Measuring the impact of directory citations on your local business rankings
Josh Gill at Inbound Authority ran a citation burst for his own company’s website. Since it was his own business, he was able to control his site completely to make sure that no other SEO tasks were done while the test was ongoing.
(He posted his findings publicly at the Local Search Forum which is summarized here.)
Why Citations Help
Google wants to show good accurate results to its users. If people were not happy with the results, they would use a different search engine. And the search volume is so high that the results must be decided by an algorithm-- a computer formula.
How does an algorithm know what good results are?
Imagine someone gave you some information that you were not sure was true, for example a new business had opened down the block. Before you were able to see the actual location for yourself, someone else mentioned the new business, and then a third. You would have less doubt about the business’s existence after hearing about it from multiple sources.
The same thing goes for Google. A new business gets added to Google Maps; an algorithm can’t actually check whether that business really exists. So Google gathers information by sending out bots to read as many web pages as it can find. If those web crawlers find other pages that mention that business name (with matching data like address and phone number), the algorithm can cite more reference points and conclude with higher certainty that the business really exists.
Ultimately, the effect of adding more citations is that when the algorithm has more confidence that a business really exists, it is more apt to show that business’s listing over a listing that has less information backing it
In other words, give Google information about your business from as many sources as possible (more citations,) and the better the listing will rank.
Back to Josh and our case study…. He had moved his business address a few times over the last couple years. He decided to purchase a round of citations to update the old information. After a while, he realized that many of the new citations were not indexed by Google. This means that the pages were created, but Google had not found them yet.
This is a common occurrence. The Google search index contains hundreds of billions of pages and it can take time before Google finds a new page, for example when you create a new directory citation.
He decided to help Google find those citation pages by linking to them all from one page on his site, which he then asked Google to crawl via Search Console.
The indexing method worked, and the previously unindexed citations were getting found by Google. Citations included some of the more well known directory websites:
- Best of the Web
- City Search
- City Squares
He decided to use Local Falcon to measure if there were any ranking improvements to his Google My Business (GMB) listing solely due to the indexing of the new citations.
[If you are unfamiliar with how Local Falcon works, please read this first: Scanning Multiple Points for Local rank Tracking
Local Falcon was actually the perfect tool to use for this SEO test. Because of its ability to track so many points at once, it displays much more sensitivity to rank changes-- which he never would have achieved using a traditional ranking tool.
Below you will find a series of screenshots that were taken at various time intervals of his GMB listing rankings for the keyword phrase of “local seo”. The test duration lasted over four months starting at the end of October 2018 and ending in February 2019.
October 30, 2018
November 19, 2018
November 27, 2018
December 25th, 2018
February 22, 2019
As you can clearly see from the visuals, there was indeed a demonstrable improvement to the rankings. It took a few months, but it is pretty clear that newly indexed citations do have a positive effect on a GMB listing rankings.
It’s impossible to isolate real world results with a totally controlled test . There will always be competitor ranking movements, and algorithm updates to contend with, especially when performing a test that stretches over months. But the gradual improvement that we see seems to follow as each citation is giving a small cumulative boost to rankings.
If these ranking changes were due to an algorithm update there would be a sudden improvement from one screenshot to another. However what we see a gradual increase in all the images, not a one time sudden change.
As well, we can assume that at least some competitors are performing SEO on their sites, and that new businesses are entering the market. This would make a listing that is standing still (not performing SEO), actually get worse as the other listings improve and start to outrank it.
Like the story about the tortoise and the hare. If you take a nap and stop performing SEO tasks on your listing or your website, eventually your competitors will catch up and pass you.
This provides us with an even stronger case for citations because if the citations did nothing for rankings, we would expect to see rankings go down in this test.
Seems pretty straight forward: make sure your citations are created, indexed, and have the correct information.
As we see from this case study, it does take time for effects to have a full impact, so the best time to get those citations created and indexed is now.
Creating citations is easy. The cost is minimal when compared to the time it takes to complete other SEO tasks. Making sure your existing citation is updated is equally important because then the algorithm is not confused as to where your business is located.
Remember that Google wants to provide accurate information to its users. If the algorithm has conflicting information about where your business is located, it won’t rank your listing as highly as it could.
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