As part of our citation building service, I research local citations and their influence on the organic local search rankings daily. That is why I decided to publish a series of articles related to the topic of citation building for local SEO. The current one is related to one of the most important factors in measuring the value of different citations (according to Google’s “Generating Structured Information” patent) – relevance of the source. And there is undoubtedly no better way to measure relevance in Google’s search results than checking the search results themselves. Similar studies have previously been done – first by Andrew Shotland, and then by Ash Nallawalla, both in 2009. The focus of mine is a little different though. I try to study the importance of different citation sources based on their relevance to particular industry.
Methodology and Specifics
The research is a small scale study that in no way pleads completeness. I chose 10 of the most competitive categories in the local organic search, while trying to be as diverse as possible and to create a mix of different types of businesses. The categories that I chose are:
- auto repair
- car dealer
I also chose 15 cities in the United States. The main criterion I used was their population. I picked the 5 biggest cities, 5 cities with population of about 250,000 – 500,000, and 5 cities with population 100,000 – 200,000. Here is the list of cities I used in the research:
|Top 5 Biggest Cities||Mid-Sized Cities||Mid- to Small-Sized Cities|
Queries used were formatted in the following way: [category] [city]. Personalization was turned off.
I assigned points to each ranking on first page potential citation source, with the one ranking on position 1 getting 10 points, and the one ranking on position 10 getting 1 point. I counted the Google Places 3/7-pack as 1 result. In the cases when Google Places has been separated into two, I counted it as 2 results. I did not count the pictures and videos as ranking results. In the cases when there were more than 10 organic results (surprisingly quite a few such cases), all the results after position 10 were assigned 1 point each.
I excluded potential ranking source from the results, because of one of the following reasons:
- the website does not have a mechanism for a business to get a citation from it (no matter free or paid) – these include business websites, magazine and newspaper websites, local guides, government sites, blogs, forums (these are so called “unstructured citations”)
- the potential citation source does not appear in more than one market (i.e. it is an entirely “local” citation source) – I excluded this one, because the scope of this study is to research the important local citation sources per industry. The cities were picked randomly for the purposes of the study, so they are not of particular interest.
The local citation sources differ significantly from industry to industry. In many cases dominating are the specifically niche websites, focusing on particular types of business. Here are the results for the most important citation sources per niche:
Business and government websites dominate the rankings in this niche. The big competitors are Lawyers.com and Findlaw.com. They hold the top rankings in all but two of the researched locations. Generic sites Superpages and Areaconnect compete with them, using different local SEO tactics – while Superpages relies mainly on a very strong main domain, Areaconnect has different local-specific subdomains for each target area.
Again, the niche specific-citation sources dominate especially in the smaller cities where in 4 out of 5 cases one of either Urbanspoon or Tripadvisor is top ranked, and in 2 cases both of these websites are in the top two positions. Yelp and Citysearch are doing well, too. As with the Superpages-Areaconnect situation, Yelp relies more on a strong main domain, while Citysearch has a number of local ones.
Zocdoc (from the niche-specific citation sources) and Yelp (from the generic ones) seem to be more prominent in the bigger city areas. At the same time Healthgrades and WebMD (from the niche-specific ones), and Areaconnect (from the generic ones) rank better in the smaller towns.
While Hotels.com successfully competes with the two big players in the niche in the big cities, in the mid-size and smaller ones it is entirely a “two horses” competition. Tripadvisor and Expedia completely dominate the hotel industry online and don’t seem to have any other near competitor in terms of local organic rankings.
While up to now in all the cases the dominating were the niche-specific local citation directories, in the auto repair industry Yelp and company get the leadership. If you want powerful, relevant citations for your car repair business, you better focus on the generic directories, such as Yelp, Superpages, Yellowpages (it also powers AOL’s yellow pages), Citysearch.
Here the results of the local business directories are the worst. In many cases, especially in the big cities, no directory site is ranked among the top 10 results. The Findaflorist network might be considered a winner in this low-competitive (from directory local SEO point of view) niche.
Similar to the “flowers” industry, the car dealer business websites are the ones that dominate the search results. Cars.com and Yellowpages are prominent in the bigger cities, but fail to rank in the smaller ones. And most probably they are not investing much in these locations, because the revenue would be significantly lower.
The “-Pages” websites – Superpages, Yellowpages, Whitepages, seem to be relevant in this industry. Doctoroogle is the only strictly niche site that breaks their hegemony.
ElocalPlumbers, the directory that completely dominates the plumbing niche, is part of a bigger network of websites, ownership of eLocalListing.com. I would advise that especially if you have a service-based business, you look into the listing opportunities they provide.
Servicemagic, Gigmasters and Angieslist from the niche directories, and Yelp, Yellowpages and Superpages from the generic directories, seem to be the most important citation sources in this industry.
There are a few generic business directories that show up and are relevant to almost every niche studied. These include:
Superpages – 324 points
Yelp – 297 points
Yellowpages – 172 points
Areaconnect – 105 points
Citysearch – 58 points
Yahoo – 52 points
Every business should try and get a completely filled in and optimized listing on each of these if they want to succeed with their local search marketing.
*Note: Our Citation Building Guide features more information, tips, and tactics on how to do local citation building.