Hendrik Vos of Online Business Builders asked me a great question yesterday:
“I wonder how far off 100% is the probability that Google eventually ends up treating all these manufactured citations/ links in the same way they did manufactured backlinks to websites.”
The question came up because of the giant post on citations I did on the Whitespark blog the other day. It’s come up before. Mike Blumenthal wrote a post on this question last year, and hit the nail on the head.
But because citations have been on my mind – and on others’ minds, apparently – I just thought I’d share my off-the-cuff reply to Hendrik:
“I’d say there’s about a 5% chance that will happen. I say that for many reasons – but just to rattle off a few:
“First of all, there’s nothing sneaky or below-board about listing one’s business on a directory of businesses. It’s not an attempt to “game” Google, partly because there are very tangible reasons to list your business on various IYPs: you want users of those sites to be able to find you, and you want reviewers on sites other than Google to be able to review you. As opposed to link exchanges and the like, where the links have no purpose other than to try to puff up one’s rankings.
“Second, Google needs the data that’s on the most-important sites (where you can get citations). It relies on them in order to populate its results. Without them, Google’s local-business data would be incomplete at best, or – more likely – an absolute train-wreck.
“Third, most businesses have citations that their owners didn’t even build: They grow naturally over time. The citations profiles of those businesses are usually indistinguishable from those of businesses for which someone has been proactively working on citations.
“If it sounds like I’m absolutely certain Google will never treat citations differently, you might be wondering: “Where does the 5% come in?” Well, Google is full of surprises :)”
Your thoughts? Leave a comment!
Great answer! While I understand why people might be prone to making comparisons between links and citations, I think the most important part they miss is exactly what you explained – that citations are not an attempt to gain the system. They are an attempt to increase the online exposure of a business, and just as a *result* of this – to potentially increase the organic search rankings, too. Now, the purpose of links should theoretically be the same, but due to many reasons this fact has been diluted in time and now the word “link” is as close to “gaming Google” as it could go, which is sad.
I just don’t see a reason for Google to stop looking at citations as a ranking factor. The only thing that might probably drastically change in future is how Google treats the “unstructured citations”. I believe as they get smarter in understand if something is a citation or not (and for which business it is), they might start placing more value on this kind of citations.
Thanks for the great post!
Excellent insights (as always), Nyagoslav. Thanks! You said it better than I did.
I agree about the unstructured citations. Sites where you can get an unstructured citations often a little less predictable and rules-based than are, say, the Yelps and YPs of the world. Maybe that’s where their value as citations comes in, at least to the extent that their lack of systematization also means that there’s human “editorial control.” But they’re also less stable (e.g. Patch), which might make them less trustworthy/valuable to Google over time.
The “stability” question also leads me to my next point: probably the big thing that will change over time is exactly which sites are prominent in the local-search “ecosystem.” CitySearch is limping along on one leg that has a bum knee. Patch slipped on a banana peel. Local.BOTW.org is now charging a nominal fee. InsiderPages doesn’t allow locksmiths. But even those sorts of changes happen slowly.
Trina Frizzle says
Just wanted to chime in to say that you can still list your business for free at BOTW as long as you get to that listing through GetListed rather than submitting a Jumpstart Listing directly thru BOTW.
And I have never had issues with Locksmiths and InsiderPages.
As of today anyhow. Things could change tomorrow.
Great catch, Trina. Thanks very much. It looks like they still want a credit card on-file, but I think that’s good as a QC measure.
Russ Offord says
I submitted a citation to BOTW the other day via GetListed, as it was free that way. I did not need to enter any credit card info anywhere during the process.
Then the free “submit” area must be buried, and in a different place from where it’s always been. Could post the link?
Also, I’m curious to know whether you’d already had a listing on the site under a BOTW account you created a while ago, versus you submitted a listing under a BOTW account you just created.
Russ Offord says
I used this URL, which was copy/pasted from the search results on GetListed.org under the ‘Missing Listings’ section.
I am assuming that the UID is a referrer code which tells BOTW the ‘promo code’ to use to determine the pricing/billing options. I searched for another company and noticed that the UID in the above link is the same.
After completing the signup process (new account), and submitting the listing info, BOTW sent an email with the subject line “Best of the Web Billing Receipt for __________” (insert company name.)
My billing info was never requested during signup.
To support my promo code theory, I noticed that during the submission process BOTW provided a box to enter another promo code, if desired. Their email goes on to say:
* Promotions Applied:
– Free Jumpstart Listing via GetListed.org
and then it says:
“Submit again and use the promo code instantb2ec2 for a 20% discount! This offer is only good for 24 hours, so submit now! You’re welcome to share this code with others but hurry, there’s very little time remaining!”
So obviously BOTW wants to try to make money from further referrals by giving the first listing free.
I wonder if that referrer code will be taken down or changed if people start using it too much. 😉
Orion Group LLC
Thanks a bunch, Russ!
Kyle Alm says
There will be sources of citations that will be devalued, but overall citations and semantic markup are the current trend and will continue to be until something better comes along. That 5% is dependent on how much spam the online marketing industry attempts.
Well-said, Kyle. Citations are the least-bad way for Google to get info about a business that isn’t directly from the business owner (e.g. on the website) and that isn’t on one of Google’s properties.
Mike Blumenthal says
Great article Phil. There are two other nuanced points as well.
A crappy directory has been and will always be a crappy directory. It is unlikely that a citation there provided much value before but probably even less now if the whole directly has been dropped from the index. But that is a directory issue and does not impact the business.
The second is that while it is likely that Google will continue to view a citation as a valuable measure of a business’s prominence that doesn’t mean that they won’t add new considerations or revalue old considerations in their local algo. For example in 2010 with the rollout of blended (merged) results Google, for some percentage of listings, increased their rank due to their web prominence. That didn’t and doesn’t preclude citations it just changes their role in the mix.
Excellent points, Mike. Thanks for weighing in.
Vadim Mialik says
Great point agree on most, disagree on “5%” 😉 However I think the keyword here is ” manufactured citations” and yes there are Citysearch and the likes that auto distribute citations. However I think Google can get pretty smart and penalize manual manufactured type of excessive citation building esp in the incorrect directories, etc.
Why would Google do that? I can see your point apply to absolute junk citations – like when a business has 200 citations and 120 of them are on sites that nobody’s ever heard of. But, as I’ve argued, there’s nothing deceptive about listing your business on a “trusted” IYP or vertical-specific site that’s been around for a while.
In my opinion citations are used to manipulate the search engines much like links. Once you know that citations equals ranking you have even bigger incentive to spam the web with worthless “made to sell sh*t” full of citations. This is like raising the flag for spamers and shouting: “Hey now you can game the system by using citations instead of links” ..
I’d suggest re-reading the post. Citations do not “equal rankings.” They are one factor of many – albeit an important one. Plus, citations alone don’t mean you’ll rank well, especially in competitive markets.
Russ Offord says
At one time ‘links’ generally equaled ‘rankings’ (though they were never 100% of the algorithm)… people went out to gain links to raise their rankings. I think what Tsvetan was trying to say is that ‘Citations’ can also have a danger of being seen as equaling rankings (though, of course, they would not ever be 100% of the ranking algo.)
People who have seen their link building campaigns fail over the past months or year are now turning to citation building… though, I don’t think anyone would ever try to ‘game the system’ with a citation, right?!? 😉
Over the years we saw backlinks become abused… the rise and fall of article directories and content farms with little to no real-world value… over the years we’ve seen the, sometimes extreme, boost in rankings from manufactured backlinks with exact match anchor text and the, sometimes devastating crash in rankings with Penguin and Panda.
As citations catch on, and more and more people see rises in rankings from it, I predict that the SEO industry will start to create more and more junk ‘IYP’ venues… by the hundreds or thousands… the new call to action sales-pitch will be “submit your NAP citation to 1,000 IYP venues for just $9.99”. (Though manual citation builders currently charge around $3-$5 per citation created.)
I mean, look at how easy it is with Yext to correct and/or gain 44+ citations at about $500.00 I can imagine someone easily coming up with a proprietary system where they offer 100, or even 1,000 citations on their own manufactured IYP venues at the click of a button (on venues with crazy domain names like IYPHeaven dot com… YourCitationSource dot com… or BusinessNAPBuilder dot com. In this scenario, there would really not be much difference among the websites… it would all just be duplicate content (N.A.P + Category, Description, Photos etc), distributed across man,y many websites plus the potential to also have review functionality, too… just to make it look a little more legit.
With this in mind I can see a need arise for Google to either reconsider the value of citations in general or come up with new algorithms to filter quality citation venues from the junk venues (just like they have done with backlinks and content farms.)
I understand what you’re saying, and what Tsvetan said. If I had to rename this post, I’d call it “‘Will Google Devalue Good Local Citations?'” I agree that Google won’t value dime-a-dozen citations from sites whose sole purpose is to provide citations, but Google has never valued those. As I’ve written, quality counts more than quantity. But trusted sites – like Yelp, CitySearch, and Angie’s List – will always carry some weight with Google.