8 Questions to Ask Local Citation Builders (Before You Hire Them)

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Citations can make or break your local SEO campaign, and they’re deceptively tricky.  If you want to hire people to help with your citations, how can you be confident they’ll do a good job?

I like Andrew Shotland’s post on what to ask a customer-review-management service before you hire one.  In the same spirit, I thought I’d bring up some questions you should ask anyone you’re thinking of hiring for citations work.

By the way, I’m not even talking about what to ask some goofball on ELance or Fiverr.  Don’t.  I’m talking about what you should ask people who seem to be specialists in citations or who offer a broader local SEO service that you’re considering.

I suggest you ask these 8 questions (in no particular order):

“How much do you charge?”
If it works out to less than about $3 per citation, you may be paying for sloppy work, or for the work to be done by someone who doesn’t speak the language you do business in.  If money is so tight that bottom-dollar actually sounds attractive, you’re better off working on your citations yourself.  At the very least, ask them the rest of the questions and see what they tell you.

“Do you let me pick which citations I’d like?”
You probably won’t have to hand-pick all of the citations from scratch (although you can).  But you will want to make sure that you see the list of citations before your builders work on them.  If they plan to submit to 100 sites but you’ve only heard of 10 of them, most of the citations are probably junk.  (This post can help you determine whether the citations are any good.)

“Will you keep track of my login info for each site and send it to me as soon as you’ve created my listings?”
If the answer to either part of this two-part question is no, find someone else to work on your citations.  You need control of your listings long-term.  You’re paying for those citations to be built, not rented to you.

“How do you plan on handling sites like ExpressUpdate.com, LocalEze.com, CitySearch, YellowPages, and Yelp?”
If you want to claim and fix your listings on those sites, you (the business owner) or an employee will have to verify ownership by phone.  It’s quick and easy, but a third party can’t do it for you.  The honest answer from your citation-builders is “We can’t do those sites for you.”  The honest and helpful answer is “We can’t do those sites, but we can walk you through the verification processes, if you’d like.”

“Will you show me exactly which sites are all set versus need work and which of them require me to do something?”
You need to be able to see at a glance where each site stands, and if there are any lingering to-dos.

“Are you only ‘building’ citations, or can you also helping me claim and clean up existing citations?”
It’s OK if the answer to this is “Nope, all we do is build the citations.”  You just need to know up-front so that you can either find someone who can work on your existing citations, or plan on doing it yourself.

“How do you plan on handling any listings that don’t ‘stick’?”
You’re fine as long as they give you some idea as to why a given site just doesn’t have your listing 100% correct.

“Do you research the citations that matter in my local market?”
Again, it’s OK if the answer is no.  But it’s nice if – in addition to working on a “core” list of citations that are pretty much always important – your citation-builders try to find the citations that seem to matter most in your particular industry and in your city or region.

Update – “bonus” question: “How many citations do you plan to work on?”
See Nyagoslav Zhekov’s great comment, below.

My personal recommendations for citations work are NGSMarketing or Whitespark.  I’ve also heard that BrightLocal’s Citation Burst is good.

Any other questions worth asking up-front?  Any questions you wish you’d asked your citation-builders?  Horror stories? Success stories – of citation-builders who did a good job for you? Leave me a comment!


  1. Phil,
    You’ve got a lot of things right on there, the only part where I disagree slightly is the part where you say that paying less than $3/citation means you’ll get sloppy work.

    While I agree that it’s not always about who provides service on the cheap, you’d be surprised to know how many of these top-tier citation services (don’t want to name any) actually pay companies in the Philippines and India less than a dollar a citation to get the work done while marking it up 4 times and selling it to their clients!

    • Point taken, Ashwin. However, the $3 is just my rule of thumb. As I said, if it’s less than about that amount per-citation, you’ll really want to grill them (see questions #2-8). Of course the $3 itself doesn’t mean much; it just warrants a little extra scrutiny on your part.

      Even regardless of where you draw the line between suspiciously cheap and middle-of-the-road, the question is worth asking.

  2. Hey Phil,

    Thanks for the, as always, very helpful and actionable advice! For me, the most clear “red alert” should be the large numbers of citations someone could be recommending you. Specifically with the kind of citation building that is generally being offered (structured citations only), there are:

    – for the US – about 30-40 must-have’s + 40-50 additional that are relatively good quality
    – for Canada – about 10-15 must-have’s + 20-30 additional
    – for the UK – about 30 must-have’s + 20-30 additional
    – for Australia – about 10-15 must-have’s + 10-20 additional

    If someone comes and tells you “OK, you need 200 citations, otherwise it will be hard to compete”, then I would be very particular in receiving a list of the places they would be willing to get these 200 citations from. My service, in particular (which you generously mentioned!), has a limit of up to 100 citations per business and I do not accept orders for more.

    Thanks again, Phil!

    • Fantastic point, Nyagoslav. I, too, believe there’s a real point of diminishing return with citations – at least the way most “builders” handle them.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Great post on Citations Phil. My favorite question you list is ““Are you only ‘building’ citations, or can you also helping me claim and clean up existing citations?” Citation building is a lot easier than going and claiming and cleaning up existing citations – at least we have found this to be the case. I’d much rather start off with a new business and build citations than take on the task of fixing an existing businesses citations. We’ve had to do name and address changes. Most of the local directories will make the change within a reasonable amount of time, some take the change right away and others take forever. Try to change your name or address on a Patch listing, Localez, Google Places or Bing Places for Business – not so easy.

    We no longer provide manual citation building. Instead we provide On-Site and G+ Hangout training to local businesses. The posts you have been doing on citations have been extremely helpful. We frequent sites like NGS Marketing and Bright Local to keep up-to-date. The Local Search Forum too. I can’t wait for the upcoming webinar they are doing on citations.

    Our training includes using Bright Local’s Citation Tracker. I would run the report before starting work and then run it again as I was working on them. This report is great. I shows you where the business is listed if they have existing citations (Active), the citation value, if it’s active and they even provide a direct link to that citation. You still need to double check and make sure there are no duplicates. Here’s the link to Citation Tracker. http://www.brightlocal.com/seo-tools/citation-tracker/ We are not an affiliate – I just wanted to mention it to people. They have a 30 day trial. Go in and see where your business is already listed. If the potential citation builder is not running some type of report or research where your business is listed, I would question them.

    Questions I would ask:
    1. Do you manually claim or add my business information?
    2. What content do you add to each citation. If the citation builder doesn’t ask you for information about your business, a red flag should go up. We have a Client Intake form that we use that has just about any type of content that could be potentially added. All of the citation sites are different. You can add more content on a Free Yelp page than you can on you free Localeze page.

    I agree with Nyagoslav about the number of “Must Have’s for the US”. I’ve been to his website in which he lists about 50 (I think) for the US. He is the perfect model for someone that might want to start their own business being a Local Citation Builder. It’s tedious work and the person doing these for you should be trained or have been doing them for a while so that they know the process and how to handle the roadblocks.

    The article that you link to on How to Identify Quality Citation Sources is too in depth for the everyday business owner looking for some honest SEO or Local Citation Builder to do his citations. None of the local business owners I know would spend the time. Most don’t know who Localeze and Citysearch are. I’ve even had business owners say Google what? They do know Yellowpages and Yelp.

    I think that the questions you have in this post are understandable, which is great. Some of our clients don’t know what a Citation is. They associate the word “citation” with book reports as I did when I first heard the word. We have a client that’s a Jeweler. I said I’d be claiming 10 of his current Citations each month and optimizing them. His head was spinning “what’s a citation?” and “optimize”… I don’t have time for this, just do it. Another client actually thought I worked at Google when I did his Google Places page. I’m not trying to make fun of them. It’s all new to local businesses and we need to get the word out because citations are so important.

    You always know how to explain in layman’s terms so that the everyday business owner and Internet Marketing or Web designer can understand.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks, Susan. The 2nd question you mentioned is a real keeper. As you say, it’s good to ask how your citation-builders will handle any “additional info” you want them to include. If you have to pay them extra, I guess that’s fine, but it’s worth knowing up-front.

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