Citation building rated the most popular link building tactic for Local SEOs

Citation building rated the most popular link building tactic for Local SEOs
Key 'Takeaways' From This Post
  • 72% of Local SEOs use Citations as a way of building links
  • 57% of Local SEOs use Content Marketing to build links
  • 25% of Local SEOs use Press Releases to build links

Links are hugely important in search engine marketing, both in terms of local SEO, and Organic. Authoritative links therefore, are in high demand for SEOs, local businesses & big businesses alike.

That hasn’t changed for years, and it’s unlikely to anytime soon. What does change is the way in which we try to get links, whether that’s building them, earning them, requesting them, or even buying them. So how do local SEOs build links in 2016?

We recently polled 388 BrightLocal users to find out which link building tactics are most commonly used. As a Local SEO tools provider, our respondents are generally local search practitioners, and we can therefore expect the results to reflect that.

The first question we asked was about which tactics are most commonly used. We also conducted a similar poll in 2015, and have therefore shown the year on year comparisons where possible:

What are the most popular link building tactics?

What are the most popular link building tactics?

NB. Respondents were able to select multiple answers.

Key Findings:

  • 76% of SEOs use Citations / Directory listings to build links
  • 58% of SEOs use Content Marketing to build links
  • 24% of SEOs use Press Releases to build links
  • 21% of SEOs use Guest Posts to build links


76% of respondents use citation building or directory listings as a link building tactic. This shows that many Local SEOs recognise the dual benefit of citation building.

The 2016 Expert Local Citation Survey showed that 90% of experts rated accurate citations as Critical or Very Important to local search ranking. So getting listed on top industry or local directories is not only important for ranking, but it’s also an asset to your link building efforts. We can also see that citations & directory listings were also rated highly in our poll from last year.

58% of respondents selected Content Marketing as one of their link building tactics. Not only is it a popular tactic, but it’s also one of the most concrete ones, with perhaps the best longevity going forward. The key is obviously not to publish content with the sole purpose of generating links – but it does come with that added benefit! In fact the best link-earners are those evergreen content pieces that can be of use long-term. It’s also beneficial to update and upgrade existing content, with new comments, assets, graphics, etc. – as mentioned in this post on Search Engine Journal.

Similarly, Guest Blogging, used by 21% of Local SEO, is a perfectly acceptable practice when you’re contributing high-quality content to authoritative & relevant websites.

Press releases, although a fairly old school tactic, also feature highly. Much like Article Syndication services (also incredibly old school), these are both tactics to be wary of – especially when offered at extremely low costs. With Press Release distribution, the motivation needs to be much more than link earning, and ‘nofollow’ tags are advised. However, as SEMrush points out, a good press release that gets attention from a journalist, offers a great opportunity to gain strong media coverage, as well as plentiful links in turn.

With the poll respondents containing a high amount of local search consultants, it’s a little surprising that only 7% use Local Events, such as sponsorships or meet-ups. We’ve often heard on our past webinars & industry surveys, local experts championing the benefit of these type of links for local businesses. Local groups or organizations bring that genuine ‘Hyper-Local’ authority. Similar to citation building, links from local authorities, associations, groups & community events can really help to move the needle when it comes to local ranking.

NB. In the poll, we also received a number of ‘other’ options which included some of the following tactics:

  • Video syndication (testimonials / how to’s)
  • Google News inclusions
  • RSS syndication
  • Allintext searches
  • PBNs

How many links do you build for a new local business?

So, now we know how Local SEOs are building links, it’s interesting to find out how many links they are concentrating on building. Depending on factors such as domain age, industry competition, current health & state of link profile, etc, each business will require a different number of links to make a significant impact.

However, we put a specific scenario to our users, to find how many links they would usually build within the first 6 months, for a new local business.

How many links do you build for a new business?

Key Findings:

  • 56% build 0-40 links in the first 6 months
  • 25% build 40-100 links in the first 6 months
  • 13% build as many as possible


We would expect the most common answer here to be “it depends on the business”, but we cruelly removed that option from our SEOs 🙂 , so we could gauge a good average response.

Most Local SEOs are in agreement that a new business should build between 0-40 links within the first 6 months (56%). Now obviously this figures depends on factors such as industry type & competition, but it does at least show that effective link building is achievable for any new local business – particularly within those first 6 months.

Less than half of that figure (25%) said they would build build 40-100 links. This might be more of a challenge to businesses with limited resources, and definitely requires a more concrete strategy to be in place. As we saw above, citation building is rated as the most popular link building practice and you would expect a lot of those links to be generated in this way.

Can you build too many backlinks?

13% of SEOs said they build as many links as they can. Obviously this comes down to quality vs quantity. Can you have too many high quality links? No. Can you have too many low quality links? Yes.

So it’s a case of treating each site as an individual case. Some industries will be easier to build high authority build links for, and some will be tricky. But no website would surely turn down a bucket load of high authority links – it’s simply a case of quality. And the higher quality links are usually those that take more time & effort to earn.

Take Content Marketing for example. It’s a great tactic for attracting local links, but it’s one that requires time, effort & continued resources in order to reap the benefits. Which is something not every new local business can commit to.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Poll Respondents

The geographic breakdown of the poll respondents was as follows:

  • USA & Canada – 76%
  • UK – 11%
  • Australia – 4%
  • Rest of the World – 10%
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13 thoughts on “Citation building rated the most popular link building tactic for Local SEOs”

  1. Not all that surprising really. Citations have always been great links to have, and I guess more and more people are figuring it out.

    1. Citations are great, Mike. But what happens when Google decides citations/online directories aren’t helpful? What if there’s an algorithm change that makes them irrelevant (like the article sites from a few years ago.) You want to have all your bases covered!

  2. Citations are a great way to build trusted profile links that are not spammy, they may not have any page authority or increase your rankings in High Competition, But in mid to low competition they may be all you need.

  3. Citation links.. Interesting.. I thought directory was not being counted after Google launch “zoo” algorithm.. I still prefer content marketing, blog post or active in specific forums to engage with potential customers.

  4. Dave…I was thinking the exact same thing! For me, citations and link building are completely separate. I have never associated citations as new links, mainly because I have never witnessed them provide the same benefit as links.

    I believe that citations will build trust around the location and therefore increase the local rankings, but I have never seen the organic rankings increase due to citations. This is where I see the link building step in. I also don’t know many directories that provide followed links.

  5. Thanks Ross Marchant,
    This is very thorough and deep analysis based information you provide me. I hope the content will make a real difference between SEO Clerks and SEo Experts…
    Building too many links is not human but inhumane thing, I agree!!!

  6. Sounds an interesting and insightful survey report. One thing people doing local SEO should also keep in mind i.e. try to share bit unique description of the website service in local directories otherwise they will also start falling the way normal directories did… So it will hurt them and local directory/citation long term business interests too. As ATM I consider we are submitting almost couple of description copies in as many local sites possible.

  7. The issue here is that citation links consistently link to the home page. Don’t get me wrong, this is great for pushing ranking in the 3 pack in local search.

    However, when it comes to ranking internal pages of a website, citation links won’t cut it unless the business has multiple locations, and you are targeting an inner page in conjunction with a Google My Business location.

    Evergreen content marketing, with link bait, which topics are chosen off of historical data of what link creators link to is key, alongside, effective link creator outreach. The same can be done with broken link building.

  8. Citations are great for boosting local, the only draw back is the non stop solicitation calls after the business is put into the directory. Fortunately citation building isn’t only done on directory sites so this can be bypassed. There are a few sites though that are necessary to have and can not be avoided like Yelp, Manta, Foursquare etc. Bright Local has been a really useful tool in pulling out the necessary directories.

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