Local vs Traditional SEO: Why Citation Is the New Link

MIHMORANDUM NO. 96 | May 28th, 2008Reader Comments (103)

Photo of Citation Racehorse

Citation, 1948 Triple Crown Winner, from Wikipedia (image in public domain).

This post has been named “Best of 2008” by Techipedia.

In this lengthy post (sorry, it must some kind of delayed reaction to Twitter’s 140-character limitation) I’ll try to explain a hypothesis about optimization for the Google Local algorithm (along with the 10-pack, 3-pack and authoritative OneBox) that’s been brewing in my mind for the past couple of months. It has really crystallized this week in various discussions I’ve had with other Local SEOs, including Mike Blumenthal, EarlPearl, and David Klein, and after reading a blog post by Stephen Espinosa that’s no longer available, unfortunately.

Other experts, especially Bill Slawski and Mike Blumenthal (in fact, I think Mike may have been the first person to turn me onto the word “citation” in some of my conversations with him?) have postulated the importance of “citations” for quite awhile, but for whatever reason, the concept never really hit home for me until recently.

In my opinion, the Citation vs. Link distinction boils down to two parts:
1) In Local SEO, not all links matter.
2) “Links” that matter for Local SEO aren’t necessarily links.

Introduction

Even greenhorn SEOs are probably aware that inbound links are critical for ranking well in the organic search engine algorithms. Almost any link, potentially even those that are no-followed, can help a site rank higher for terms that its content targets. If there are enough links that use the right keywords in their anchor text, a site, or a particular page on a site, can rank well even for content that doesn’t appear on the page–a concept known as “Googlebombing.”

For new SEOs, or for those outside the industry, Yahoo Site Explorer provides more or less accurate data about the volume of links pointing at a given website, and where they are coming from. In general, the most powerful links in a site’s footprint are listed at the top. Google, on the other hand, doesn’t provide accurate link data for organic search, but most industry experts agree that their link analysis probably looks more or less the same as Yahoo’s.

Seemingly, however, Google’s Local algorithm (the one that populates maps.google.com and helps populate the 10-pack, 3-pack, and Authoritative OneBox) counts links differently than its standard organic algorithm. It also seems to present a much more accurate picture of the kinds of “links” that it values than does the organic. I say “seems” because it’s entirely possible that this is just another example of Google trying to throw competing search engines, and SEOs, off its scent. But one frequently gets WILDLY different numbers in comparing the volume of Local “citations” to the number of Yahoo Site Explorer links.

What do I define as a citation? Any page that is listed under the “Web Pages” tab inside a Local Business Listing.

Mike Blumenthal likes to talk about relevance vs ranking, a distinction that never really made sense to me until recently. As SEOs, our job is to improve the rankings of our clients, in a way that is going to bring more traffic and hopefully more business from people who are looking for what they are selling. So in that sense, links are a means to an end, because they lead to both higher traffic AND rankings. Links are like a “vote” for a particular website within the search engine

In the Local algorithm, links can still bring direct traffic from the people who click on them. But the difference is that these “links” aren’t always links; sometimes they’re just an address and phone number associated with a particular business! In the Local algorithm, these references aren’t necessarily a “vote” for a particular business, but they serve to validate that business exists at a particular location, and in that sense, they make a business more relevant for a particular search.

At this point in the post, I’d like to direct readers to some seminal patent analyses from Bill Slawski that have helped crystallize for me the distinction between “Citations” vs. “Links” :

1) Local Search Glossary – Of particular interest are “Geographically Relevant Documents,” the concept of a “Geo-Relevance Profile,” and “Geographic Relevancy Criteria.”

2) Signals of Authority / Authority Documents for Local Search

Pay special attention to this section:

A local document – one associated with particular geographic area, which can be associated with a location, by one of the following means:

* A document may mention a business at the location,
* The address of the business, and/or;
* A telephone number associated with a business.

3) A patent which states that links might not even be looked at

4) Google’s ability to analyze both “structured” data AND “unstructured” data

There are still factors that carry over from the traditional “link” algorithm to the Local “citation” algorithm. For instance, quality still matters. A citation from your local community college or city hall is going to be infinitely more valuable than one from findbusinessesinyourcity.info. Volume still matters too, in that if your business is listed on 100 websites, all of equal value, and your competitor is listed on 50 websites, all of equal value, you should rank higher (sorry, be more relevant) for a particular search than your competitor.

The interaction of all these factors clearly varies from industry to industry and business to business, but it is safe to say that comparing the “Web Pages” tab within a Google Local Business Listing and the Yahoo Site Explorer Link footprint yields some very interesting data.

By Way of Illustration: Florists in Seattle, WA

Not all searches will support the theory to quite this degree, but this particular search does a nice job of holding other well-known Local variables (like proximity to centroid, reviews, and keyword-laden business titles) more or less equal. So to my mind, this is more or less an ideal 10-pack to study.

It’s also an ideal search result–nice going, Google!–all mom & pop businesses, no spam, and a relatively small variation in the number and valence of user reviews of these businesses.

Let’s take a closer look & see how each of these businesses’ Citations compare with their Yahoo Site Explorer links.

Citations vs. YSE links for the Florists Seattle WA Local 10-pack:
Juniper Flowers – 61 / 396
Ballard Blossom – 99 / 421
Fiori Floral Design – 73 / 71

Trudy’s Flowers – 61 / 527
Topper’s European Floral Design – 39 / 227
The Flower Lady – 32 / 65
Flowers by Capitol Hill Flower and Garden – 45 / 28

Pike Place Flowers – 20 / 75
Fleurish – 41 / 188
Metropolitan Market – 96 / 1325*

*Metropolitan Market is a full-service supermarket & thus is a bit of an outlier as a true competitor in the floral industry.

What stands out:

1) Plenty of sites that are only listing address and phone number, or otherwise unspiderable links, are showing up as citations. A couple of quick examples: MySeattleWedding, Seattle.AreaConnect, and Daplus.us (which is a subsidiary of infoUSA, a well-known data provider for Google Local).

2) Crappy-looking links might not be crappy after all. If we go a bit deeper and see the kinds of links that are being counted by the Local algo, just using #1 Juniper Flowers as an example, we see a heavy dose of usual suspects Citysearch and Yelp, but we also see things like Washingtonfloristonline.com and Locateaflowershop.com. I don’t know about you, but based on domain name alone, those look like pretty spammy sites to me, and not worth pursuing as a link for the organic algorithm, but they’re just the kind of links that seem to be propelling Juniper to the #1 Local ranking.

3) Interestingly enough, we DON’T see a citation from Juniper’s #1 YSE link, Cory Parris Photography, a perfectly natural, white hat link from a Seattle wedding photographer that probably partners with Juniper for a lot of business. But evidently the Local “scent” of Cory’s site as being specific to Seattle isn’t strong enough for that to count as a citation, or else the Local algorithm expects to see some address and phone information somewhere near that link as well.

4) The Local “deck” is stacked against Ballard Blossom, yet it still ranks #2. The remarkable thing for me isn’t that Ballard doesn’t rank #1. It’s that it’s able to rank #2 despite being 7 miles and “up to 25 minutes in traffic” from the City Center. What gives Ballard such power? It’s citation volume is higher than ANY other competitor, including Metropolitan Market, which sells a lot more than just flowers. Ballard is #1 in the organic rankings for this search too, with over 400 YSE links.

5) For the most part, the businesses with lots of citations rank higher than those with a lower volume. Don’t know that I really need to say much else here. Again, I am certain that the quality of the citation plays a factor, but it looks like most of these businesses are getting cited on more or less the same websites, so volume correlates well to ranking.

6) Two of the top 10 Local businesses have MORE citations than they have inbound links! If this doesn’t prove the importance of non-link citations for the Local algorithm, I don’t know what will!

7) Now let’s take a look at the #5 Local result, Topper’s Floral. Topper’s ranks #2 in the organic algorithm, with good reason (227 YSE links). But its Citation volume is only 39. Clearly, the vast majority of links coming into Topper’s aren’t valued by Google as a Local reference; i.e., to channel Mike Blumenthal, nearly 200 of those links don’t make Topper’s relevant for a Local Result.

What Does This Mean for Local Linkbuilding Strategy?

Lots of us in the Local space proselytize about the need to verify your Local data with third-party information providers like InfoUSA, SuperPages.com, and InsiderPages.com that Google and Yahoo draw on to populate and confirm their own databases.

But the rise of citations suggests that this process should be taken one step further. Not only should you verify your data with these larger data providers, but Google seems to be actively spidering smaller sites both in your keyword niche AND your geographical niche. These range anywhere from knock-off YellowPages to the homepage of your grandma’s knitting circle. So take the time to submit to sites that you might not have thought were worth it before.

Also, mine your competitors’ citations. If you’re not ranking well in Local, study the Web Pages tab on your competitors’ listing. In many cases they’re local directories that are free to submit to or create a listing. In traditional SEO, it’s NOT usually a good idea to have the same link footprint as your competitor. But in Local SEO, it seems that there is a certain set of standard sites (which vary by area and by industry) in which Googlebot expects every relevant business to be listed.

I mentioned Steve Espinosa’s blog post about leveraging Yahoo Local for better de facto rankings in the Google organic search earlier in the introduction. Well, guess what–there’s another reason to optimize your Yahoo Local listing–the Google Local algo seems to count Yahoo Local as a trusted citation.

Think about targeting local bloggers when writing content that is going to attract links. These links are likely going to improve your “Geo-Relevance Profile” (Bill Slawksi’s term), and lead to higher rankings in both the organic AND Local algorithms. Matt McGee’s post today on HyperLocal Blogging is a great primer on the subject.

Whew, that was a long one!

Thanks for suffering all the way through it :-).

For future study:
Does a link from a trusted Local source carry more weight than just a citation that includes address and phone information?
Does the anchor text of that link matter?
Other things you’d like to ponder with me? Leave a note in the comments!

103 Responses to “Local vs Traditional SEO: Why Citation Is the New Link”

  1. Mike Blumenthal says at

    Hi David-

    I think I referred to them a local web page references (as opposed to citations) and wrote about them in What does a link campaign look like for Local?. But I like the use of the word citation as it makes it clear that a link is not really required.

    Mike

  2. David Mihm says at

    Mike, thanks so much for leaving that link. It looks like you published that before I started reading your blog, and when I did a search of your site yesterday to see what you HAD written about, I was obviously using the wrong term :-).

  3. Don Campbell says at

    Excellent analysis David! I’ve been noticing some of the differences between what shows up as “citations” in the Google Local profile and the in-links in Yahoo Site Explorer. Your article puts all the pieces together. I appreciate this thoughtful analysis.
    -Don

  4. Matt McGee says at

    I have always wondered if Google is actually showing all the citations it knows about under that “Web Sites” tab, and your point above about Cory Parris Photography NOT being listed as a citation makes me wonder even more. I suspect they don’t. Since when has Google ever shown the full set of data it knows about, right?

  5. David Mihm says at

    Thanks Don!

    @Matt, I agree, they’re probably not showing EVERYTHING, but they’re clearly showing a higher percentage of what they know about than they do with the link: search command, or even to registered webmasters in Tools.

  6. Tim Flint says at

    Great Article. Now when seeking links, it is necessary to get that link to include your address and phone number. Also, if the address or phone number ever changes, it is vital to change it as best you can on all these sites, or the inconsistencies on all these sites might hurt your position in maps.

  7. David Mihm says at

    Tim, thanks for stopping by, and for the compliment. One of the things that seems different about citations is that they actually don’t need to contain a link to ANYTHING. I am wondering if going forward this will make it easier for local businesses to acquire citations, since websites won’t have to worry about losing any “link juice” to them?

  8. Bryan Phelps says at

    Very interesting stuff…One more good possibility to consider for local search!

  9. Mike Blumenthal says at

    FYI I find that when I am creating an on-line “citation” in local directories and chamber sites a format like in the context of the listing really helps Google know:
    Business Name
    Street Address
    City, St Zip.

    Here is an example of a citation that shows up in the web pages section of local.

    @Matt- I would agree that there is no reason to assume that Google is showing all that they have. And I guess that over time, as their data set becomes more complete, the % will drop.

    Mike

  10. David Mihm says at

    Mike, that’s an excellent observation. I have a feeling that it has to do with Google’s ability to parse “structured” data like that at a very high level?

  11. Jerry Andrews says at

    Local search is the birth of link building.. I tried using citation and have seen a lot of clients site improve both in ranking and traffic.. Great post

  12. Todd Mintz says at

    Sphunn http://sphinn.com/story/50037. Great job and well argued!

  13. Justin Palmer says at

    Brilliant hypotheses. Everything clicked when I read this. While doing SEO for a local client recently, I noticed we ranked surprisingly fast in the 10-box, even before we had acquired a significant number of links. I had committed early on to submiting to local directory sites regardless of whether they passed link juice or even gave a link at all. These “citations” must have been the reason for the success we experienced with the 10 box.

    Thanks for the great article!

  14. Michael D says at

    Nice to see someone taking the time to share all this research in one organized post. The illustrations and screen shots help make things much easier to understand. Great post.

  15. Glenn Nicholas says at

    Really instructive David, it seems in different industries there are a distinctive set of third party information providers for reviews as well as local citations.

  16. Aaron Weiche says at

    Well structured and great breakdown David. I too have seen the same “instant” local results as Justin mentioned above by first hitting local chambers of commerce sites, directories and such on the city and even state level. What’s also interesting to me is your find on the Cory Paris Photography example. My first thought is that “local business” type sites fall further down the trust ladder then local directories, community type sites and the like. Why?

  17. Mark says at

    “It’s NOT usually a good idea to have the same link footprint as your competitor.”

    Why not? Of course, it’s usually impossible to have the exact same set of links. You’ll have a few originals of your own to start with, and some of the competition’s links will be too hard to get for what they’re worth. But it seems like a good idea to go after all your competitor’s links that are low-hanging fruit.

  18. David Mihm says at

    Hey guys, thanks for all the comments.

    @Aaron Weiche – It could be that Google IS counting that Cory Parris citation, but just not showing it under the Web Pages tab (see Matt McGee’s comment earlier in the thread). It seems like G is sharing many MORE citations with us than they do traditional links, though, perhaps on the order of what they show in Blog Search.

    @Mark – I’m all for getting the low-hanging fruit, but if all you’re doing is getting the same links as your competitors in regular organic search, your chances of out-ranking them are fairly slim. In my experience, Google’s organic algorithm seems driven by acquiring authority links and a diversity of non-authority, but high-quality links. Whereas, with Local, there’s either a much broader set of authority links, or else your “diversity” can be much lower-quality, depending on how you look at it, than it can in organic.

  19. MiriamEllis says at

    David,
    I’m coming a little late to this conversation but can’t help saying, “yippeee, cool analysis!”

    My ears really pricked up when Bill Slawski first started talking about citations (last year, I think?).

    I wonder how much attention the average user pays to that mass of somewhat weird-looking data in the expanded data entries in Maps. The way Google structures citations seems sort of messy in that section, don’t you think? But, I definitely think you’re onto something important here and I’m going to start paying special attention to what I’m seeing in this area. Great article, David. Off to sphinn it.
    Miriam

  20. Tim Flint says at

    David,

    Thanks for your insight. Maybe i should have stated it this way. If you can get a link and an address and phone number all in one, it is likely to be a huge bonus to your regular SEO and your Local SEO. The two together would make a wonderful pair since you are being optimized for both. It is great if you can get one, but if you can get both at the same time, I would think it is all the better.

  21. David Mihm says at

    Tim, I agree entirely. The new “gold standard” for local linkbuilding would probably be a link to your URL immediately followed by your address and phone information.

  22. Nathan Lands says at

    Amazingly informative post about Local SEO. Searching my competition’s Web Pages tab to find local directories was an EXTREMELY helpful bit of information.

    Now to try…
    http://www.hiyaya.com
    Software Development – E-commerce Platforms – Web 2.0 Application Design
    Tampa, FL

  23. Terry Van Horne says at

    David this is a thought provoking article. Citations have been rumored to be treated as if they are links for years in fact before there was local search. I remember seeing indications an unlinked somesite.com was treated as a link and if a link is important then why wouldn’t a citation make sense to include especially if it verifies location info on the business website. Now I check Google using “somesite.com” for analysing links. That will also include any citations. Link: has been useless for that analysis for quite siome time so I often use this as a better indication of what urls are linked to a site and how Google may be treating that link.

  24. Todd says at

    One interesting thing that we’ve seen lately is that we used to be #2 in the 10 pack for ‘ann arbor website design’ but recently fell out of the list. After reading the post I checked and we are now ~#25 and only have 2 citations suddenly (I know we had more before, but don’t remember the exact count).

    So it seems that Google has been dropping/ignoring some of our citations that it previously counted.

  25. purposeinc says at

    David, Thanks for the link, and the mention.
    Your survey, and following conversations definitely changed the way I look at local.
    Links, the closeness to the geographical center of town, and reviews all had made sense to me.
    That one little link to what you refer to as citations had been sitting in front of me for the past year or so, and its relevance had completely eluded me.

    Your article rings completely true, and I think in the future this will be remembered as being a breakthrough.

    Excellent work, and very helpful.

    Much Love,
    dk

  26. David Mihm says at

    @Nathan , @Terry – Thanks for the compliments. Terry, I think your Google search is a good one, using just the domain rather than the link: command. YSE has tended to be a pretty accurate reflection for links that G counts also, in my experience, so taking a look at both would probably give you a great picture.

    @Todd – It’s an honor to have you stop by. I’m a big fan of Stone IG’s work. The good news for your market is that the #1 listing only has 24 citations, so it wouldn’t take more than a few good ones to overtake that company.

    @dk – It was such a pleasure talking about this with you the other day. I hope it was a mutually benefical conversation!

  27. Salman says at

    Hi,

    I ended up reading you article while I searching answers to my question related to my local listings on Google. I have not gotten the accurate answers but I’m glad I read your article, it gave me other helpful information.

    Now David, I hope you would come up with an article soon clarifying the ‘web pages’ tab in google local business listing, don’t you think its unfair to local businesses to show their competitors websites in their listing! like with my business listing, chicago-wedding-limo.com if you go under my listings ‘web pages’ tabs my competitors websites are showing! I wish I had options to show my own websites there! do you know if this possible, if it is, please post here! Im sure so many business owners have same concerns!

    Thanks,

    Salman

  28. Alex says at

    Hi thanks for the interesting article.

    I have noticed too the importance of citations but what I do not understand is how do I get Google to pick up these citations and link them to the Google Local Listing and the WebPages tab.

    I have listed the companies I am working with on several local internet sites but it seems that Google hasn’t picked it up yet.
    Is there a standard time frame that it takes Google to spider these “Web Pages” and get that webpages tab on the listing?
    Sometimes I notice it takes Google a couple of weeks to pick up different links associated with the listing.
    Is there a way to speed the process up?

    Alex

  29. Abhinav says at

    @ Mike Blumenthal and @ David: I have been doing local search for many of my clients. My main process involved submitting business information (w/i links) to as many local sources and websites which were co-relating to the specified location.

    During the process, I had success getting very less competitive businesses to get one box listing for there local city search terms where there were no local results before.

    In regards to that, I followed to see a trend were I could see multiple “web pages” showcased from some same domain names. Now the question is:

    Whether having multiple listing from same domain name will act as somehow a unique citation for that particular listing or will it be same as that of having a sidewide listings of links over a domain name which replicates to be counted as with less important which is going in the search market trends.

    Do explain it on this more, if there is any information observed by any of you.

    Regards,
    Abhinav Gulyani
    http://twitter.com/abhinavgulyani

  30. Anthony says at

    Thank you David for this post and other information you have on your site. We had a google local listing of #2 for our business and we were getting leads left and right. Then all of a sudden Google decided to mix our data up with a competitor. The listing in the 10 pack had our competitor’s information but when you clicked on reviews all of our information was there. It was the craziest thing. And as quick as you could say “gone” was as quick as we went from 3-4 leads a day to ZERO. We were able to get that listing off but that doesn’t get you leads. It was a terrible end to the summer let me tell you. Since then I’ve tried to figure out how to get our position back – unsuccessfully. This post was an eye opener and has given me hope again. Thanks a lot man.

  31. Iflexion says at

    HI,

    Thanks for this post and others regarding local SEO. I use them as guidelines for our recent local promotion campaign.
    We have an interesting situation – we are a web development company in business since 1999. We started doing SEO since 2004. Everything was fine until Google introduced organic results geo targeting. We are located outside US. Since geo was introduced we’ve lost lots of top10 positions in US. Now I am working trying to recover and a month ago launched a local listing with Google. Now I am in top10 in local search for some competitive keywords in Texas. I will try to report on the results.

  32. Bob Sommers says at

    Hi David:
    Great post. This local search just gets more interesting every day. A few months ago I assisted a local Maui spa to take advantage of local search. They immediately went to the top of the 10-pack for the term “spa on Maui.” but this lasted for only about a week. Now, they are no where to be seen. Any thoughts as to why the jumped to the top of the 10-pack for such a competitive term so quickly?

  33. David Mihm says at

    Bob, most experts feel that age of listing doesn’t matter a whole lot in terms of ranking…but Mike Blumenthal does report that he has seen similar effects happen in particular cases. The best thing I would advise would be to continue to build a solid base of citations and reviews…it’s the only way to ensure long-term success :)

  34. Yaro says at

    David,

    I realize that there is no definite answer to this, but can you give an average time frame it takes to start seeing some of the more popular citations (e.g., superpages, yellowpages, etc) listed under “webpages” in google local? That is, how long does it take for google to associate the different citations across the web to your newly established google local listing? Thanks.

  35. Kyle Kazak says at

    Thanks for the clarification on citations vs links. Your breakdown about the florists was a great visual tool. Keep up the great work!

  36. Shareef Defrawi says at

    David, I just saw you present at the seomoz training series today. I was very impressed with the information you provided regarding local search and was compelled to visit your site. This is great, actionable info- the kind every seo professional needs. Thank you, and by all means keep it coming!

  37. Zac says at

    I am curious. If information is driven from sources like IYP’s, and infoUSA. What happens to the business that has multiple MEL lines for example? Does this confuse Google when they see the same business with the same web address that has multiple telephone numbers? Have you noticed any issues with ranking results for a customer that falls into this category?

  38. Mike Ramsey says at

    I have a feeling this is where getting a micro hcard formatted citation is going to be the name of the game in the future. I also have a feeling I am a year late on writing on this post.

  39. Kenneth Udut says at

    I’ve been pursuing this for a couple of years now. Optimizing local search is SO tricky and it keeps changing.

    My website is for a very small area – Naples, Florida. I’ve got just about every business listed – many more than other bigger websites – and yet it’s hard to break in to the “top ten” rating/review sites.

    The thing that is annoying is that many of these business are vastly underrepresented on the web, and I’m giving them a sporting chance. Now if only Google would give it a sporting chance :-) (heck, my site is free – that should count for something :-) )

    Ken Udut, Naples, FL

  40. Chris Hamilton says at

    Thanks for the great article. I’m an Atlanta photographer and recently filled out my profile 100% and have been getting a little traffic to my site. This info feeds the need to learn more about this.

    Chris Hamilton
    Atlanta, GA

  41. Mike Stewart says at

    Coming from someone who worked for a company that powers many of the links you are talking about “Superpages.com”… I greatly appreciate your analysis of Local Search David!

    Keep up the good work!
    Mike Stewart

  42. Damian says at

    Been reading quite a lot of your posts David and this one in particular has been really helpful. Just wanted to say thanks :)

  43. taiyo says at

    Sorry to ask a noob question, but…
    I am wondering the same thing as Alex and cannot find an answer:

    I have noticed too the importance of citations but what I do not understand is how do I get Google to pick up these citations and link them to the Google Local Listing and the WebPages tab.

    I have a google local listing that I am working on. I have created listings for it on the major listing sites like superpages, etc.

    All of these were submitted at least 1 month ago but so far these citations are not showing up on Google Local. And I am fairly sure that the address info in each was identical to the listing… :-(

    Thoughts?

  44. David Mihm says at

    Taiyo ,

    You might try linking out to your citations from your own website (especially from the page that you submit to Google Local as your company URL) as well as doing other forms of linkbuilding to those profiles (for instance encouraging customers to link to your Yelp profile, etc.) — if you Google “Will Scott Barnacle SEO” you can learn more about this tactic.

  45. Mole says at

    I think a lot of the local business listings are mainly based on links in competitive keywords.

  46. Rob says at

    I don’t know how I got to this fantastic post just now. Wish I read it a year ago, it would have saved a lot of tears and anguish. LBC was initially a spawn of the devil, we got our listings hijacked on a continues basis for many months, in general the results were so silly it was disappointing.
    Citations absolutely help, and are becoming very powerful – not just for the sake of lbc listings optimization , as for organic results. results for localized searches are now filled with directories.

  47. Anonymous says at

    Great post. Thanks a lot. Didn’t realise citations were even a factor.

  48. Frank Marcel says at

    Hi David. This is a very nice post, great information. But something has come to my mind: While you were studying and analyzing all this information, have you looked for/found any Search Engine patent on the subject? Usually, they provide great insights too.
    Thanks for sharing!

  49. Lenie says at

    Hi Guys,

    Please help. I am from Singapore.

    My question is, what is the difference between searching on “the web” and pages from Singapore using Google.sg.

    I initially thought that if I click on the search “the web” I will get international results, but I have noticed that I am still getting results that are coming from Singapore.

    If Google is localizing the search results, I am wondering why there is a need for putting the button that allows local pages from Singapore.

    Please help.

    Warmest,
    Lenie

  50. Ivette Irizarry says at

    I am the #1 organic result for the search “san antonio wedding music”, yet my LBL is not among the top ranked results for local. It used to be #3 but took a dive at some point. I have no clue why. All of this confuses me to no end. The #1 LBL result (‘Carnelian Strings’ ) only has 1 citation. I have 3, so I should rank higher, right? Plus, I am on a listed or “cited” on many of the same sites as the #4 result (DJ Masquerade, who has 50) yet they don’t appear as part of my citations. I am listed as he is on WeddingMapper, The Knot, etc. Is there a way to make Google notice that you are cited? My YSE says there are 79 links. Help!

  51. (Name Changed due to Comment Policy) says at

    in australia its worth checking the latest local citation sources quite regularly. they seem to have undertaken a major update recently and by far increased the number of sources used for citations. cheers!

  52. Chris Cummins says at

    @Ivette – It’s complex and maddening, especially when it isn’t your specialty area. It isn’t mine either. A few things to know and remember:

    1) citations as listed in the LBL are not the complete list but rather a sample. The numbers you are seeing are not the actual totals Google may have. Google does this to prevent gaming of results by spammers. It is much more reliable for you to do an organic search for the business name and part (or all) of the address to see where all you and your competitors are getting possible citations. Clean up any discrepancies in the listing of your Name, Address and Phone Number so they are absolutely consistent.

    2) citations, while clearly important, are not the only thing that is important. Most have noticed distance of address to city centroid is still a very favored feature of your listing. Ask your customers/clients for reviews at a variety of places (citysearch, google, insider pages) Google seems to favor businesses with a quantity of reviews. These factors could be influencing your rank more than citation.

    3) YSE in terms of citations is of limited use. Re-read the article. Citations are the name of the game not so much links. YSE is great at seeing a more complete set of links to a website but you need to find out how you can improve the volume and quality of web pages mentioning your name, address and phone number to win back the 7-pack listing. See my advice in #1.

  53. Chris Cummins says at

    Can anyone tell me if some of the traditional SEO methods of link building (i.e. forum signatures, blog comments, etc.) are of any benefit to citation building? Seems like that could be just as abused as those techniques were before rel=No Follow.

  54. Kory Mitchell says at

    Hey,

    I am facing much of the same with the 7 pack. I was working so hard to get links b/c I didn’t realize the importance of citations. We were always in the 7 pack and links and reviews were my focus (I have as many reviews as the rest of the 7 pack combined). Then I dropped out. Way, way more links than everyone else. Way, way more reviews. Then I found this article and realized that when I moved during summer, my Yelp, Superpages, and a few others had my old address.

    1. That would certainly throw a red flag to google right? I figure it took a little while after I updated my website for it to figure out the address didn’t match my citations.

    2. As early as this Monday I was #1 and #2 for my most important organic keywords. A relatively new development. Then Tues, out of top few pages. I am in the middle of a website upgrade and I had a lot of broken links and frankly, I need to and am going to improve the content this evening or tomorrow. I was learning joomla and was mostly concerned about getting it up and then improving. Dumb decision in retrospect. Since Tues., I fixed the links and within a day I am back at like #40 and figure that had to be the problem and given the frequency of Google’s crawling now, I should be able to remedy that situation quickly.

    I am right on about the broken links, right?

    Lastly, I am pouring it on in the citations dept. Time to pony up the $300 for yahoo directory, BOTW, and Business.com. Did free BOTW local and I am all in the local blogs here in Baltimore. Doing a lot of pr too with address. I think that should help too. I am keeping a log of all the things I am doing so I can provide some future insight to people that if this strategy does indeed work, we’ll have an idea of the time frames. Then hopefully I can share.

    Best of luck everyone.

    Kory Mitchell
    http://www.FellsPtFrame.com
    1622 Thames St.
    Baltimore, MD 21231
    443.869.4945

  55. Michael says at

    Great post. Does anyone know if there is a way I can search and see which sites are citing my competition?

  56. IVA says at

    Are these business listing sites, like yellowpages etc. are targeted to US only or google also uses it for UK sites, for google.co.uk?

  57. David Mihm says at

    IVA, check out http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/local-seo/uk-citations/

  58. Craig Daniels says at

    I love this post, I found a link to it over at SEO Dojo when I was inquiring about local search.. Seems I’m late to the party but better late then never. And i’m with Michael, is there a way to search to find competitive citations?

  59. Bill says at

    We have a service business located in Byron Center, a small community outside of Grand Rapids (2nd largest city) in Michigan. We have changed Google Local to view us as a service over the Grand Rapids area, but how does that relate to citations possibly pointing to our address in Byron Center. I’ve actually been loading our address on local listing sites as GR and not BC… now I wonder if that will help or hinder.

    Any thoughts would be great.

  60. Steve says at

    I have been searching for good info on Local Business Listings, I have read everything and still didn’t find much and then I was reading
    http://www.searchenginepeople.com/blog/google-local-listings-3-essential-tips-for-success.html
    and there was a link in the word ‘citation’ to this article which caught my interest.
    Hands down, this is the most info I have found on this subject. You know it’s great stuff when an article is posted in May 28, 2008 and 2 years later comments are still being made.
    That said David, if you were to write an article on this subject today, would it be any different than what you wrote 2 years ago?
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge:)

  61. AJ Guard says at

    Thanks for the information. We are always looking for better optimization strategies in Google local.

  62. Mike says at

    Just found this post, awesome info! Also it seems the interface for google local changed a bit – looking the the top pic, there is no more “webpages” tab or any tabs at all. But there is a “citations” part of the google local listing which is the same thing.

  63. Joseph McCullough says at

    @Mike

    there is no more “webpages” tab or any tabs at all

    Thanks for clarifying. I was wondering if I was just overlooking something or if the interface had changed.

  64. Roy says at

    Hey there,

    I have a serious problem with my website and Google’s local business results.
    I used to be the first business when you were looking for a locksmith or security in NY but then without no reason I was flagged by Google and since then they wiped me off the map. All my efforts to re-list myself there are not working. I’m a local business with 8 locations in the city and none of them appear on the map.
    Any ideas?

  65. David Mihm says at

    Hi Roy,

    You are in an industry that is very closely scrutinized by Google. Your listings need to be squeaky clean in order to show up. If they’ve blacklisted you, you may need to create a new account and start from scratch.

  66. Paul says at

    Hi David,

    I know the locksmiths market is notorious for being looked at by Google. But why don’t they take those spam listings down? I mean, the same goes for “driving lessons”. Here in Australia, these guys keep spamming the local listings and reviewing their competitors negatively. Why don’t Google do something about it? And secondly, if you are in a market like this, what piece of advice do you have for genuine businesses?

  67. Cindy says at

    I can’t find the webs pages tab… I know this article was written in 2008. Did they get rid of this option?

  68. Greg James says at

    The sooner that Bing introduce their version the better. I really don’t like Google as they will simply not list my site and I just don’t know why. I already use Bing for all my searches so I can’t wait until they launch their own local listings so that Google gets their come uppance.

  69. Menachem Pritzker says at

    @cindy and everybody else who’s confused about the layout – They’ve updated the layout since this post was written. You can find citations now near the bottom of the Google Places page, under the section “More about this place.” You may need to click More (#) to see the full list (or as full as google will let you see.) I’ve written an updated primer on citations here – http://searchlocalguy.com/2010/07/29/four-types-of-google-places-citations/

    @Greg list your business on bing here – https://ssl.bing.com/listings/ListingCenter.aspx
    enjoy the 5% market share.

    @paul – getting listed as a locksmith is EXTREMELY problematic. Avoid custom category fields at all costs, and make sure your business name on the listing matches your DBA exactly

  70. Asim says at

    That is an excellent article. thanks for the input
    i got the idea about citation and the new thing i learned id posting comments in local blogs.
    but one thing always bothered me , what is the effect of reviews? i mean i saw many listings with literally hundreds of reviews but still under performing
    could you please explain how reviews work in the algorithm. i am not talking about reviews only on map but on other review sites like yelp
    and if their are some reviews that Google bot counts, does it differentiate between positive and negative
    thank again

  71. Justin Wright says at

    David,
    First off this is a really great post with some really useful information. I have been working with a site in Google Locals and for the life of me could not figure out why, although I had a great amount of back links, I could not get my listing to move up. With some further research, I figured it out and now my listing is of the highest relevance. What stood out to me in this post was that you stated that the “links” are not always links. They may just be the associated address or telephone number of the business. Thank you for taking the time to write this you have really helped me out a lot.

  72. 4corescomunicacao says at

    Thanks for the information. We are always looking for better optimization strategies in Google local.

    Mauricio / 4 Cores Comunicação

  73. Jose says at

    I would like to add that paying the $30 fee for UBL listings is a great investment. There will take care of tons of citations for you. It helped me get my painting business ranked in the Google places

  74. Joel says at

    Oi David. Este é um post muito bonito, grande informação. Mas alguma coisa veio à minha mente: “Enquanto você estava estudando e analisando todas estas informações, você olhou para / encontrado nenhum Search Engine patente sobre o assunto? Normalmente, eles fornecem insights muito grande.
    Obrigada por compartilhar!

  75. Danilo Santos says at

    Joel, who is an excellent observation. I have a feeling it has to do with
    Google’s ability to analyze “structured” data, such as that in a
    very high level?

  76. Michel Fiske DC says at

    I paid $30 for the UBL service, but 7 months later, no citations at all are showing up on my local page. Anyone else have this experience? I tried to get a list of URLs from UBL so I could ping them, but they won’t do it. Any advice?

  77. Alan says at

    I’m wondering if variations in company name is still a big red flag? A friend’s website shows up pretty well in Google local but their name has several variations. I don’t want to use the exact name in case I’d be violating his privacy but as an example — his business is called Bolts and Screws, but sometimes it’s listed as Bolts and Screws Hardware or Bolts and Screws Hardware Store.

    Would the fact that there are differences in how the name is presented still present such a problem or do you think that Google now can accommodate for honest variations (rather than spammy ones for the sake of keyword exposure)?

  78. Jose says at

    I will be trying to ping the urls of where I have my citations posted and see if that helps. I’ll come back and update this comment and let everyone know my results.

  79. Aman says at

    Wow, a two year old post and its still going strong.

    I was trying to get an understanding of citations, thanks this makes a lot of sense.

    Cheers.
    Aman

  80. Chase says at

    What do you think of the new format for local search? Is this something that will likely be the future for local search? I have seen that google has gone back and forth with various keywords which makes me think they are still testing.

  81. Chase says at

    I know I’m about 2 years late to the party and I haven’t read all the comments (so I don’t know if someone’s mentioned this or not), but I’ve seen that even with incoming citations and links, if your local page doesn’t have your targeted search query listed as one of the categories your business belongs to, you will not rank well.

    In other words, if you do not have “florists” selected as one of the categories that describes your business, you probably will not show up well on the local listings regardless of all your citations.

    This might seem too obvious but remember most places give you more than one category to belong to.

  82. guarulhos says at

    Excellent analysis David

    Ana

  83. Michelle Dyson says at

    “# David Mihm says at
    October 21st, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Taiyo ,

    You might try linking out to your citations from your own website (especially from the page that you submit to Google Local as your company URL) as well as doing other forms of linkbuilding to those profiles (for instance encouraging customers to link to your Yelp profile, etc.) — if you Google “Will Scott Barnacle SEO” you can learn more about this tactic.”

    For the life of me, I have been searching and searching and can’t find any information about this. I have spent the better part of a week listing my website in more than two dozen sites (yelp, yahoo local, localeze BOTW local, etc….) but don’t know how to make sure Google is going to recognize them — they recognize our competitors’ links??

    So I really need to better understand what you mean by “linking out to citations,” because I don’t understand the difference between what you’re saying and creating reciprocal links — which I thought I understood to be a bad thing.

    Help! And thanks — this all has actually been extremely useful to me thus far.

  84. Santana says at

    Very interesting stuff…One more good possibility to consider for local search!

  85. Matt Williams says at

    Read about this on SEOmoz where they referenced your work. It’s great to finally have a go-to place for local SEO, I felt like I was stumbling in the dark before.

  86. Keith Brown says at

    Amazing how citations really haven’t changed much over the last few years. It’s still about getting mentioned the most places and gaining user generated content in the form of reviews and mentions.

  87. Bryan says at

    Great Article! Is a PO box, going to cause issues in local places? I have been told that for local, I should not change addresses, and a PO is permanent. Otherwise I may have a different address in a couple of years for my business which is run from home. I was also told that changing your address in G places would knock your listing off totally for 4 to 6 weeks. My listing on local is not showing.. yet.. a new listing, and with the PO box, a couple of weeks since the pin was entered and site was supposed to go live. It does not show at all in search, but shows partly if searched by name, but without description of business etc.

  88. David Mihm says at

    Bryan,

    PO Boxes are not eligible for a listing in Google Places. Only physical addresses. You can list your home address and choose to hide it in Places, but chances are poor that it would rank for anything other than your business name.

    My advice would be to pick one address that you’re comfortable listing on the web and then start your Local marketing campaign. Until you are able to do that, I’d recommend focusing on organic search or social media.

    Thanks for the comment.
    David

  89. Bryan says at

    Thank you David!

  90. Bryan says at

    @ David: Will change things out to my home address. Thank you. I have spent a lot of time going in the wrong direction, so the following would be extremely helpful so I do not repeat the errors! I have read quite a bit of the volumes of helpful info on the site.. (wish I had landed here earlier) Found it from a comment made in LinkedIn.

    While I am changing things

    Is an 800 phone ok?

    On my places listing, after I get my site and indexes and citations changed over to the physical address, should I create a new places listing or change the existing one?

    And one last Q….

    1) My site url: 1 Hot Property.com
    2) the page I want to rank 1HotProperty.com/bendoregonrealestate/
    3) and I have a url: 1HotProperty-BendOregonRealEstate.com which is 301′d to #2.

    Which url is the best to use for, G places, citations and links.. For my key words “Bend Oregon Real Estate” ?

    I eventually want to expand to other cities hence not having the City in the home page url.

    Thank you..
    Bryan.

  91. David Mihm says at

    Bryan, that’s a lot of questions — I recommend you seek a formal consultation from an expert — perhaps one on this page: http://getlisted.org/resources/trustedproviders.aspx

  92. Ian Smith says at

    “What do I define as a citation? Any page that is listed under the “Web Pages” tab inside a Local Business Listing.”

    Not shown any more David. What do you consider the best tool for identifying citations now?

  93. Martin Citation Guy says at

    Citations are great especially when you have the data according to the latest microformat standards. Make your citations stand out by structuring your html according to the new microformat standards and you will be doing ok when it comes to local seo and citation submissions!

  94. Travis Jamison says at

    Thorough description of using local citations. VERY time consuming to do right, but doing it right can make a huge difference on the local rankings.

  95. Dr. Müllejans says at

    As a dentist I never thought that citations without links (!) and local directories might be so valuable for local listings (especially that some sites are kind of standard sites for local businesses to be listed on). This post was really eye-opening for me although it’s amost 5 years old (!). But the concepts mentioned here still seem to be working, aren’t they?

  96. Eyal says at

    I had the same problem with Google Listing as Roy, my listing was flagged by Google, Do you know how a legitimate locksmith business with address can make a listing. I think that even if I start from scratch, the problem is the category; Do you have a way of contacting Google?
    Thanks Eyal

  97. Scott Jenkins says at

    That was a lot of info, thank you. I have never done anything for local seo but at least now I could give it a fair shake instead of going in blind.

  98. Richard A. Lewis says at

    I am curious if you still feel the same way about citations 5 years later? Although links have continued to dominate they are in fact becoming less of a factor as social forces begin to take a larger and larger chunk. Do you feel that citations still have a place in this changing landscape?

  99. Alan Stevens says at

    I do, Richard. I’ve noticed that they help quite a few of my competitors websites. That is why I plan on doing my best to acquire the same ones and better. In addition, I do agree that social signals are going to continue to play a large role in rankings in the future.

  100. Joe Spears says at

    What seems to work for us, is creating a number of citations in business directories. We’ll get an occasional no-follow backlink here and there, but for the most part, what’s giving us our rank is the business directory listings. Additionally, I’ve noticed that displaying your address close to the city center is not that much of a bump for us, however, our social media hits are another huge factor for us.

    Thanks for writing this article, it shows are far things have come, and with the comments here, where things are going.

  101. Russ Offord says at

    Hi David,

    In your article you said: “What do I define as a citation? Any page that is listed under the “Web Pages” tab inside a Local Business Listing.”

    In early 2012, a commenter, Ian, brought up the fact that Google Local Listings no longer show the ‘Web Pages’ tab and he wanted to know if there was other ways to identify citations.

    As it may be a bit confusing for people who are newer to the Local SEO world, who have never seen or known about the ‘Web Pages’ tab, I wanted to mention to the readers that something somewhat similar can be found in the Google Local box on the top right-hand side of the SERPS (showing often during branded searches.)

    This G+ Local box contains a section that says “More reviews” which can show the presences of reviews on IYP venues such as insiderpages.com, superpages.com, yellowpages.com, etc. Though this is not as exhaustive as the ‘Web Pages’ tab was (perhaps Google felt they were giving away too much information with that), if Google lists some review sites, it is most likely that those sites also contain a NAP citation for the business.

    A similar listing of ‘review’ sites can also be seen within the actual G+ Local page under a section called ‘Reviews from around the web’ (if the listing has any associated with it.) I noticed that in some cases there were a differing amount of websites showing in the G+ Local box next to the SERPs and what shows in the G+ Local page itself.

    Besides the small sample of citation venues found within a G+ Local listing itself, it would also be important, these days, to use tools such as GetListed, Whitespark, or Yext to inventory and track business NAP citations.

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