Don’t Build Citations, Own Them!

Let’s Look at the Facts

Citations are more important now than ever.

In these last few Google algorithm updates, are are seeing the presence of more and more citations in the top 10 SERP results than ever before.

Google is obviously favoring brands, and last time I checked Yelp is one of the biggest brands out there.

Doing a quick search for “boca raton restaurants” will most certainty reveal a 7 pack Maps listing, but after that we see citations for as far as the eye can see.

Stand in line on page 2 if you wanna be in this SERP.

Not much room in this SERP, eh?

In this scenario, let’s say a mobile user is looking for a quick suggestion for a restaurant in Boca Raton.  They’ll scan the Google Maps results for signs of reviews or even star ratings, and make their choice.  Most likely they will click-to-call right from their mobile device.

In the same scenario, a desktop user is at home.  It is 5pm and this user is doing careful research for a tasty bite to eat. After they’ve quickly scanned the Maps listing, they are presented with 5-8 results.  None of these results are restaurants, they are citations/directories of restaurants for that city.

A State of Mind

I’ve worked with a lot of SEO’s in the past few years, and the general attitude when working with local businesses is to “build citations.”  There is a one-track mindset that you need to build as many relevant citations as possible, in order to trigger a filter from Google.

Far too many SEO blogs focus on automating or outsourcing this process.  There are dozens of services, companies, consultants, individual brokers, fiver gigs, and even tools that will do this for you.

Professional SEO’s know that building citations is not a race, or something to skimp on.  There are no “points” for getting them done as quickly as possible.  Furthermore, automated tools and services aren’t able to give proper attention to the details of each individual directory.  Most of them have standard fields to fill out then move on to the next.

The sooner you realize the cold hard fact that automation of citations will ruin any chance for a powerful citation that might actually bring you customers – you will be way ahead of most of your competition.

While there is some truth to this, we are missing the big picture.  If we apply the principle of “if we can’t beat em, join em” philosophy that if we can’t get our website to page 1 of the organic results, why not get our website optimized on the citations sources that are already there?  In this case it is: Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor, Yelp, Menu Pages, Open Table, Groupon, and Zagat.  Last time I checked, all of these websites had free options, and all of them can be manipulated for personal gain.

I Said Own Them

The most logical thing to do if you are a client in this scenario, is to optimize our website on all of these directories, or citations.  We don’t want to just “create a listing to get a citation,” we want to optimize our site on these directories so when a potential customer is browsing these sites, our site is favored accordingly.

Let’s take Yelp for instance.  If you’ve been in this industry long enough, you will have a love/hate relationship with Yelp.  In order to gain the respect of Yelp, you need to respect Yelp and play by their rules.

Start out by creating your listing.  Ideally you have one already.  Fill out every single field possible.  Even better if you opt for the paid version of Yelp.  For the next week, you want to live in the world of Yelp.  Offer incentives for your customers to leave reviews on Yelp.  Under no circumstances should you attempt to game the review system by leaving fake reviews.

Let’s take a look into the next step the user takes after doing a Google Search, clicking on a citation.  The image below is what the user sees.  A big fat image of some tasty dinners.  One is a low cost sandwich shop, the other end is one of the finest steak houses in South Florida.  What they both have in common is a ton of interaction. Neither one of them just have “listings.”

restaurants

Mmmmm, looks tasty and optimized!

The sandwich shops profile has every single field filled out with great detail, and it is clear that Yelp is as important to them as it is their website itself.

Once you’ve done this for Yelp, do the same for the other directories that are dominating your industry.

The real key to optimizing these directories is by using offline marketing methods.  Put an iPad kiosk station in your restaurant for customers to leave reviews.  Put a sign next to the register.  Offer a discount in exchange for a well written and honest review.

Or just ask.  If you see a satisfied customer, let them know that they depend on reviews to survive in business.  Being open and honest with your customers will go a long way.

Side Effects

What do you think is going to happen after you’ve spent 3-6 months optimizing your website on all of these directories?  Most likely Google, as well as Yahoo & Bing will pick up on these signals and give you some more love in the Maps listings.   It’s no secret that Google loves citations.  We’ve even seen unofficial case studies where even bad reviews have increased business, and helped a website gain more exposure.

Conclusion

I’m not saying that small business websites have lost the organic search battle, not at all.  I am however realistic in the fact that large directories are becoming more and more visible on the first page of Google, and are here to stay.

Google is displaying websites that users seem to like the most.  No, they aren’t favoring websites that have the most money or any of that.  They want to display the websites that have the most to offer to their customers, and most of the time it is sites such as Open Table and Yelp.

Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe is the founder and CEO of Elite Strategies Llc. Patrick takes a hands on approach to managing Elite Strategies and loves to get involved with technical projects relating to clients inbound marketing needs.
Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe
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