I am a link builder at heart; it's what I love to do. On the reverse side, I find citation building to be one of the most boring tasks in the industry. Link building is strategic and tactical - citation building is well... not. Which is why this strategy was created - to take some of the monotony out of citation building.
Quick Intro: Citations consist of a NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) and they are a key component in local search ranking factors. Citation building consists of going around to local directories and social networks and getting your NAP listed. Some good examples are Facebook Local Business or Place pages, Yelp!, FourSquare, SuperPages, BrownBook, Yahoo Local, Merchant Circle etc.
Here's how to quickly catch up to your competitors and automate finding their new local citations from here on out
First, figure out all the keywords you want to rank for that are triggering local search: I am going to do use one of the coolest restaurants in the world for my example: Alinea.
Here are the terms we are going for
Chicago Restaurant Restaurant Chicago Restaurant in Chicago Chicago Restaurant Chicago Fine Dining Fine Dining Chicago
Note: Alinea's Google Plus Local page does not reflect this strategy and they are currently at the bottom of the seven-pack, but we are still going to use them as an example anyway :)
Type in the local search queries you are targeting into Places and scrape all the results that are populating and throw it into an excel sheet:
Next, set your Google search results to 100. Search for your competitors' NAPs individually and scrape all results. Make sure to include -site:competitor in your query, because a lot of restaurants have their NAP on every page of their site.
Put all of the NAP URLs in a separate excel sheet:
Because some niche citation sources can be tricky to navigate and find exactly where to register your citation/business, you are going to want to copy this entire data set into a new excel sheet so you can have your raw data to go back to if need be.
Remove everything after the TLD and de-duplicate the NAP Source column:
This is your new go to list of citations to build. But before you start building citations, do the same process to your business and remove all sources where you already have your NAP listed. Now you can start building citations. It's important to make sure whoever does the actual citation building keeps meticulous records because you will need to go back and check that all the NAPs created match the NAP on your Google Local Plus page. This is especially important if you hand this off to a freelancer.
Here's how to automate finding their new local citations from here on out:
Set up Google Alerts for all Competitor NAPs in your Google Reader:
NAPs need to be exact, but your competitors are bound to screw up from time to time - So you want to set up Google Alerts to account for their errors. Take just the address of your competitor and abbreviate anything that you can (example: 123 N Fake Street to 123 North Fake Street) and set it up in a separate Google Alert. Next take their phone number and put all the normal variations into separate Google Alerts as well (example: (123) 456-7890 to 123 456 7890 and 123 456-7890 and 123.456.7890 and 1234567890). This may seem like overkill, but you never know what Google might miss. Now you can go through your Google Reader every few weeks and do all your citation building for your client in one clean sweep.
Getting the Competitive Edge
Keep a record of how many citations each competitor is building a month. Track it month over month and see if it stays consistent. A lot of SEO firms do a set amount of citations a month in a "local search package," by figuring out how many citations your competitors are going to be building each month you can stay one step ahead of them.