How to Identify Quality Citation Sources

Here at Whitespark we look at thousands of citation sites for our citation building service. Just as with links, not all citation sources are created equal, so it’s super important that you are careful with where you submit. Some citations are going to help your rankings, and other citations could hurt your rankings.



To determine the quality of a citation source, we consider the following for every site we submit to:

1) Quality of link profile: Run a link report in MajesticSEO (I suggest Majestic because it has a deeper crawl and tends to report on more of the lower quality sites than OpenSiteExplorer). Does it look like a ton of exact match anchor text links from blog comments, forums, bookmarking sites, and cheap article directories? That’s a concern and it indicates a site we will likely want to exclude.

2) Is it part of a network? There are some business listing networks out there that will create listings on dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of additional domains when you submit to one. This can create a massive link spike from low quality directory sites and actually hurt your rankings. You can test this by looking for a footprint from the site that will likely appear on all other sites (look in the footer). Search Google for that footprint (in quotes) and it may reveal other sites in their network. Now, to see if listings are distributed across all their network of sites, you can look at any listing on the site to get a phone number, then run a phone number search combined with the footprint like this: If it looks like listings are being distributed across a ton of sites, avoid.

3) PageRank: a low PR could be a red flag. You can’t immediately rule out a site based on this, but it does indicate that you should take a closer look at other metrics. There are cases where a site is new and might not have PR yet, so, as long as the other metrics check out ok, it could be good to submit to.

4) SEOMoz DA: Get this from Open Site Explorer. Ideally, DA will be 30 or greater for the sites we submit to. Again, a site with less than 30 for DA could still be ok to use as long as other metrics check out.

5) Number of Indexed Pages: Run a “” search in Google on the site. If the number of indexed pages is low (less than 100), then that could be a red flag, depending on the nature of the site.

6) Number of linking root domains: Get this metric from Open Site Explorer. For a local or hyper-niche site, a low number is ok. If it’s a really high number, this could be a red flag that indicates some spammy link building practices. See #1 in this case.

7) Domain Age: You can get this from the Wayback Machine. Look up the site like this:*/ and look for text that says “going all the way back to _________”. An older domain is generally better for a citation than a brand new domain, but not always. A new site with quality links is a better citation source than an old site with a super spammy link profile. Yes, I know you can get domain age from a whois search, but I prefer using the Wayback Machine because people can sit on domains for years before a site ever appears on it.

8) Check if they rank: Take a look at the homepage title tag. It will typically have the brand name in it. Run a search for that brand name. If the site doesn’t even rank on the first page for their own brand name, that is a red flag.

9) Visual check: This is a tough one to use as a metric to assess quality because sites that were developed in 1996 and haven’t had the design updated could still be awesome citation sources. You’re looking for spam signals here, moreso than design quality. Does the site look like a big pile of spam? It probably is.

Really, there is no simple formula we can apply to determine citation source quality. You have to use your best judgement. A small local site that lists businesses in a small town might have low PR, low DA, hardly any links, very few indexed pages, and terrible design, but could still be an excellent citation source for a business in that community. In my opinion, the key metrics to check would be “quality of link profile” and “is it part of a network”. If it fails either of those, avoid.

It’s worth it to spend the time to weed out the good citations from the bad ones, because when Google sees your nice, clean citation profile they’ll be all:


Do you have any additional checks that you consider when assessing citation quality? Leave a comment!



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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41 comments on “How to Identify Quality Citation Sources

  • Hey Darren,

    Awesome article! I usually look into a few more things, together with some of the ones you mentioned:

    – Does the website have the easy functionality to claim and/or edit and/or report business listings – if they don’t have this functionality, it is very possible that their database quality is low, or that the site is simply scraping the info from other places and there is pretty much no editorial control

    – Is the website actually a business directory, i.e. is the information in it structured in a standardized manner – it would be easier for Google to discover (and associate) such citations as compared with citations coming from sites that do not have the structure (or history) of a business directory

    – Last, but not least – how many of your competitors are found on this citation source – if your competitors are there, then you should do your best to also be there


  • Thanks for the input Nyagoslav! These are excellent suggestions for additional things to check. You’re the man.

  • Thanks for the comment Marcos. That’s a tough one to live by. There are going to be some spammy companies listed in pretty much every business listing site on the internet. It’s going to be challenging to avoid them unless it’s a brand new site.

  • I always look to see if they are free or paid listings that I am getting. Sometimes this is hard to decipher and you end up spending time filling out the info, only to find out they want your money or worse – a link back! To save time, try to find out if it’s really “free”.

    And if you’re OK with shelling out some dough to have them “review your site for inclusion”, make sure they use that type of wording when offering paid links or citations, instead of saying “50 BUCKS for a PAID LINK AND CITATION HERE”. REMEMBER: Search engines can read!!

  • Cool post Darren. As they say, it’s not quantity, but quality. Especially in Canada when it would look suspicious having 100 citations when you’re competitors only have 15.

  • this “This is a tough one to use as a metric to assess quality because sites that were developed in 1996 and haven’t had the design updated could still be awesome citation sources”

    is the biggest mistake newbies make…. don’t judge ugly sites 😉 they are sometimes the best citations/links

  • Darren, this is awesome! I think most people err on the side of “Ehh, whatever, throw it in. More can’t hurt, right?” I agree that’s dumb and a huge waste of time, and probably means you’ll end up neglecting the really important sites.. But just for the sake of argument, to what extent have you noticed that specific citation sources actually *hurt* rankings?

    Thanks for the great post! You don’t post often, but when you do [insert Dos Equis man quip here].

  • Hey Phil,

    Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the post.

    I’ve seen a couple cases where rankings tanked after the network effect in #2. In these cases, the penalty seems to be connected to the link spike, not the citation spike. In one case, over 700 links showed up in webmaster tools overnight, and when I searched for the footprint combined with the phone number there were over 10,000 indexed pages showing up across their network. It’s a negative SEO jackpot, so I’m not disclosing the network because man, is there any bigger dick move than negative SEO? I don’t want this network known.


  • I’m a relatively new visitor but have been lurking around here lately and have read some quality pieces in the last few days. I’ve been really trying to wrap my head around the local search sector these past few weeks. Thank you for posting this.

    There are so many “sources” out there and this article certainly helps separate the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, I dislike how much it resembles traditional link building…lol My personal feeling is that citations are more forgiving then backlinks in the sense that a lower quality citation can help more then a low quality link but the concepts are parallel. Due to the fact that there are far too many “citation” sites out there, it’s very easy to waste valuable time with citations. This article definitely saves you from spinning the wheels too much.

  • Thanks so much for this post Darren. I wasn’t fully aware of those methods of filtering out citation sources that could actually hurt my client’s rankings. Much appreciated!

  • Hi Darren,
    I did not now that the citation are so important. I have a quick question. Dose it matter if the citation has unique content or not and is this an important ranking factor? Because on a lot of citation places you can add content to the business that you are having. So if you place 55 citation on different websites that means you need 55 unique business content.
    You will need to invest a lot of time and money to create unique content for each citation and I just don’t know if is having a big influence in your website ranking.

    Thank you for the article

  • Hi Darren,
    It’s something worth to read and I’ve also shared this post in my social network. I have a one question for you.

    What other metrics should be consider to submit site with less than 30 for DA?

  • @Alexandru,

    The descriptions content in your citations does not need to be unique. Feel free to use the exact same description in every citation. Mike Blumenthal answers this question well here:


    Some smaller sites can still be very worthwhile. Imagine a local business directory in a small town. It might only list 30 businesses, and it might not have very many links since it’s in such a small town, but if you’re doing SEO for a business in that small town, that’s definitely a citation you want to get, even if it has a DA of only 10. That’s why the DA of 30 isn’t a firm rule. You have to consider the business you’re building citations for and look for relevant, quality, opportunities regardless of DA.

  • Hi, thanks for the article. It’s a lot of great info and very helpful to those trying to keep up with everything in Local SEO. Was wondering if you would mind elaborating on something you wrote: Does it look like a ton of exact match anchor text links from blog comments, forums, bookmarking sites, and cheap article directories? That’s a concern and it indicates a site we will likely want to exclude.

    Why exactly are these red flags? thanks!

  • Hi Jason,

    What I mentioned *are* the red flags. If you look at the site’s links in a tool like open site explorer and it all looks like the kind of garbage I mentioned, those are the red flags and indicate that this site should be skipped.

  • Great article, but my hands down my favorite, is the “Google Slow Nod” at the end. That made me laugh. I could watch that all day. Oh Papa Google, give us the “I approve” look we all crave.

  • Thank you so much for this information.
    Just started using citation sites and the information here helps me find the right sources to do that the right way.
    Can’t be careful enough with all the Google updates.

  • Awesome article! Special thanks to Phil who recommended it 🙂

    When a website looks like it was built in the pre-penguin era, has poor quality design and everyone is using antiquated, spammy SEO techniques, it’s definitely a red flag for me.

  • Thanks for the post. I have seen tumblr and twitter accounts show up in the whitespark results. However, the PA isn’t listed.

    My question: How should that be interpreted?
    1. Does Google recognizes the DA 98 of tumblr and PA 35 of the individual page.?
    2. If not, what is your theory about how google weights these types of “citations”?

  • This is probably the 3rd time i’ve read this post since you first published it. Don’t think anyone in this industry ever rereads something. Great info, love your insights on #2, “Is it a part of a network?”

  • Hey Damon,

    I think Google is able to tell when a subdomain is a part of the root domain, or not. In the case of tumblr, wordpress, bloggr, etc, the strength of the root domain is not passed to all the subdomains. Large organizations that have a primary site on www,, and then subdomains on, can pass the root domain value, and I believe Google uses the common navigation elements throughout the site to figure out if they’re the same site or not. I’m sure there is more to it than that though.

    Basically, a DA 98 tumblr citation isn’t actually passing you all that value.

  • Great write up on citations. Definitely the first time I’ve seen “negative rankings” associated with building citations, but it makes sense if the citations also have a backlink in them.

    One other thing to add (not exactly relative to the topic) is using some of the paid niche/local citation sources that many people seem to skip. For some reason the fact that they have to pay a few bucks is a negative, but I tend to think otherwise if it’s a strong directory.

  • Thanks for this article, you confirmed a few things i was thinking. I like to spend more time on my citations some previous companies I used to work for and try to copy the citations of whoever is on page 1. How many citations would you say would be too many? I usually go for up to 30

  • Jamie,

    How many citations are enough? It depends on the country, the industry and the competition, but in general, this is what I recommend:

    – Get listed on the major data aggregators in your country
    – Get listed on the top 40 to 50 business listing sites in your country
    – Get a 5 to 10 quality industry-specific citations.
    – Get a handful of quality city/region specific citations (if you’re in a big city, you may have more options)

    Once those are done, you can check *structured* citations off your to do list, but not citations. Next, you want to focus on unstructured citations and brand mentions on blogs, news sites, etc. Standard PR work. You can work on those forever.

    Hope this helps.

  • @Jeff: The process in this article is exactly what we do in our citation building service. I wrote this piece to let people know how we do it, and to share our knowledge with those that prefer to build citations themselves.

  • Hi Darren,

    Great post and I agree with all the factors that you look at when grading a citation site for quality. I am wondering what your view is on paid directory sites? it’s quite obviously as paid link which goes against Google’s guidelines yet the site may be very relevant in either business niche or region, Are paid directory sites something that you would avoid? My guess is that some do pass good value? Thanks.


  • Check point number 2 and 8 have become a strong part of my habit for checking. I appreciated this post when I first found it, and now it’s common behaviour. This helped me when I started in Dec. 2013

  • Hi Darren,
    I am from Germany and new to seo .In number 2 you have written to avoid business listing Networks.I was planning to add my NAP information to some major data aggregators in Germany. After reading number 2 I hesitated,then I have seen your comment on “Get listed on the major data aggregators in your country”. How do Data aggregators differ from business listing Networks? The Data aggregators ,will they also create a massive link spike ?

  • I actually seen pages without any links to them and the website looks like its been made in word and no mark ups rank first position all on the fact that they are local firm. But they have no mentions anywhere can you explain this? Cause if they are number 1 then they might have done something correct but if i follow your guide i should avoid them. But why does Google provide them with first position in Google if i should avoid them? Just some questions for your thoughts 😉

  • Thanks Darren,

    These check points are great and can be applied for different other situations like buying expired domain names or simply for link building in general!

  • We have a client with many locations; Canadian locations we split onto another domain. Despite the older URL having way more backlinks, the newer one went on to flourish at a quicker rate. I recently did a backlink audit and noticed some questionable backlinks per this article awhile back. Thanks Darren!

  • How much damage does having multiple citations out there with different information?

    I guess I am asking, if you change company address, how important do you think it is to hunt down old citations with the wrong info?

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