What is a Local Citation for Local SEO?

Let’s first answer the question: “What is a local citation?”… A local citation is any mention of a local business out on the web, with or without a link. It can come in various forms:

  • Company Name, by itself.
  • Company name & phone number.
  • Company name, phone number, & address.
  • Company name, phone number, address, & link.
  • etc.

Even just the phone number by itself can be a local citation. Hat tip to Nyagoslav Zhekov. See his comment below.

A complete local citation should include the company name, address, and phone number. A citation that does not include all three of these is sometimes referred to as a partial citation.


Why Do Local Citations Matter?

Local Citations are a key factor in local search rankings. Citation related factors make up 25% of the top twenty factors in David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors.

In a recent presentation at LocalU Advanced in Baltimore, David Mihm presented the following breakdown of local ranking factors. He added a disclaimer that this is based solely on his opinion, but as one of the most prominent thought leaders in Local SEO, we take his opinion seriously around here.


For more information on why citations are important for local search rankings, please see this excellent article on GetListed.org: Why Citations Are Important to Your Local Business Listings.


Structured Citations

The most common local citations are found on business listing sites like yellowpages.com, yelp.com, superpages.com, etc. These are referred to as structured citations.


Unstructured Citations

Citations can also often be found on blogs, newspaper websites, event listing websites, job websites, government sites, etc. These are referred to as unstructured citations and can be extremely valuable to your local rankings.


Finding Structured AND Unstructured Citations

We occasionally get questions from Local Citation Finder users about how “useful” the results are. They’ll ask us why they can’t submit to some of the sites returned in the results. The reason is because the Local Citation Finder is a competitive analysis tool for citations. When you run a keyword search, it finds the businesses that are ranking locally, then finds their citations, both structured and unstructured. It doesn’t only help you find sites that have a simple “submit your business” option. It also helps you understand the competition’s citation building strategy by showing you where they are getting unstructured citations as well.


Not All Citations Are Created Equal

There is huge variation in the value of different citations. A mention of your business’ name, address, and phone number on whitehouse.gov is worth far more than a mention of your business on some spammy web directory that was created solely for low quality link building. For some advice on sorting the gold from the sand, take a look at this post on determining citation quality.


If you have any questions about citations, please leave them in the comments. We’ll answer them and possibly add more information to the post.



Darren Shaw

Darren Shaw founded Whitespark in 2005. The company specialized in web design and development, however, Darren's passion and curiosity for all things local search led Whitespark to focus primarily on local SEO in 2010 with the launch of the Local Citation Finder, followed by the Local Rank Tracker.

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  • This was a very needed piece Darren! I think one of the problems here occurs by the fact that people mistake citation in the local SEO sense with a bibliographical/scientific one. That’s why I usually refer to citations as “local citations” or “citations for local SEO”.

    Actually, I believe even just the phone number might be considered a citation. A kind of an evidence could be the appearance of caller complaint directories in the “More about this place” section, when it existed long time ago. Additionally, I think one more element could be added to a citation – “category”. And it’s not necessarily the category in the sense of a business directory listing, where you hand-pick it and it is already obvious that this is the category of the business, but also in the cases of unstructured citations when the search engines need to use semantics to determine what the page on which a business citation is found is about, and thus eventually associate an appropriate category with the business. For instance, if there is an article about gardening DIY tips, and a business is mentioned a few times in it, then it is very possible that this business is a “gardener” or a “landscaper”.


  • Excellent post Darren. This is one that I will refer to often in the future. I especially liked the section on structured citations and unstructured citations. Thanks for continuing to put out all the “hits”

    All the best,


  • Darren Shaw

    Really appreciate the great comment Nyagoslav! Those are some important additional considerations to keep in mind. The idea of an associated citation category is very interesting. With all the work that Google is doing with entities and aspects lately, it makes perfect sense that they would be using this in citation analysis.

    I know it seems obvious, but seeking out citations and links from pages that are ABOUT your topic is a smart tactic to spend some time on.

    Thanks for the comment Clark. Glad you find the post useful. 🙂

  • Excellent post Darren – very informative. Your explanation of the difference between structured and unstructured citations and how they can both be beneficial to local business was much needed!

    I also try to use the same terminology as Nyagoslav when referring to citations as “citations for local SEO” as a number of clients often tend to associate the word “citation” with referencing for scientific articles or university assignments!

    Also, Nyagoslav makes a great point about search engines determining relevance and categorisation based on the semantics of a given page/article. I think this is definitely going to continue growing in importance which will make these ‘unstructured’ citations even more valuable!

    Thanks for the great post,

  • Great stuff, Darren. And the 2nd post in the same month, no less. Now we’re talkin’!

    I really liked this point:

    ” It also helps you understand the competition’s citation building strategy by showing you where they are getting unstructured citations as well.”

    Methinks you could write a great post on all the different (or at least the most-common) strategies for citation building – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  • Thanks so much for this post Darren. As Nyagoslav said, it was very much needed.

    Unstructured citations (to me) will always be an interesting and exciting part of Local Search. The reason I like them is that they are what separate the men from the boys. A little bit like with link building, it takes quite a bit of creativity to hunt down some of the best unstructured citations.

    I have to say the the Local Citation Finder is absolutely invaluable for this. With the tool, we can see when a competitor has gone and gotten (whether deliberately or not) a highly valuable citation source from an authoritative site.
    This makes the LCF very powerful for us! Thank you to you and your team Darren!

  • Great sum up Darren – of what’s needed in order to call it a citation. I agree with Nygoslav that the phone number is enough to call it a citation – so can the address in my opinion.

    You can add co-citations too in my opinion.

  • Darren – Glad to see you’ve started adding to the conversation on citation quality. I think it’s going to continue to grow and we’ll see a lot of the services promising bulk citations to devalue greatly. While I would agree the pie chart is very unscientific, hopefully we’ll keep getting more and more information as time goes on.

    Plus there’s the obvious overlap. Links/Authority often accompany citations, so there are some source domains that can be very powerful when it comes to building local influence.

    If you get a chance I went into a little more detail about the growth of the spam citation issue, so drop me a comment on it if you get a chance: http://www.londes.com/ldm-blog/local-seo-citation-bubble-be-careful-with-local-directory-listings

    Thanks – Mike

  • Great post, I have just written one myself on citations, what they are, what they do and the benefits.

    I’m going to update it this week, to list some tools for people to use. Please drop by and let me know your thoughts on it.

  • Great post Darren! As always, excellent advice about local search. As David Mihm said and I completely agree: “unstructured citations oftentimes are the factor that’s pushing a ranking over the edge and letting it appear in the maps pack or letting it rank higher”.

  • Hey folks, some really solid comments here.

    Mike makes an interesting point regarding bulk citation services and we are already starting to see a lot of those services cropping up. That is going to mean that the quality of unstructured citations is really going to become a competitive difference maker.

    If we can think along the lines of Nyagoslav and look for unstructured local SEO citations from high quality and authority sites/pages that are well aligned with our business category then this can only help.

    If Penguin and the recent link updates have taught us anything it is that relevance is a key factor in traditional ranking so it only makes sense that this would be the case in local (if not even more so).

    It’s very important in Local to get the basics 100% before diving into advanced tactics as in most cases (in the UK at least) that is more than enough. Though, when it is competitive (hotels as an example) looking for more unstructured citations from high quality and relevant sources is a solid strategy (especially when everything else is being done right – earned links, reviews, website quality overall).


  • Now that more than 50% of mobile search is local, it only makes sense for our company to offer WhiteSpark’ value added citation building service to our customers.

  • Most people think when they hear “citation” it is the same as a directory listing. Thanks for the comprehensive discussion on the matter. This is definitely one to print out and keep.

  • Thanks for this, I like the usage of Unstructured and structured citations. I’ve never thought of it that way.

    I think that Unstructured citations are used often too heavily for over optimization in Local SEO.


    Great content, and thanks again.

  • I am learning about local SEO. Great Post.

  • Danielle

    Hello there! I came across Moz’s definition of a citation and they say “Citations are defined as mentions of your business name and address on other webpages—even if there is no link to your website.” I noticed above that you mention if a citation doesn’t contain all 3 (NAP) that it’s not a complete citation. Can you make a clarification or clear up any confusion since Moz is only saying the name and address are a citation? Thanks!

  • Darren Shaw

    Hi Danielle,

    The post says that any variation of your NAP is a citation. Just the name by itself or just the phone number would still be considered citations. Think of it as any mention of your business on the web that Google can identify and associate with your business.

    So, if your business name is Acme Plumbing, and some website mentions Acme Plumbing without the phone number, Google might not know which Acme Plumbing to associate this mention with since there are dozens of businesses with the same name across the country. In this case, you’d want to make sure you also get the phone number in there so Google will know for sure which Acme Plumbing the website is referring to.

    If your business name is something like “Carolyn’s Wackydoodle Scrapbooking Biz”, then chances are there are no other other businesses out there with the same name, so even just a business name mention would count as a citation.

    Hope this helps to clear up any confusion.

  • Great post. You’re right. I worked in the legal field for over 14 years and I can assure you that only one thing comes to mind when lawyer hear the word citation – case law (e.g. 96 D.LR 4th 289). I doubt many of them are even familiar with S.E.O or why it is so important. You may have to consider bringing down the jargon one step further for some professions. I think “Google ranking” is something they could wrap their heads around.

  • Great article. I am from a company headquartered in India. We have established a office in CA, USA. I have been working around building citations for my company presence to rank higher on Google US . I have been reading since one hour about citations and by far your article is the most sorted one I have read.

  • Thanks for the clarity Darren. Even for newbie SEO’s who are getting into it and running their own niche businesses, doing SEO for themselves, friends or clients sites, can always count on you to explain things in an easy way for us all to understand. .

  • Your article has helped boost our page rank from page 9 for Seattle Electricians all the way to midway on page 2. Local citations carry more weight than I had ever thought. I will continue to read your articles and learn the ways of local SEO and improve our PR.
    Way to go Darren!

  • Learned allot from this thanks posting great info

  • Hello from Greece, l am studing deeply Local SEO and it is the first time i recognise the value of the local citation. Apart from doing the citation without link, it is more useful in order to be a full citation to include your email and your website. So ti would definitely have a url link.

  • Thanks for sharing the post Darren. I have sound knowledge about local seo but I have got a clear idea about structured and unstructured citations. I know very well both are very important for Local SEO.

  • Hey,

    thanks for the great post. I was wondering what the value would be if an Belgium site is for instance mentioned on a US site.

  • It often surprises my how many people don’t know what a citation is and the power a citation holds. Finally a place I can point everyone!

    Thanks Darren.

  • Typically, people think citations are the same as directory listings. Thanks for the great in-depth explanation!

  • Excellent post Darren , Your explanation of the difference between structured and unstructured citations and how they can both be beneficial to local business was much needed!

  • I read a couple of other articles which threw too much information on my face without anything relevant. Your article was the most sorted one.

  • Tom

    Hi Darren,

    Very well explained. I suggested a client do your citation building service and as someone new to SEO, it was difficult for her to understand what a citation was just by navigating through the main pages. Just some feedback I thought I’d let you know, but love your service/resources!

  • Can’t believe I haven”t come across this article before! This certainly clarifies a few things for me especially the importance of citations and how they fit in with other SEO local ranking factors.

    Cheers, Ilya

  • Very informative article for users who don’t have much IT knowledge. However i want to ask you about that partial citation (without local address) results are same as complete citation ? and if we use ANY (not real) local address does it can impact negatively in search engines ?

  • Great article Darren, easy to read and understand. Now I’ll have to try and translate this to my current and future customers.

    Thanks – Klaas Koopman

  • Thank you Darren, the article is very clarifying and simple, I wanted to know more about Local Citation as I have been working on it for month but couldn’t explain to my client how important that is, now it’s simple to explain 🙂

  • What’s your opinion on citation building without a google local page? Do citations contribute to the credibility of a website for SEO? or are the citations only for endorsing the data in the google+ listing (and therefore there’s no point in citations until your G+ local page is published accurately)?

  • Great article Darren thank you, just a quick question if you have time to answer that would be appreciated. Will a citation without a link carry the same weight as a citation with a link to your website as well? Also should your company bio (if the options is given to list it) stay the same with every directory as part of your NAP or just your contact info? I’ve heard various things from various people so would like an expert opinion thanks:)

    • Hi Jeff, i guess i can answer on behalf of Darren 🙂 since its been a few months. Im no “expert” but i think a citation counts if Google finds the NAP on the page somewhere. With that being said, the simplest way to explain would be NAP Helps Maps, Links help Organic. If you look on Google Maps there are businesses without websites that are ranking on Maps, due to NAP’s so if you have a website it is better to put a link on the Nap but i dont think it lowers the power of NAP if you dont have a link. Hope i explained that well!