Even The Best Citations Can Suck

March 9th, 2016

Recently Darren Shaw and the Whitespark team put out this resource on the best citation sources by category. While the resource is great, I think it falls into some common traps. I don’t want to get to deep into their methodology on how they selected citation sources, other then to say the list is likely sites that Google does consider authoritative in their verticals. More importantly, some of these sources comes with attached strings that can impact a business well beyond SEO.

The Costs & Benefits of Citation Sources

Let’s look at the best citations for car dealers

Best Citations for Car Dealers

While these sites appear at face value to be highly relevant to car dealers, their effect may not always be positive. Lots of the sites on this list are lead aggregators. The make money by getting between a car dealer and the customer and then getting paid by the dealer itself. So not only do they comes with a monetary cost that will impact the cost per lead and ROI from that channel, but they mess with NAP data to do it. Most of the sites that are lead generators track their performance (which they are paid for) by using toll-free call tracking numbers. This means that are actually creating NAP issues in exchange for paying them for leads. Here are examples of several of the top ones.

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All of this begs the question, what is the value of an incorrect citation at a highly relevant directory? Is it negative or positive? Considering that phone number has long been discussed as the primary way Google matches NAP for a business it seems like there is a strong possibility the effect is negative.

And what about the impact on the business? We have a lot of experience working with car dealers and have been told by clients that because of the massive amount of overhead a dealership requires to operate, It’s very dangerous for dealerships to progressively rely on a third party for customer acquisition. These leads tend to start at a low cost for the dealer, until the third party provider has the leverage to demand a higher rate. If the dealership is not willing to pay, they face losing a massive customer source.


  1. Be informed and transparent – It’s really important to know what you are recommending to a client. I have long felt that SEO best practices tend to focus on what is best in an SEO vacuum and are not necessarily best for the client. I would make a small bet that local SEO’s are constantly recommending that their clients get on 3rd party niche citations because it’s best for their SEO campaign, but it might not necessarily be the best for the clients business. If you are recommending that a client enters into a deal which may have a cost for their business outside of SEO then not only should you know that, but you should tell your client as well.
  2. Do no harm – Make sure you aren’t in such a rush to build authoritative, niche citations for your clients that are you are polluting their NAP data. If a citation source requires a call tracking number be used on a profile, then you should immediately be wary.
  3. Don’t Take Business Advice From Your SEO – Let’s face it, we all like to give advice to clients well beyond the channel we are helping to optimize. While this advice can often be positive, it can also be detrimental. As a client, or someone who is managing a digital business, make sure you are always asking your SEO how a given tactic or strategy might impact other channels or the business overall.
  4. Do You or Don’t You Get the Citation? – From an SEO perspective, if you have a lot of NAP problems to start with, it might make sense to hold off until you get that under control. However, as a business owner, if you are more concerned with rapid lead generation and are informed about the deal you are entering into, or are a risk taker, then it might make sense to deal with these lead generators. There is no right answer for everyone.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Citation Research
Posted by Dan Leibson

Easily Check the Text-Only Cache of a Page

March 8th, 2016

Those of you that regularly audit websites know there are various things you need to check all the time. This can get a little tedious and time consuming. In order to make this a little easier we built a tool to help speed up one of those processes, looking at the text-only cached version of a web page.

Below is a JavaScript bookmarklet for Chrome. What it does is when you are on a page and hit the bookmarklet, it takes you to a text-only version of that page in Google’s cache. This should save some time and remove some tedium from your SEO audits.

In order to install the bookmarklet simply drag the link below labeled “Text-Only Cache” to your bookmark bar and you are good to go!

Text-Only Cache

Kudos to Mike Duran-Mitchell for taking a few minutes out of his busy link building schedule to write some JavaScript.

→ 6 CommentsTags: SEO Tools
Posted by Dan Leibson

See You Next Week At LocalU Advanced in Williamsburg

February 22nd, 2016

Hey gang,

If you want to go deep on local search strategy with a Colonial tinge, you can do no better than the LocalU Advanced in Williamsburg, VA on March 5th. The LocalU’ers were kind enough to invite me out to talk about all the wacky stuff we have been doing with Apple’s new Spotlight Search. I will be joined by a cast of Local luminaries including:

Aaron Weiche of GetFiveStars
David Mihm of well, David Mihm
Mary Bowling of Ignitor Digital
Mike Ramsey of AlanBleiweiss.org
Will Scott of Search Influence
Joy Hawkins of Imprezzio Marketing
Joel Headley of Alphabet
Florent Abaziou of Marriot
Harris Schacter of CapitolOne

It should be a fantastic learning experience for all. If you are in the area and pretending like you have something better to do, I encourage you to check it out.

Details here.

Here’s my swanky pro badge.

LocalU Williamsburg


Comments Off on See You Next Week At LocalU Advanced in WilliamsburgTags: Local Search
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Can You Trust The Google My Business Guidelines?

February 10th, 2016

It’s a question I constantly think about, especially in terms of how to counsel our current and prospective clients. Now, upfront, I will admit to being a bit of a skeptic. Google’s guidelines are what make the most sense for them in running their business, not what makes the most sense for our clients’ businesses. I’m a big believer that our obligations are to our clients and not our benevolent overlords at $GOOG, so we set out to do a test on a specific part of the guidelines that I have long been skeptical about: Categories.

Google has changed it stance on categories more then it has changed the name of its local product. From allowing custom categories to not. From allowing 5 categories to 10. They are constantly moving the cheese. Here is the state of categories right now:

Google My Business Categories help your performance

Google is explicitly telling you that using the fewest number of categories to describe your business will get you the “best results”. Further on they clarify that not only should you also use the fewest categories as possible, but they should be specific and not solely based on keywords:

Using general categories will hurt your rankings

Now to me this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but whatever, lets test it out.

The Test

We have a client that uses multiple categories for all of their locations, and to me that has always made sense. It was something similar to:

Primary Category: The type of dealership (Toyota Dealer)
Category 2: Used Car Dealer
Category 3: Car Repair and Maintenance
Category 4: Auto Body Shop
Category 5: Tire Shop

These categories are all things that the business does, so why not have them as categories? However, in a world where you want to use the fewest and most specific categories and not choose categories based on keywords they all seem to be covered by “Toyota Dealer”.

So we took 5 locations and set the primary category to  whatever make of car the dealership sold and removed the rest. Based on the Google My Business Guidelines I should expect positive performance at best and neutral performance at worst right?

The Results

So far the results are not good.

Using the fewest most specific categories hurts Google My Business rankings

The locations are down drastically in terms of total keywords ranking and the amount of keywords towards the top of SERPs. Here are the most relevant raw numbers:

851 Terms
36 in position 1

End of Test:
243 Terms ranking at the end of the test
16 in position 1

72% of the terms we were tracking disappeared over the course of the test and they lost 56% of their terms that were ranking in position 1. Not really what I would call “best results”.


If you are an SEO and not taking everything you read, even this post, with a grain of salt then you need to start now. This is an industry where best practices often are not and in a weird way we are all just resellers of some other company’s product (Google.) That means you should be testing out tactics before recommending them to clients and making sure you start rolling things out gradually. How else would you learn that despite what it’s guidelines say, Google is not very good at “umbrella categories”? Most important after this test, we know to always recommend caution to clients when looking to make drastic changes to their Google My Business categories.

→ 9 CommentsTags: Google My Business
Posted by Dan Leibson

Why Local Rank Trackers Suck

January 18th, 2016


I am publishing part of this post that just went live on SearchEngineLand because:

  1. The original title was “Why Local Rank Trackers Suck”. I get why SEL rewrote it as “Why Local Rank Trackers Fail” – it’s a family site after all – but I think you’ll agree “Suck” is much more accurate.
  2. The editors changed the top image I provided to a stock photo. While I think the article works fine without the image, it’s the image that would have caught people’s attention. I mean who wants to read about local rank tracking, especially with stock images? But everyone likes a good Jon Snow meme. I am guessing the issue had to do with copyright stuff and not wanting it to show on SEL’s homepage. So instead the inserted it further down where it’s referenced in the piece. 
  3. I’ve got nothing better to do with my time than assert my editorial voice about something that no one will remember in a week. Happy MLK Day!

Hey, rank trackers! You know I love you guys, but let’s face it — your local rank tracking is a fail. This Twitter thread says it all.

I’ve got nothing against any of you, but I am hoping this rant will spur some of you on to solve this problem. Hey, maybe you already have, and I just don’t know about it. Hit me up, and I’ll get SEL to cross this whole thing out and put a nice juicy link to your site at the top with anchor text = “best local rank tracking software.” (Editor’s note: This is not going to happen.)

For local search marketers — and if you have been following the evolution of mobile search, you know we are all on our way to becoming local search marketers — rank tracking can be helpful to both understanding the SERP landscape and communicating with clients. (I know, no one wants to report rankings to clients, but they all still seem to want them.)

There are a ton of Local Rank Trackers — our list of Local SEO Tools has 23 — but the process has become increasingly difficult as Google iterates on their technology.

The Problem(s) With Location-Based Tracking

Google likes to return local pack/maps results based on the user’s physical location; however, there is often a lot of wiggle room. Google always thinks I am one city over, for example.

On top of that, local organic results are not always driven by precise location targeting on GOOG’s end. So before we even start tracking, the data is a bit fuzzy. Par for the course in Local.

Now consider that these tools are generally designed to track rankings in markets where a business is physically located. This presents a huge problem for service area businesses that may be attracting customers from dozens of cities. How about a business where customers will travel greater distances (like to get a great deal on the exact car they want)?

These businesses generally have to pay a significant amount of money for enough credits to cover all of their “markets,” and then they usually have to track all these areas as separate locations. That means a single plumber may need several “locations” in a rank tracker just to properly track search results in their target markets.

Now imagine how this works when you have 1,000 locations. On second thought, let’s not.

What Do You Mean When You Say “Local Rankings?”

When you say “local rankings,” do you mean local organic rankings, or are you talking about local pack rankings?

Or maybe you mean Google Maps? And what about Apple Maps? How do you factor one-boxes, local Knowledge Graph results and combined local/organic results into you tracking? Oh yeah, and let’s not forget about mobile SERPs and app indexing. And how do you report this mess?

Tracking Frequency Vs. Ranking Volatility

We all know that search rankings are incredibly volatile, so how do you separate the signal from the noise?

Some rank trackers track daily, because they want you to have a complete data picture, but that includes a lot of noise that is difficult to sort out. This is especially true of multi-location brands where daily tracking across hundreds (or thousands) of locations becomes an impenetrable abyss of “big data” that needs significant analytical skill and time to sort out.

If you try to cut through the noise by using weekly tracking, then you are only looking at a slice of the whole picture that may omit important movement based on days of the week.

It’s basically a given at this point that user behavior influences search rankings, so your business vertical may be specifically prone to these fluctuations; that’s another variable that drives your average multi-location brand analytics guy to break bad.

Read the rest on SearchEngineLand.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Local Data
Posted by Andrew Shotland