Similar to industry citations, Google also places a lot of emphasis on citations on websites that are super focused on your city, state or region. In most areas, your local news portals will probably have local directories. Here in Utah, local.ksl.com is a very popular site. As mentioned before, these types of directories not only help you by building citations but could very well drive new business.
Start with the local directories that you already know about. If youve exhausted those, keep doing more Google and Bing searches to find more regional directories. Queries like [city] business directory or [state] business directory will usually turn up some that you may not have seen before.
Most of the citation sources weve mentioned so far are your more typical business listing sites but Google also counts unstructured citations. An unstructured citation is your business name, address and phone number on other websites (outside of business listing sites). For example, if Google found your NAP data in a news article, on someones blog or other websites, it may count that as a citation if it can confidently associate your name, address and phone number.
I definitely recommend started with structured citations in general, industry and local business listing sites first but if youve gone through all of those and arent ranked #1 already, you can move on to building unstructured citations.
If youre already promoting your businesses products or services on 3rd party websites like Craigslist, make sure to including your NAP data to make the most of your efforts.
Another great way to build unstructured citations is to include your NAP data on the traditional SEO link building you may be doing. For example, if you write a guest blog post, put your NAP data in your About the Author section.