Phone Number Co-Citation Analysis for Local Link Builders

In testing and researching an upcoming piece on local link opportunity analysis (which follows of course from Content-Based Link Opportunity Analysis) I was struck by a wild and sudden bolt of epiphery... If you can identify a unique footprint for local competitors, then search for this footprint, each URL that the search engine discovers is a "citation." In this simple exercise below, we'll treat the company's phone number as that "unique footprint" and see what happens :)

Update: Congratulations local link builders! Darren Shaw and Ontolo collaborated on a tool that automates the process outlined below. You can sign up to use the free Local Citation Finder >>

Because of a recent good experience with a local roofing company (I'm in Raleigh, NC) I decided to check out that market to see what's shaking in the local SERPs. I used the phrase [Raleigh Roofers]:

Mmmm... look at those ripe, juicy phone numbers just dangling there in the breeze. Let's get crackin'...

1) Gather phone numbers from your top-listed competitors

First off, copy and paste each full phone number (I think addresses could work too - it would be interesting to compare results of phone vs. address...) into a text doc or your favorite spreadsheet program. These numbers are the starting point for all of your link/citation prospecting. Here are the ones I used, in the order in which they appeared on Google, in case you want to follow along from home...

  1. "(919) 828-2975" 93 results
  2. "(919) 852-2660" 34 results
  3. "(919) 851-8918" 66 results
  4. "(919) 601-2235" 48 results
  5. "(919) 828-4405" 68 results
  6. "(919) 881-0330" 61 results
  7. "(919) 846-7227" 45 results

When I searched for each of them, I put quotes around them. Also note that in the above list I also included the number of results that each search for each phone number has. This was for personal interest mostly, as I was curious if there was any correlation between citation numbers and ranking. I'll let you draw your own conclusions on that... For now, move on to step 2.

2) Make new desktop folder, Search each number, pull top 100 results as CSV, save in folder

With SEO for Firefox enabled, search for each phone number with your results set to 100. Then export the top 100 results as a CSV and save in that new folder you made on your desktop (I call mine "dump"). At the end of this step you should have the same number of CSV files in your new folder as you have phone numbers of competitors.

3) Open each CSV with spreadsheet program, copy urls into our tool, then paste results into your main spreadsheet

Now it's time to scrub the data so that we can get reliable co-citation numbers. To do so, open your first CSV and copy and paste the URLs into our Unique Hostname Sorting Tool. Then copy and paste the scrubbed URLs onto a new sheet in your main spreadsheet. Then open up the next CSV and repeat the process.

The Unique Hostname Sorting tool boils your list of URLs down to just the unique hostnames. That is, if there was hostname.com/thispage and hostname.com/anotherpage you'd only see hostname.com in this tool's final results. Every citing URL is useful, and you should hang on to them, but to do co-citation analysis you need a list of unique sites that cite the phone number.

At the end of step 3 you should have a sheet in your spreadsheet with ALL the citing hostnames from ALL of your phonenumbers that you searched.

4) Count Hostname Co-Citations

Now you can paste ALL of the hostnames you found citing ALL of your competitors into our hostname counting tool. This is always my favorite part since it's when all the data gathering finally delivers the results. After you've hit Submit on our tool, you can export the results or just copy and paste them out into your spreadsheet. You now know which sites most-frequently cite your competitors' phone numbers. You can now begin qualifying the sites and otherwise analyzing your results.

5) Analyzing and Qualifying Your New Citation Opportunities

Here is an sampling of the results I found along with my thoughts on approaching them for local citation builders.

There were 3 sites that cited all 7 phone numbers:

  1. mrnumber.com
  2. phonenumber007.com
  3. realpageslive.com

My assumption here of course is that they scraped phone number information, and may not indicate great avenues for discovering prospects. However, if your phone number is NOT in the most frequently-citing sites you should figure out why.

There were 7 sites that cited 6 of the 7 phone numbers:

  1. blogthishere.com
  2. local.triangle411.com
  3. merchantcircle.com
  4. mojopages.com
  5. raleigh.fox50.com
  6. superpages.com
  7. yellowbot.com

And here we start to get into a bit more Raleigh-centric sites, such as local.triangle411.com and raleigh.fox50.com. Probably these are for-pay listing sites, but they should definitely be investigated.

What I found interesting was the number of quality sites that only cited ONE of the phone numbers... They often seemed to be more of the home-grown sites such as blogs, neighborhood sites, chambers of commerce and what look like citation-trades. Further, some of them indicated BUSINESS relationships, such as the citation from facilities.uncc.edu.

Here are a few hand-picked examples from the sites that only cited one phone number:

  1. boylanheights.org
  2. smithrealestate.net
  3. shoplocalraleigh.org
  4. sanfordnc.net
  5. facilities.uncc.edu
  6. durham.northcarolina.com

6) Citation Acquisition and Other Next Steps

Being new to local citation building, I can't offer many recommendations regarding acquisition beyond looking for submit buttons and contact information pages on each site. One approach I'd take though, that would both aid acquisition as well as future opportunity discovery is to look for patterns in the types of opportunities that appear.

For example, there are clearly many sites that are probably powered by one of the centralized business data repositories. You should definitely set these sites aside so that you don't spend your time barking up the wrong tree for several listings you could get easily in one fell submission swoop.

There's also a few home-grown local listing and info sites that are VERY interesting, such as shoplocalraleigh.org and boylanheights.org (a Raleigh neighborhood). I think these should have their own category in your analysis as they are marginally tougher to get into (in that they take a bit of legwork to find).

I'd also sort prospects based on the probability that there's a business relationship involved. For example the citation at facilities.uncc.edu (which is for UNCC facility managers) probably is in the context of the roofing contractor of choice. Yowza - now that could be a good gig...

Once you've determined some of the more common types of opportunities you can return to your search engine of choice and hunt for more of them based on any kind of footprint you can discover.

7) What This Method Does Not Do

As awesome as this method is, there's quite a bit it leaves out when it comes to discovering new opportunities for getting your local business listed on local websites. Here's what this method does not do:

  1. show you which citations you already have
  2. measure the quality of the citing hostnames
  3. enable you to discover more, similar citation opportunities beyond the existing citation graph
  4. in any way deal with LINKS...
  5. I am unaware if this method has been discussed in the past

Caveat update: I asked Matt McGee of SmallBusinessSEM.com for feedback on this method and he noted: "what Google shows as citations on a Place Page is dramatically different than what will show on a Google.com search for the phone number. If I'm mining a competitor's citations, I'd use what's showing on their place page -- not what I see on Google.com in the 7-pack and the regular SERPs." My interpretation is that what's showing on the place page is a stronger indicator of what Google's actually looking at. Intrepid local citation builders could distill those place page urls and conduct co-citation analysis using the process and tools above.

8) Recommended Local Link Building Resources

I am new to local link/citation building beyond my research, testing, wild speculations plus a handful of great discussions with a link building book buyer plus a local lawfirm ninja SEO buddy. I could not have even begun to speculate on writing this article without the following brilliant resources:

If you know of other similar resources, or know of other citation prospecting ideas I'd love to hear from you: Garrett.French@Ontolo.etc...

The Sales Pitch

If you'd like a large, searchable database of co-citing sites in your market please drop us a line or read more about getting started with our Link Building Toolset >> Also, our Link Building Book is really good.


  1. Great job

    Hi Garrett,

    This is a great writeup; thanks for doing it!

    Mark Simon

  1. Thanks Mark

    Let me know if you think of ways to push this idea further! I appreciate your stopping by.


  1. Incredibly Thought-Provoking Tactic


    Well done. One of the most unique Local SEO techniques I've seen published. The sites that your six-out-of-seven analysis identified would be among the first places I would have found based on some of my own techniques in identifying prospective citation sources...and your way certainly seems quicker and more scalable. Really enjoyed seeing this perspective.

    David Mihm

  1. Thanks David

    Hi David - I was reading your article on citations as the new links (for the third or fourth time...) when the idea struck me. I'd be curious to see how the prospects differ if you search for street address and, in some cases, for competitor business names (competitor business names could work - for some verticals - outside of local too...). I appreciate your comment, your tweet, and of course your continued contributions to Local SEO.

  1. Awesome New Technique

    Hey Garrett,

    Researching citation sources by competitor phone number is a brilliant one I've not come across before. Very simple and yet so powerful. I'm virtually smacking myself in the head right now for not having thought of it myself!


    James Svoboda @ WebRanking

  1. Hi James

    Hi James - thanks for your comment! I'd highly value any insights you have as you test out the process... Primarily in the area of making the data more-useful to employees tasked with acquiring new local citations... Getting the prospects is one thing, but acquiring them is another as I'm sure you know :)


  1. Great article

    Got to agree with my colleagues…your methodology for finding citation sources is fantastic. Truly an efficient and effective way to quickly discover opportunities for new citations, and something I’ve not seen posted anywhere else. Great work and thank you for sharing!

    Chris @ WebRanking

  1. Thanks for dropping by Chris!

    I'd love to hear any advances you make on this process, or any hacks you run into to make it smoother and more efficient!


  1. Fantastic Waste of Time!


    You sent me this article at 7:19am and it is now 10:11am. One of my clients now has four new links due to this article and me working through the process and I haven't even scratch the surface of the data your strategy has given me. So when I say "Fantastic Waste of Time" in my subject line, I mean that in a POSITIVE way! You even warned me!

    On a side note, I wish I had discovered some of the Ontolo tools in the past month or two when I first discovered Ontolo. The URL and Hostname Counter tool is absolutely priceless and is now one of my few bookmarks in Chrome.

    As far as making this more visibly appealing to those of us that have to sift through the data and turn it into linking opportunities... I'm not sure how one would go about doing that. Convincing an employer to spend some time with this strategy though shouldn't be difficult at all, the comparison numbers that show how many of your clients competitors are found on each of the sites are priceless enough and admittedly a strategy I've not really paid much attention to due to time restrictions.

    Now then... of to the second part of your e-mail and for sure another hour at least wasted on your unique concepts. :-)

    - John F. Jones III

  1. glad I could help out ;)

    I'm always happy to help burn a few hours ;)

    I look forward to hearing your feedback on any opportunity types you discover, or any quick hacks you find for weeding out the "definite NO's" from the opportunity list!

    We should set up a call some time soon - I'd love to hear more about your overall process for acquisition as well as the folks internally you'd be handing this off to!


  1. Good information and feedback on number 7

    I agree with your interpretation (see #7). In fact, the folks at SEOmoz posted a terrific method for mining competitors citations and link opportunities. ( one-dead-simple-tactic-for-better-rankings-in-google-local ) I think this method, along with the one you've pointed out above, is dead-on for improved Local SEO results for any client, in any industry. Terrific post!

  1. here's the URL...

    Here's the URL of the article you mentioned:

    it's simple but - as my granddad says - if simple works, then simple is good :)

    Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Great article!

    Already started doing that with my competitors now

  1. Export to CSV just gives 10 results

    See subject. Using SEO Firefox, I only get the first page of results in the csv export. Neither can I find a way to set it to 100.

    If I click on Advanced Search and set it to 100 and then export to CSV, I get 1, a map listing.

    I'm in Firefox on a Mac. Is that the problem?


  1. Only exports 10

    Love this post but am struggling making it work.

    To start, I can't get Firefox to keep my setting of 100 results per page. I tried 3 times. It tells me it saves, but it doesn't.

    Then when I export to CSV, I only get 10 results. Is that the way it's supposed to work, i.e., only give you the FIRST PAGE, whatever that is - 10 or 100. Isn't it important to get all references? In my case, the competitors I'm looking at have about 6000 citations. Why not use them all?


  1. Hi Kathy! You have to set

    Hi Kathy!

    You have to set google's results to 100 - and if I remember correctly you will need to turn off Google Instant results in order to do this.

    Turn off google instant:

    Then set results to 100:

    Then, and only then, will you be able to see + download 100 results.

    Also, you may find it easier to use Darren Shaw's tool that automates the process for you:

    Please let me know if you have further questions!


  1. Know any outsourcers that do this work reliably?

    My SEO business works mostly with chiropractors so I have huge list of citation sources that are medical or chiropractic specific that I can largely reuse. I'm looking for some good sources of labor that understand this process or submission tools? Any ideas? Email me if you'd like to see my list. Maybe a master one by industry would be a good collaboration. Andrea@practicelight.com

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