What you are in for
I am going to show you why so many of your citations suck. Most if not all of them are bleh and will never help you in any circumstance. I show you why we thought it was a good idea to even perform these tests and not just give up on citations as a strategy based on some quick logic. Then, we show you how to build these things the right way. No more bad citations, no mas.
I noticed a lot of discussion on this topic in the past few months and there are some solid arguments on each side of the conversation. Arguments and loose SEO theory are not solid benchmarks for responsible testing though, so we went on a journey to develop empirical data on this subject and answer the question that has been haunting local SEOs, are citations freaking dead?
For the sake of transparency, we wanted to strive and understand why the decline in citation effectiveness. The definition of the word effectiveness is interesting in this case as well, because we are not looking to build a few citations and crush the SERPs, but instead, we wanted to explore some of the reasons why people were hating using them, and furthermore, we wanted to see what we could do to increase their potential and continue to use them as part of our local strategy.
That was a huge sentence.
Should we even build local citations?
First, I want to logically deduce if this is even a test worth doing. Is there any reality where citations should still be used in our campaigns? One of the easiest, and laziest, ways to convince me to keep using citations was arguably not the best method of reason. I checked the backlink profiles of a TON of local websites ranking in the top three of the SERPs for their respective main keywords to see if citations were part of their profile.
They were. Correlation does not mean causation, but if we are trying to do SEO from a scientific or mathematic standpoint then we want to reverse engineer what Google deems appropriate to rank at the top of the SERPs. This includes the backlinks of a site. If some of those are citations, then by darn we shall have citations as well.
In addition to a lot of ranking sites having citations as part of their backlinking, there is also this little thing you might have heard of called brand prominence. There is a quick tidbit from the Big G themselves. This basically just reiterates what I have been teaching people for years, the main points you need to hit to rank a website locally. 1. Location (proximity) 2. Niche (relevance) 3. Real Entity (brand prominence). Google has forever been trying to identify real entities and then treat them differently than websites that are not real businesses. Your affiliate or lead gen site might rank but believe me, Google would rather rank a real company than a fictitious listing put there simply to siphon leads out of the search engine.
Brand prominence, or the idea of influencing Google’s entity recognition algorithms, is essentially the reason why we build citations. It is why I preach adding your NAP (name, address, and phone number) into every link you build for local SEO campaigns. Creating these structured and unstructured citations is a great way to establish your site as a real brand in the eyes of Google. It always has been. So, why did the popularity of structured citations go down the drain? It seems like the confidence people once had in this form of link building has diminished. Now SEOs use them because “everyone else is as well”.
That was my lazy excuse, but I wanted to dig deeper. Let’s look at some of the inherently negative issues I find with citation building.
The Maps Debacle
This was the “shoot from the hip” reason why I thought people set citations on the backburner, maybe not from an obligatory building perspective, but from viewing them as a serious ranking component in local campaigns. If you guys remember, 4 years ago or so, you used to be able to build more citations than your competition and outrank them based on that being one of the most important factors. Citations were the bee’s knees. Everyone and their grandpappy worried about citations. As Google refined their local algorithm, ranking maps became a lot more involved and I think a lot of people viewed this as citations becoming less effective rather than the reality, ranking becoming more complex.
I noticed while people continued to build them, they definitely were no longer a main topic of discussion when it comes to local rankings.
The Quality of the Platform
This is huge. We spend so much time talking about the quality of the citation, but we do not spend enough time chatting about the quality of the platform you are using to build your citations. There are a plenty of sites that are structured as directories, and allow you to add your business to their platform. This does not mean it is the optimal place for you to create a citation. We internally labeled these citations as supporting citations. This is not an industry term, but it means these are less authoritative directory sites. That’s it.
Supporting citations are typically the ones built when you order cheap citation packages, and we always want to be building geo-specific links, but they are not the core citations you want to invest in for your sites. There is a reason they got labeled as supporting citations and not the essential platforms that you want to ensure get built for your websites. If you are overinvesting in these types of citations and neglecting the larger platforms then you are on the wrong track, in my opinion. Focus on building and optimizing the major platforms first, and then supplement with supporting directories later in the campaign when you are focused on every little thing that you can to outperform your competition.
The Quality of the Citation
This is a more common conversation you see happen vis a vis citations. We want to make sure they are fully built out and optimized. Unfortunately, a lot of the supporting citations that vendors sell are poorly built. There is just enough content on the citations to grab a link back to a money site. Nothing more, nothing less. I am not going to throw any vendor under the bus, but a popular provider that we tested added NO content. Just a link. I never went back to check, but I cannot believe that even stuck on the site and got by moderators. If it did stick then that speaks volumes about the overall quality of the site.
I will go through what you need to add to your citations in this post to outperform all of your competitor’s citations in the next section, but just know, if you built disgusting looking citations then you can’t really weigh in on discussions about their effectiveness. It is like buying a car with no tires and then complaining that the driveability is lackluster.
Indexing, or the Lack Thereof
At the end of the day, we might use a lot of buzzwords like citations, unstructured citations, brand prominence, etc. but these are links. Sure, we get the added benefit of adding the NAP and optimizing the listing, but we are building a hyperlink. End of story.
The same general rules apply to citations that apply to any link. Two of the most basic rules of link building are
- It needs to get crawled in order for Google to follow the link and assign a value to that link and use that value to determine how it affects the quality score of the money site to which the hyperlink points.
- If the page the link resides on is not indexed then it arguably is going to pass little to no juice to the money site it links to. If your citations are not in Google’s public cache then there is a reason for that, and we can assume it is a quality issue of some sort.
The second point really interesting and deserves a post and testing in itself. We have found de-indexed sites still get crawled by Google bot. This means, theoretically, the outbound links still get crawled as well. Do de-indexed pages links lose all value? In a hypertextual search engine that crawls trillions of pages and links, do we risk anything by completely disregarding the de-indexed web?
No matter what, you can argue that an indexed citation is going to be more effective from an SEO perspective. We found that when buying citations, even from the “big names” in citations, their index rate is 10-20% respectively. That is abysmal. For every fifty citations built only 5-10 are indexed.
I am sure you guys do not want to spend an hour reading my theories on why your citations are not working. I just felt this was important to justify why we even started digging into this topic, and it essentially caused us to completely revamp how we build citations, and you should too. The solution is a several step citation building and indexing process which I will explain below.
There is at least one thing which I can almost guarantee you are not doing. This also happens to be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Let’s start digging through these citations and what we are looking for from a qualitative perspective.
Build an Intelligent Local Citation Strategy
This is step one. Again, there is nothing wrong with building those supporting citations and creating a foundation of these links for your site, but our core citation strategy needs to include the heavy hitters. This not only includes the “top” directory sites for your country but also Geo-citations, niche citations, competitor’s citations, and then supporting citations.
Yes, building citations the right way turns into an entire link building campaign. Let me simplify it for you because this does not need to be rocket science. We will dig deeper into how to build them, but for now, I just want you guys to make a citation building plan and prepare your link building campaign.
Step one: Build your top citations. This is also known as your Top 50 Citations. Use a list of these citations and get busy building. These more authoritative directories should be your first wave of citations on every new site.
Step two: Compose a list and start building your niche relevant and geo-specific citations. These fall between the cracks of the citation building conversation far too often, but these things can actually move the needle. Big time. In some cases, you will incur a fee to list your website on these directories, but I believe it is money well spent on links that will be highly relevant to your money site.
Step three: Reverse engineering competitors will forever be one of my most favored ways of building a customized rankings strategy for each new site for which we are building a campaign. There is no difference with citations. Using Whitespark or BrightLocal to mine citation opportunities is a no-brainer. Once you or your team compiles this list you can start building based on the specs below. Easy as pie.
Step four: This is when you can build your supporting citations. These buggers are cheap and can be built fast. The same build specs should apply that I list below, but you could still run into some of the same indexation issues as poorly built citations simply because of the lower quality of some of the platforms. This is something to consider.
Citation Build Specs
We know the importance of completely filling out the business profiles. The reason is twofold. Firstly, we want to ensure Google sees it as valuable enough to index into their public cache. This is obviously important. Secondly, if the build specs are lackluster the site moderators themselves might remove the listing from the site. I have seen this happen to well-built citations for unknown reasons, so if they are poorly constructed, you stand even more of a chance of losing them.
You need to make sure you completely fill out the profile. Period. Try not to miss anything. The more content, both textual and media, on the listing, the better chance you have of staying alive, indexed, and potentially even driving real traffic from the site to your money site. These are all good things.
The main factor that we found for the increased indexation of our citations as opposed to citations that typically get built, is the content. It became commonplace that a site description was pulled from the money site and then used across all of the citations that get built. 40-50 duplicate business descriptions getting built at a shot.
This means on top of completely filling out the listing we want to add 50-100% unique content to the listing. Mind you, I do not think it’s a “duplicate content is poisonous” type of situation, rather I think Google sees a lot of these identical profiles and assumes that they just are not all needed in the public cache.
Do not use images that are either not fair use or that you do not own. This is a quick way to get a listing slapped down. I understand that when building them for a real business this is rarely a concern, so that applies more to lead gen sites. Also, know that I am a big fan of geotagging images to boost the local prominence of the photo and the page it is uploaded to, but most sites remove metadata from images when uploading, so I would not spend a lot of time preparing your citation images.
To simplify this entire section. Build them the heck out and use a healthy amount of unique content.Follow this up with submitting these citations to the Google crawl or use your favorite indexer. We have experimented with boosting citations at length and can say, it works when the tiering is done intelligently. I am not a fan of blasting anything with an unnatural velocity of links, especially when those links are spammy, but that is another post altogether. 🙂
For the sake of transparency, we found that fresh out of the gate these citations index a lot better than citations not built according to these specs. We do not have long-term data on the sustainability of this increased index rate. We can assume it will remain better than those citations that were not built this way, but that is pure speculation at this time. I plan on revisiting this data in 9-12 months and see the percentage that stuck comparatively between the two different build types.
Also, the point of this post was not to argue that citations are the end all link building strategy for local serps but to stress the fact that if you are building citations that do not get indexed then you cannot really test their effectiveness to even have that conversation. A lot of you build citations, so implement this into your SOP and test for yourself.
Yea, there is one of these lol. After noticing these improvements we decided to release these to the public on the Web20Ranker brand. If you are interested in our Essential Citations Package, you can get 20% off by using coupon code “20offcitations1”. We have two packages available and they rock. The high visibility comes with 60 citations, GPS citations, and 100% unique content. This is what we build for all of our clients at this point.
If you do not want to spend your monies with us, that is fine, but at least build better citations. Thanks a lot for reading guys. I will answer questions in the comment section or in the LCT Facebook group.