Local SEO Citations: Reponse to SBSM

Local SEO is a pain.

So I just read Matt’s impressive post on ‘why local SEO is harder than SEOs think‘, (if you haven’t read it, go do that now – and then come back here) and I had to laugh, because I can’t seem to make it through a week anymore without one of my clients calling or emailing me to find out why they’re not popping up on maps.  Although I did have one super excited client tell me last week that whatever I did for him a few days earlier, it seems to be working – because now he’s popping up as the 1st listing on maps for his ultra-competitive industry.

Sadly, that’s not what I’m going to discuss today. Maybe in a few weeks, depending on whether further tests prove that the tactic I used actually works – or its just an insane coincidence. :)

What I am going to do is provide a more in-depth look at what is going on with those bakery listings in San Francisco. Not that Matt didn’t do an excellent job as-is, it’s just that there is so much to look at it’s almost impossible to pin it all down in one post.

While Matt gave a nice 5000 foot view of the various possible ranking factors, I focused ONLY on the details section. By that, I’m meaning the # of photos, importance of review categories, and those citation sites that provided reviews for the bakeries in question, or at least had some type of information on the restaurant, such as pricing or hours information.

Let’s get started.

First off, I saw no data to support a claim that the more citations* you have from different sites, the better you’ll rank. Having said that, all of the bakeries appearing in the map box had at least 7 different citations from popular review or data sites.  See chart below:
*(when I say citations, I mean data providers or review sites, like yelp, superpages, etc.)

Now, one thing I did notice with the Tartine listing (which had a sick amount of reviews :222)  - a significant number of the reviews from Zagat occurred over a relatively short period of time during Feb and March.  Could this flag the listing for possible manipulation, and prevent it from taking #1 spot? Also, the Zagat site shows 389 member reviews for Tartine Bakery;  I guess this means that Google doesn’t pull in all the reviews….

Which Sites Matter

Now let’s take a look at which of those citation sites pull the most weight, shall we?

Honestly, I was pretty surprised that Yelp only had information on 2 of these businesses. I had thought they were pretty important, but I guess I should be focusing more on Urbanspoon, yellowbot and citysearch instead.

Now this is some pretty nifty info, but we need to look at in comparison to the actual listings (click image below to open in new window)…

google local seo map citation comparison chart
green=listing, yellow=no listing

Ok, if we just look at the top 3 listings – citysearch, judysbook and urbanspoon are the only sites all 3 listings have in common.

But those are not the only citation sites linking in to these businesses – just the most popular. Here are the rest of the sites that had review or restaurant data for each business listed in the 7 pack:

Other Citation Sites

…so, not really sure what to make of this – other than it might be helpful to get listed on tastyr, tripadvisor, and maybe menutopia? At least before going after superpages, which doesn’t seem to matter one bit in the grand scheme of things – at least not in these results.

Which brings us to the review categories:

multiple review categories for local SEO

The review categories seem to occur when multiple reviews contain the same keyword or keyword phrase, as evidenced in the image above. There never seems to be more than 7 reviews under any one category, and apparently, they don’t discriminate based on the reviewing site. Perhaps THIS is the deciding factor?

…sigh…I guess not.

Well, I’m down to one last thing here: photos -
Does the number of business photos matter at all? Lets look and see…

AAARRRGHH!!! Almost, but not quite.

The Wrap Up.

So what have we learned here? In my humble opinion, I think it might be worthwhile to target Urbanspoon, Citysearch and Yellowbot – and it certainly appears that it’s equally important to make sure you have a multitude of citations (at least 7 in this case), as well as a decent number of reviews.

I don’t know how important having photos is, but all of these listings had at least 5 or more, so why take a chance and not include any…beyond that….who the hell knows.

One thing I haven’t seen anyone discuss is the impact of actual actions taken on the places listings – does a site in the 7th position that gets more clicks for directions begin to climb in ranking because of it?  Also, what effect- if any, do on-page factors play, such as your site’s homepage title tag, or headings, or image alt attributes?

Know of any tips or have any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.

15 thoughts on “Local SEO Citations: Reponse to SBSM”

  1. Cool man! Thanks for doing this—although I was hoping that you would present some holy grail of figuring this out!

    It’s a mystery, but these breakdowns are great. I look forward to seeing more.


  2. Good information David. I would also pass along that it is important for businesses to be accurately represented within the infogroup (formerly infousa) business database. As you know, infogroup is a leading provider of business information to search engines, in-car navigation and mobile devices.

    More information on the industries we serve:

    Also, we have recently made it easier for businesses of all sizes to add, verify, edit or enhance their information on our new product at http://www.expressupdateusa.com

  3. I wonder if there are conflicting citations for the lower ranking places…

    Perhaps if they have moved, or have different YP listings floating around with slight name variations that could easily cause some lack of trust in the local algo.

    I’m too busy/lazy to try to investigate every one of Tartine’s citations, but that could be a place to start.

    It is also worth considering that the Local algo my not be as smart as we think! I think Google’s search engineers have done a great job with Maps, but it has to parse and organize an incredible amount of data. While their anti-spam techniques may be sophisticated, the actual logic behind deciding who to rank highest may have some (or many) outlier cases like this they haven’t needed to address.

    Frankly, if the use is getting a good experience, why would they change it to be more logical for localSEOs?

    Finally, I have to bring to the table that click data may be at work here… I wouldn’t fault them for that if it was! If places listings that had a higher CTR were ranked higher (due to brand recognition, offline trust, etc) then doesn’t the user end up with a better experience in the end? I know that does leave the door open for manipulation, but in theory, serving up the highest CTR listing probably drives more happy searchers back to Google which is always their goal!

  4. Great article David:

    Have you noticed that Bing shows a ton more citation sites? It makes we wonder if Google is intentionally holding back the more valuable sites in order to us off track. They certainly don’t what us to figure this out and easily manipulate the results. What do you think?

  5. Interesting case study! One thing I noticed, though, is that you haven’t analysed four factors that are frequently regarded as (very) important in the local search rankings, namely (1) the verification of a business listing, (2) the use of appropriate categories in the business listing, (3) the use of images and videos describing the business and (4) mentioning the contact details of the business on every page of its website. Personally, I doubt the importance of the latter factor, but it is an often mentioned factor. Have you looked into the effect of these four factors, too?

  6. @Craig – uh yeah, me too. no luck.:(

    @Troy – I agree completely. InfoUSA is one of the first sites I sign any of my clients up with. I’ll have to check out that expressupdate link. Looks pretty cool. Thanks

    @Chris – now that’s one thing neither I or Matt looked at, but it’s certainly possible. I’ve seen local listings manipulated this way quite often with mixed success, albeit in less competitive niches, e.g. search google for: crossfit atlanta
    I agree that Google hasn’t really pinned down their algorithm yet, but it certainly is evolving. I guess we’re all just throwing darts, hoping something sticks.

    @Bob – I haven’t really taken a close look at the Bing data. Have to look into that….

    @Reinier – Matt covered some of these things in his original post, if you haven’t already checked it out, here’s the link: http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/local-seo-harder-than-seos-think/3302/
    1. only one of the 7 businesses listed were verified. (so much for that being a major factor)
    2. generally speaking, the less categories you target, the more relevant you’ll be for those related keyword searches.(use with caution though, or you might lose a lot of ‘long-tail’ impressions)
    3. the jury’s still out on that I think, but I’d recommend adding some anyway.
    4. I don’t know that having contact details on EVERY page is so important, but I do think having your address and phone number match the data at the different citation sites IS. I know for a fact that you can have a site rank in the 7 pack with NO address whatsoever on the actual site. That’s all I’m saying about that…

  7. Man: Lots of work, and a fun read, and no definititve holy grail answers. Geez. Meanwhile, Tartine is all over the place, and its not ranking number 1. My suspicion is some deeper quality issues…but geez (again) doing all the work is too time consuming for me now :D

    Great article and lots of insights and fun!!!

  8. We have been doing similar tests trying to dig deeper into the local results. For one client, business information was appearing well, but wrong in the 7 pack for many of their targeted terms. We claimed the listing and all mention of this client disappeared. After about 3 weeks, they re-appeared on the 5th and 6th pages of the business results for those same terms.

    After optimizing the site to the best of our ability, focusing on data providers and well-known business information sites, the site seemed to be sitting on the 5th page (this does not include name-branded terms).

    After checking yesterday this client received 1 review – a bad review. Overnight, they jumped up from the 5th page to the 4th page. After all our efforts, a negative review was the one effort that made the listings visibly increase. Just some food for thought…

  9. @Tim – well, that’s one thing we all agree on. Any review is better than no review. Also, you make a good point about messing with an existing listing. I’m almost positive that there is some kind of sandbox effect that occurs after either claiming a listing, or making some modifications to an already claimed listing.

    In one instance, simply modifying my client’s category listing – trimming it down to 2 main categories from the 5 or 6 they had – caused the listing to drop to the last page of related businesses on maps. I told the client to give it a bit of time, but instead they created 2 additional listings for their company, using the exact same address, and exact same phone number – changing only the first listed category (on one of their new listings, it’s not even related to what they do) – and now they all appear in the 7-box. (*shrugs*)

    That’s great for him – for now. Of course, I think we all know how that’s eventually going to turn out.

  10. Wow, this is a very cool breakdown. You put alot of work into this. You even put it into “fun-to-head” graph. Thanks for the fun read.

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