Whether you’re a native or a transplant, everyone can acknowledge that Chicago is….well, pretty awesome! Chicago is one of the few cities in the world that offers everything under the sun – we have a sports team in every league, over 7,000 restaurants with everything from the world’s best hamburger to whole roasted goats, a place to drink on every corner, 40 museums, and over a dozen universities. Every nationality, age group, income level, and industry is represented in the city and its suburbs.

Chicago is not only one of the largest economies in the US, but one of the most competitive. There are 600+ creative marketing and advertising agencies in Chicago, an ever-increasing number of established companies and startups fighting for market share in every area from financial solutions to hardware and hammers. It can be a challenge to stand out as a Chicago business with so much competition. And that’s why we’re here to help – to be your Sherpas through the competitive landscapes of Chicago and Google search, and to give you the insights needed to start ranking and pulling organic traffic from your Chicago neighbors.

Local SEO 101

Considering you’re on an SEO company’s website, we’re going to assume you get the general idea of SEO. If you don’t, our guide to teaching yourself SEO can help give you the baseline knowledge needed before you go any further into this guide.

In short – organic search is affected by two major things:

#1 - Inbound links to your website:

  • quality (domain authority),
  • quantity (number of backlinks, and the number of unique domains linking to you) and
  • relevance (how closely is a site related to your line of business?)

These factors in relation to inbound links to your site hold the most weight when it comes to performing well in organic search.

#2 – On-Site Quality

The second factor is the ‘quality’ of your website – are pages segmented properly? Is there helpful, relevant copy on the page? Does the site look good on a mobile device?

There are dozens of factors which compile into Google’s assessment of your on-site quality – too many to list. However, there are some resources which can help you:

How Local SEO is Different

When Google delivers local results, such as a search for ‘pizza place’ or ‘chiropractor chicago’, it’s still relying on the two main factors outlined above. However, in addition to those two factors, local search throws a handful of other signals into its assessment of your site, including:

  • Google+ My Business: is the business’ Google+ set up properly? Does it have a description, reviews, etc.?
  • Citation Sources: is the business listed on local-focused sites such as Yelp!, Yellowpages, Angie’s List, etc.? Is the information provided about this business, specifically the Name, Address and Phone Number/Website; consistent across these ‘citation sources’
  • Review Signals: are their reviews for the business on Google+, Yelp!, or other external sources? Are there a significant number of reviews? Are they consistently getting reviews?
  • Proximity to user
  • Personalization Factors

Bonus: If you’re focusing on getting more organic visitors and leads for your local business, it’s important to not only focus the SEO basics but also spend time and effort getting your Google+ page and reviews in order. Download the full list of Chicago focused publications, citations and link opportunities.

A great place to start as a local business is with the Local SEO Checklist which covers most of the bases when it comes to ensuring your site is set up well to rank in the Chicago market.

Chicago Citation Sources

Much like inbound links, not all citation sources are created equal. The value of individual citation sources depends on a number of factors. Not all citation sources are available in all cities. Not all citation sources are available to all businesses (for example, Avvo.com is commonly listed as an important citation source…if you are a lawyer. To everyone else, it’s worthless).

Whitespark.ca puts out an annual list of the top citation sources weighted for each city. If you’re a local business in Chicago, here are the top citation sources you should be paying attention to.

How to Get the Top Chicago Citations:

#1 Yelp.com – Open to Almost All Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit biz.yelp.com to get started on claiming your company page

#2 Yellowpages.com – Open to All Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit adsolutions.yp.com to get started on claiming your company page

#3 Angie’s List – Open to Service Businesses – Paid

How to claim/get this citation: Visit business.angieslist.com and enter business information. Can create profile for free.

#4 Indeed.com – Open to All Businesses – Paid

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.indeed.com to claim a company profile with Indeed.com and acquire this citation.

#5 Better Business Bureau – Open to All Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.bbb.org to get started. Registration is free.

#6 Thumbtack – Open to All Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.thumbtack.com and sign up, create a profile for your company. Free to get listed, pay only for quotes/estimates

#7 Facebook – Open to All Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.facebook.com/business to learn how to set up a Facebook page for your business.

#8 Chicago Tribune – Open to All Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit local.chicagotribune.com to view listings and submit your business. Powered by the Axicom network.

#9 CBS Chicago  – Open to All Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit chicago.cbslocal.com to view listings and submit your business

#10 Groupon  – Open to Most Businesses – Paid

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.grouponworks.com to start creating a profile page for your business on Groupon

#11 City of Chicago – Limited Opportunity - Free

How to claim/get this citation: Very few businesses are actually eligible to claim this citation. Two types of businesses that qualify:

  • Disadvantaged Business Enterprises: click here 
    According to the State of Illinois the company must be “At least 51 percent owned by one or more individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged. In the case of a corporation, in which 51 percent of the stock is owned by one or more such individuals; and, Whose management and daily business operations are controlled by one or more of the socially and economically disadvantaged individuals who own the business.”
  • Women, Minority owned, and BEPD certified firms: click here

#12 Chicago Craigslist – Open to Most Businesses - Free

How to claim/get this citation: Add a listing for your business under the Services section of City of Chicago Craigslist: chicago.craigslist.org

#13 Chicago Mag – Open to Some Businesses – Paid

How to claim/get this citation: Visit http://www.chicagomag.com/marketplace/ to post an ad for your business. Businesses featured include products for sale, shopping, home contractors, travel, real estate, and more.

#14 Time Out Chicago – Open to Some Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.timeout.com to submit your business. Open to entertainment establishments such as bars, restaurants, and music venues. However, if you host an event at your business, you may be able to get featured even if you don’t fit the criteria.

#15 LinkedIn – Open to Most Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.linkedin.com for instructions on creating a company page for your business on LinkedIn

#16 Wikipedia – Open to Most Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit en.wikipedia.org for information on how to create a Wikipedia page for your business.

#17 Home Advisor – Open to Some Businesses – Paid

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.homeadvisor.com to begin the process of claiming your business.  

#18 Trip Advisor – Travel Businesses only – Paid

How to claim/get this citation: Visit https://www.tripadvisor.com/BusinessListings to begin the process of claiming your business

#19 Youtube – Open to Most Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit support.google.com to create a channel for your business

#20 Manta – Open to Most Businesses – Free

How to claim/get this citation: Visit www.manta.com to get started

Top 25 Chicago Content Publishers

Almost as important as citations is getting coverage in the local media. Like any large city Chicago has a number of media outlets – everything from traditional news publications like the Tribune, to websites focusing on Chicago’s hottest restaurants and hot-shot tech startups. Below are the top 25 content publishing websites in Chicago, ranked by Domain Authority:

PublisherVerticalDomain Authority
Chicago TribuneNews95
Chicago Sun TimesNews92
Time OutLocal Events / Soft News92
Chicago CBS LocalNews91
Crain's ChicagoBusiness84
Daily HeraldNews82
NBC ChicagoNews81
WGN ChicagoNews81
ABC 7 ChicagoNews79
Chicago MagLocal Events / Soft News79
DNAinfoHyperlocal News79
Northwest Indiana TimesNews77
MetromixEntertainment77
Chicago ReaderLocal Events / Soft News75
Red EyeLocal Events / Soft News74
ChicagoistLocal Events / Soft News74
Chicago EaterFood / Restaurant72
Chicago NowNews70
Everyblock ChicagoHyperlocal News68
Comcast Sportsnet ChicagoSports63
Built In ChicagoBusiness / Technology61
Chicago TravelerTravel61
ChicagoInno / StreetwiseHyperlocal News61
Do312Music / Entertainment54
La RazaNews (Spanish Language)54

Other Chicago Content Publishers

PublisherVertical
Chicago Gallery NewsArt
Chicago Artists ResourcesArt
The HecklerSports
Chicago Public LIbraryArt
Second City StyleFashion
Chicago PrideLifestyle
Flavor PillFood
Pitchfork MediaMusic
Dusty GrooveMusic
Uptown UpdateLocal
Beachwood ReportLocal
VocaloMusic
Chicago Daily ObserverLocal
Windy City GridironSports
Hot Time in Old TownSports
Chicago PlaysArt
Chicago MusicMusic

Download the pdf with all of Chicago's content publishers (and more!) here.

Getting Published In Chicago

A publication like the Chicago Tribune isn’t going to publish just anyone. Red Eye isn’t going to call out your business because you were nice to them. You need to provide something that’s engaging, relevant to Chicago-area readers, and is unique from what other businesses have the capabilities to offer. You want to create something -somewhat- related to your business - it doesn’t have to be an exact match, but you need to have a certain position of authority.

At Digital Third Coast we specialize in creating great content that engages audiences and gets ourselves and our clients. Here’s a few examples of how we’ve earned local links:

Digital Third Coast’s NFL Fan Map

While digital marketing is our main game at DTC, the majority of our team is rabid football fans - come by our office on a Monday and you’ll hear watercooler debates on the Bears, Packers, Lions and more (we even have a Bills fan) as well as fantasy football. Needless to say - we’re fans of the pigskin. We have talented designers and we’re data driven. With these things in mind, we set out on a mission, mostly to settle arguments between Packers and Bears fans in the office, but also to get some great local links. What’s the dividing line between Bears country and Packers nation? (and how do other teams fit into the mix?)

Our team created an interactive map where residents of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana could vote on their team allegiance. We separated the votes based on county to give a visual representation of “Bears Nation”, “Packers Land”, etc. etc. The desire of fans to represent their team resulted in thousands of votes and an very cool interactive map that ran on Chicago Tribune, Red Eye, Windy City Gridiron; as well as several Wisconsin publications and USA Today.

Interactive for the NFL team support in the Midwest.

Chicago Line’s “Explore The Skyline”

Everyone in Chicago takes pride in the gorgeous skyline the city has built. From historical legends such as the Wrigley Building and modern marvels like the Aqua building, the skyline is a huge part of Chicago’s identity and a sight that both natives and tourists love to behold. But how well do you know the Chicago skyline? Do you know the story behind those buildings?

Chicago Line Cruises offers architectural tours on the Chicago River, and put this knowledge to use by creating a guide to the skyscrapers of Chicago. Each building is featured with the date it was built, the firm who designed it, it’s proper name, and a bit of backstory on the building itself. Now anyone can be an expert on Chicago architecture.

This interactive graphic was featured on DNA Info, Streetwise, Time Out Chicago, and Curbed Chicago - all helping to boost Chicago Line’s local rankings.

Chicago skyline and architecture interactive

Outside The Graphic Realm:

You may not have the resources to build a custom interactive piece or even design a static piece - and that’s okay. There’s other ways you can get yourself published in the local publications:

  • HARO Requests: HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is an e-mail service which sends alerts from reports looking to interview people for a story. It’s a great option not only for local publications but industry and national exposure as well.
  • Be Awesome: Okay. This one’s a little vague. But unless you have a compelling piece of content, you need something that will make a write want to cover your business. Built In Chicago is a great resource for this - you’ll find plenty of articles about how companies are doing cool things or the best in employee perks. Crain’s, The Tribune - there’s opportunity to be had here, if you can bring something unique to the table.

Chambers of Commerce

Local Chamber of Commerce websites provide a great opportunity to not only support your local community and fellow local businesses, but to gain a valuable local backlink and improve your local search rankings.

There’s a few different ways of earning these types of links:

  • Simply joining the chamber. Almost every chamber contains a directory with links to member websites. Here’s an example from the River North chamber that has links to it’s member websites
    • It’s definitely worth joining the Chicagoland chamber as they are the largest, however links to websites from their directory are not indexed due to the way the website is set up.
  • Writing a guest post for the chamber’s blog on your area of expertise. Here’s an example of what we’ve done recently – we reached out to the Wicker Park chamber and offered to do a guest post on Local SEO for them. Boom, link.
    •  Reach out to the chamber and offer to write an article for them on your area of expertise - it works pretty often! Most of the people running these websites are volunteers and could use fresh content.
  • Sponsoring an event in the neighborhood. Almost every chamber has events listed which are sponsored by local businesses – which links out to that business's website. Here’s an example from a medical office in Wicker Park:  
  • Sponsoring the Chamber itself (and other marketing opportunities): This is likely a larger investment on time and money, but you can sponsor the chamber itself and earn an outbound link from them this way. West Town is a good example of this:

Below is a table of link opportunities for each neighborhood association. With blog and events, if ‘no’ is indicated, it means that these areas don’t link out at the moment. There still could be some value in reaching out to these chambers and sponsoring an event (and asking them to link back to you), but it doesn’t appear to be their current practice at this time.

List of Chicagoland Chambers:

NeighborhoodBlog?Events?Directory?Notes
All ChicagolandYesNoYes**Directory doesn't link out
Keep it Local ChicagoNoYesYes 
Wicker Park / BucktownYesYesYes 
LakeviewNoNoYes 
Lincoln ParkYesYes*Yes*Events don't link out
Logan SquareNoNoYes 
West LoopYes (News)Yes*Yes*Events don't link out
UptownNoNoYes 
River NorthYes*NoYes*Blog is under "news and views"
AuroraNoYesYes 
NapervilleNoYesYes 

Chicago Universities

Universities provide another avenue for local exposure and valuable inbound links. Educational institutions have the benefit of typically having a very high domain authority – meaning links from these websites to your business can be incredibly valuable.

The most common two methods of earning links from universities are:

  • Discounts: Most universities and colleges offer discounts to students and staff at local businesses. Contact the university and offer a discount to their school, and they’ll link out to you.
  • Events: Schools are always hosting events, both for fun and educational purposes. Reach out and offer to give a seminar or be a sponsor of an on-campus concert/performance/etc. to get an inbound link.
Chicago UniversitiesLink Opportunity
Columbia CollegeEvents
DePaul UniversityDiscounts
LoyolaDiscounts
University of ChicagoDiscounts, Events
Univeristy of Illinois - ChicagoDiscounts
Roosevellt UniversityEvents
Kendall CollegeEvents
Chicago State UniversityEvents
City College of ChicagoEvents

Event Websites

In addition to the opportunities provided by sponsoring an event with your local chamber of commerce, there are several dedicated event websites that post events in the city of Chicago as well as the surrounding metro area. They provide yet another opportunity to gain more visibility and give back to your local community while improving your local search presence.

Event WebsitesType
Round TownGeneral
Choose ChicagoThings to Do
TimeOutGeneral
EventBriteThings to Do
MetromixEntertainment, Night Life
EventfulThings to Do
Chicago TravelerTravel and Leisure
Chicago EventsThings to Do
CBS LocalThings to Do
Chicago ReaderMusic, Arts, Entertainment
Star EventsGeneral
Chicago KidsKids and Family

This list exhausts most of the local publications and content placements we've secured for ourselves or our client's over the years. Since we are located in Chicago, we wanted to give back to the local businesses that we know and love who might be trying to do SEO and link building on their own. Some of these are really simple links to earn and if you have any questions, or know of any publications and/or websites that we missed, be sure to let us know.

Download the Ultimate Chicago List of Citation and Link Sources