A citation audit is a thorough analysis and cataloguing of ones citations existing online. It is, in my opinion, one of the first steps in any successful local SEO campaign. As most of you know, if you have an inconsistent citation profile, you will rarely reach your potential. In fact, in some cases it can be campaign ending. And yet, so very many SEOs and SMBs totally miss this step. Is it because they don’t know how to approach it? How to dig deep enough?
The following is a play by play citation audit and fix, as performed by my team, day in and day out. While mostly manual currently, I would highly recommend automating as much of this process as possible, as it is very time consuming.
Disclaimer: please feel free to nab any of this, and add it to your internal processes/client intake.
STEP ONE: Gather Business Data
Let’s assume that you are an agency, and you have recently onboarded a client. One of your first steps should be to pick their brain, and ask the following questions:
- What is your business name, including all business names, and variations used over the past 5+ years?
- What is your address, including any old addresses and any and all variations used over the past 5+ years.
- What is your phone number, including all business phone numbers that may have made their way online…think Realtors office. Also, toll free, tracking, mobile number, etc. Any and all numbers used in the past 5+ years.
- What is your website URL, including all satellite/pumper/micro sites? Any other domains you’ve used in the past 5+ years.
STEP TWO: Gather Login Data
Save yourself some work, and ask you client…
- Do you have a Yext, Localeze, etc. account? Please provide login details.
- Have you a catalogue/list of the directories your business data exists in? Logins?
STEP THREE: Get Yourself a “Local Citation Finder” Account.
Quite easily the finest local SEO tool on the market. Get “Whitespark’d” (a new verb), and put this work horse to use.
- Login in to your account, and click “Search by Phone Number” tab.
- Fill in the form with the correct info and click the “Search” button.
- While your request is being processed, submit other requests for different variations of phone number, address, and business name. Exhaust the different combos.
- Once you’ve plugged all your variations in, visit the “Your Search Results” tab.
- If you processed multiple requests, open each by clicking “view sources.”
- Click “Export CSV (w/ URLs)” and open each file.
- Copy all results into one spreadsheet and remove duplicates.
- Save sheet.
STEP FOUR: It’s Manual Query Time
Let’s face it, no scraping tool it perfect, and Whitespark is no different. So, because we know even one high authority citation could throw everything off, we must roll up our sleeves and perform some simple search queries. Let’s use the following fictitious example:
Business Name: ABC Plumbing Company
Address: 123 Main St, Seattle, WA 12345
Phone: (555) 123-1234
- Open up a spreadsheet, and navigate to Google.com.
- Search “ABC Plumbing Company” and then any other variations, or past company names.
- You can either collect all the URLs or instances where this data is found, or just the instances where it is incorrect. I recommend the former because I look at this as a future asset. A catalogue of your citations will come in handy down the road if you need to update business data. Clearly I am not the only one to think so, as Darren Shaw of Whitespark has recently added a nifty feature to his Local Citation Finder…go check it out! In a perfect world of course, you would have the login data too!
- Along the way, I suggest you make note of any unique, incorrect instances of N, A or P. Variations you hadn’t considered, or versions that are just totally wrong. A typo in a previous submission for example. Seldom is there just one error as directories are some of the most scraped properties on the net. That is, another directory will come along, grab the incorrect data from your incorrect profile, and add it to theirs. The cycle continues, and continues. The older the business, the worse it is.
- Do the same for address, phone, and if you are really motivated, URL too. URL is important for two reasons: You may find a citation that allows a URL, but there is none. And two, if you have recently updated your domain (rebranded or some such thing), you will want to make sure the juice doesn’t have to pass through a 301 (assuming you 301d old domain to new one) if you can avoid it. It is also worth mentioning that while NAP is claimed to be the most important (consistency wise) I have read, and strongly believe that it all should match, right down to the hours and payment options (where possible).
PROTIP: many directories standardize certain data, like phone number and address. For example, they may change (555) 123-1234 into 555-123-1234, and so you need to try variations. One I have found particularly tricky is directories knocking the four digits off a zip like 12345-1234, making it 12345. If you are searching the latter, you may not find the former. Moral of the story, be thorough. Suite (or Ste), West (or W.), 4th (or fourth) are all examples of variations I have seen, not always the directories fault though.
- Don’t worry if you are collecting dupes. Use a function like that which exist in Excel for example. Quick and easy.
PROTIP: Do not visit each URL as you find them to identify is correct or not, just add them to the list and check them out later. It is much faster this way.
- Next, if you are using Yext, identify which fall in Yext’s reach, and get those updated via Yext right away. Yext is a beautiful thing. I never really appreciated it until I started working with enterprise. Especially when it comes to updating existing, incorrect data. Be sure to check back with each of these profiles shortly thereafter (about a week), to make sure they we updated, and cross those corrected off your list.
- For those directories that you either don’t have logins too, nor are able to update via Yext, or some such thing, your next step will be outreach.
STEP FIVE: Outreach.
It is now time to start fixing those directories that remain incorrect. This is a laborious process, and in my experience, it can take up to 3-4 months to get the majority updated. In some cases in fact, you will never get them totally updated. For example, a directory may no longer be running, or the contact email is no longer being checked. If this is the case, I wouldn’t stress too much as the smaller, less authoritative directories seems to be less of a problem re NAP consistency.
- As mentioned, if you have and account with Yext, or have the logins for some of the local directories, take care of that first. I always separate this stuff out from the main catalogue.
- Setup an email with your client’s domain. I often set up: firstname.lastname@example.org. Similar to guest blog post outreach, your response/success rate will be much higher if the receiver can see that you are legit. That you aren’t a competitor trying to goof with the competitions citations. Worst case, setup a Gmail like email@example.com or as close to as possible.
- Prepare an outreach template to deliver. Here is one of ours:
Hi there -
My name is [insert name], and I am in charge of internet marketing at [insert client business name] – [insert business URL]
We have recently gone through a rebrand, and as a result, some of our business data is now outdated. I noticed an inconsistency in your data [insert link to directory profile].
Unfortunately we no longer have logins for this profile, and thus we were hoping you might be able to update it for us.
The correct information should read:
[insert correct data]
Please let me know once you have made the corrections.
Thank you in advance!
[insert client business name]
- Either use a contact page finding tool like that of LRT or Citation Labs (haven’t personally tried either) or b) manually visit each web page and track one down. If I had more time, I would build one (after researching if one exists) that retrieves the contact form URL, and then submits to it, including answering any Captcha info. Be sure as you are submitting to these that you are making note of which you contacted and when. You might even use Boomerang to help with scheduling follow ups. Finally, we are currently experimenting using Buzzstream, which looks promising for automating some of this tedious work.
- If you cannot find a contact email, or contact form, I would suggest following the these steps in this order to retrieve said info:
a) Domain Tools. If this doesn’t work, try…
b) Whorush. If this doesn’t work, try…
c) Archive.org (checks old data, to see if they ever had contact info on it) If this doesn’t work, try…
d) Netcomber. Find sites with similar coding (other sites they own) and see if they have contact info on them.
- Continue to follow up ever 3-4 days, checking those off your list that have been successfully updated.
PROTIP: Whilst reaching out to all these directories, why not verify those that aren’t?
As previously mentioned, this process generally takes 3-4 months for a medium established company, where a fair amount of NAP inconsistency exists. If you are doing an address change, and don’t have logins, I would bank on it taking this long. Not only that, I would tack on a couple more months for Google to digest the info, and for local rankings to settle. It is not be uncommon for a listing that was previously well ranked to take a tumble during this process, but you will be thankful you did it, as NAP consistency tends to catch up with you at the most inopportune time.
To be continued…
Inspiration credit goes to Powered by Search.
Want to learn more? Here is a fantastic slidedeck from Darren Shaw, detailing his process.