If you're competing in a local market as part of your search engine optimization efforts, you've probably heard about the importance of local references and citations for your optimization efforts. The more local references Google finds and uses to fuel your local listing, the more trust and strength can be expected from the listing. But how do you find them?

Building a Foundation

Local citations and references are the local equivalent to backlinks, and much like link building, it's important to start with a basic foundation and work from there. A lot of times SEO's will focus on directory links and the like to build a link foundation. A similar approach can be taken to local search, and a great place to start is by submitting your business to as many, if not all of the websites with known direct or passive feeds to the search engines. GetListed.org offers a great map of the Local Search Ecosystem that I always use as a basis of these efforts.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

Another technique that can be carried over from link building is referencing the competition as a means of building additional citations and references to strengthen your Google Places listing. To do this, search for your competitors in Google and view their Places page. Look at sites referenced throughout the listing (they appear in green) in places like reviews, details, photos & videos, and more about this place. Are there any websites listed that you can get your business listed on that you haven't already? This is a great opportunity.

Once you've established some references from known competitors look for unknown competitors as well by searching for some of your core localized keywords and viewing the Places listings that appear in the top of the results. If you want to speed up this process, Whitespark offers an amazing Local Citation Finder that identifies local citation sources based on the top results for that keyword and delivers an extensive list via email.

Think Outside Your Local Box

If you've exhausted all local resources and aren't sure where to look next, look to larger metro markets to find new opportunities. Just because they aren't in your local market, doesn't mean that there aren't opportunities lying within their listings. Oftentimes you can find find niche specific references that can strengthen your listing and it's content. I once found a strong list of reference opportunities for a local attorney by looking to larger metro areas such as Los Angeles and New York, that were law specific, but didn't have any of his competitors listed on it.

Continued Local Growth

As you continue to build your local presence the key is to remember that anywhere you can list your business contact information has the opportunity to be referenced and used as a citation for strengthening your local listing. As you build up these references be sure to keep your address information consistent, so that the search engines know it is related to your local business listing. I personally refer to and copy directly from the Google Places listing every time I build a new reference or citation.