Over the course of a few years, business citations for Local SEO went from “These are critical and we need these now” to “Who cares”. Well, maybe not as far as “who cares” but it’s damn close. What happened? What changed? Do local businesses still even need citations?
To cut to the chase, Yes. Local businesses still need citations. Before you write me off as another SEO talking out of his ass without testing anything or thinking on his own, hear me out. Citations are still important, though not in the sense you might think.
Old Local SEO Citation Practice
Several years ago (dinosaur time in SEO), Local SEO’s used to have to be sure to secure and correct every mention of their client business on the internet. This was a huge pain in the ass, though absolutely necessary in order to be sure the business was listed correctly. Specifically the business name, address, phone number, and website (NAPW) had to be exactly the same on each website they were mentioned. Have one listing which showed a Suite number in the address and another which did not? That’s a paddlin. Have one listing which showed a tracking number and another which did not? Kiss your rankings goodbye.
Several businesses built their core technology around building, correcting, and keeping citations accurate. Google used to rely on Axicom, Infogroup, Localese, Factual, and other aggregators to understand if a business was real. The more places on the web where your business information was listed, the more Google trusted you had a real business. As time went on, Google started becoming smarter and less reliant on other data sources for business information. Local SEO’s began to take notice of the trend and I started testing tracking numbers in Google My Business. Guess what? Rankings weren’t tanking. Listings were normal. When I was with AttorneySync helping lawyers with their Local SEO, many would ask about citations and tracking numbers. I was assuring them citations were becoming obsolete and tracking numbers would not harm their business. (Sometimes that is a tricky conversation with lawyers who are always right :), and paying big money to have you not destroy their online presence.)
As more time went on, I began removing citation monitoring companies like Yext, Moz, and Synup all together. You guessed it, nothing bad happened.
What Happened to the Importance of Citations
So what did happen to citations? Citation companies are nearly irrelevant now. Why, you ask? Mostly because Google is really good at getting companies to give them all the information it needs to understand what your business is. Local Search has evolved and citations are less important than ever. The idea that low tier directory and citation sites are either going to send traffic or give Google the signals they need is now gone. These citations also don’t do much for ranking anymore, at least in the US.
Due to Google My Business, Google can attain all the information it needs about your business and provide an extensive overview to your potential customers. They do this with the Knowledge Panel or Local Pack listings.
New Local SEO Citation Practice
So what should your strategy be when it comes to citations and directories moving forward? In my opinion, you should still be building some citations for your business.
It is critical you create, verify, and optimize your Google My Business listing. This is still considered a citation, and is by far the most important one. If you were to build and optimize your GMB profile to the fullest, you could probably stop there at the bare minimum. I would also create a Facebook, Yelp, Apple Maps, Foursquare, Bing Places, and the BBB. Whitespark has a good list of the top 50 citation sources by country. (I have no affiliation with them nor do I get paid to talk about them. I just think they provide a good service). Hire them to build those out for your business as a 1 time fee and be done with it.
I know what you are thinking, “Why would I hire someone to build citations for me when you just said they are nearly worthless?”. Good question. Adding 50 citations to some of the biggest, best, most important websites in the US isn’t going to hurt your business, nor your pocketbook. Spend the time and cash on building those. The extra 2,497 directores out there – leave them alone. You don’t need a citation from 1888mycitation.com. Maybe it was useful 6 years ago, today it is not. This is the reason I said Moz, Yext, Synup, and other citation services are nearly worthless. They can get you into some of the bigger directories, and a ton of the smaller ones. Then you have to pay a monthly/yearly fee to keep them updated and accurate. Who cares? Not this guy.
Niche Local Citations
There is one other category of citations I’d like to mention. Every industry has a few citations which are worthwhile to build a listing to. For lawyers, sites like Avvo, Justia, Findlaw, Martindale, and Nolo are worthwhile. For insurance agents (it’s been a bit since I’ve been in this industry) it’s probably still sites like CalculateMe, AngiesList, and Manta. Add your listing to those websites, and perhaps look into advertising on them. The fact is those sites are going to rank organically, and if your business is not ranking yet, those sites are going to help you. They may even get you a few leads. Test it and see.
With Google ingesting as much information as it does straight from the business and customers, and dropping all of that information into Google My Business, citations are less and less important. In addition, those small citation sites are not going to send much traffic, as they probably aren’t ranking well.
Some Citations Are Worthwhile
Yes, some citations are still worthwhile and should be built to aid your business. Most citations are either too low level or entirely worthless when it comes to improving your rankings or sending you traffic. Don’t spend much time on creating/updating and maintaining citations on those sites. Build citations once and be done with it.