Citations for SEO
Links from external sites with local citations and blogger outreach
With all the changes Google has been making to their algorithm, some things have risen in importance and others have become less of an issue. One that has always been important, but has perhaps become even more so is the quantity and more importantly the quality of the links to your site. They have also introduced an aging or erosion of link quality. In theory, a link that is over 12 months old could be worth less than a new one. I say ‘in theory’ as despite this being a claimed feature, I haven’t seen it in action just yet, but it is possible to blast your way up the rankings with a consistently good local and social-powered link building programme.
So we need to encourage others to link to our site. Not just to the front page, but to events and inside pages to create a natural and diverse link profile. You cannot easily cheat this whatever anyone tells you. Google’s algorithm is easily clever enough to pick up and spank someone building an unnatural link profile too fast.
So the principle behind it
Google juice flows downwards.
Links from highly respected sites to lower ranked sites will add value to them and lift the lower ranked sites up a little. This is why links in the major publications, websites, and newspapers are so valuable. They act to lift your whole site ranking. If you look at the Majestic Trust
Flow and Citation Flow score, you get a picture of this link profile Here’s the dashboard.
I’ll explain the numbers in the first columns under ‘URL’
Citation Flow – This is a measure of the quality of the links into the site
Trust Flow – Measures the trust they create, so a low score would indicate links of a lower overall quality
External Backlinks – Is the number of links into the site as a count
Referring Domains – counts the number of domains actually linking to the site, so with 198 sites giving 977 links, you will see that each is delivering around 5 links each.
So in order to raise the standing of the site overall, you need to be able to build links into the site from predominantly higher ranked sites. (ie those with a higher or at least similar trust flow score than your own). There are three sources for citations as follows:
Major Local Business Data Platforms
Getting to the first page of Google and then keeping yourself there into the long term is achieved through a combination of related SEO strategies. None of them on their own will give you the power to blast your way to the top and keep yourself there on its own, but when used in combination, will have a powerful effect.
Whatever your business type, there are a variety of important local business data platforms that are critical for you to gain a listing with your business data.
The very biggest platforms include Google My Business, Acxiom, Localeze/Neustar, and Infogroup in the US and whilst Yelp isn’t as important in the UK, it’s substituted for Yell – The former Yellow pages. Other local business listings are the main social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, with Facebook having particular power because of its review gathering status too.
Google Business is built from the original Google+ platform. There are lessons on this elsewhere, but if you had to pick one or two to do immediately if you haven’t done them already, the Google My Business and Facebook would be a great start point.
Geographic, Activity or Industry Specific Platforms
As well as the major global listings sites above, there is also another layer down that covers both industry-specific or geographic listings. There are literally thousands of these and we’ll cover these in more detail below. They include city-based sites as well as those for professional associations and even ‘things to do’ style sites.
Google’s own search tool has become far more geographically aware over recent years, so the locality of your search will have a huge effect on your search results. If you’re searching for ‘things to do’ the results delivered will be local to you first, unless you have disabled or masked your location.
At the top level, the results will be different from country to country first (ie the results on the .com will be totally different to the results on the .ae domain)
Below this, the results are even further refined. A search again for ‘things to do in London, will produce different results to a city such as Oxford, only 50 miles down the road.
One of the most significant of these is through Business Listings – Sometimes knows as ‘citations’. These build the foundations of building your local search visibility
Moz defines a Local Citation as follows:
A local citation is any online mention of the name, address, and phone number for a local business. Citations can occur on local business directories, on websites and apps, and on social platforms. Citations help Internet users to discover local businesses and can also impact local search engine rankings. Local businesses can actively manage many citations to ensure data accuracy.
Moz has compiled a really helpful list of industry-specific sources for citations here
As an example, looking at Internet-based services, this is their top ten
Top Citation Sources for Internet Services
This list is made up of the data provided by the WhiteSpark Local Citation Finder. You can see that here to check the latest details https://whitespark.ca/whitespark-getlisted-citation-study/?aid=1039
The list for UK based businesses is quite different and here’s a list of the top 30 general sources for UK based businesses:
The Wider Web
These include blogs, news sites, apps, maps and other government databases. It’s not always possible to manually add your listings to these sites, but again we’ll cover that in more detail below. This could also be covered by PR activity in reaching out to these site owners to feed them stories, deliver products or services for review or pitching them a usable story they are willing to cover.
Many of the biggest traffic sources for any site have free listings options. These provide incredibly valuable local citations and drive real traffic.
The following is a genuine study we did for a client in the children’s visitor attraction sector in London to look at the listings on the wider web and how they featured. These are a mix of directories, online press, and general listings sites.
Example: Being found in London
When you search for the term ‘family day out in London’ in Google you get pages of natural results. The ones to look for are the top ones. When we run a quality check on them, there are two scores that count. The Trust Flow which is the quality of the specific page and the Root Domain which shows the quality of the overall site. If the root domain is a high score it is a very good site to get a link from.
- http://www.dayoutwiththekids.co.uk/search.php?county=Greater-London This is a very powerful site with a Trust flow of 42 and Root domain score of 54). A link on here would be very powerful.
- http://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/sightseeing/one-day-itineraries/budget-family-itinerary#IxouHhbe3Q0T7i8W.97 This has a series of images and a planned itinerary for a day out. Getting into here would be powerful. Trust flow 12 Root domain 67. With a high root domain score and low page score it implies the site is very powerful, but this particular page is not so strong yet. Don’t worry though, it’s still worth linking from.
- http://www.timeout.com/london/events/days-out-for-kids As the Trust flow does not yet have a score and the Root domain is 44, it again implies it’s a new page. It’s a powerful local source so worth pursuing.
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/London-family-days-out/ a Daily Telegraph article which would have been gained by PR work. Again, it’s a new page as the Trust flow is not yet established and yet the Root domain is a super powerful 79.
- http://www.kidsdaysout.co.uk/kids-days-out-england/london.html This page offers the opportunity to become a featured attraction on the right-hand side too and whilst it’s not the strongest of sites, it still has a Trust flow of 30 and a Root domain score of 38, which will add weight to the site.
- http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/outdoor-activity/the-50-best-family-days-out-8483915.html another list built through PR which would have been possible to get onto. Trust flow 14 Root domain 77.
If you change the search term to be ‘Family things to do in London’ you get a whole new set of results again as follows:
- The first thing you see is Google’s new Points of Interest ‘carousel’. This is not something you can buy your way into but do get in there if you are seen as one of the top attractions based on trust, visitors, and visibility. I also believe that a lot of local listings and citations, as well as a Wikipedia page, will directly get you onto this carousel.
- http://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/family-activities#PY1EvMG1BufQMcSB.97 A different page to the one on the previous search and just as powerful (Trust flow 48 root domain 67) which tells you that this page is far more established than the previous one)
- http://www.timeout.com/london/kids/activities/top-ten-things-to-do-in-london-for-kids This is a disguised advertising page that ranks well, so it would have to be worth considering as an advertising option with a Trust flow of 15 and a Root domain 44.
- They have another page too http://www.timeout.com/london/kids which is again more established with Trust flow 18 and Root domain 44.
- http://mylittlenomads.com/london-for-kids Despite this page ranking well, it’s not terribly well trusted with Trust flow of 8 and a Root domain of 14 but may still be worth buying your way to the top of this site.
- http://www.londontown.com/attractions/SearchResults?searchType=category&searchCat=Attractions%20for%20Kids shows three pages of things to do in London and with a Trust flow to the root page of 44 and Root domain of 63 is well worth pursuing.
- http://www.gonewiththefamily.com/gone-with-the-family-adv/2012/07/visiting-london-with-kids.html This appears to be a blog with a Trust flow of 19 and Root domain of 30. More of how to get links here in the next section.
- http://www.fodors.com/news/23-things-to-do-in-london-with-kids-6667 This is a guide page and has direct links back to the sites. With a Trust flow of 12 and a Root domain score of 70 it is well worth getting a link from.
So the summary here is that in addition to the more general listings sites, there are also VERY powerful options that you can find within the search results.
The easiest way to do this is as we have done above and to manually look and see what pages are ranking and then try and find a way on to them. Some will be great value and others a little more expensive – if they are even accessible.
Reaching out to Bloggers to get them to write (normally great) reviews about you
Blogger outreach works beautifully and again covers general business and also industry-specific bloggers, who may write about you and link to your pages.
Continuing with the example of the London based Children’s attraction, the audience we wish to engage would be mainly female and of an age to have young children.
Bloggers give us credibility, lots more positive mentions out there all over the Internet, loads of great and properly tagged images and good links. They literally build our customer base one link at a time. They have their own reader base – often in the 10,000’s and add credibility to the attraction in their readers’ eyes. Many of their readers look up to them as role models and follow them into the places they go.
How we find them is reasonably simple too. We start with the Mummy bloggers and work outwards.
So, meet the mummy bloggers.
What are they looking for and writing about?
Kids, clothes, days out, parties, tantrums, growing up, prams, cars and holidays to name a few things. In fact, they are now increasingly writing about things that get them freebies. So we go and find them and offer them a free family ticket if they write about us on their blog. because of this, they don’t write negative reviews as if they did, the freebies would dry up.
It’s totally mercenary. So, therefore, we look at their blog first. ALWAYS read their terms of engagement and perhaps most importantly check their readership levels and their trust flow from their website. Here are some sites listing some of the most influential.
If you are lucky enough to have access to The Cision PR Software, they have the most awesome media database (http://www.cision.co.uk/pr-software/media-database/) which lists all of the bloggers and their full contact details.
These bloggers build long tail permanent links back to the site and these are both very well read but great for long-term SEO in their own right. Hopefully, they are now strong on social media too and this all helps.
You should aim to target two to three of these per week as a minimum. They are a critical part of the new marketing mix.
If we then want to target a new audience group, we look for the influential bloggers in that space and work from there.
Targeting Journalists through PR
It was clear in the “being found in London’ example above that many of the first page listings are with the major publishers, who hold key positions in Google’s search results. Much of this is due to their ‘trust’ in the eyes of their readers. They don’t appear to be as mercenary as some of the others, but they do react very well to free tickets.
Traditional PR without an online site to build on is very short term. I understand how high profile it is to get covered in print, but without the long-term benefit of links too, it’s very short lived.
The potential risk of citations
When building brands, we often use the term ‘Consistency, Consistently’. You have to keep doing good things to the same standard, over and over again.
The same applies to managing your citations. They have to be consistent, but at the same time, individual enough to not be seen as duplicate content.
If you do add your business details, you have to then keep a record of where they are, what you have written and on what date. That way, you can come back in and check them regularly for accuracy. More of this below.
The risk of having outdated or inconsistent information on these sites is that you actually do more harm than good.
Your ultimate aim when you are building citations is to make sure that both consumers and search engines are being correctly informed about your business information anywhere it’s published on the web.
So you need to ensure that it is up to date and business details, hours of operation and any relevant data is current.
With this type of site, there is always movement. Some sites close, others merge and others may begin to draw their data from a different source. This can inevitably cause inaccuracies or duplicated content, which begin to erode the quality of the listing and begin to do you harm.
Duplicate content is a real risk. If you do see what appears to be duplicate content, don’t panic immediately. First, check where the data is being drawn from. If it is clear that it is coming from a named source, then you should be okay as rather than being duplicate content (ie content that is lifted and pasted onto another site) it is merely content being drawn from the original source.
This last distinction was established with the review companies such as TrustPilot and Feefo and some common sense from Google and the other search engines. By displaying the reviews from the review sites on the brand owners website (as well as the review providers) made the shopping experience safer for customers. They, therefore, began to recognize the difference between duplicate content and content is drawn from a single source and displayed in a number of places. Remember, Google themselves in their own review pages can create aggregated review scores for a business by drawing reviews from a number of sites and creating an overall average score for potential customers.
Manual or Automated Updates
When it comes to managing your citations there are three key options.
Actually, there are four, but the fourth is relying completely on passive management where you only update the citation sites if something is flagged as being a problem. For us, this is too much of a risk and in the long term you may be better not starting with them in the first place, as the risk of damage to reputation and as such rankings, is too great.
Manual Citation Management
With manual management, you manually build, edit, and manage all listings on citation sites. To be able to genuinely manage this properly it’s worth creating a database listing all existing citations, their accuracy, and their status.
This is a sensible approach if you are a startup with more time than money. In this situation, you often need to do everything yourself to get started. It is good experience too as you can learn about citation building and management and undertake your own active management process. As you and your business get busier, you may need to move towards more automation.
What are the pros and cons of this approach?
Pros of manual citation management are that you are able to retain a direct control over the all of your company or brand citations without being tied to any third party. In addition, you can choose to build citations on any platform that seems like a good match, rather than relying on those within the control of an automated system.
The cons include the huge amount of time that it takes to manually manage your citations as the list of the grows. Even a brand-new single-location local business must be prepared to put in hours of initial and ongoing work.
There are also risks in a lack of experience or lack of organization. It’s easy to make costly mistakes building citations, and without proper organization and a database to keep track of all of your listings, it’s easy to lose track of the existence and status of citations. This can lead to further loss of time and the accidental placement of inaccurate or duplicate listings.
Finally, if you are poorly funded you may not be able to get listed on some of the paid platforms because of their associated costs. With some of the automated systems, there are large discounts for placement on multiple sites so they could potentially deliver all the citations for less time and more importantly, less money than if you did it yourself.
Semi-Automated Citation Management
With Semi-Automated Citation Management you pay for a service that automates the push of local business data to some of the platforms and then manually builds additional citations on platforms which are not covered by the automated data push.
Who does semi-automated management work for?
This approach would be a good fit for small-to-medium businesses or ones that are a little more established. Many of these services charge a set fee per citation, so it’s important to carefully research what you’re signing up for prior to purchase as not all of the citations they offer will be as useful to your business as others. See the detail about industry-specific citations above.
What are the pros and cons of this approach?
Depending on pricing, a semi-automated citation management system can offer access to a wider variety of citation platforms. These include those that are more industry specific or geographically relevant. Instead of having to build all of these additional citations manually, you can pay for the automated service to complete the work for you.
On the downside, costs can quickly become restrictive and some semi-automated services tend to pad out their offerings by providing listings on directories that offer little or no additional value for your business. Again, some of these could be actively harmful due to questionable relevance to your main business focus. It’s vital that you understand that you’re making an investment in something of value, rather than just being too busy to stop and measure the value of what you’re doing. Otherwise, these citations may not contribute to the rankings, reputation, or the income of the business.
Automated Citation Management
With Automated Citation Management you would normally purchase a package or service, enter your business data, and then that data is automatically pushed out to a number of platforms with no further effort on the part of the business owner. Moz Local is one of the best ones out there for this.
As with any product or service, not all automated solutions are equal. Their price, network of partner platforms, dashboard, capabilities, tools, and features make each of these services unique. We would advise proper research before signup to ensure the platforms they push data to will work for your particular business and in your sector. For example, as we said above, many of these citation platforms move, merge or close down. If their own situation changes, you want your listing closed, rather than simply being suppressed. You also need to understand what happens to your citations if you STOP paying for the automated service.
Who does automated management work for?
While automated citation building can work for any size or growth stage of business, it’s particularly useful in the following scenarios:
Multi-location, multi-practitioner, and enterprise-level businesses requiring automated management of a complex network of thousands of citations. For example if you have branches or offices all over different markets, the manual management of these citations would require immense amounts of time. With automation, most of the changes can be made in one place and all of the citations updated simultaneously.
If your business is going through significant data changes due to mergers/acquisitions, rebranding, moving locations, or changing multiple phone numbers. Over recent years, many operators have switched to freephone numbers across their entire estate. Imagine having to make these changes across multiple locations and multiple citation sites and you see the immediate benefit of automation.
If you have previously managed these listings badly and you are being negatively impacted by inaccurate or duplicate local business listings and you need to scale cleanup of these problems.
If you are looking to add extra functionality and proactive control to improve active location data management, such as instant alerts to bad data, user review alerts, review management, analytics, and reporting.
Or finally, if you are an agency offering client citation management as a service, you would be crazy not to automate.
What are the pros and cons of this approach?
Automation massively reduces the time spent managing citations. According to the team at Moz Local, the average large business has between 3,500–10,000 duplicate local business listings. To try and address this problem manually would require 44 weeks work to solve the problem. As the information you were updating at the start of the 44 weeks may be different to that at the end, the need for automation is obvious. As an added benefit to automated systems, they normally have a dashboard which allows you to control, track, and analyze all of the local business data, to delve deeper into how effective it is all working and create reports for those who need them.
The downside of automated solutions is often the price, quality, and limitations of the reach of the systems themselves. Prices vary enormously between the different automated systems, and you must, therefore, decide whether the value outweighs the investment. Quality is also a difference-maker when it comes to choosing solutions and the relevance of the platforms they cover. It’s well worth spending time in reading reviews and other cited articles for each service to better understand their respective strengths and weaknesses. Finally, each platform will have its limitations; for example, the number and quality of the partners they will list your business on. More isn’t always better, as we’ve mentioned above. Be sure the solution you’re considering isn’t just bulking up their offerings with low-quality directories.
How many Citations does a business need?
There’s no simple or one-word answer to this as it is entirely dependent on your industry, geographic location and the search space you are fighting for. Your goal should be to create enough high-quality citations to rank higher than your competitors, both in local search rankings and in your overall visibility across the web.
The Moz example again is a good one.
A bakery in a small town in Iowa may need just 20 solid citations to become dominant, whereas an auto dealership in Los Angeles will understandably need to build and earn far more citations than that to lead the pack. While each business will want to accrue a robust set of accurate citations, it is wasteful to go overboard on this, building citations on irrelevant, low-quality directories simply for the sake of numbers.
Our own advice on this is to build slowly and grow strongly.
If you are starting out manually, then don’t binge cite, just start slowly through the work little by little.
So rather than sitting down for three days solid, set aside a little time each day or each week and slowly build your citation base. Google loves sensible organic growth and building citations sensibly is the epitome of slow, sensible growth.
Go out there, get citing and have fun.