How it works

Citations are generally described as mentions of your business name, address, and phone number on other webpages and internet business directories, even if there is no link to your actual website. An example of a citation might be an online yellow pages directory where your business is listed. Additionally it can be a local business association or even a chamber of commerce, where your business information can be found, even if they are not linking at all to your website.  These citations that are in your local area can many times be the most powerful as they are more geographically relevant to your business.

Citations are a key component of the ranking algorithms of the major search engines. Other factors being equal, businesses with a greater number of citations will probably rank higher than businesses with fewer citations.

Citations from well-established and well-indexed portals (like for example) help increase the degree of certainty the search engines have about your business’s contact information and categorization. To paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals’ coach Dennis Green, citations help search engines confirm that businesses are who we thought they were!

Citations are particularly important in less-competitive niches (like plumbing or electrical) where many service providers don’t have websites themselves. Without much other information, the search engines rely heavily on whatever information they can find!

Citations also validate that a business is part of a community. It’s hard for someone to fake membership in a chamber of commerce or a city or county business index, or to be written about in a local online newspaper or popular blog. Citations (and links) from these kinds of websites can dramatically improve your Local search engine rankings.

Currently, the ‘More About This Business’ section of your Google Place Page is the most complete list of your citations, though Google probably doesn’t show every single one it knows about.

What are the factors that could show you if one citation source is better than another? Here is a summary of what we think:

1. Number of the top ranking direct competitors having listings coming from the citation source.

There are numerous ways to discover what citations your competitors have and you can do this either manually, or use some local SEO tool(s). The best covered countries are United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia.

2. Number of businesses from the same business line or the same locale being listed on the particular citation source.

I did a small-scale research on the topic some time ago, after which Darren Shaw and David Mihm did two larger-scale ones (by city and by category). Unfortunately, all these researches present data for the United States only.

3. General popularity of the site.

While this is hard to determine (sometimes even for Google), one way to look into the problem would be to see how often particular business directory is mentioned in high quality lists. I did a research on the subject some time ago.

4. History of containing structured business information.

If the website’s primary purpose is to store business information then what Google would be expecting to find while crawling it would be business information. This way the chances that the mention of your business would be picked up as a “citation” by the search engine would be higher.

5. Size of the business database.

While such information might be hard to find in some cases, the major business data providers do share it publicly. Bigger business database might mean both more complete overall business data, and higher trust points in Google’s “eyes”. One approach to solving this problem would be to look into how many of the website’s pages are indexed in the search engines. EZ Local have done a relevant research (for US directory sites only).

6. Distribution network.

Or how many other websites the business data is shared with. A large network would mean that listing your business on the main directory would result in it eventually showing up on hundreds of web properties. David Mihm has been doing incredible job sharing insights into these networks in the United States and Canada (for now).

7. Time for a citation to be picked up by Google.

There is little information on this subject in general, and Google is not really keen on sharing any. David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal have done an incredible research on this subject in the US context.

8. Overall web traffic to the directory.

Reliable and accurate data on this subject is hard to find. Andrew Shotland, using data from Compete, compiled a list based on the traffic to different US business directories.

9. Domain authority of the website.

Higher domain authority would be a another signal that particular website is reliable and has a good history in the search engines. Tools, such as Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder and Bright Local’s Citation Tracker measure this authority based on third-party data and own research work.

10. Availability of claiming and editing process.

Many business directories do not have automated (or any) processes in place for claiming or editing already existing listings. This is a potential prerequisite for lower quality business data, and such websites usually do not have (almost) any editorial staff.

11. Number of business information bits that could be added to a listing.

This is a factor that Google reportedly takes into account when determining the value and trustworthiness of a citation. It also makes sense from content richness point of view, because if the website allows for more business information to be added, it means that the chances for unique content on the page to be shared are higher.


How it works November 17, 2012