Quick and Dirty Citation Finder for Local Business

I’ve been working recently with a few small local businesses, trying to give them some quick and simple tips on getting the websites they have created onto the first page for a few major keywords in their niche. These aren’t my usual gigs and are more me just dropping the odd email here and there saying “Do this”, “Change that” and “No, you did it wrong, try again”. I’m doing these in the main to help out a few buddies with very little in the way of “cash” changing hands so the amount of time I can put in is at a premium. Santa with 'Will work for beer' sign

Photo: Mark Holloway/Flickr

One of the key factors of local SEO of course is citations and we’ve just got to the point in one of the projects where I’m saying, look, you need to go get you some citations. I explain this to my “clients”. Blank faces stare back at me. What I want to go through in this post isn’t your real high end, flashy local SEO, it’s more of the stuff that needs to be done to a new site just to get the ball rolling. If you’re looking for something more upmarket then I suggest you check out these posts on Skyrocket and Anthony’s piece on Cucumber Nebula. If you don’t mind slumming it and getting your hands dirty then stick around, I’m about to light the bum fire.

Citations for Local SEO

Citations are of course to Local SEO what links are, well, to general SEO and according to David Mihm’s local search ranking factors 2012 the quantity of citations is the number 1 off page factor, in fact, the top 4 off page factors are all around citations. Quite important then. What I wanted to share was a really quick tip which is how I managed to set the business owners on their way to building citations without actually spending a ton of time finding sites which are going to accept them. The whole process below took roughly 15 minutes and I managed to harvest about 100 relevant sites. First things first, pick out the main phrase you want to rank for. Often in the world of local business the main key phrases are very obvious and don’t need a lot of research. In this example I’m going to use “Wedding Photographer Cardiff” . Wedding services are an extremely popular local niche  and Cardiff is Britain’s eleventh largest city, so it should serve as a good example. Time will tell…


Head on over to your favourite search engines local search page and pop in the search phrase. I’m using the big G in this post but Bing would probably do just as well. You’ll be presented with a list of sites including details such as the business name, URL, address and phone number. For the purposes of this exercise we are particularly interested in the URL and phone number of each of the top 4 sites returned. You can use more than the top 4 if you have more time, but as explained earlier, I didn’t. Jump back to the regular search page for your chosen engine and set the SERP results to be the maximum allowed. I actually play around a little at this stage because, due to the ridiculous problems Google has with domain crowding it can be the case that Bing returns more unique domains in their maximum of 50 results than Google does in it’s 100. (BTW, Google, you really need to sort that out) Now you have a list of 4 URLs and corresponding telephone numbers we can start to hunt down the citations these businesses have, and you need with an extremely simple query: Scrape the domains in the results of your query into a spreadsheet using something like Scraper for Chrome  to give you a list of URLs where the telephone number of your competitor was found. These are sites which are likely to offer citations both relevant to your niche AND to your locality. Double Win. Repeat the task for all the competitor URL/Phone number combinations you made a note of earlier until you have one long spreadsheet full of URLs. In this example I harvested around 200 URL in total but this would obviously contain many duplicates and a much lower number of unique domains.

The Doherty Formulae

The next thing to do it to strip out the domains and eliminate all the duplicates across the 4 sites citation profiles. For this I’m going to call on the much admired John Doherty who dropped a great little post containing 8 useful excel functions for SEO. The particular function we require is to clean all of the URLs we have and leave just the domain names. “=left(A1,find(“/”,A1,8))” Simple eh? Just paste that little formula into cell B1 and drag down to the bottom of your list. (You may have to just type the formula in if there are any problems with pasting it in). Now you have in column B a list of all the domains, use a pivot table to remove the duplicates (or press “remove duplicates” if you are using Excel) and that, according to my calculations leaves you with around 40 unique domains which you should be able to leave a citation for your business. Taaa daaahhh And for my next trick…


This is all good stuff in terms of taking what your competitors have already done and using it to catch up with them but what about 12 months down the line? Am I expecting that you go through this process once a year/week/month in order to keep track of any new citations your competitors are getting across the web, checking against the work you’ve already done? Nope. Once you’ve got to the point of noting down all the places your competitors have gotten citations to date you can simply set up an alert to notify you of any more they get going forward. I seriously love this tip. Google will notify you of any new citations for your competitors they discover as they merrily go about their business around the web. Just drop your competitors phone number into the first box, fill in the other options as you wish, push “Create Alert” and wait for the notification. Simple. (and incredibly effective!) Post by Gaz Copeland


  1. Hey Gaz,

    Great post! One thing I like to do is write all the variations of the phone number into the alert such as [5555555555 OR 555.555.5555 OR (555) 555-5555 OR etc.] I’ve found that Google Alerts don’t always pick up the subtle variations.

    • Hey man, thanks for stopping by. You’re completely spot on of course, if your competitors are a bit slap dash with their citations you can drop alternatives in the alert. Another way around it is to setup alerts for another part of the citation, maybe the company or street name for example.

  2. Hey Gaz,

    I am not sure about this, but I assume this tactic was covered a couple of years back by Garett Fench from Citation Labs.

    Anyhow, thanks for the refresh and the bonus tip of setting up G Alerts 🙂

    • Had a quick look and couldn’t find the article but I’ve no doubt Garett has done something similar, I’m a big fan of his. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Great article Gaz!

    Just a couple of suggestions how you could ease the burden of clearing up the spreadsheet with potential citation sources and how to follow up on new citations of your competitors:

    1) You can use Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder, or Bright Local’s Citation Tracker to find potential citation sources. They do pretty much the same (+a little more) what you have described in the article – scrape the SERPs for the business info for each of the top competitors.

    2) You can use the Citation Tracker to track newly available citation sources. The Citation Finder also has a similar function to re-run and append citation sources, but it’s not automated.

    Hope this helps!


    • Hey man,

      Thanks for the suggestions, I know Whitespark is a great tool but as it’s paid it may not be for local businesses who are just going to use it now and again. The idea was to get something together that a small biz could do on their own, and for free. Don’t know the other tool though so will check it out. Thanks!

      • I hear you, Gaz. However, there is no long-term commitment with any of the two tools, so I think a one-time $20 investment (per tool) would be more than enough to cover the time it would take to do all the manual work by themselves. Just my personal opinion, of course 🙂

  4. This really sums it up nicely and I will use the excel and Google alerts more thanks

  5. You may not even need the alerts at all. Just run the suggested advanced search operator and go to search tools-> past week, past month, custom range etc. This way you can get a huge number of citation data to keep you going for a long time.

  6. This may be a novice question, at the end when … “leaves you with around 40 unique domains which you should be able to leave a citation for your business.” do I leave a comment including my business website and phone # for greater relevance? or how do I leave the citation? …(I’m pretty new at this and there’re many concepts I need to learn). Thank you!

    • Hey Julian,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I guess the answer is, it depends on what the site in question allows. The more information you can leave about your business the better! Best thing to do is try out this idea and it should be pretty clear when you visit the sites on your final list how to leave the citation and what information you can include.


  7. Interesting post Gaz, never even thought about pasting competitors phone number into Google. I guess this is akin to harvesting a competitors links for an orthodox SEO campaign.

    Another useful method I found was to try some advance operators like this one…

    Directory + intext:Manchester

    Seems to find local directories and also national ones that have a location page, e/g yell.com/manchester/. I found also that of local directories are free to submit to, which is a bonus for small businesses with low marketing budgets.

  8. hi thanks for writing the article, – how do i check my own site to see what citations I have currently – check for errors etc.