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  • By: Mike LaLonde
  • March 28, 2013

Local SEO Citation Bubble: Be Careful with Local Directory Listings

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

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

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

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

Local Citations and the “New SEO”

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

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

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

The Yelp Model

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

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

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

The Clone Army

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

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

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

Indicators of Good Local Directories

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

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

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

Indicators of Bad Local Directories

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

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

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

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

The Takeaway

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

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

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

Mike LaLonde

(Digital Marketing Specialist at Londes Digital Marketing)

After creating his first website at 14, Mike hasn't looked back. He received a BA in Economics and an MBA concentrating in marketing and finance, both from Rochester Institute of Technology. Combining his quantitative education with a creative approach to online marketing, Mike helps the LDM team focus on developing creative solutions that provide long-term ROI for clients.In his spare time, Mike enjoys weaving latch-hook rugs, boondoggle, and making turkeys out of hand tracings.

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