Londes Digital Marketing - Rochester NY

Local SEO Citation Bubble: Be Careful with Local Directory Listings

March 28, 2013

local seo directoriesAfter working in the SEO industry as long as I have, you understand that the industry tends to go in cycles.  The cycles generally go like this:

  1. 1. SEO’s find an algorithm loophole
  2. 2. Businesses are started advertising and exploiting loophole
  3. 3. It works (for a while)
  4. 4. Google penalizes (Panda) or devalues (Penguin) the sites that used these practices and closes the loophole

This cycle tends to repeat whenever Google finds a way to close the door on SEO’s.  They have the ability to just find the “next best thing” or a new tactic that now works better based on a different evolution in the search algorithm.

I currently see one of these situations developing with local citations, or local directory listings.  I’ll take this over the spammy directories of 10 years ago, but it’s still becoming a problem.  Today, I’ll go over the local citation bubble that is forming, and how to be careful when evaluating it.


Local Citations and the “New SEO”

Ever since Google launched their local listings blocks in organic listings, SEO’s have been trying to figure out how to increase rankings on them (here are a few for you).  One factor that has a decidedly positive influence is the quantity, accuracy, and quality of structured citations.  In other words, the number of correct business listings throughout the web.

The theory is, from Google’s perspective, the more a businesses is referenced, the more authority it has.  A fine assumption, I suppose.  The issue?  Citations are even easier to get than links.  Text is not a difficult thing to post on the Internet.  So, with the knowledge that these are helpful, a storm began brewing of services concentrated on selling volumes of “high-quality” structured citations.

Be careful.  Not all these are high-quality.  And very few of them are worth paying anything for.


The Yelp Model

Yelp has been around for a long time.  A leader in online listings and reviews, its large user base constantly weighs in on local business quality.  The reviews are useful largely due to the website’s popularity (what good are review sites without real reviews), and the business listings act as high-quality business citations in the “new SEO.”

Yelp is an example of a high-quality local citation you want to claim for your business or your client’s business.

Not that PageRank is a vital metric these days, but it can still be a decent barometer of quality, but Yelp has a PR of 7.  You can also look at domain age to verify its legitimacy.  Compete.com will help as well, showing a high volume of traffic to the domain.


The Clone Army

What businesses have started to do is create Yelp clones.  They aren’t as good as Yelp, but they try to accomplish roughly the same thing.  Each offers basic business listings and customers the ability to review the business.

Businesses aren’t just creating 1 clone and trying to market it to consumers.  They’re creating dozens.  And the trick is they’re offering services to “manage all the listings in one place.”  Well, that’s nice of them.  They’re using the same database software for all of them and just sending the same data to all of the websites.  They even advertise it as “making sure your information is consistent.”

Now there are some out there that are doing a little of this and utilizing popular site API’s to provide some value to the structured listings.  I’m not saying all these services are terrible – I’m just saying that the listings on these clone sites are going to end up as worthless as the bulk, untargeted directories of the SEO glory days.


Indicators of Good Local Directories

There are good local directories and bad local directories.  How do you know what’s not only safe, but worth your time then?

Geographically-Focused Directories: Good. If there is a directory specifically for your city, that’s a good place to be.  These “bulk citation” sites don’t really have the scale to focus too locally, so one designed specifically for your area is a great source for local links and citations (look for your city in the domain name).

High PR, Aged, Well-trafficked Directories: Good. As discussed, Yelp is a great example of this.  Other examples might include Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau.  I’m not saying it’s worth shelling out all that money to the BBB (not saying it isn’t worth it either), but it is a high-quality citation.


Indicators of Bad Local Directories

No Traffic – If a website isn’t receiving organic traffic in the directory space, it’s probably a lower quality placement.  Check Compete.com to see what kind of traffic it’s getting.

Low PR (2 or less) – This holds especially true if there is a salesperson trying to sell you on some kind of management package.  If half their local directories are PR 1’s, be wary.  Very few websites with dedicated sales teams have been around such a short time that they aren’t more established than this.

No comments/reviews – Another indicator of traffic quality and user engagement.  If users aren’t actually on the review site submitting reviews and comments, that website is going to end up adding very little or no value to the online world.  It’s just a citation.  And if it doesn’t add real value, but does influence SEO, you can bet Google will be working to correct that issue.

Cross-Promotion/Advertising – Do several of the sites advertised in the “package” link or reference one another?  Does it constantly advertise their package?  Do they look to have almost identical structures?  Those are some red flags when it comes to quality.


The Takeaway

We’ve been saying it for a while now: there are no shortcuts when it comes to long-term success for SEO.  Just like any other “bubble,” these local citation methods may work for a while, but eventually that bubble will burst, bad directories devalued, and you’ll be left with very little value for you or your client.

I doubt there will be penalties and a lot of fuss over it – more like a gradually decreasing impact on your rankings.  So if you want a temporary gain, go get all the low-quality citations.  But we like to take a more holistic approach to long-term results, so I’ll be concentrating on high-quality directories, avoiding the local directory sales teams (who are always trying to “White Label SEO” our company), and trying to build some real long-term value.

We provide local SEO optimization services across the country, not just for the Rochester NY area.  If you’d like a little more information on how we approach our local strategy, e-mail us or reach out on social media!


Mike LaLonde

Digital Marketing Specialist at Londes Digital Marketing
With specialties in SEM, SEO, and Web Analytics, Mike helps businesses build and optimize online marketing strategies to maximize the effectiveness of their web presence.

8 Responses to Local SEO Citation Bubble: Be Careful with Local Directory Listings

Dave says: April 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm

This is a really interesting piece Mike; I’m actually quite surprised more experienced SEO’ers aren’t realizing the concept and evolution of Citation building very much parallels that of traditional link building and it’s ultimate de-valuing. It is *unnatural* for large amounts of data (NAP/Anchor) to appear consistently and without deviation across hundreds of different internet properties. This exactness is what tripped flags with anchor text, and it makes sense: it’s not natural. I alluded to this very concept in a video a few weeks back – let me know if you agree: http://www.adster.ca/video/putting-seo-back-in-local-seo

Mike LaLonde says: April 1, 2013 at 9:57 pm


Thanks for the comment. I think we’re on the same page on all of this. The new “get all the citations you can” marketing we’re seeing now is essentially copied logic to all the “get all the links you can” attitude of 10 years ago.

I imagine Google will be a little more efficient about the devalue process this time, but who knows. I do know when I get multiple local clients asking me about these services, that I should research and address it.

We’ll see where it goes, but I agree that the quality-over-quantity mentality, whether it’s links or mentions or citations, is the best way to build robust authority.

Darren Shaw says: April 2, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Good post Mike. I agree that you really need to be careful with low quality citation sites. Get the core set of quality citations (IYPs), get a handful of authority unstrictured citations, then get some highly relevant city-specific and industry-specific citations. and you’re good. Getting your NAP on every forum, blog comment, and low quality directory isn’t going to help and could possibly hurt.

@Dave: I don’t agree with your comparison of NAP consistency with anchor text. When you have inconsistent NAP info Google simply associates it with a new listing or drops it because it doesn’t have a listing to associate it with. So, making your NAP consistent everywhere is analogous to link reclamation. You’re pointing additional mentions of your business at the proper listing.

It’s actually perfectly natural to have consistent NAP across the entire citation ecosystem and millions of businesses that have never changed their name, address, or phone number have this.

You can’t compare it with over optimized anchor text. That’s a clear manipulation signal, whereas consistent NAP isn’t manipulative.

Phil Rozek says: April 3, 2013 at 1:45 am

As I mentioned in my response to your comment on my blog (!), great post here.

I totally see where you’re coming from, but I’d like to echo Darren that there’s nothing unnatural about NAP consistency. In fact, I’d add that there’s not even a way to achieve the too-perfect consistency you mentioned; all the different IYPs have different finicky little rules about formatting addresses and phone numbers. Some have suite numbers on one line, others on two, some will change “St.” to “Street” and vice versa, etc. Even if you wanted to reach absolutely perfect, consistently formatted NAP, you couldn’t. The “local search ecosystem” is just such a patchwork.

Plus, at the end of the day, it’s NAP inconsistency that I’ve seen hold business owners’ rankings back again and again and again. Not that it’s the only way to lose or gain ground (of course), but it’s the biggest determinant, if I had to pick one.

Dave says: April 26, 2013 at 4:42 am

@Darren: I suppose I was speaking more in the vein of what Phil is saying and to that of the overall post theme.

To be certain, we don’t want *inaccurate* data being displayed anywhere. And, in the natural ecosystem, there is a certain expected velocity – and perhaps ‘matured’ total – in relation to citations per niche/market numerically, and as Phil mentioned, the random seed variable (which we know all too well) – is very much a part of this, with this being the ‘natural’ order of things. Absolutely, it is our job to ensure this consistency to the best of our ability.

However, rampant, precision citation over-development where info is presented with an unnatural amount of displayed consistency (not to be confused with accuracy) and in numbers that dwarf those of competitors for the sheer purpose of ‘ranking’ has shades of anchor-rich link development all over it.

What’s even more interesting is that we’re having this convo on Mike’s blog when we could be doing it at the Empress 😉


Jimmy says: April 26, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Great stuff! I am a big fan of the BBB. The BBB is much more than a great Citation. I get phone calls just from being on their website. I am a plumber and if you search Plumbing, City, State in my area their list of members appears #1 in my area. So their website gets a ton of traffic. Many home owners click on my BBB Logo on my website, the BBB send me those statistics every year. I have an A+ record so I know customers see that and will call me. It helps with my conversion rate as well!

Chad Musgrove says: March 16, 2015 at 11:44 pm

For all of the main “good” citation sources (other than specialized or localized directories) – wouldn’t just submitting your info to the 4 main data aggregators be enough to ensure consistent NAP info across the web? This should also have the effect of getting a citation on any of the sites that matter – since they all mine, scrape, or buy their info from one of the main agregrators.

If this is true – then gaining a million other low quality citiations isn’t going to matter and the accuracy of the info out there could POSSIBLY be a MINOR differentiator in a competitive landscape.

BTW – love the straight forwardness of your info and the fact it’s not just feeding into what people want to hear.

Mike LaLonde says: July 27, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Chad – we’re a couple years out now from when this was originally published, and your comment about these local aggregation services is certainly accurate on how things have evolved.

Which, of course, is completely contradictory to the reason why NAP’s were used for relevancy and rankings in the first place. If you can do it with 4 aggregators, then that value is going to evaporate. I wonder if the irony will be lost on them.


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