55% say accurate citations are 'critical' to local search ranking
71% say quality of citations is more important than quantity
45% say you should update existing citations before building new ones
57% say that it is 'very important' to merge or delete duplicate citations
Local Gov sites are rated the highest unstructured citation sites (20%)
[Update 19/12/19: This study mentions Acxiom. Since retiring its directory and local search offerings in December 2019, Foursquare has stepped in as one of the main four data aggregators.]
Welcome to the latest update of the Expert Citation Survey. This survey aims to dig deep into the world of local search citations, and we’ve enlisted the help of 22 local search experts to provide their insights and opinions on the importance, the effectiveness and the relevance of local search citations in 2015.
This is the second time we have run the survey which was first published in September 2013, and we have compared the results where necessary to see how perceptions have changed over the last 18 months.
In the Local Search Ranking Factors, External Location Signals make up 15.5% of the overall ranking factors. In addition to this, ‘Quality/Authority of Structured Citations’ is number 7 in the Top 50 Localized Organic Factors, whilst Consistency of Structured Citations is at number 12. So we know it’s an important area to cover.
We thank our citation experts for taking the time and effort to give us their insights for this survey; all of which are listed below:
Citation survey participants:
Mary Bowling – Marybowling.com
Adam Dorfman – Simpartners.com
Susan Hallam – Hallaminternet.com
Joy Hawkins – Imprezziomarketing.com
David Kelly – Location3.com
David Mihm – Moz.com
Colan Nielsen – Sterlingsky.ca
Mike Ramsey – Niftymarketing.com
Darren Shaw – Whitespark.ca
Gyi Tsakalakis – Attorneysync.com
Brian Coryat – Localmarketlaunch.com
Greg Gifford – Autorevo.com
Bill Hartzer – Globerunner.com
Matthew Hunt – Poweredbysearch.com
Casey Meraz – Ethicalseoconsulting.com
Max Minzer – Reengageconsulting.com
Dave Oremland – Pro Bartending School
Phil Rozek – Localvisibilitysystem
David Sprague – Realstrtegic.com
Nyagoslav Zhekov – Whitespark.ca
We asked these experts 12 questions related to local search citations, and have presented their results below:
How important are Accurate Citations to local search ranking?
- 55% say accurate citations are ‘critical’ to local search ranking (vs. 68% in 2013)
- 45% say accurate citations are ‘very important’ to local search ranking (vs. 18% in 2013)
As in 2013, local experts believe that citations remain an important local ranking signal – which supports the findings of the Local Search Ranking Factors.
However since 2013 there has been a downgrading of the importance of citations as a ranking signal. More local experts said they were ‘Very Important’ while fewer said said they were ‘Critical’ to local search ranking.
“No matter how the local search ecosystem evolves, citations will always be one of the most important factors in local search. Citations are the absolute backbone of an effective local strategy, and are one of the key signals for search engines”. – David Kelly
“Citations are the top 5 indicators for local search ranking, so they must be addressed and every business must have a strategy”. – David Sprague
“Citations will always be important. But its not the only important thing. Getting the data right should be done for ensuring that anyone who uses the directories are getting good information and not for a boost in google maps ranking. If that is why you are doing it, then it is a waste. Only worry about directories that get traffic or aggregators who reach the sites that matter to you”. – Mike Ramsey
Are Citations more or less important now than 12 months ago?
- 23% say citations are more important than 12 months ago (vs. 44% in 2013)
- 18% say citations are less important than 12 months ago (vs. 6% in 2013)
- 59% say the importance is about the same (vs. 50% in 2013)
The majority of experts (59%) believe that citations have the same importance as they did 18 months ago. 23% of experts believe they have become more important – which is nearly 50% fewer than in 2013 – whilst a lot more experts believe the importance has decreased.
“While lots of local SEOs claim that citations aren’t as powerful anymore, it really depends on the vertical. In many verticals, business owners still have tons of citation problems, so just a bit of citation work can really move the needle”. – Greg Gifford
“While I believe the most important citations are still very important along with niche citations, links have gained much more influence in local rankings post Pigeon”. – Casey Meraz
“Citations are still an important piece of the puzzle but I don’t think they carry the same weight that they once did. The ranking algo is becoming increasingly complex and citations are still in that mix, but they are amongst many more factors than there were a few years ago”. – Colan Nielson
What is more important, quantity or quality of citations?
- 71% say quality over quantity (vs. 64% in 2013)
- 10% say quantity over quality (vs. 18% in 2013)
- 19% say they have the same importance (vs. 18% in 2013)
The majority of experts agree that Quality of citations trumps Quantity. So rather than claim & build hundreds of citations, local businesses should focus on optimizing the highest quality sites first. This belief in Quality has increased since 2013.
However, focusing on quality alone won’t deliver results. Having 1 high authority citation isn’t as valuable as having 30 mixed authority citations (data aggregators excluded).
There needs to be a sensible balance of quality & quantity to deliver improved local rankings. Businesses should focus on high authority & high value (see more on ‘Citation Value’ below) sites first and then work down through a prioritized list of medium-lower value sites.
I’m a big believer in quantity and quality. But by quantity the real benefits come from ENORMOUS quantity, something difficult to scale or plan or accomplish. It can take years, and/or a fortuitous reference that gets copied endlessly. The benefits are huge. – Dave Oremland
“Quality over quantity. Nail the top 30-50 sites and move on. You’ll accomplish that with 2-3 rounds of work on your citations, each spread out by a couple of months (see post). Pay close attention to the main industry-specific sites in your field, and become a member of a couple of trade associations”. – Phil Rozek
“Quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to citations. I frequently mention that a correct ExpressUpdate listing could be 10 times more beneficial than a correct Yahoo! Local listing, and 100 times more beneficial than a MerchantCircle listing, for instance. After certain amount, the value of citations drops so significantly that I advise businesses to spend their budget elsewhere. For the US, this threshold is at about 70-90 citations (depending on the industry). For other countries it is even lower – for Canada or the UK it is about 60-70 citations, for Australia it is 40-50 citations, and for countries like New Zealand (for instance) it is more in the range of 20-25 citations”. – Nyagoslav Zhekov
What factors are most important when selecting which citation sites to use?
N.B. We asked the experts to credit each of the above factors with a ‘low’, ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’ rating, and created a score based on their responses.
- Industry Relevance & Local Relevance are considered the most important factors
- Domain Authority is 3rd most important factor
- Design of Site & Site Traffic are of lesser importance
Industry Relevance comes out as the most important factor. There are 3 reasons for this:
- Industry-specific sites give a clear signal to search engines about product/services that a business provides
- They are more specialised sites so tend to have higher domain authority vs. local directories
- They tend to rank well in search engines for specific terms and deliver more targeted leads
Local Relevance is the 2nd biggest factor because the local signals they pass to google. They can also be decisive in separating businesses in competitive markets, where most businesses will have listings on well known, high authority sites, but fewer will have listings on local & regional sites. Having additional listings on local sites can give a business the advantage they need to outrank competitors.
Domain Authority is still an important factor and should be taken into consideration, but it’s not the sole factor by which to judge a citation.
While domain authority can be a significant benefit from ‘linktations’ (citations that include a link), many directories no follow links anyway. Therefore, I don’t really use DA as a deciding factor in building citations. – Mary Bowling
Which type of sites offer the greatest authority for ‘Structured’ citations?
- 50% say that National Directories offer the greatest authority
- 32% say that Niche / Industry Directories offer the greatest authority
- Just 9% say Local Directories offer the greatest authority
National directories such as Yelp or Citysearch are the types of sites which have the greatest Domain Authority. They typically have more established brands, larger audiences and diverse link profiles which earn them greater authority.
Industry directories trump Local directories on authority due to their specialisation. They typically have unique industry resources, expert content & unique tools.
Which of these sources of ‘Unstructured’ citations do you favour above others?
Note: Experts were asked to select up to 3 site types
- Local Government Sites are rated the highest unstructured citation sites (20%)
- Local Business Groups / Associations are rated highly (20%)
- Industry Associations also favored (17%)
The authority that comes from a local Government site obviously makes it an appealing source of citations. Local Business Groups and Associations are also important to target for local SEOs.
Job sites and / or Classifieds can often seem more ‘spammy’ in their nature, as well as the fact that they only generally offer short-term citations.
Do you update existing citations or build new citations first?
- 50% do a mix of both at the same time (vs. 56% in 2013)
- 45% update existing citations first (vs. 38% in 2013)
- 5% build new citations first (vs. 5% in 2013)
This is one aspect of citation management that has not changed over the last 18 months.
Local experts are split on whether to update existing citations first, or tackle both existing & new citations at the same time.
It’s clearly important to clean up existing data issues as a priority. These can be very damaging and easily wipe out the uplift that new citations provide. So auditing your existing citations to determine data issues is the correct place to begin. Tackle data clean-up first, gauge the ranking uplift and then build new citations if uplift is not as you hoped it would be.
Only a small minority of experts would suggest building new citations first.
“With limited exceptions, there seems to be a “more citations, the better” mantra among folks who do local citation work. In fact, there are instances where people are going out of their way to build new citations, on lesser known/relevant sites, before major/niche citations have been “fixed” and duplicates removed. Like many other things “search”, I think a focus on getting major citations right first, gives more bang for the buck”. – Gyi Tsakalakis
How important is it to merge or delete duplicate citations?
- 59% say that it is ‘very important’ to merge or delete duplicate citations
- 36% say that it is ‘fairly important’
- Only 5% say it is not an important task
It’s clear from the results that tackling dupe citations is not the most important thing, but 95% of experts agree that merging or deleting duplicate citations is certainly an important task. Again the findings reinforce the importance of having a clean data set that doesn’t confuse google or give potential customers a negative experience of your business before they even speak to you.
Merging or deleting duplicate citations is often a lengthy process, and each site can require a different process, but it’s absolutely a task worth putting resources into.
Does address formatting need to be 100% perfect?
- 59% say that address formatting is important but not critical (vs. 50% in 2013)
- 18% say address formatting must be 100% consistent (vs 32% in 2013)
- 14% say address formatting is not an issue (vs. 18% in 2013)
The experts agree that address formatting is an important thing to get right, but we shouldn’t fret too much about achieving 100% accuracy.
Even though 18% of experts say formatting MUST be 100% consistent, it is extremely challenging to achieve data-perfection and correcting the final 5-10% is often harder than fixing the first 90%. Just do as much as you can without killing yourself!
“Address formatting is critical, but small differences like suite vs ste. do not matter”. – Darren Shaw
“Address formatting is critical, but it can be almost impossible to ensure 100% consistency across all sources”. – David Kelly
How important is ‘richness’ of citations?
Note – the term ‘Richness’ refers to additional data points such as photos, descriptions, working hours, services etc…
- 18% say that richness of citations are “Essential”
- 27% say that richness of citations are ‘Very Important’
- 50% say that richness of citations are ‘Fairly Important’
95% of experts believe that having additional data on your citations is important, even critical.
These pages act as landing pages for your businesses where you can engage new customers before they even reach your website or contact you. A sparse listing doesn’t give a customer much to gauge you on, but a page with photos, a clear description, detailed services & working hours quickly answers the questions they have and is more likely to generate a lead.
“The reason I think it’s essential is not so much about it being used in Google algorithm but because each citation is a landing page and a first impression for your business”. – Max Minzer
“In 2015, the richness of citations will continue to be increasingly important, and should be an area of focus for local search strategies. Consumers now expect expanded, rich content on the web, and I believe that search engines will reward businesses and brands that take advantage of rich content at the local level. Consistency of citations is only a starting point now – it’s important to take advantage of anything else that can give your business an edge”. – David Kelly
Do you think it’s best to build citations quickly or steadily over time?
- 38% say that citation building should be an ongoing process that never ends
- 19% say that you should build steadily over 3-6 months
- 29% say that you should build quickly over 1-2 months
Whilst 29% of experts believe that you should build citations quickly over a 1-2 month period, there is also a 38% majority who say that this process should actually never end.
Depending on your starting point, we usually advise customers to hit the ground running and tackle 25-50 of the top sites straight away. This is especially important if there are existing data inconsistencies because they really hamper local performance.
After that it depends on the level of competition in your industry & location. If you benchmark yourself against competitors (our Citation Tracker tool is great for this by the way 🙂 and monitor your ranking performance, you can gauge if & when you need to further citation work.
“PRO TIP: Look at what businesses are ranking well locally with the least amount of citations. Then look at their citation sources. Go after those first because obviously with minimum effort they are getting results and it’s most likely that Google likes their citation sources”. – Matthew Hunt
Which of the main US Data Aggregators do you think offers the best value & distribution?
- 45% say Infogroup (InfoUSA) offer the best value & distribution
- 32% say Localeze offer the best value & distribution
- 14% say Factual
Infogroup & Localeze are the clear winners here, which is not surprising given their wide distribution.
InfoGroup (submit via www.expressupdate.com) comes out on top for a few reasons –
- Wide distribution (Google buys data from them)
- Very focused on scrubbing data (again, Google buys from them)
- No cost to submit to them
Interestingly Acxiom is down in 4th place. They are one of original big aggregators but have lost a lot of ground on the top 2. They are still important but they do have more time-consuming verification steps – e.g. uploading or faxing official documents to them.
Factual are relatively new to the party. They crowd source their data and their verification steps are much more automated vs InfoGroup which is more human & manual.
Foursquare have pivoted (horrible word) to become a local data layer (aka source of local data). They are yet to build a wide distribution list so don’t score any points with our experts. It will be interesting to see how this changes when we run the survey again in 2016 – and we may add in Yelp as a site here (thanks to Darren Shaw for suggesting this).
What are the Pros & Cons of using Aggregators to build citations?
We then asked our citation experts to give us their Pros / Cons of using data aggregators to build citations. The most common responses are listed below.
- Easier & faster than submitting direct to each site
- Wide distribution to a large number of citation sites & mapping services
- Trusted data sources for sites (more trusted than other sources)
- Reach some services (e.g. Car Navigation systems) that can’t be updated directly
- Longer time for updates to go live on citation sites
- Difficult to identify & delete duplicates
- Can’t claim listings & don’t have 100% control of data
- Poor reporting on successful distribution
- Some aggregators charge high fees for managing listings
“They are an important and trusted data source, and their data gets distributed to many sites in the Local Search Ecosystem… Every business should listed on all the data aggregators. The only possible con is that they’ll also distribute incorrect citation data far and wide, so it’s critical to make sure your data is accurate on these data aggregators”. – Darren Shaw
“One of the cons is that they do take time. You have to be patient and wait for the data to distribute. Also, no solution is a set it and forget it in my mind. You need to check up on them over time and see if any new information was added or has been changed”. – Casey Meraz
“Having correct listings on the aggregators is non-negotiable. You’ve got to do it sooner or later. The only question is how much more work you should do, and when. If your business is brand new and you iron out your aggregator listings right away you’ll see some nice natural, hands-free citation growth over time. But if you’ve got a lot of messy citations simply fixing your aggregator listings won’t fix your listings on the smaller, downstream sites. That’s mess you’ll still have to clean up manually”. – Phil Rozek
“Old citations usually don’t get overridden, but rather new listings are created within the network, which means that the old citations would stick around as duplicates”. – Nyagoslav Zhekov
What are the Pros & Cons of manually building & claiming citations?
Finally, we asked our experts to give us the Pros / Cons of going through the process of manually building and claiming citations. The most common responses are listed below:
- Complete control over data
- Claiming of listings locks them & protects them from updates
- Ability to get the quality citations you really want
- Easier/better reporting on successful distribution
- The human touch can be beneficial
- Time-consuming to achieve
- More resource heavy – money / time / effort
- Can’t update certain sites which don’t have open-access channel
“Nothing beats doing things by hand. You can usually create a more enriched listing. The downfall, is it takes a lot more effort”. – Matthew Hunt
“Manually building and claiming citations offers far more control than any other method growing citations, which can be very important for consistency. Additionally, manual citation management often allows businesses to take advantage of specialized and expanded fields in listings, which are often not accessible through the Aggregators.
Of course, manual citation building and claiming can be incredibly time-consuming. The manual approach is great for some of the most important and high profile sites and search engines, but it’s also not a strategy that can be efficiently executed at scale, especially when businesses have multiple locations”. – David Kelly
“Manually building and claiming citations is a real labour of love. It can be expensive, time consuming, and without the right level of expertise may not actually yield any benefit. However, done correctly, using a personal approach to citation building will yield more influential citations that could have a bigger impact on rankings. The other advantage, of course, to manually doing the work is that many of the highest quality citations benefit from the human touch: a phone call from a real person will usually do the trick when claiming citations”. – Susan Hallam
“Obviously its slow if you do it manually, but unique IP, unique browser, and randomness makes it very natural, and almost guarantees not to be filtered”. – David Sprague