Posted by JoyHawkins
Previously, I wrote an article unveiling some of the most common myths I see in the Local SEO space. I thought I’d do a follow-up that specifically talked about the myths pertaining to citations that I commonly hear from both small business owners and SEOs alike.
Myth #1: If your citations don’t include your suite number, you should stop everything you're doing and fix this ASAP.
Truth: Google doesn’t even recognize suite numbers for a whopping majority of Google business listings. Even though you enter a suite number in Google My Business, it doesn’t translate into the "Suite #" field in Google MapMaker — it simply gets eliminated. Google also pays more attention to the location (pin) marker of the business when it comes to determining the actual location and less to the actual words people enter in as the address, as there can be multiple ways to name a street address. Google’s Possum update recently introduced a filter for search queries that is based on location. We’ve seen this has to do with the address itself and how close other businesses in the same industry are to your location. Whether or not you have a suite number in Google My Business has nothing to do with it.
Darren Shaw from Whitespark, an expert on everything related to citations, says:
“You often can’t control the suite number on your citations. Some sites force the suite number to appear before the address, some after the address, some with a # symbol, some with “Ste,” and others with “Suite.” If minor discrepancies like these in your citations affected your citation consistency or negatively impacted your rankings, then everyone would have a problem.”
In summary, if your citations look great but are missing the suite number, move along. There are most likely more important things you could be spending time on that would actually impact your ranking.
Myth #2: Minor differences in your business name in citations are a big deal.
Truth: Say your business name is "State Farm: Bob Smith," yet one citation lists you as “Bob Smith Insurance” and another as “Bob Smith State Farm.” As Mike Blumenthal states: “Put a little trust in the algorithm.” If Google was incapable of realizing that those 3 names are really the same business (especially when their address & phone number are identical), we’d have a big problem on our hands. There would be so many duplicate listings on Google we wouldn’t even begin to be able to keep track. Currently, I only generally see a lot of duplicates if there are major discrepancies in the address and phone number.
Darren Shaw also agrees on this:
“I see this all the time with law firms. Every time a new partner joins the firm or leaves the firm, they change their name. A firm can change from “Fletcher, McDonald, & Jones” to “Fletcher, Jones, & Smith” to “Fletcher Family Law” over the course of 3 years, and as long as the phone number and address stay the same, it will have no negative impact on their rankings. Google triangulates the data it finds on the web by three data points: name, address, and phone number. If two of these are a match, and then the name is a partial match, Google will have no problem associating those citations with the correct listing in GMB.”
Myth #3: NAP cleanup should involve fixing your listings on hundreds of sites.
Truth: SEO companies use this as a scare tactic, and it works very well. They have a small business pay them for citation cleanup. They’ll do a scan of your incorrect data and send you a list of hundreds of directories that have your information wrong. This causes you to gasp and panic and instantly realize you must hire them to spend hours cleaning all this up, as it must be causing the ranking of your listing on Google to tank.
Let’s dive into an example that I've seen. Local.com is a site that feeds to hundreds of smaller directories on newspaper sites. If you have a listing wrong on Local.com, it might appear that your listing is incorrect on hundreds of directories. For example, these three listings are on different domains, but if you look at the pages they're identical and they all say “Local.com” at the top:
Should this cause you to panic? No. Fixing it on Local.com itself should fix all the hundreds of other places. Even if it didn’t, Google hasn’t even indexed any of these URLs. (Note: they might index my examples since I just linked to them in this Moz article, so I’m including some screenshots from while I was writing this):
If Google hasn’t even indexed the content, it’s a good sign that the content doesn’t mean much and it’s nothing you should stress about. Google would have no incentive or reason to index all these different URLs due to the fact that the content on them is literally the same. Additionally, no one links to them (aside from me in this article, of course).
As Darren Shaw puts it,
“This one really irks me. There are WAY more important things for you to spend your time/money on than trying to fix a listing on a site like scranton.myyellowpageclassifieds.biz. Chances are, any attempt to update this listing would be futile anyway, because small sites like these are basically unmanaged. They’re collecting their $200/m in Adsense revenue and don’t have any interest in dealing with or responding to any listing update requests. In our Citation Audit and Cleanup service we offer two packages. One covers the top 30 sites + 5 industry/city-specific sites, and the other covers the top 50 sites + 5 industry/city-specific sites. These are sites that are actually important and valuable to local search. Audit and cleanup on sites beyond these is generally a waste of time and money.”
Myth #4: There's no risk in cancelling an automated citation service.
People often wonder what might happen to their NAP issues if they cancel their subscription with a company like Yext or Moz Local. Although these companies don’t do anything to intentionally cause old data to come back, there have been some recent interesting findings around what actually happens when you cancel.
Truth: In one case, Phil Rozek did a little case study for a business that had to cancel Moz Local recently. The good news is that although staying with them is generally a good decision, this business didn’t seem to have any major issues after cancelling.
Yext claims on their site that they don’t do anything to push the old data back that was previously wrong. They explain that when you cancel, “the lock that was put in place to protect the business listing is no longer present. Once this occurs, the business listing is subject to the normal compilation process at the search engine, online directory, mobile app, or social network. In fact, because Yext no longer has this lock in place, Yext has no control over the listing directly at all, and the business listing data will now act as it normally would occur without Yext.”
Nyagoslav Zhekov just recently published a study on cancelling Yext and concluded that most of the listings either disappear or revert back to their previous incorrect state after cancelling. It seems that Yext acts as a sort of cover on top of the listing, and once Yext is cancelled, that cover is removed. So, there does seem to be some risk with cancelling Yext.
In summary, there is definitely a risk when you decide to cancel an ongoing automated service that was previously in place to correct your citations. It’s important for people to realize that if they decide to do this, they might want to budget for some manual citation building/cleanup in case any issues arise.
Myth #5: Citation building is the only type of link building strategy you need to succeed at Local SEO.
Many Local SEO companies have the impression that citation building is the only type of backlinking strategy needed for small businesses to rank well in the 3-pack. According to this survey that Bright Local did, 72% of Local SEOs use citation building as a way of building links.
Truth: Local SEO Guide found in their Local Search Ranking Factors study that although citations are important, if that’s the only backlinking strategy you’re using, you're most likely not going to rank well in competitive markets. They found also found that links are the key competitive differentiator even when it comes to Google My Business Rankings. So if you're in a competitive industry or market and want to dominate the 3-pack, you need to look into additional backlinking strategies over and above citations.
Darren adds more clarity to the survey’s results by stating,
“They’re saying that citations are still very important, but they are a foundational tactic. You absolutely need a core base of citations to gain trust at Google, and if you don’t have them you don’t have a chance in hell at ranking, but they are no longer a competitive difference maker. Once you have the core 50 or so citations squared away, building more and more citations probably isn’t what your local SEO campaign needs to move the needle further.”
Myth #6: Citations for unrelated industries should be ignored if they share the same phone number.
This was a question that has come up a number of times with our team. If you have a restaurant that once had a phone number but then closes its doors, and a new law firm opens up down the street and gets assigned that phone number, should the lawyer worry about all the listings that exist for the restaurant (since they're in different industries)?
Truth: I reached out to Nyagoslav Zhekov, the Director of Local Search at Whitespark, to get the truth on this one. His response was:
“As Google tries to mimic real-life experiences, sooner or later this negative experience will result in some sort of algorithmic downgrading of the information by Google. If Google manages to figure out that a lot of customers look for and call a phone number that they think belongs to another business, it is logical that it will result in negative user experience. Thus, Google will assign a lower trust score to a Google Maps business record that offers information that does not clearly and unquestionably belong to the business for which the record is. Keeping in mind that the phone number is, by design and by default, the most unique and the most standardized information for a business (everything else is less standardize-able than the phone number), this is, as far as I am concerned, the most important information bit and the most significant identifier Google uses when determining how trustworthy particular information for a business is.”
He also pointed out that users finding the phone number for the restaurant and calling it continually would be a negative experience for both the customer and the law firm (who would have to continually confirm they're not a restaurant) so there would be added benefit in getting these listings for the restaurant marked closed or removed.
Since Darren Shaw gave me so much input for this article, he also wanted to add a seventh myth that he comes across regularly:
Myth #7: Google My Business is a citation.
“This one is maybe more of a mis-labelling problem than a myth, but your listing at Google isn’t really a citation. At Whitespark we refer to Google, Bing, and Apple Maps as 'Core Search Engines' (yes, Yahoo has been demoted to just a citation). The word 'citation' comes from the concept of 'citing' your sources in an academic paper. Using this conceptual framework, you can think of your Google listing as the academic paper, and all of your listings out on the web as the sources that cite the business. Your Google listing is like the queen bee and all the citations out there are the workers contributing to keep the queen bee alive and healthy.”
Hopefully that lays some of the fears and myths around citations to rest. If you have questions or ideas of other myths on this topic, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!