Local Citation Selection: 6 Important Signals to Consider

Local Citation Selection: 6 Important Signals to Consider

We’ve been in the directory submissions/citations game for over 4 years. In that time we have completed more than 300,000 submissions and have learned a lot along the way.

Before we became a dedicated SEO tools business BrightLocal started off life as a search agency. In both these guises we have tested numerous approaches, solutions, internal structures and outsource partners in our quest to find citation-perfection*.

We currently operate with a dedicated in-house team of 25 submissions agents with 6 managers who provide support, training & quality assurance. To make citation campaign delivery smooth & efficient we’ve built a raft of technologies to assist with submissions and tracking. And it works pretty well!

There are many important parts to running an effective citation service. One of the most critical aspects is having a clean database of sites to submit to. We have over 1,600 sites in our citation database and we put a great deal of effort into optimizing this list to ensure it only contains sites that are useful, powerful & relevant.

*As an aside, I personally don’t think ‘citation-perfection’ exists, as there are too many variables in play and too many factors out of our control. The overriding issue is that almost every national, vertical & local directory is owned & managed by a different company. These companies operate different technology, have different data management rules, different submission rules, different editorial approaches etc…

Evaluating & selecting the best citation sites

We use the following set of 6 ‘signals’ when evaluating potential citation sites. There are many things to consider about a site, and using just 1 or 2 of these factors alone doesn’t provide the full picture. But by considering all these signals we can ‘triangulate’ whether a site has the right qualities to make it into our citation database.

I thought it would be useful to share these to help our customers understand how & why we use certain sites. I also hope that it will be useful to those who do their own citation building.

1. Domain Authority

When creating or editing citations it’s important to focus on the highest value sites first. The higher the value, the more citation authority a site has, which will benefit your Google Places/+Local listing.

Domain authority

Domain Authority* is a common measurement of the ranking power of a website

Akin to Page Rank, Domain Authority provides a score for a website that equates to the ‘rank-ability’ of that site within search engines. It takes into consideration multiple ranking signals including on-site factors & link profile.

Domain Authority in Citation Tracker


We typically look at the Domain Authority score rather than specific page level authority so that we get a good, comparable figure across all the sites we consider using.

An easy way for you to find out the Domain Authority of potential citation sites is to use our CitationTracker tool. The reports generated by this tool provide a list of your existing citations, any old / incorrect citations & also a list of sites your competitors are listed on but that you’re not. For each citation site we show the Domain Authority so you can easily identify the most valuable sites to list on.

*Domain Authority is a metric provided by Moz.com. You can find out the Domain Authority of a site using their Opensiteexplorer tool.

2. Indexed Pages

It’s important that the sites you list yourself on are extensively crawled by search engines and have a large number of their pages indexed.

Your objective in building citations is for them to boost the authority and ranking of your local search listings. So if you create a listing that never gets crawled by search engines, it then never makes it into their index and in turn fails to pass on the citation value for you.

To find out how many pages a site has indexed by Google, we do a simple site: domain.com search (e.g. site:kudzu.com).

We then record how many results are returned and factor this into consideration for whether we do or don’t want to use this site.

site: domain search

An example ‘site: domain.com’ search

Typically if a site has over 100,000 pages indexed, then you can assume that the likelihood of your listings being crawled is high.

However we delve a bit deeper into the search results, and look at the Type of Pages which are indexed. We scour the results to see if business-listing pages are indexed, as these are the page types that we’ll be creating with our listing.

Local business listing pages indexed on citation sites

Example of business listing pages indexed on Kudzu

If we find that a site has lots of blog and category pages indexed, but very few actual listing pages, then this indicates that even if we create a listing, it may not be discovered by Google and will have little value to us.

3. Structured NAP Display

NAP is an acronym for Business Name, Address, Phone Number. As anyone familiar with local search optimization will know, it’s critically important to have consistency of your NAP across the web so that search engines can confirm the data they have for you is correct & accurate – which helps to boost your local search ranking.

A ‘Structured NAP’ means that the website presents the Business name, Address & Phone number in a clear fashion with each part cleanly separated, as opposed to lumping all the text into 1 long sentence.

Structured NAP is important for citations

Example of structured NAP on Kudzu.com

Example of structured NAP on Kudzu.com

The value of a structured NAP is that it makes it easier for search engines to crawl & decipher your business information and therefore validate the details it holds about you.

More progressive citation sites go a step further and use structured mark-up to present their NAP data – e.g. schema.org or microformats. This makes it even easier for the search engines to understand and crawl their content effectively.

Note – we don’t downgrade sites which do not give us structured mark-up; the search engines are sophisticated enough to extract NAP data as long as it’s clearly structured.

We are primarily concerned with creating clear, structured citations which search engines can crawl and verify correct NAP data against their own.

4. Quality & Nature of the site

Researching Domain Authority & Indexed Page count gives you a sense of the scale of a site, but size isn’t everything!

Smaller sites can still be valuable citation opportunities, even if they have a lower authority score and only a few thousand indexed pages.

Typically these are vertical, industry-specific directories or local directories, which take listings for a specific town, city or region (i.e. state, province, county). Both types of directories can be relevant and valuable citation opportunities because they reaffirm the type of business and the area in which it is located.

So we look beyond the numbers and check the quality & relevance of sites, which we then factor into our decisions about whether to use a site or not.

5. Free Listing

To deliver citations in a cost effective way we rely on free listing opportunities. So we always check each site to see which ones offer free listings.

Again, if you use our CitationTracker tool we provide insights on whether a site offers a Free or Paid Listing in the reports. We keep this data regularly updated as sites’ change their policies – usually as they adapt their commercial model to make a little extra cash!

Free listing on local directories

Free listing opportunities shown in CitationTracker report


6. Toxic Link Check

This is the most recent check we apply to the sites we use. We run our list of citation sites through a toxic link program to determine if any are considered ‘Toxic’ and should be removed from our list.

Testing for ‘Toxic’ status essentially looks at the link profile of a site (inbound & outbound) to determine if it’s spammy and low quality. Links created on these sites may (and I stress MAY) be harmful to your business.

When reviewing toxicity we also consider factors such as Domain Authority. ‘Toxicity’ isn’t a black & white issue and so it’s important to review the other signals we have.

Got a different viewpoint on this subject or some useful insights you want to share? We’re interested in publishing unique content written by smart marketeers on our blog. Contact us with your details & ideas and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

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17 thoughts on “Local Citation Selection: 6 Important Signals to Consider”

  1. Hi there
    Sounds great.

    I have been creating my own citations for businesses for quite some time now and have tried and tested many different citation tool finders only to be disappointed. There’s nothing more frustrating than filling out business details and finishing the listing to be greeted by a payment page at the final stage.

    Tip: Before you begin building citations it’s always great to do a citation review/audit first to ensure the NAP is consistent on any existing links, if not, then fix them.

  2. Thanks David – we really appreciate the vote of confidence!

    Also – some great points Ewan – like you I personally don’t place too much importance into the no-follow vs follow scenario – great to have a mix of all!

  3. Great article. While you mention the ideal for a citation, of course, I would never stop there. In addition to the above, I tend to search out sources where I can add plenty of pictures, videos, descriptions, blog posts or even service / product detail pages. You can get all of the above from structured citation sources, but also unstructured sources like classified ad sites (US NET ADs), blog sites like wordpress.com and various local sites.

    Again, great article, thanks 🙂

  4. Try looking at traffic if you want a signal that is useful. Most of these directories take almost no traffic. All directories have lost major traffic. Yahoo and dmoz have even lost most traffic. A directory that does not take traffic will not be very useful, unless all you care about is a google ranking. And that will not be much help for long as google knows fully well that the directories do not take traffic and are therefore mostly immaterial. There are places to get listed that most real citation value comes from, not manual submissions. Only the big ones like yelp and such matter. This is all hype for the newbies and directory spam for ‘citation value’ will be the next big bite google takes. Wana’ bet?

  5. I also meant to add that I’m less sure about the additional value of the link being dofollow. Although PageRank will passed, I’m not sure it makes much difference. And if it does, I think it’s still good to have a natural mix. I’d choose a nofollow link on a high authority site over a dofollow link on a lesser site every time, especially if the former site allows a very full business profile and 3rd party reviews.

  6. Hi Myles and Matthew,

    I also suspect that having category + city in the title tag of the linking page, may add more punch to the citation.

    No evidence (as often in SEO). But, if the title tag has these features, then like all pages, it is better optimised and more relevant for your own targeted category + city because it signifies that the whole page is dedicated to that category and city whereas another page might have NAP data for sites in, say, slightly different categories, suburbs, districts.

    I’ve also noticed recently that a search on my primary category + town, throws up one or two of my citations above the websites of my competitors. So the citation not only helps you rank better but also provides additional bites at the cherry! 🙂

  7. Interesting workflow Myles. For the toxic link side of it, is there a particularly effective free – for clients and DIY and favourite paid link checking tool you’d recommend? Particularly from a UK perspective!

    Thanks for the info.

  8. Myles – I’ve been using your service for awhile now and overall I find it valuable. One question I have is, do you do any research to see what % of citations are “accepted” after a period of time (say 3 months)? Looking for toxic links is great, making sure you are scouring for opportunities is also great. But my underlying concerns are A) how many citations get “replaced” at order time for various reasons and B) how many citations never make it “live” at any point (a good 20% or so it seems). Are these metrics that you consider when looking at potential sources to include or remove?

  9. Thanks for the great post. As a matter of fact, in my own training system I am now sending local business owners who are managing their own presence to you….Could not resist with such a great platform. Thanks again….!

  10. Myles, those are all great signals to check. I also like to check for relevance based on “category” and/or ‘city’. Another is Title Rank: Does the citation source list the primary category keyword + city in the: Title tag & url structure ? If it does, it may pass more value. Another is does it also allow for a do-follow link? If so, that citation has more weight due to being a double whammy asset: of link + citation.

    Awesome post!

    1. Cheers Matt – great extra advice. Do you have any evidence that ‘keyword’ & ‘city’ in title tag passes more value as a citation or a link?

      The combined ‘link + citation’ point one is an interesting one. We have a few customers who specifically don’t want us to add URLs because they fear that directories in general are low quality link opportunities. This is the key reason why we use the Toxic link check, to minimise fallout if a directory is seen as a bad neighbourhood.

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