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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 local citation 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.
This post was last updated on 2/08/17.
What Are Citations?
Citations are online mentions of your business by name and address or name and phone number – 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 Can You Get Them?
There are many different citation sources – online directories, social mentions, supplier, distributor and partner websites, and public records. 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 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 make 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:
- Bright Local;
- Whitespark; and
Citation building vendors charge a fee for their services. In exchange, you are promised a large number of consistent and accurate online mentions of your business name, address, and phone number – all while saving time, money and aggravation.
Citation Building Service Shortcomings
As expected, local citation building services also have shortcomings:
- None of them are completely hands-free. The big search engines and 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.
- The process is slow because there are many players involved, each with their own unique processes, tools, and timings.
- Duplicate and/or inconsistent listings aren’t always caught and corrected. It is important to pick a service that will help you identify and fix these problems.
- Each service feeds different directories. You’ll never get 100% coverage – at least not affordably.
- Listing service fees vary. They range from an annual fee of $55 to $499 a year to a flat, one-time fee of $400+ (2017 rates) depending on the service and package chosen.
- For service providers with an annual fee, if you stop paying, your listings may or may not get dropped and you could end up right back where you started.
Benefits of Using a Citation Building Service
So, if it’s not obvious by now, it’s not an easy choice to decide on the best way to acquire citations. That does not mean you should avoid using these services. Nothing’s perfect. Rather than dwell on their shortcomings, let’s talk about what the services do well and why you might still want to consider using them.
A citation building service is going to save you a lot of time and effort. Just figuring out which directories to submit to takes time, a lot of time. Then you have to find their websites, vet them, search to see if your business is already listed, make any corrections or enter it from scratch, do any validations and then check back again later to make sure the submission has gone through. It 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.
What Are Local Data Aggregators?
One of the ways citation building services can streamline their process is by piggybacking on what is referred to as the Local Data Aggregators.
Local data aggregators are huge data processing companies. They bring in large quantities of local business and individual data from many different sources. They parse, reconcile, cleanse and make sense of it all, and then spit it back out the back-end in a form that is reliable and easy-to-use by others.
Data aggregators make money by charging for access to their data or to perform special processing on the data. Recipient companies use the data for their own purposes – things like populating online directories, creating targeted advertising campaigns, scoring leads, and so on. When you get credit card offers in the mail, for example, they are likely coming from a data aggregator. It’s big business and the data aggregators make boatloads of money.
Who Are The Local Data Aggregators?
There are four local data aggregators in the United States – Acxiom, Factual, Infogroup, and Neustar / Localeze.
Foursquare is also sometimes mentioned as a data aggregator. It is not a “traditional” aggregator but is included in this group because it sends location data to Pinterest and a number of other local search apps. One of the citation building service vendors (Moz) treats Foursquare as if it were a traditional data aggregator.
When I said earlier that each citation building service feeds different directories, it’s because individual directories can choose who they want to use or if they want to use anyone at all. Some do. Some don’t. Some build their directories entirely from scratch.
The Local Search Ecosystem Diagram I mentioned earlier illustrates the relationship between two of the citation building service providers (Moz and Yext), data aggregators, and downstream local directories. You can get a sense of how complex and time-consuming it can be.
Comparison of Local Citation Building Service Providers
Now let’s look at the different citation building services and compare them to your ability to do it yourself (DIY).
The table below summarizes the pros and cons of the various services. You will need to decide what is most important to you and make a decision based on that.
|Process||Fill out one form and enter|
your data at Bing Places
|Fill out one form, GMB, and|
|Fill out one form||Fill out one form, GMB, and|
|Fill out 5 forms, GMB, and|
|Coverage||All 4 Aggregators||All 4 Aggregators + Foursquare||All 4 Aggregators + Foursquare||Factual + Foursquare||All 4 Aggregators + Foursquare|
|Speed||2-8 months||2-8 months||2-8 months||< 1 month||2-8 months|
|Accuracy||Very Good – Say They|
Clean Up Duplicates
|Very Good – Helps ID Duplicates||Very Good – Catches & Fixes Duplicates||Fair – Duplicates Not Caught|
for Small Businesses
|Greatest Chance of Error|
|Cost||$55 / year||$99 / year||$400-1100 / one-time||$499 / year||$297 / year|
|Pros||Easy to Use Interface||Good Support Group||Least Effort on Your Part||Fastest||None|
|Cons||New, Relatively Untested Service||Confusing Interface||One-Time Effort – Can’t be Updated with additional Expense||Most Expensive, Least Coverage||Learning Curve, Greater|
Chance of Data Inaccuracies
DIY Submission Process
If you decide to create your own business directory listings manually instead of signing up for one of the citation building services, you can do so by visiting each one of the data aggregators individually – Neustar Localeze, Acxiom, Infogroup, Factual, and Foursquare. You will also have to manually create listings on Google My Business (GMB) and Bing Places.
Budget at least 10-12 hours to figure it all out and make your submissions. Every submission will be different. If you want to get a sense of the type of data they will all ask for, check out Whitespark’s intake form.
If you decide to use one of the citation building services, budget 3-4 hours to gather your information, fill out a single intake form and field any questions. 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.
All but one of the citation building services (Yext) feed all 4 traditional data aggregators. Moz and Whitespark also feed the “5th data aggregator”, Foursquare.
Yext feeds Factual and Foursquare only. Yext has a direct relationship with many of the larger directories and feeds those directly without having to go thru a data aggregator. For that reason, they tend to get your listings updated the fastest of all the services. Yext was also called out this year for dropping 60% of directory listings when their service is canceled. The other services stop updating directories when you cancel their service so there is a risk that your content will be overwritten at some point in the future. I usually recommend you maintain the service. It’s relatively low cost and you get the peace of mind that your data is protected.
It is also important to note that the Local Data Aggregators (and the services that feed them) do not populate every directory. There are still worthwhile directories that exist outside of this distribution area, for example, Dunn and Bradstreet, Angie’s List and industry-specific directories like “The Knot”. Some of the above-mentioned companies offer supplemental services (for a fee) if you want them to populate these directories as well.
As I said, speed is where Yext has an advantage. Although they do not feed all data aggregators, the sites they do feed, they do so directly – no parking the data and waiting for directories to come and pick it up. The result is your data gets out there faster, just to a smaller population of directories. For this reason, Yext is a good choice if your business tends to move around a lot or change it’s phone number frequently.
All the other services provide their data to the data aggregators who then park the data and wait for downstream local directories to come and pick it up. Expect to have to wait 2-8 months for the data to be distributed and populated throughout the entire local search ecosystem vs an average of 1 month for Yext.
As I said earlier, accuracy is a key to local search success. If your listing data is not accurate, credit won’t accrue to your business. The only way search engines have to differentiate one business from another is to compare their name and address or name and phone number data. If the data is not accurate, data aggregators may not be able to distinguish your business from another.For example, I’ve seen two law firms with the exact same name in a single high-rise building. The difference was their suite and phone numbers. If a citation listed only their name and building address, search engines would not know which business to credit with the citation. One or both would lose out.
All the citation building services vary when it comes to data accuracy. Bright Local says it catches and fixes duplicates but it’s a fairly new service so it remains to be tested. Moz identifies possible duplicate and gives you the tools to fix them. Whitespark cleans up duplicates as part of its service and does a good job. 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.”
Manual submission has the greatest risk of inaccuracies due to human error. You also don’t have tools to help you identify duplicates and should expect that some won’t be caught.
Service fees are listed in the table above. Fees range from $55 to $499 a year or a flat, one-time fee of $400 – 1100 and up per site (February 2017 prices) for Whitespark.
One thing to note is if you decide to submit to the data aggregators yourself, Neustar Localese charges $297 / year for the privilege of doing so. It’s not free.
Given the nature and complexity of the local search ecosystem, it is not easy to figure out how to get your local business listed in as many local directories as possible and as accurately as possible.
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. Check it out.