Niche Local Citations Don’t Get Enough Love

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/14230076900/

People who know enough about local SEO to be dangerous don’t think twice about paying some poor soul to create 200 listings on glitzy big-name local-business directories like GoPickle, MyHuckleberry, and Sphinxaur.

They heard about these things called citations.

They heard citations matter to your local visibility.

They did basic work on 20-30 important listings, saw a little boost in visibility, and figured they’d squirt out 200 citations and really show ‘em.

It must seem puzzling when all those hours of work amount to nothing more than a monster spreadsheet of listings on local directories that nobody’s ever visited except to create a free listing.

One quickly hits a wall on citation-building.  Citations are but one piece of the local-rankings puzzle.  (I sure hope you also have a strategy for getting good links and reviews.)

But let’s say you want to wring the maximum benefit from citations, without going past the point of diminishing return.  Having more listings on generic sites isn’t better.  Having listings on relevant sites is better.  In other words, you want niche local citations for your business.

What’s a “niche” local citation?

By that, I mean you’ve got your business’s name, address, phone number, and (usually) website listed on a site that’s either (1) focused on your industry or (2) focused on your city or local area, or both.

Examples of industry-specific citation sources include HealthGrades, Avvo, TripAdvisor, and DealerRater – but those are only the big names.  There’s also at least one local-business directory for pretty much any field you can think of.  Local newspapers, local Chambers of Commerce, downtown business associations, and local directories for a specific city/town are the kinds of “local” niche citation sources I’m talking about.

Anyway, local SEOs don’t talk about niche citations enough.  I’ve got a few theories as to why that is:

  • It takes research to find niche citation opportunities, and every client’s situation is a little different. That’s more work than using the exact-same list for every single client.
  • You may need to know something about the client’s industry – or learn more about it – to find places worth being listed on.
  • There aren’t as many niche citation opportunities as there are general local directories. You can’t promise to build 100+ listings, because there are probably about 10 good ones, and even fewer if the business itself is in a specialized field.
  • Some niche listings are paid. Those are harder to justify baking into your pricing, or to browbeat your client into paying for.
  • SEOs can’t spout the “This directory has a monthly reach of 7 million!” nonsense when they try to explain the value of their work. You get a good niche citation on a site with relatively fewer users, but more of them are users and not stumblers.
  • It may never even occur to some SEOs to do anything beyond what other SEOs talk about. It often becomes a color-by-numbers deal.
  • SEOs would have to explain the value of niche citations more than they would, say, an impressive-sounding but fluffed-up list of 100-200 sites.

Why you shouldn’t overlook niche local citations

Simply being listed on a niche site may help your local rankings to a degree, but how much it helps is anyone’s guess.  Rather, I’d say the main benefits of getting niche citations are:

  • They tend to rank well in Google for specific search terms – as opposed to terms that tire-kickers and other not-yet-serious customers might type in.
  • They’re more likely to offer a “follow” link (i.e. one that Google “counts”), especially if they are paid directories. (No, links from those sites won’t land you in Google’s doghouse, if they’re relevant to your field and if they’re not your only way to get links.)
  • There’s a better chance they’ll yield an additional trickle of leads, to the extent the sites cater to a specific audience.

How can you find good niche citations?

Some resources:

Brightlocal’s Best Niche Citation Sites for 41 Business Categories

Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder (or just have them build the niche citations)

My list of review sites

My list of citation sources (by the way, I need to prune this list)

Also, you can always just type in some of the search terms you’re trying to rank for, see what sites come up on the first couple pages of search results, and see how many of those sites you can list yourself on.

Are there any benefits of niche citations I forgot to mention?

Do you find them using different methods?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

My #1 Local Citations Tip: Do Another Round

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/chrisgold/6282077864/

A recent conversation with my LocalSpark amigos Darren and Nyagoslav got me to thinking:

Yes, there are dozens of things to remember do when working on your citations.  I offered 43 bits of advice in my giant post on citations from a year ago.

But you don’t want all the details – major and minor – to get in the way of one crucial step.  It’s perhaps the only practice that makes building or fixing your citations less daunting, and more likely to get completed.

It is:

Do at least one follow-up round of work on your citations.

Do it 30-90 days after the first occasion you work on them.

Better yet: do a third round of work a month or two after the second.

That’s it.  If you’re no stranger to citations, you probably know what follow-up work would involve.  But if you’d like a little more explanation, just read on.

 

Why do follow-up work on citations?

  • Because some of your listings or edits probably didn’t stick after the first attempt.
  • Because the remaining listings are probably on the tougher sites, which usually also means they’re the listings that Google really trusts.
  • Because you probably can (and always should) fill out more info on your current listings – like any fields labeled “Services,” “Description,” “Keywords,” and especially your categories.

  • Because you may stumble across more sites where you should list your business.

 

What to do, exactly?

You’re doing 5 main things:

1.  You’re checking the sites you’ve already submitted to, to make sure they published your info correctly.  To the extent they haven’t, you’re resubmitting your edits, or trying again to claim your listing, or whatever the situation seems to dictate.

2.  You’re checking on any listings that you tried to remove before, to make sure they’ve actually been removed.  If they haven’t been removed, make your request again.  You may also need to see where those sites are getting their (mis)information in the first place – if there’s an “upstream” problem.

3.  You’re bulking up any citations that only have your basic info.  Again, you’ll want to fill out as many fields as possible – especially the ones where you have the chance to describe your services in more detail.  Until very recently, Google would scrape those fields and put the relevant services MapMaker custom categories.  It’s likely they still use that info in some way.

4.  You’re taking another pass at finding more citation sources.

 

Fine, but how do you fix up the citations?

Read this superb post by Casey Meraz.

 

Which sites most need double-checking?

Yelp, YellowPages, ExpressUpdate, and Acxiom – for starters.  In my experience, those are the most stubborn sites.

 

Why doesn’t everyone do follow-up work?

Because it’s extra work.

Even if people know that there’s still work to be done, it’s never a priority.  If the rankings are bad and it’s because of messy citations, it’ll usually take months for the fixes to count for anything.  And disheveled citations sure as heck aren’t a priority when rankings and spirits are high.

Also, most citation “builders” won’t bother, because it’s easier to bill you for the first several-dozen easy sites than for the 5-10 toughies.  (Sure, the tough sites usually require owner-verification, but someone’s at least got to tell that to the business owner.)

 

It’s part of a bigger strategy

Local SEO usually takes time – months – to bear fruit.  You need to start working on it before you’re starving for visibility and phone calls.  As I’ve written, the slower you can take it, the better.

If you try to get all your citations perfect in a sitting or even within a week, you’ll probably end up frustrated.  But if you revisit them every now and then as part of your long-term push, they’ll get as close to “done” as you can get.

The nice thing is that the more rounds of work you put into your citations, usually the less there is to do each time.

What’s your #1 tip on citations?

#1 frustration?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Local Citation Cleanup Hack: Check BBB

This is one of the few posts I’ve done that’s probably more applicable if you’re a local SEO geek than if you’re a business owner.  But I hope it’s useful in either case.

As you probably know, having inconsistent NAP info floating around the Web can hurt your rankings (a lot).  You’ll need to correct those listings.  But first you need to find them.

That can be tricky if you’ve had different phone numbers, different addresses, different business names, and different websites.  For instance, you can’t always just Google the phone number and see all the listings you need to fix, because some of them might use other numbers.

Enter the Better Business Bureau.

Go to your BBB listing, if you have one.  (My favorite way is to type into Google “business name + BBB”.)

Then click on “View Additional Phone Numbers” and / or “View Additional Web Addresses.

 

You can’t copy and paste any phone numbers from the popup bubble, which is annoying.  You can just check the source code of the page and grab the phone numbers that way (if you find that easier than typing).

But wait – there’s more!  Scroll down the page.  You may see “Alternate Business Names” listed.

Checking the BBB page may tell you nothing you didn’t already know.  Or it may give you a list of past names, phone numbers, and website URLs that can help you unearth old citations that need fixing.

Either way, Gentle Reader, the real work has just begun.

Local Citation-Building Workflow (in a Nutshell)

A smart dude once said that “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I have as many questions as anyone else about local citations, but I can explain in pretty simple terms my suggestions for how you can get yours to help your local rankings rather than hurt them.

The post I did on Whitespark in August was all about the nitty-gritty details.  This one is bigger-picture.

I’m talking about the rough sequence of steps for building local citations, which you need to do if you want to rank well in local search (Google+ Local and elsewhere).

(You might consider it a continuation of my 12-week action plan.)

This post is for you if you citation-building seems like a jumble of tiny steps without any rhyme or reason, or if you have an employee who’s handling it but seems confused by the process.

By the way, I’m making a couple of assumptions here:

1.  Your business is located in the US.  (If not, I suggest the same workflow, but you’ll be dealing with different sites.)

2.  You’d prefer to have free listings.  (If you have paid versions of any listings – like LocalEze – great: Things may go a little faster.  But I’m not assuming that.)

What to do for a new business/location

Basic principle: start with the sites where it takes a while to get a listing, do the ones where it’s quick to get a listing, wait, and work on the stragglers.

Step 1.  Submit to the sites that take a while to process your listing: ExpressUpdate.com, MyBusinessListingManager.com, and CitySearch.  (You may also want to start Bing and Yahoo now.)

Step 2.  Do the listings that you can do in a few minutes each.  I’m talking about pretty much all the sites you can name, except for the above.

(Note: Around the time you do those first two steps is when you’ll want to create your Google+ Local listing, if you haven’t done so already.)

Step 3.  Wait a month or two.  Work on other stuff.

Step 4.  See if your listing has finally appeared on LocalEze.  If so, claim it and make any corrections.  (Read this first.) If not, check back in a month, after you’ve done the next couple of steps.

Step 5.  Check on the sites you submitted to in step #1; make sure those are complete.

Step 6.  Do any straggler citations – that is, listings you couldn’t or didn’t create or fix earlier, for whatever reason.

 

What to do for a business/location that’s been around a while (a year-plus)

Basic principle: stop the spread of incorrect info on your business by fixing your existing listings, then build new listings on sites where you’ve never been listed.

Step 1. Claim and fix your listings on or submit your listings to the slow-to-digest sites (the ones I mentioned in steps 1 and 4 for a “new business,” above).

Step 2.  Fix any listings your business already has.  Remove the ones you can’t fix, or that are duplicates.  (See this and this for more detail.)

Step 3.  Now you can finally build new citations.  There are several ways to find sites worth listing your business on for the first time; you could use my list, or you could use the Local Citation Finder, to name a couple ways.)

Step 4.  Wait a couple of months before checking on all your citations and making sure they’re all correct and complete.

Questions?  Workflow tips?  Leave a comment!

8 Questions to Ask Local Citation Builders (Before You Hire Them)

Citations can make or break your local SEO campaign, and they’re deceptively tricky.  If you want to hire people to help with your citations, how can you be confident they’ll do a good job?

I like Andrew Shotland’s post on what to ask a customer-review-management service before you hire one.  In the same spirit, I thought I’d bring up some questions you should ask anyone you’re thinking of hiring for citations work.

By the way, I’m not even talking about what to ask some goofball on ELance or Fiverr.  Don’t.  I’m talking about what you should ask people who seem to be specialists in citations or who offer a broader local SEO service that you’re considering.

I suggest you ask these 8 questions (in no particular order):

“How much do you charge?”
If it works out to less than about $3 per citation, you may be paying for sloppy work, or for the work to be done by someone who doesn’t speak the language you do business in.  If money is so tight that bottom-dollar actually sounds attractive, you’re better off working on your citations yourself.  At the very least, ask them the rest of the questions and see what they tell you.

“Do you let me pick which citations I’d like?”
You probably won’t have to hand-pick all of the citations from scratch (although you can).  But you will want to make sure that you see the list of citations before your builders work on them.  If they plan to submit to 100 sites but you’ve only heard of 10 of them, most of the citations are probably junk.  (This post can help you determine whether the citations are any good.)

“Will you keep track of my login info for each site and send it to me as soon as you’ve created my listings?”
If the answer to either part of this two-part question is no, find someone else to work on your citations.  You need control of your listings long-term.  You’re paying for those citations to be built, not rented to you.

“How do you plan on handling sites like ExpressUpdate.com, LocalEze.com, CitySearch, YellowPages, and Yelp?”
If you want to claim and fix your listings on those sites, you (the business owner) or an employee will have to verify ownership by phone.  It’s quick and easy, but a third party can’t do it for you.  The honest answer from your citation-builders is “We can’t do those sites for you.”  The honest and helpful answer is “We can’t do those sites, but we can walk you through the verification processes, if you’d like.”

“Will you show me exactly which sites are all set versus need work and which of them require me to do something?”
You need to be able to see at a glance where each site stands, and if there are any lingering to-dos.

“Are you only ‘building’ citations, or can you also helping me claim and clean up existing citations?”
It’s OK if the answer to this is “Nope, all we do is build the citations.”  You just need to know up-front so that you can either find someone who can work on your existing citations, or plan on doing it yourself.

“How do you plan on handling any listings that don’t ‘stick’?”
You’re fine as long as they give you some idea as to why a given site just doesn’t have your listing 100% correct.

“Do you research the citations that matter in my local market?”
Again, it’s OK if the answer is no.  But it’s nice if – in addition to working on a “core” list of citations that are pretty much always important – your citation-builders try to find the citations that seem to matter most in your particular industry and in your city or region.

Update – “bonus” question: “How many citations do you plan to work on?”
See Nyagoslav Zhekov’s great comment, below.

My personal recommendations for citations work are NGSMarketing or Whitespark.  I’ve also heard that BrightLocal’s Citation Burst is good.

Any other questions worth asking up-front?  Any questions you wish you’d asked your citation-builders?  Horror stories? Success stories – of citation-builders who did a good job for you? Leave me a comment!