Beware of Citation Building Ripoffs

Folks, I wanted to offer a quick warning about those companies that offer citation building services. Some of these companies reportedly have very aggressive sales people who promise to raise your search rankings overnight. I have personally evaluated a few of these companies myself (since most recruit re-sellers). I also have clients who have purchased citations or have been hounded by these companies. When it comes to SEO, few small businesses actually understand what they are being sold. Companies that sell directory citations often use nomenclature like “Local SEO” services. Many of them are simply selling to list your business in free business directories for a fee – on their behalf. Be careful.

Citations, while useful, do NOT provide thoughtful authoritative content, which is the heavy lifting approach to raising your search rankings.

So what exactly is a citation? Basically, it’s just an entry in a free online business directory, like YP, Manta, Merchant Circle, and various other local and national directories. Most citations allow the business to enter their contact information, web site (most important), industry classification, description, and images (sometimes), etc.


Many directory sites offer premium listings, which provide additional data about your business and/or raise the listing position in its directory. Some online directories also publish printed directories (remember the phone book’s yellow pages?).

So the BIG question – is there any SEO value to having your business listed in these directories? Perhaps.

Even after the recent Google updates, citations are still considered by most SEOs to influence ranking. However, the weight of a citation’s “back-link” is somewhat limited. Save for paid membership sites – your local Chamber of Commerce, National Business Associations, Industry Groups, etc. – your listing is usually set to “nofollow”, so you generally won’t see any SEO “link juice” flow to your site. If a directory is viewed negatively by the search engines, e.g., a “link farm“, your site could even get penalized.

music_notesNote: don’t blindly let your business listing be placed in any directory. The more reputable directories will usually require identity verification to prevent anyone from entering or disparaging your business name. Consider that Google still sends a postcard, by snail mail, to your place of business with a verification code for authentication.

So why don’t all businesses enter their information in relevant and reputable directories? The main reasons are:

  1. Many small business don’t know about directories or how to get listed.
  2. Beyond Google, Yelp, LinkedIn, etc., it can takes a lot of research to identify the best-of-breed local/national directories for your industry.
  3. It can be very time consuming to do it. Each site presents a different interface for adding information about your business.

There is value in paying someone to do the grunt work of getting your business listed in directories. But one thing is for sure – while this is boring, manual, tedious work, listing your business in directories needs to be done correctly.

Enter a company like “Yext”, who offers an easy, automated approach to getting your business cited on dozens or hundreds of directory sites without the hassle of manually entering your listing one by one. Basically, you enter your information once onto their cloud and, for a fee, their system will push out your listing to all the sites they support.

If this sounds too good to be true, it may be. The idea of giving total control of your business listing to a robot is risky at best. The main reason is that the service, not you, maintains the authentication keys to your listings.

  • What happens if you need to update your citation?
  • What happens when you stop paying your subscription fee?
  • Will you your citation be removed by the service?

And please beware of companies that charge a monthly fee to “maintain” your citations. Monthly citation updates are not necessary for most businesses. Yes, citations need to be periodically updated (ours are long-outdated). But businesses don’t change from month-to-month.  I’ve seen invoices for “Local SEO packages”, which include “…monthly business listing management“. This is a total rip-off, in my opinion.

In summary, beware of any company that wants to take ownership of your business listings. If you do hire a company, make sure that they 1) allow you to see exactly which directories they will list you on and 2) provide you with the log-in details of all directories they have on-boarded you on.

About Mike Cancell

Mike has been a thought leader in the area of mobile communications and digital marketing for the past 20 years. He is the principal partner of Adverscan, a small multi-channel marketing agency located in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. When not daydreaming about skiing in the Rockies, wind surfing in the Caribbean, and dating supermodels, he can be found at home trying the patience of his wife and kids.

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