Citation Secrets – Demystifying SEO Citations for Local Google Maps Rankings

Citations are the holy grail when it comes to ranking in Google Maps and getting to the top 3 local snack pack

However, most people go about doing it in a random manner. In this post I will try and list out a structured method to go about building citations – weather you plan to do it in-house or outsource it, its essential that you understand the citations ecosystem and the strategy behind doing this correctly for your SEO clients or inhouse projects.

Before I get started, (if you’re not aware) you need to know that…

Local Maps SEO is completely different than Organic Search SEO


The algorithm that is responsible for ranking business listings on Google Maps is different than that which is used for the Organic Search results. Two different algorithms are running for each of them. Ranking in one does not assure you of ranking in the other! 

Also, the Google Maps results block only shows up when the algorithm thinks the search has local intent and the user is looking for a business result for local based intention.

With that said, lets get started…



What is a Citation?

A citation is basically any webpage on which three things about your business appears. These three things are abbreviated and referred to as NAP.

  • Name 
  • Address
  • Phone Number

This data (when it appears together and consistently across many sites) – confirms to Google that your business is real because it is being listed in different places online. This passes down ranking power for your business on Google Maps.

You need to make sure that your NAP data is consistent across all your listings on these websites. For example, “Street” vs “St.”  in the address. Try and stick to one version on all your submissions. Eventhough Google made an update to their local algorithm to treat these both as one and the same – I would still advice you to be consistent, even to the level of having commas in the same place throughout your submissions. 

Your master address (the one that you refer to for submissions) – is the address on your Google My Business page. That address has been verified by Google (postcard verification if needed) and so it uses that as the original reference, and so should you!

There is two kinds of NAP submissions you can do…


Structured and Unstructured Citations

Structured citations are basically websites  that are directories. These have a fixed format for all the listings / businesses that appear in them. “The Data is strcutured” and Google knows that. Every page and listing has a consistent layout through in which the data appears and can be crawled by Googlebot and checked against your master NAP data for a match.
While building out your citations – Structured Citations should be done first.
Unstructured Citations – are the other places where your NAP data appears on webpages in an unstructured format. This means that the webpage or website is not really a directory site. These are what I would call “unstructured citation NAP mentions”.  The page has your NAP data mentioned in it. anywhere else your NAP appears. For example a Web2.0 website. These should be done after majority of your structured data methods have been done.

Different Types of Citation Sites

When you are looking for structured or unstructured places to post your citations – you have to classify your citations on different Tiers based on the power and relevance (niche) each could give you.
I generally use a 3 tier structure where Tier 1 sites are the most powerful. Then I go about adding the sites to my Tier categorization so I know which sites are most powerful and need immediate attention to – or for which I need to check my citations every once in a while.

Location or Niche Specific Citations

A citation site could be location specific or it could be niche specific.  Of course it could be both locations specific AND niche specific – which would give the maximum juice!
When you go about your categorization of target citation sites into their Tiers (power and relevance).
You should start by looking for Directories (structured citations).

Top Directory Sites

These are the top directory sites at a global level across all niches. They list all types of businesses in different categories and niches and located all over the world. An example of this would be Yelp, YellowPages , City Search etc. I will talk about ways to uncover these site later in this post.
A good infographic below by Moz shows how the different directory sites ecosystem is structured. They depict a different ecosystem for some different countries and you should definitely check it out here if you are doing local SEO for clients.
local seo moz
You will absolutely need to ensure that you submit citations to as many of these top tier gobal sites as possible, starting with the bigger and more prominent sites. Majority of these sites are free. But, it is a tedious process of manually submitting to them.
You can hire a outsourced citation submission provider, or a VA, or even a “Data Aggregator” service to do this for you. If you’re hiring a VA (the cheapest option) make sure you pass down proper instructions or a list of sites (if they don’t have one already).

Finding Hyper-Local Directory Sites (structured)

These are hyper-local submissions. They sit in Tier 1 and are as powerful as the bigger sites because they are specific to the location of your business. Very few people know how to find these and miss out on the power that these could have on your Google local maps listings.

Find via Competitor Sites

You could uncover these sites by looking at the top competitors to see if there are any geo-located directories their listing is on.

Find via Google Search

You could search google for …. “business directory + location/city”.
For example, you could search – “business directory chicago” without the quotes of course.
This will show you any directories that are specific to Chicago. You will get a mix of the top directory sites that also accept submissions from Chicago and you will see directories that are specific to Chicago submissions.
What you want to be doing is picking the websites that have the word “chicago” in the domain name itself.
For example, 
This will tell you that it is hyper-locally relevant to Chicago only, which is exactly what we are looking for.

Finding Hyper-Local – Unstructured Sites

You could also find locally relevant websites that are not directories to submit your NAP data to.
Remember, for Google local your NAP data just needs to appear consistently and together on wherever you submit. 
You can go about looking for local city specific forums, blogs, local city community sites, local chambers of commerce, local radio stations, etc. See if you can post your NAP data on them for free by registering. If they ask for a small fee for a citation / mention or a page in which your NAP data appears as text all together exactly as you want it – it may be well worth paying it. In many cases the amount will be small like $25 to $50… but that depends on each site!

Finding Niche Specific Sites

This helps in ranking your listing higher in Google Maps. Although the geo-location signal is a stronger ranking factor in Google Maps, having your citation appear on niche specific sites also helps a lot. 
Again, these niche specific sites could be structured sites or unstructured sites.
Niche Specific Directories will only list businesses that are specific to the niche. For example a Dog Breeders Directory Listing Site for dog sellers.
Niche Specific Unstructured Sites – could be forums, blogs, community sites etc in your industry that talk about your niche and attract your niche community. 

Secret Google Searches 🙂

As always, I try not to hold back some amazing stuff. You’ve read so far, and stuck with the post – and so, I’m going to reveal a nice little SEO secret tip. 
When you go about searching for sites to submit you want to make sure that you find as many sites as you can that are good to submit to. Here’s some neat little searches that you can do and what they will do for you.

Finding Hyper-Local Directories

Search: city + business directory
Example: chicago business directory
Tip: look for websites where city is in the domain name
You can get a lot of free directories in local sites this way, just make sure they are not national or global directories.

Finding Niche Specific Directories

Search: keyword + business directory
Example: dog breeder business directory

Finding Hyper-Local Unstructured Sites

Search: city + blog
Example: chicago blog

Finding Niche Specific Unstructured Sites

Search: keyword + forum
Example: dog breeder forum

Finding Your Competitors Citation Sites

By uncovering your competitors citations you can simply imitate your top competitor’s citations by analysing them and reverse engineering their citations submissions.

You will find gold with this method, and you will find citations you would not normally.

Simply take the top 3 to 4 competitors and start uncovering all the places they have submitted their citations to. 
There’s different ways to uncover your top competitors citation sites.
Unlike organic SEO in which you have to figure out how to drop the backlink in local SEO you can easily submit to 99% of the citation sites where your competitor has listings – as they will mostly be free sites and have simple submission forms. 
However, finding these sites does take a little bit of tricky searches in Google.
You can start by searching for the competitors Name and Phone Number, as under…
Search: “name” + “phone number”
Example: “Joes Pizza” + “(888)-123-5678”
Its very important that you use the quotes as shown in the above example! This is because you want the pages with exactly these strings.  Make sure to use the data exactly as they have entered it in their Google My Business page or on their website. 
Result: This will show you all the pages that have their name and phone number, and you can start adding these to your data set.
Do note that you will find both structured and unstructured sites that they have submitted their citations to!
You can also search for the competitors “Name” + “Address”
Search: “name” + “address”
Example: “Joes Pizza” + “121 Lawrence St., Chicago 333451, IL”
Again, the same applies as above. you will get a lot of results that you already have from the Name + phone number search, but you may find some hidden gems.
TIP – Keep in mind that the sites that show up higher up in the organic SERP are the ones with the most power. So, you must cover as many of these as possible.

Trying Variations of Phone Number or Address

Once you have exhausted the list, you can go ahead and try some variations in the way you write the phone number or the address.
For example, if you searched with…      chicago + (888)-123-5677 
You can now try a variation like…     chicago + 8881235677
Just swapping around and not using the brackets may give you some other hidden gems! This is because they could have submitted without the brackets (parenthesis) on some sites or the sites display search results without the brackets. 
When trying address variations, you could try “Street” instead of “St.” or if they have a Suite # try it without the #. 

Powering Up Your Citations SEO

You can take these search methods to a whole new level by some simple tricks below…
  • You can power up these search methods by clicking on the LSI results at the bottom of the page and see if it gives you more results.
  • If you’re familiar with Scrapebox you can enter variation searches in it and automate and speed up the process.
  • Also search for counties, neighboring cities, towns etc. Instead of sticking just to the city you can submit to locations around it, and then also look for domain with neighboring location city/country/location name in them! (just like I mentioned above)
  • Press Releases is a great way of getting Mentions of NAP all over the web on non-directory sites. This is known to have a very good boosting effect, but you may need to do more than on Press Release (submit one press release every month for maybe 2 to 3 months for maximum benefit). This is an advanced topic – but I am mentioning it as it is a method through which you can boost your local rankings. Drop me a note below if you want to know of my secret press release service that works well and is the cheapest out there in terms of cost.
  • you can submit to paid sites like if your top competitors have done so and you are in a competitive niche and your budget permits. This is a paid listing with a lot of trust.
  • you can submit to Image sharing sites and get your NAP data as part of the description or caption! *sneaky!*
  • you can get citations on Wikipedia / very powerful citations method (but I won’t talk about that here – as its a lengthy discussion by itself! Drop a comment below if you’re interested to learn more about this.
  • hold a meetup at your location and get a citation mention! Search – + city   – and then offer them to have them meet at your place in acknowledgement for having them list your address.
  • look for city + “chamber of commerce” to get a powerful sponsored backlink if your local chamber of commerce has a sponsorship feature. Another paid listing with a lot of trust and relevance!
  • Offer testimonials to anyone located locally whom you have paid to do some service to you. For example a local garage door repair contractor, pool cleaner etc. 
    Think of who has done any work for you at our facility… trimmed a tree, cut your lawn etc  and ask them for this. Call them up and say – “Could I put a testimonial on your website?” Why would they say no! And, when you send the testimonial make sure to put your NAP info as it shows a real person giving the testimonial and works very well for them and you! Remember: You don’t need a backlink for citations – so they will also be fine with it! 
  • – a great place to search through hundreds of citation sites and check where all your NAP is already listed. 
  • – another good tool to find places to submit to. Look for niche specific or geo-specific sites for you location. Look at citation sources by category (more powerful) than citation source by city (most sources are in multiple locations on this site – so not specific to a city, and so you can skip those sites). But, if you find one that is specific to a city then its a good find). So look for city specific citation sites.
  • Power Tip – If your business has cross-over category possibility… that is – you can submit to another category and still be relevant – then you can simply look for other category specific sites using the tools above. 
  • Make sure you have the top places done all right. This includes having a Facebook Page.
  • Once you’ve done the Tier 1 and 2 sites, you can fire up some automated link building tools or buy a gig to submit to Web2.0 sites for you. Make sure you DO NOT submit a backlink! This is a mass method and is not advised if done to submit backlinks directly to your site (for organic rankings). But, its totally safe if you’re submitting NAP data that appears as NAP mentions. Just make sure to add some content also on the page that is relevant to your business – a business description from GMB seo page works just fine, and you don’t need more than a couple of hundred words.


Secret Local GMB Research Web Tool / Software (FREE)

Here’s a link to an amazing web tool and downloadable software that will let you do local research of GMB listings. It doesn’t get any better than this tool. I highly recommend this one, and best of all its Free! Here’s the link to the web tool – Easy Local Cash

That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this post.


I will be editing it and adding more tips to it, so make sure you subscribe below to get the updates! 

If you have any questions or have a tip you’d like to share please comment below. 


5 thoughts on “Citation Secrets – Demystifying SEO Citations for Local Google Maps Rankings”

  1. Hi, Vishal,
    Liked your article, because you laid it out very clearly and added value even for people who already use software to get most of the information in (I’m using Whitespark).
    I particularly like the little tricks, like writing testimonials for service providers.
    But what fully tickled my curiosity was your mentioning of Wikipedia, the holy grail…
    You said you had more to say about that?
    Thank you very much

    • Hi Wolfgang.. thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, there’s some nifty ways to get citations on Wikipedia that stick 🙂 I’ll write about it soon. Meanwhile, do check out my Wikipedia backlinks post I just wrote recently. It’s an amazing method.

  2. Thank you Vishal,

    This is an excellent resource for agencies and do-it-yourselfers alike. I loved the tips you gave in the “Powering Up Your Citations SEO” section. I learned some things and we have been doing this for over 13 years.

  3. Great article. Please tell us your secret press release service that works well and is the cheapest out there in terms of cost to drop.

    Thank you


Leave a Comment