I sometimes get asked if I would recommend any of the local citation building services like Whitespark, Bright Local, or Yext. This post offers a comparison of a few of the top local citation cleanup and building services – costs, coverage, accuracy, speed, and effort (on your part).
Observations are from my personal experience having used the tools and/or services and using information derived from their websites. I also make use of the Local Search Ecosystem diagram maintained by Whitespark, a local SEO company in Edmonton Alberta CA.
What Are Citations?
Citations are online mentions of your business by name and address, name and phone number (NAP), or website – with or without an actual link to your website.
A citation is like a vote for your business. It signals legitimacy to search engines, reinforces your brand and geographic location, and can be a source of leads. All things being equal, the more citations you have, the higher you’ll rank in local search results.
Where Do You Get Citations?
There are many different citation sources – online directories, social mentions, supplier, distributor and partner websites, and public records, to name a few. One of the most popular sources (and often the first people think of) is online business directories like Google My Business, Bing Places, Yahoo Local, Yelp, Manta, Yellow Pages, Yellow Book, Merchant Circle, Brown Book, Judy’s Book, and more. There are literally hundreds.
Unfortunately, creating citations is time-consuming, uninspiring work that takes time away from other profit-generating activities a business owner could be doing. It is repetitious, tedious, and boring work that still requires some level of judgment because not all citations are valuable and consistency and accuracy is key. Too many poor-quality citations can harm your business. Inconsistent or inaccurate citations are a waste of time. It’s easy to side-tracked or mistakes.
Citation Building Services
No surprise then, citation building vendors have cropped up to service business owners and the SEO industry. The most popular ones are names you might recognize:
Of course, these companies don’t build citations for free. They charge for their time and services and, in exchange, you acquire consistent and accurate online mentions of your business name, address, phone number, and/or website – all while saving you time, money, and aggravation.
Benefits of Using a Citation Building Service
There are definite benefits to using a citation building service.
A citation building service saves you time, effort, and dollars. These companies are good at what they do and have streamlined processes that enable them to do it for less cost. Just narrowing your listing options takes time. Then you have to find their websites and search to see if your business is already listed. If it isn’t, you’ll need to supply NAP data, images, hours of operation, and more. If it is already listed, you’ll have to check it for accuracy, make any necessary corrections, and/or remove any duplicates. You may have to pay a fee. You’ll also need to check back again later to ensure the submission has gone through and through correctly. It all takes time – time you could be spending tending to your customers or growing your business.
Using a citation building service is going to free you up so you can do what you do best – deliver a stellar product and/or service and make money while doing so.
How The Process Works
One of the ways citation building services can build so many citations is by piggybacking on Local Data Aggregators.
Local data aggregators are huge data processing companies that curate local business and individual data with the goal of creating a single, comprehensive, consistent, and accurate inventory of name, address, and phone number data. They parse, reconcile, and cleanse data from thousands of different sources, formatting it consistently for use by others. You know all that junk mail you receive? It’s likely the source of those mailings got their name, address, and phone number data from one or more of the local data aggregators.
Local Data Aggregators
There are three local data aggregators in the United States:
All four of the local citation building services discussed in this post offer to feed your NAP (and other) data to the local data aggregators for you. The Local Search Ecosystem diagram I previously mentioned illustrates the relationship between citation building service providers, data aggregators, and downstream local directories. You can get a good sense of just how complex the citation building business is and how time-consuming it can be to ensure all your listings are complete and accurate.
Directories Not Fed By Local Data Aggregators
It is important to note that the Local Data Aggregators (and the services that feed them) do not populate every directory. There are worthwhile directories that exist outside of all their distribution networks, for example, Dunn and Bradstreet, Angie’s List, and industry-specific directories like “The Knot” (Wedding Industry) and Martindale (for lawyers).
You don’t need to get your business listed on every single directory but it is certainly worthwhile getting it on the well-know and respected directories for the general public as well as those specific to your industry and geography. Plan on identifying a short-list of those and applying to them separately either yourself, or using the Bright Local ad hoc pricing model. The other service providers do not offer this flexibility. Moz and Yext don’t offer it at all. Whitespark has you order citations by category and quantity. They then go out and select the best ones for you.
There are limits to what the different local citation building services can do for you:
None of them are completely hands-free. The big search engines and some reputable directories require business owners to manually verify their listings with a postcard, phone call or text message. They do that to help minimize listing fraud. That means you, as a business owner, have to be involved.
Moz starts with your Google My Business or Facebook listing. You’ll need to get one of those right first.
Each data aggregator feeds a different network of directories, some more than others. The local search ecosystem diagram will show you which aggregators feed which directories.
It takes time before the results of your citation building efforts make their way through the local search ecosystem and have an impact on your local search rankings. The NAP data isn’t directly fed to directories. It is instead parked in a central location by the aggregators and participating directories are given access. They, in turn, come and pick up the data according to their own schedule.
Duplicate and/or inconsistent listings aren’t always caught and corrected.
Listing service fees vary. They range from a low to moderate annual fee ($129 – $499) to a usually more expensive but flat, one-time charge, depending on the service provider, package, and directories chosen.
For service providers with an annual fee, if you stop paying, your listing updates might get dropped and you’ll revert back to where you were when you started.
In my mind, none of these are show-stoppers or outweigh the benefits previously described.
Comparison of Local Citation Building Services
Now let’s look at the different citation building services and compare them.
The table below summarizes the main similarities and differences between the services. You will need to decide what is most important to you and make a decision based on that.
Generic Citations – $4 / each Directory
Local / Niche Citations – $5 / each Directory More Information
*A note about listing ownership. When you opt for an automated update service, you are effectively renting your updates. When you stop paying your annual fee to maintain the listings, there is risk that your data will revert back to what it was before you initially subscribed. Yext was, in fact, called out a few years ago for dropping 60% of directory listings when businesses chose to cancel their API service.
**Yext feeds many of the directories in their network directly via their API service. Other than Foursquare, they do not use the local data aggregators and, in that way, avoid having to wait for the directories to come to pick up their data. For that reason, Yext tends to get your listings updated the fastest of all the services.
***According to Whitespark “Yext has a duplicate detection and removal feature, but it’s only available to enterprises and agency partners. While our study points out that duplicates remain, it’s important to note that Yext’s service for SMBs doesn’t claim to identify or clean up duplicates. It’s just not part of the service.”
DIY Citation Building
What if you don’t want to use a citation building service. What if you want to do it yourself (DIY)?
If you decide to create business directory listings on your own, you can do so by visiting each one of the data aggregators individually – Neustar Localeze, Infogroup, and Foursquare.
Whitespark creates Google My Business and Bing listings for you. Bright Local creates your Google My Business listing and you create the Bing listing. For the other services, you’ll have to create both. Go to Google My Business and Bing Places to get started.
Budget at least 10-12 hours* to figure it all out and make your submissions depending on the number of submissions you plan to make. It will depend on whether it’s your first time through the process and how many directories you plan on submitting to.
Plan on having to pay some directory fees. For example, Neustar Localeze charges $79 / year per listing for their service. Specialty and location-specific directories can have fees associated with them as well.
How does DIY compare to using one of the citation building services? To use one of the services, you’ll need to budget 3-5 hours to gather your information, fill out intake forms, and field questions from service providers. You may also need to help with the verification of some listings, depending on your order.
*Whitespark says the process can take up to 30 hours.
Given the nature, complexity, and scale of the local search ecosystem, it usually doesn’t make sense for small business owners and agencies to try to create listings on their own.
My recommendation is to study the table above and go with the solution that best fits your needs.
If you have questions, please ask for clarification in the comments below. I’ll respond promptly.
Bright Local also wrote a post comparing services. They have a few additional service providers on their list and make different comparisons. Besides, it’s always good to get another opinion. Check it out.
Donna Duncan is an SEO, business, and content marketing consultant as well as owner / operator of Philadelphia SEO company B-SeenOnTop. She has over 30-year's experience managing technologies for Fortune 100, government, and small business organizations across Canada and the US. Donna has focused solely on small business since 2007 and is a frequent contributor to Moz, Business2Community, and Social Media Today. She practices white-hat, holistic SEO and stays current with Google algorithm updates as well as industry best practices.
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