After 3 months, 450 man hours, 6510 search queries, and the review of 45,570 Google+ Local pages, I have compiled a ton of local search data. Data which I believe provides great insight into the most important citations sources available.
Let’s first remember what a citation in local search is. I define a citation as an occurrence of business information, specifically name, address, phone number (NAP) on the web. Citations are important because we local SEOs say so. That and they have shown (when created) to positively influence rankings in local search results.
Some month’s back, two gentlemen whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, David Mihm (Moz’s recent acquisition) and Darren Shaw (Mister citation himself) set out on the local SEO, data junkies wet dream of a journey to find the best citations. They leveraged Darren’s Local Citation Finder, and developer know how, and dug around, revealing data worth its weight in gold. You can find the results here and here.
I have tremendous admiration for these guys and the work they do, but I thought it could use a third pair of eyes, and so a few months back I eluded to research of my own on my Local SEO blog. Here is why we did it, how we did it, and the resulting…results:
It is my contention, that the most influential citations are not only those that appear to be the back bone of those currently ranking (those that appear in competitive analysis) but also, and possibly more importantly (my contention), those that Google scrapes and displays on the Google+ Local page.
Additionally, and where I tactfully tie in this posts relevancy to this blog, for you local business owners out there, I wanted to reveal the best citations submitted for dollar/hour spent. The citations I would create if I only had so much time to do so, and those that would garner me the greatest bang for my buck.
Manually. Painfully manually. Most will scratch their head and say “Why the heck didn’t you build a scraper/bot? Or hire someone with one?” Well, we thought about it. We even knocked on Mr. Shaw’s door, but his tools were booked for months. Sometimes I just prefer the hard way.
My team, in this order, would:
- Apply a US, in most cases, city specific IP address
- In Google.com search [keyword] + [cityname, state]
- Open the top 7 Google+ Local pages in new tabs
- Log each occurrence of a scraped directory – issuing them “scrape points.”
For comparison purposes, we surveyed the same categories and cities from the Mihm/Shaw study.
We then compiled all this data into various meaningful lists, like: best overall, best by category, best by city, and many, many others. I realized there are so many different stories that this data can tell that I’ve decided I would let you interpret it. So, I am just going to share one interpretation with you, and should you choose to take advantage, we will forward all this data to you. If you choose to subscribe to our newsletter, we may forward along the results of additional studies once they have been completed.
Without further ado, here are the “Lean Top 50” best citation sources in the USA:
*sorted by the amount of times we found them trusted (scraped) by Google.
*completely unfiltered. This is purely what was found.
This is just a SMALL portion of the data, barely a 5th in fact. You will, as I have, find sources where you cannot get citations, and thus want to dig deeper.
It wasn’t until I started noticing strange occurrences that I became a “data-phile.” Things like:
- There were only 12 occurrences of Yelp. Or maybe the observation was that there are still occurrences of Yelp..?
- Google scraped IP addresses. I have never seen this, and found many occurrences.
- Tripadvisor SG, UK, CA and US all in my top 50. Wow! Reminds me of when I often find Qype.co.uk in my comp analysis.
- Directories I expected to rank high, didn’t. The same directories I had seen in citation list after citation list after citation list.
Now that I am hooked, I can assure you this is hardly the last of such projects. We have already begun working on similar undertakings in .CA and .CO.UK – this time with a bot : )
EDIT: After a long conversation w/ Darren about this study, I think perhaps we need to think about this a bit differently. Many/most of these scraped sites accept reviews, and while we scraped a bunch of directories that don’t accept reviews, the leaders of the pack do. That being said, this list may be more appropriately named the best citations THAT ACCEPT REVIEWS.
It’s impossible for us to say why Google scrapes these directories, and looking a few of them it would make you wonder if they just do it at random. Nevertheless, it has always been my observation that the best ranked Google+ local pages are the ones with the most/best scraped directories. If that is the case, then perhaps these are the directories you need to make sure you are in, and more importantly, those you need to be sending clients to for reviews.
We invested considerable resources into procuring this data, and would appreciate your feedback below, whether negative or positive.