Do Citations Still Matter for Local SEO?

Building citations as part of your local search strategy has always been an important element in creating your foundation for local SEO. But do citations still matter in 2021? Join Darren for today’s Whitespark Weekly episode where he explores the significance of local citations for businesses today.

Video Transcript

Hey there, Darren here with another Whitespark Weekly video. There’s been a lot of talk in the industry lately about how citations don’t really matter so much for local search. I personally think that they do still matter. In today’s video, I’m going to tell you why I think citations matter and I’m going to give you an action plan for citations for 2021. So stick around.

Alright, so if you go back to the 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, one of the questions I asked was, what factors are you’re focusing on less and it really came down to citations. The top five things that people are focusing on less are all citation related. 

SEOs are spending less time worrying about the consistency of citations. They are not worrying about how many citations are building on IYPs and Data Aggregators. IYPs are like business directories (internet Yellow Pages). They’re not worrying about how enhanced or complete their citations are. They’re not worrying about being BBB accredited. And they’re not worrying about the consistency of citations on data aggregators. 

There’s other ones down below. But citations really featured prominently on what the local search experts are spending less time on. Another question I asked in the commentary was, what are some strategies and tactics that used to work well, but don’t seem to work anymore? The comments again, were littered with comments about citations not really working as well as they used to. 

  • Ben Fisher says that “citations are still on the decline.”
  • Brian Barwick said just “building citations” doesn’t work as well as it used to anymore. 
  • Dan Leibson – he’s pretty harsh – said, “Can’t believe people are still talking about citations. Ranked them at the bottom, this is all the effort I can devote to them.” 
  • Greg Gifford said “Citations. They’re almost a non-factor.” 

Harsh burns, if I was citations, I’d be feeling bad right now.

Personally, I disagree. I think that there is still some value in citations and I’ve got a number of reasons why I think that and I’m gonna walk you through them. 

#1. Perceived Loss

The first one is that I really think there’s a concept of perceived loss. This is because back in the early glory days of local SEO, citations were almost all you had to do. If you would look at a 10 pack of results, for these businesses, it wasn’t on their radar. They weren’t thinking about local SEO. They weren’t hiring local search consultants. They weren’t really doing anything.

If you looked at a 10 pack for lawyers, you might see at the very top Neil & Associates, these guys were on it, they got citations, they got reviews rolling in, they’ve got an optimized website, they were in it, and then maybe the next person might have been thinking about it. But Quint Jonathan, that guy didn’t even claim his listing. He had done nothing, no local SEO whatsoever, pretty much none of them doing nothing. They weren’t thinking about it. And so let’s say you’re William P Lucke. This guy, he hires an SEO consultant, the SEO consultant says, “I got your back, I’m gonna get you ranking.” And he would buy 100 citations or build them himself. And boom, look at that. William P Lucke would be right to the top of the rankings. It was so great back then. Now, it doesn’t have the same impact. 

These days the top ranking businesses have got their citations sorted out. Like all of these businesses here – you’ve got this CP law firm – I guarantee, they got like 100 citations; Suarez and Montero, they’re on all of the prime directories plus they’re on all of the industry specific legal directories. 

These businesses are thinking about local search, they recognize the value that local SEO is driving for their business. And they’re spending time and money on it. Local citations are a fundamental factor in local search

They read it on some blog post or their SEO agency did, and they did it. They got these citations, you’d be hard pressed to find a business ranking at the top (unless they’re ranking for proximity reasons) that doesn’t have at least the top 50 citations built

If your business is on page six of results, let’s say you’re A to Z Injury Law PLLC, and you now go and buy 100 citations or you look up a list of all the citations and you build them all out and you get yourself added to all of these sites. That is not going to be the needle mover that it used to be it’s part of a whole package these days. 

  • You must get reviews
  • You must get your website optimized.
  • You must get links to your website. 
  • You should also get the foundation of citations. 
  • You have to also be working on your Google My Business listing and all that stuff.

There’s just way more to it than there used to be. Whereas before back in the day, citations were the golden ticket. They’re just not the golden ticket that they used to be. 

#2. Businesses Report Positive Benefits of Citations 

Another reason why I think citations are still valuable is that we continue to hear about it from our customers.

People are telling us in emails and back channels, and they’re also, you know, writing reviews for us and saying, “We built citations with Whitespark, they had a huge impact on our rankings. We rank better.” I don’t know if that’s less competitive spaces or what industries, but they saw the impact of citation work. I don’t have details on that. But we do continue to hear reports all the time that citations are having a positive impact. 

#3. Citation Live Rate & Indexation 

Another interesting case for citations could be this case study I did for MozCon. I took a business that had no online presence whatsoever. They had no website, they had no business listings, they basically didn’t exist on the internet. Google barely knew of them, I think there was like one directory listing, they got picked up by Yellow Pages or something. 

This business had zero online presence. I took them from zero to ranking. I stepped through all of the things one step at a time. I put up a GMB listing, then waited a couple of months, saw the impact of that, then put up a website and then waited. I did all of these things step by step. And one of the things that I did was I built citations. 

So, I built citations and I didn’t touch anything for two months to see, what was the impact of the citations I built? Over that two month period, we didn’t really see much happening, they got some reviews and, you know, we saw a little bit of a boost from the reviews. They got some links, we saw a pretty good boost from that. But if you look at this chart here, from our Local Rank Tracker software, you can see that over the course of the case study from January to July, their rankings moved about that much.

At that point, I gave my presentation, I said “Good luck to you, I’m not doing any more free SEO work for you.” And they didn’t do anything either. They didn’t update their website, they got no new reviews, they got no more links. Basically, nothing else happened. But the interesting thing, when I look back is like, why did their rankings keep going up? Like look at this, their ranking basically doubled and tripled over the course of the next year? What’s the explanation there? With no SEO work done? What could that be? 

If we think about the typical timeline of a citation project, it’s actually pretty long, because let’s say I build 100 citations, the day that I build them, we’re gonna see that 25 of them will be live instantly…. Then within a week, you got like maybe 45 of them live, within a month, you’ve got half of them live, within three months, you know, you’re climbing up. It takes a while because what these sites do is the submissions come in, a human moderates them and decides whether to go live inside, or they have some automated system. But a lot of these sites don’t go live. 

We’ve seen emails come in over a year after we created the citations, we submitted them. A year later, we get “Oh, your listing is now live on the website”. So some of these sites take a really long time to moderate and go live with the listings. Google doesn’t identify these listings until potentially months after they actually even go live, because we’re talking about sites with very low authority and a huge index – massive sites that have millions of pages. And so Google’s crawlers aren’t going to dig through all of those pages. It takes a while for them to kind of get through and index all of these listings. The typical timeline for building 100 citations could take up to 1.5 years before you realize the benefits, where Google is aware of all of those extra listings for your business. It does take a pretty long time for these listings to go live. 

It’s interesting when you juxtapose the citation growth with their rankings because even though no SEO work was done, you could still imagine that Google’s still discovering new listings and new mentions of this business over the course of the next year and a half. That’s actually what did happen. Now, I’m not going to pin these results solely on the citations. It’d be silly to imagine that this was just because of citations; it could be the age of the GMB listing, age of the website, so many things. But there is something to think about with that timeline. You can’t just be like, “Oh, I built citations. Did my rankings go up?” a month later. I think you’ve got to give a much longer timeline for citations. 

#4. Extended Listing Distribution Increases Visibility 

Another really interesting case study was recently done by Uberall (Why Listing Management Still Matters). So what Uberall did is they took 3,000 locations that were listed on just the basics of Google My Business, Apple Maps, Facebook and Bing and they compared those locations with 3,000 locations that had wider citation distribution. 

What they found is that if you only have the basics and you’re not listed on all of these sites, your visibility from GMB insights is much less. 

  • So the direct searches were 89% greater for the locations that were listed on all the directories. 
  • Indirect search had 77% more visibility, search views were up 65% and map views were up 91%. 

So comparing those two groups is a really interesting way to see, if there’s any value or impact to citations. 

  • You can also see in the same groups, in terms of actions from the GMB insights data, driving directions were up 102%, phone calls up 13% and website clicks were up 87%. 

So that’s pretty compelling. If you take a business that has no citations, compare them with businesses that do have citations, and see that difference: more visibility. Generally, if you’re getting all these additional views, that means you’re ranking better. That is some fairly compelling empirical research to back up the value of citations.

Assuming you think that citations are worth putting some effort into – and I would recommend it, because one of the nice things about citations is that they’re relatively inexpensive in terms of both, financial costs or if you’re going to do it yourself in terms of time investment. It’s a one time thing, you can just get your citations done, and then mark them off your local search to do list. It does feel like it’s pretty valuable to put that effort in to just at least get table stakes, even if you’re in a competitive space. 

The 2021 DIY Citation Strategy

I’m going to give you a very specific plan of what I think is important in citations. So, I don’t think you should go and build up 500 citations on every directory you can find. This is what I think does matter for local search in 2021. 

  1. Data Consistency on Priority Sites – I think you need to audit and clean up citations, but only on the sites where actual humans are going to see your business listings. That’s because you don’t want people driving to the wrong address, or phoning the wrong phone number, or going to the wrong website. It’s worth it to have any visible sites having the correct information. But I actually don’t think that broader citation consistency is that much of an issue anymore, I think Google has gotten smarter, and so that’s why I say just focus on the sites that matter, the sites that actually have human visibility. That’s like Google, Bing, Facebook, Apple Maps, any of the driving directions sites, sites like Yelp, some of the prominent vertical sites in your industry. Those are worth making sure that they’re cleaned up so that people have correct information. 
  2. Industry Specific Sites – I think there is great SEO value in any industry specific websites. So any sites that are specific, like legal sites, if you’re a lawyer, you know, there’s a good list of 20 – 30, decent legal directories. I would say the same thing for any sites that are relevant to your city. Any city relevant sites or even at the state level, those are really valuable. We call those you know, local niche sites or industry local sites, those are really valuable. 
  3. Get Listed on the Top Directories – I think there is value, as the Uberall study showed, in getting in like the top 30 to 50 directories

Once you’ve done that you are done. You don’t need to keep wasting time or building our direct citations on low domain authority directories. I think that those days are done, that concept of citation building is over. If you just did what I just laid out, that’s enough. 

I also don’t think you need to pay recurring fees for listings, unless you are a multi-location operation with 100 plus locations. It’s hard to justify the recurring fees because any small business or any business with like 10 or less locations, you can get the work done and just be done with it. You don’t need to really continue having your listings in a management platform. I don’t really believe in recurring fees unless you are an enterprise business. 

So there you go. That’s it. That’s all you’ve got to do. If you do that you are basically done with citations. I hope that got you thinking about the state of citations in 2021. 

This is totally up for debate. I would love to hear your thoughts on citations in 2021. Have you done citation work and seen an impact? Do you think that citations are totally worthless now? I would like to hear about it, leave a comment, email me, ping me on Twitter, whatever it is. I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well. 


Darren Shaw

Darren Shaw founded Whitespark in 2005. The company specialized in web design and development, however, Darren's passion and curiosity for all things local search led Whitespark to focus primarily on local SEO in 2010 with the launch of the Local Citation Finder, followed by the Local Rank Tracker.

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3 comments on “Do Citations Still Matter for Local SEO?

  • I’m 100% with you on this Darren 🙂 ‘Consistency’ of citation data is not all that important anymore, as Google is able to figure out a lot more than it used to about business name/address/phone/categories/etc. But if one is not doing proper citation work, they are just missing out.

  • Citation building still helps, but it only puts a little bit of gas in the tank. You’ll need a lot more fuel if you want to compete in a competitive space. It’d be ridiculous to pass on citations if you’re doing any local SEO work, though.

    Great video, can’t wait to see more.

  • I love citations. I have found that just getting the basic citations set up is the difference between triggering an auto-suggestion and a knowledge panel for the business. I know that Ben Fisher has changed his mind since he made his statement.

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