How To Audit & Clean Up Your Citations

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Do you want to be beat the competition by building a bigger online presence?

Of course you do.

Well in that case you need to do what all your competitors are doing but better. And what is that you might say?

Considering that most business operates within a given area, all successful businesses do what  they can to target customers in a given area.

In the modern day, one of the best ways of doing that is by coming up on google when someone searches ” XYZ service near me ” or other queries relevant to your local area.  This is a sure way to create guaranteed conversions as you already know that the user is looking for your service or product.

Ranking on google for local search terms all starts with having  consistent NAP (name, address and phone number) information anywhere that your business is mentioned or cited (what SEOs call online properties)

Today you’ll learn about the importance of NAP and how you can use it to rank better on search engines as well as how to actually go about creating consistent citations on the internet.

Let’s Back Up a Little… What’s NAP?

As previously mentioned, NAP stands for name, address, and phone number.

Having these 3 points of information is vital for ranking in local organic searches. This is because Google scans websites for their NAP and returns relevant businesses to user queries.

Take this auto repair shop in Iowa for example. Tuffy Auto Service Center’s NAP information gives residents an idea of how to get in touch with the company should they need to.

what is nap - auto business

Their NAP is added to online directories like Yelp, Yellow Pages, Better Business Bureau, MapQuest, and other similar directory sites.

In the case of Pop Comics, it also listed its NAP information on Yelp.

what is nap - pop comics yelp

Perhaps most importantly, your NAP details should be on Google My Business. Google My Business is an excellent tool that gives your website a lot of immediate presence.

Having NAP on your Google My Business (GMB) is a smart business practice these days.

Pop Comics has a Google My Business listing as well.

what is nap - pop comics

So clearly, NAP is almost a modern-day requirement for any web-based business venture.

Introduction: The importance of ‘citation cleanup’

Citation cleanup refers to the process of making NAP information ‘consistent’ wherever it is placed on the web.

As I will shortly show, if your NAP information is inconsistent, this can completely affect your local rankings as well as the user experience (UX) for your clients as it can be affect users ability to contact you.

Just imagine if your potential customers went on Yelp to try and find a phone number and was given the number 0827-555-20329 and then saw that your number on Google My Business was 0239-555-29321.

This would create unnecessary confusion and would most likely lead to a lack of trust in the competency of your business. Undoubtedly it would lead to lost revenue.

NAPs need to be consistent throughout the internet.

How do you define consistency?

Does consistent mean that all your NAP information has to be identical?

Not at all.

Your information across the web can have some differences.

Going back to our example, Pop Comics is somewhat inconsistent in its listings.

why is your nap incorrect - pop comics comparison

Despite being the same business, there are discrepancies between the business name, store address, and phone number.

In one listing, the owner used “St” instead of “Street”. One address included “Promenade” while the other didn’t. Even the business name is not the same.

Yet, the store still pops up when you search for comic book shops in the Anaheim area.


Google is smart enough to determine that these listings are referring to the same company so there’s no real issue there.

Inconsistencies refer to listings that are totally different.

For example, an inconsistent listing would be one listing with a completely different address than any other listings.

Maybe the business owner moved to another location or the phone number has changed. Whatever the case may be, you need to update every listing that has your NAP.

Note: It can be easy to lose count of all the sites that have your NAP details, don’t worry. We’ll tackle this issue head-on later in the post.

While minor differences are allowed, Google would prefer that your listings be as close to the one you provided in your GMB.

Here are just a few reasons why your NAP information could be perceived as incorrect:

⦁ Spelling mistakes
⦁ The store moved to another location
⦁ Lack of coordination between employees
⦁ A third-party (agencies, content writers) created a new listing
⦁ Using an “800” number instead of a local one
⦁ Rebranding caused a name change
⦁ Having unfinished citations
⦁ Not claiming your local business citations
⦁ The local directory is not the same as your national directory entry

There are other reasons why you could have incorrect NAP details. So to simplify, let’s lump them into three categories.

Mismatched — When NAP entries vary from one listing to the next.
This bike shop’s business name on GMB is different from its Hotfrog listing.

why is your nap incorrect - tread bike shop

The same can be said for this sushi restaurant’s address.

why is your nap incorrect - haru sushi

Incomplete — When NAP entries don’t show all the details. This could also happen when business owners fail to update their NAP (for example, your business previously had no phone number but have since procured one).
This balloon shop in NYC has its business information in Google My Business but did not do the same for Bing.

why is your nap incorrect - balloon shop nyc

Duplicates — Your NAP appears more than once on the same business listing site.

Why is safeguarding your citations against these errors so important?

By correcting misinformation about your business, you’re actually helping Google deliver more precise results to their users. For this reason, you will probably find that you start ranking better as you improve your citations.

Step-by-step guide on how to perform a citation cleanup

To establish NAP uniformity and accuracy across all sites, you will need to perform 4 tasks:

  1. Plan Your Strategy – this involves cost benefit analysis when it comes to picking directories to build NEW citations on as well as deciding which existing listings deserve resources for citation management.
  2. Citation audit – You will need to look at which existing NAP references are inconsistent or are missing key information.
  3. Build a database – You will want to build a database containing all the citations you actually want to manage.
  4. Citation cleanup – This is where you go to each incorrect site and make corrections to ensure that each NAP the same as your GMB listing.

Step 1. Plan 

You should decide which type of citations to focus on correcting or building.

On surface, doing a citation audit looks really hard. By just searching your business on google and looking at the different directories, you are likely to realise that there are huge informational inconsistencies all over the internet.

This is because lots of directories pick up information from the web about your business without you inputting any data yourself.

This process is prone to error and  there is often a whole lot of inconsistent data out there which has been incorrectly picked up by the directories.

However, it really doesn’t have to be that stressful…

Follow these planning tips and you’ll be able to easily audit your NAP situation in no time.

Focus On Relevant listings

As you trawl through the internet you will realise there  is a plethora of different business directory sites listing your business.

A lot of people end up with huge lists of listings that they have to analyze.

You certainly don’t have to be listed on them all!

While the ideal scenario is to manage every single one, the reality is you probably can’t and won’t.

If you lack the time and resources, we suggest sticking to listings that are most relevant to your business.

Focus on local listings

Look at listing sites in your city and industry.

Are you familiar with the 80/20 rule?

The Pareto principle applies to SEO, who would have thought?

It states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. This should be your mantra while cleaning up citations. Your focus should be on the more important site listings. This way, you’re able to maximize your results.

However, although local listings are one of the most important to be on, there are several listings which are ESSENTIAL to manage for any business.

These include:

  • Google My Business
  • Bing Places for Business

Other sites you might want to consider include:

  • Angie’s List
  • CitySearch
  • FourSquare
  • Yelp
  • Yellow Pages
  • Checkatrade

so what does - focus on big pic - biz listings

Focus on Niche Relevant listings

Citations that are both local and niche relevant are by far the most powerful citations that should form the focal point of your Local SEO campaign.

Not only are they excellent for ranking on certain keywords relevant to your niche but the place where they are listed can produce direct customers.

Some directories are genuinely amazing at producing customers.

Established, relevant niche based directories are likely to rank on many different keywords that you might not be able to rank on due to budget constraints or difficult competition.

However, if you sign up to these directories, you will reach traffic on the directory that you would not have reached otherwise.

For example, I generated 30% of leads for one of my own SEO clients by signing them up to a powerful directory which was already getting loads of traffic for relevant queries.

How many listings should I pay attention to?

We recommend basing your citation strategy on competition analysis.

If your competitors have 10 citations whereas you build 50, you are on a sure way to beating the competition and being ranked better by google.

For new businesses with low competition, we usually recommend building around 30-50 citations.

On the other hand, if you have competitors with 100 citations, you might want to build 150.

We have offered a great guide on how to analyse your competitors using great tools like Ahrefs.

Pro tip: Save all the relevant citations you want to build and keep login details to any directories you use.

So, once you’ve established which directories mean the most to you, you will then need to figure out which existing directories contain incorrect NAP information. This is …

Step 2. The citation audit

Auditing your citations means analyzing all NAPs that are listed across all sites and platforms and determining their correctness or incorrectness.

How to find incorrect citations

First, make sure you know which NAP you want to use across all listing sites and WRITE IT DOWN so you don’t forget.

Once you have that, you’ll need to figure out the alternative NAPs that could have been used in your listings. You will need to put a lot of thought into this.

There are all sorts of reasons why your business may be listed differently.

Ask yourself the following questions:

⦁ Did your business have a previous address?
⦁ Is your current address the same one that’s listed in all your legal paperwork?
⦁ Did you dip your toes in phone number tracking before?
⦁ Did you work with third-party agencies on establishing an online presence?
⦁ Have you hired lead generation providers?
⦁ Did your business undergo re branding?
All of these could have contributed to inconsistent NAP listings.

Alternatively you could check ‘Updates’ on Google Maps

Google used to have a feature called Google Map Maker which has since been integrated with Google Maps.

The Map Maker had a feature that allowed users to see the history of all changes to a business listing.

It’s possible that you yourself have made an edit to a business listing. To check, log into your Google account and open Google Maps.

Open the menu and select Your Contributions. Click the Edits tab.

a step by step - check updates on google maps - google map options

All suggested edits are saved in the Edits tab.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see all the changes you’ve made to you GMB listing.

Alternatively, you can go to Options > Your Places > Maps and see if you’ve made edits there.

a step by step - check updates on google maps - my maps

See if the name of your business, address, or phone number had been changed over time.

Once you have figured out all the potential NAP inconsistencies, you will then be ready to search the internet and find relevant directories with these inconsistencies, ready for correction.

One rudimentary way you can do this is by doing some searching on google. Some people enter their business information into google to find all the incorrect NAP variations that may occur. Another basic way is to check directories manually by going on each directory

However, there are a few more efficient ways you can find incorrect information using google advanced search.

Below we have described ways that you can find these existing incorrect listings.

  1. Check powerful directories such as the .Gov or  BBB Listing of the Company

The BBB or Better Business Bureau is a self-regulated, non-profit organization. In a nutshell, its goal is to help people find and businesses and keep them satisfied.

a step by step - check bbb listing - cafe a go go

Some NAPs are taken from BBB. Unfortunately, they can be inconsistent with the information from GMB.

a step by step - check bbb listing - pauls barber shop

So head on over to BBB and check your listing there.

a step by step - check bbb listing - find your bbb

Make sure that the details there do not conflict with yours.

  1. Confirm NAP Variations on Google That Are Associated With Your Business

Reviews from Google My Business can contain incorrect NAP information.

It’s wise to check your business reviews to see if users have been leaving a wrong business name, address, or phone number.

The problem is that if a questionable NAP shows up in your GMB dashboard, it means Google treats the information like it’s correct.

So you need to list down every single instance of reviews citing the incorrect info.

Here’s how you find reviews left on Google My Business.

Log into your GMB account.

Once you’re in, scroll down and click Manage Reviews.

a step by step - confirm nap variations - see reviews

Look for reviews around the web and inspect the results.

This would show you reviews made on other sites.

Click View Full Review to get a better sense of what the review has to say.

Then check for incorrect NAP information. Jot down the source in your spreadsheet.

In summary, citation cleanup is a process of thinking about any potential NAP variations, finding the variations on the internet and correcting the information out there!

However, if you’re just doing it off a spreadsheet, even managing 30-50 citations can be a long process.

  1. Use google advanced search to find other incorrect NAP’s that need changing

Google’s advanced search is a brilliant way to easily access incorrect listings.

The idea is to use different search operators to find inconsistencies across sites.

Using advanced search (for dummies)

To get to the google advanced search, click the Settings button in the bottom right hand corner of and then click on advanced search .

google advanced search

This should take you to an interesting page where you can improve the specificity of your google queries.

You can use this to easily find incorrect NAP information

google advanced search

For example, if your business is Joe Blogs Fancy Shoes and you want to check if your business is listed with the wrong number anywhere, you could type into the exact word of phrase “Joe Blogs Fancy Shoes” and then in ‘none of these words:’ you could enter your correct number.

Following this, google will display any indexed information that contains your business name but does not contain the correct phone number.

By using the advanced search console as you wish, you can find any inconsistencies listed on the internet.

Using Advanced Search (the advanced technique)

The advanced technique basically talks to Google in its own language. It can be a much more quicker way of doing what I described above.

This can be better explained using an example. Let’s use a local bar in Anaheim, California called The Cave Sports Bar.

Let’s say we want to check Yelp for duplicate information. Then your search query should look like this: “the cave sports bar”

a step by step - finding incorrect nap variations - the cave sports bar serp

This will prompt Google to only return results from Yelp and only those related to the business.

Adding more search operators will yield more specific results.

Let’s say you want the same results but only for pages that do not include the business’ phone number. Then you add a minus sign before adding the number in the query.

The search query would then look something like this: “the blind rabbit” -714-740-0490

a step by step - finding incorrect nap variations - the cave sports bar no number

Now you have a list of pages that don’t include your business phone number.

Being creative with your search queries is the secret to success.

Here are a couple of search entries you can try:

⦁ “Business Name” + “Incomplete Address” -”Correct Phone Number”
⦁ “Business Name” + “Correct Phone Number” -”Incomplete Address”
⦁ “Correct Address” + “Correct Phone Number” -”Incomplete Business Name”
⦁ “Business Name” + “Incomplete Address” + “Incorrect Phone Number”
⦁ “Business Name” + “Correct Phone Number” + “Incorrect Address”
⦁ “Business Name” + “Correct Phone Number” + “Old Business Address”
⦁ “Business Name” + “Incomplete Address” + “Previous Phone Number”
⦁ “Old Business Name” + “Correct Address” + “Correct Phone Number”
⦁ “Business Name” + “Zip Code”

For example, this search looked for NAP site entries with the correct business name (Mint Julep Bar) and the right address but didn’t feature their phone number.

a step by step - finding incorrect nap variations - mint julep bar

The rules of thumb:

⦁ If you want to include information in your search, use a plus sign followed by the text in quotes.
⦁ If you want to exclude information from your search, use a minus sign followed by the text in quotes.

The quotation marks instruct Google to only return results that match the exact text inside the quotes.

Using the right operators, you can find every flawed NAP information about your business.

Now you have searched for the incorrect terms, you can click onto the websites with the wrong information and either claim your listings by setting up an account on it and inserting the correct NAP data.

On the other hand, if you’re already signed up to the listings you can find data that needs to be edited.

But before that you should…

Step 3. Build Your Database

So, once you have identified all the relevant directories that have correct as well as incorrect, you should work to build a manual database containing a list of citations like so:

a step by step - build your database - spreadsheet

You can use conditional formatting to make it easier to spot inconsistencies.

a step by step - build your database - spreadsheet - conditional formatting

In the given example, conditional formatting is used to highlight cells that don’t match the correct NAP.

You can format the cells however you want. You can set the colors to red, yellow, or green depending on each cell’s status.

⦁ Red could mean that the values are absolutely wrong.
⦁ Yellow could indicate minor irregularities.
⦁ Green could mean that the NAP is the same as with the GMB listing.

The point is a spreadsheet will make your cleanup that much faster because you will know exactly which citations you need to change.

Stage 4: Cleaning up the citations

Once you have done the audit, you need to go through the listings in your database and scrub up on any incorrect NAP information.

Often, in order to edit a citation you will need to claim your business on various directories such as Yellow Pages. You can do this by setting up a new account and inserting the new information. This is relatively easy to do but there are plenty of guides on how to do this.

In other cases, it is just a matter of logging into your account and making sure the listing matches up with your GMB citation.

Can you make citation cleanup easier?

Using Moz Local

Moz Local automatically scrubs through the most popular business listing sites and checks their accuracy.

It shows results from the following sites:

⦁ Google Search
⦁ Google Maps
⦁ Facebook
⦁ Bing
⦁ Foursquare
⦁ Factual
⦁ Hotfrog
⦁ Us-info
⦁ ShowMeLocal
⦁ Navmii

Automation is the way to go as far as citation cleanup is concerned. This way, you no longer have to browse through different sites manually.

This is what makes Moz Local great.

Let’s go through the process.

Already got Moz Local?

Head on over to Moz Local and enter the following information:

⦁ Your country
⦁ Your business name
⦁ Your address
⦁ Your zip code

a step by step - use an automated tool - moz local

What you enter here must be the correct NAP. The tool will compare this information with the results and flag inconsistencies.

Click Check Now once you’re ready.

It will then proceed with its scan of local business listings.

a step by step - use an automated tool - scan

Once finished, your business will be given a score depending on how well it’s represented online.

a step by step - use an automated tool - score

Scroll down and you’ll see a list of all the results.

a step by step - use an automated tool - results

If Moz Local sees irregularities, those details will be shown in red font. In this example, one entry used “Ln” instead of “Lane”.

a step by step - use an automated tool -lane

You can also see what listings have no information about your business. This is something you might want to look into at a later time.

a step by step - use an automated tool -not found

Moz Local is a free tool that anyone can use.

There is a paid version that costs $129 a year (for the Basic package).

The service includes fixing the data shown in the results by correcting the sources that distribute that information across the internet.

Should you wish to use other paid services, you might want to look into Brightlocal or Whitespark.

Final Words

While it can be hard to accomplish, a citation cleanup will allow you to perform better in the SERPs so it’s really worth doing.
If you don’t have the time to spare and need a third party to do local citation cleanup on your behalf, you can try out DFY Link’s Local SEO packages and get a comprehensive site audit plus niche edit links.

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