The Basics of Online Citation Management
Brandon Schmidt | May 2, 2018
Citation management is an oft-neglected but crucial component in search engine optimization. Here’s why it matters and why you should invest in it.
If your company has been in business longer than a year, you’ve probably discovered some seemingly random websites that features your company’s name, address, phone, and website. Sometimes the information is accurate, but most of the time you’ll see outdated information like your old address or a phone number you haven’t used in years. You may even discover that there’s a review on this site.
These types of websites are called internet directories, and they can be a source of frustration and headache to business owners and marketing managers like you — especially when the information is not correct. The good news is that SEO agencies like YDOP can update sites like this so they have the right information. We even take it a step further, optimizing sites like these to improve your search visibility and direct potential customers to your site.
Here’s how and why we do it.
What are Citations?
One way to view directories is as an online phone book. People rely on these directories to find the right business when they need them. Many online directories are focused on niches (historic renovation companies) or geographic areas. Appearing on these directories can be the deciding factor in whether a potential customer visits your website or your competitor’s site.
In addition to being a source of potential customers, online citations provide crucial information to search engines, online maps, and the world’s largest websites. Google, Facebook, and Apple Maps all receive information from online directories; any missing data or wrong information on the smaller, less-known data providers can translate into duplicate Google listings or showing your business at a different location in Maps.
Citation Management: Not for the Faint of Heart
Depending on the industry and location, we normally claim and optimize citations on 100 online directories. Some are world-famous websites (Facebook, Yelp), others are specific to your business (HomeAdvisor and Porch for home remodeling contractors), and others are obscure but important data providers (Axciom).
Each website has its own system for finding, claiming, and updating information. Some require a login, while for others you must contact support. At its root, this type of SEO work is a lot of detailed forensic work, trying to identify issues and where they are coming from, as well as the best way to correct this solution.
Here are some of the main challenges we see when performing off-site SEO work with directories:
One of the most common issues with citations that a local business faces is duplicate listings. This is when your business shows up more than once in the directory. It can take some detective work to discover all the duplicate listings and the best process for combining them.
Another frequent issue with online citations is inconsistencies with the information. This can happen for a variety of reasons: if you business has moved or you’ve changed the name, phone number, or website in the last 10 years, this outdated information is still out there. A good SEO agency will not only discover all the wrong information out there, they will also be able to correct the information at the source – the right data aggregator that feeds other directories.
If you have paid for online distribution in the past – or even ads in a physical phone book – you may already have some of these directories claimed. Unfortunately, this can complicate optimizing these citations, as they are locked from editing by outside parties. This can result in tons of research and phone calls looking for account login information you never knew you had.
A common practice among newer service-area businesses is to use the owner’s home address as the business address when first starting out. Unfortunately, business directories will start listing your home address publically, which you may not know about until the information is already out there.
Sometimes the best practice is hiding your home address when possible, until you can make the switch to a physical address for your business.
Several of these online directories accept customer reviews, providing yet another avenue for your current customers to provide feedback on your company and services. Reviews and star ratings will draw more attention to the listing in the branded search results, which will have a direct impact on your company’s online reputation. Part of claiming and optimizing these directories includes checking the reviews and reporting any spam reviews.
An additional benefit of claiming directories is protecting your brand from an attack of spam or fraudulent reviews. In the past we’ve had clients get a coordinated attack of bad reviews that could seriously harm their reputation. Since we had access to their account, we could flag the comments and report them as spam within a matter of hours. Without login information, it could take days to verify the account and report the comments.
Of course, all these challenges are multiplied by the number of locations you have. Businesses with multiple locations — retail stores, satellite offices, lawyers with several offices, and regional sales locations — all face significant challenges in claiming and managing online citations.
What about SEO Tools & Citation Management Services?
There is a growing cottage industry of SEO tools that can help find and claim online citations. On occasion, we have used some of these tools to help maintain citations, but they are often not flexible or comprehensive enough to make all the necessary updates our clients need.
Citation management services like Yext are popular with small businesses as single service to do all the updates we’ve described above. Our concern with a platform like Yext is that you are basically renting your listings; if you decide to stop using Yext’s services, all your listings will revert to the way they were before you started with them. Instead of paying for Yext, we recommend turning to a local SEO agency to manage your listings, since that work will last even if you stop working with them.
How to Evaluate Citation Building Work
One challenge of citation building SEO work is that it is less visible than other internet marketing efforts like website design, paid advertising, and video marketing. It is a long-term tactic that will pay off for years to come, yet can be hard to evaluate in the present. Here are some suggestions for evaluating the off-site SEO work being done on your behalf by an agency.
Most internet marketing agencies – and even some website development agencies – say they offer citation building services. Often, this just means they automate the process with software and mark up the price for a monthly fee. You can run automated software on your own; if you are going to pay an agency for SEO work, make sure it is for work you can’t do on your own.
Any agency or SEO specialist can say they are doing SEO work by claiming and optimizing directories. But what directories are they working on, and are they important? At YDOP, we’ve created a culture that values transparency and an others-first mentality; this translates directly into the citation work we perform. Clients receive monthly reports on the directories we’ve updated, as well as any struggles or challenges we’ve faced in making the updates.
If you are a small business working in a single location or geographic area, claiming and optimizing citations shouldn’t take years. Directory work is just one of the tactics we use as part of your overall online marketing strategy; we do it for as long as it makes sense.
We do provide routine check-ins with the major directories and data aggregators to ensure accuracy, and we make updates when you change a number, website, or add a new location. But for most single location businesses, the bulk of our citation management services happen in the first year to 18 months of your relationship with us.
Building quality citations is a long-term investment in the health of your company’s online presence. It won’t move the needle overnight, but within 6-12 months you can start to see slow, steady growth of your organic and referral traffic. Any SEO agency or tool that promises more dramatic results is setting unrealistic expectations at best or is a scam at worst.
Are we the right SEO partner for you?
Citation work is just one component of the SEO work we perform for our clients in helping them raise their online presence and generate more leads from their website. If you are looking for help with SEO for your company, contact us today to start a conversation and see if we are good fit for each other.