Over the last few months the SEO community spent a lot of time arguing as to whether or not free directories were being de-indexed by Google.
Citations are an important local ranking factor and as the list of local citations continues to grow, one has to wonder if Google might eventually devalue citations the same way they’ve devalued directory submissions over time.
Calling in the Think Tank
When I considered the big picture the answer seemed obvious. Of course they would.
Like anything, Google prefers quality over quantity and just like the web directories of SEO’s past, local directories and IYP’s continue to increase in numbers making them a hot commodity for local SEO’s.
But rather than just focus on my opinion I took to the local search space to pick the brains of some of the niche’s finest and was fortunate enough to get some feedback from Mike Blumenthal and Nyagoslav Zhekov on the subject.
Mike, as many of you already know, has spent a number of years in the trenches of Google Places and has positioned himself as an expert in local search.
Nyagoslav is the co-founder of NGS Marketing and one of the top contributors on the Google and Your Business (formerly Google Places) help forum.
Question the First
Could you foresee Google devaluing local citation sources as more of them seem to pop up similar to the way generic web directories did for organic SEO in the past? If not devalued, do you think that over time citations will become less of a ranking factor and ultimately quality will trump quantity?
Mike: I think that generic, low grade directories have been being cut from the herd both before and during Panda. This is not just a future possibility. It is likely that it has happened and will continue.
I also think that in a relative sense that the value of a plain vanilla citation has had the dial cranked down as more web like citations have come into play.
Nyagoslav: There is core difference between the business directories and the web directories – web directories, especially the low quality ones do not provide any important information for the website.
Most of them simply list the name of the website, and a 2-sentence description + probably a few keywords.
This information is of very low value for anyone who would like to inform themselves on a website prior to browsing it. At the same time business directories provide practically all the important information for a business.
That is why Google takes into account the “completeness” of a listing, or as they call it “set of facts”.
If the number of “facts” coming from particular set of facts is larger than the number of facts coming from other set of facts, Google will consider the first one more authoritative.
This is very important. It means that if a listing is filled in more thoroughly, it will have bigger value in Google’s cluster (other things being equal).
I don’t personally think citations will ever completely lose their value. They are very important signals for Google.
What might happen is that with the time Google will collect more data from more places, some of which Mike B mentioned above, thus the relative importance of citations will naturally decrease, as there will be more variables into play.
I do think, however, that the “quantity” factor might and should be devalued and prevalence should be given to quality and relevance.
This would also pretty well match with Google’s (obvious) strategy of destroying all IYP-type sites (including Yelp here).
Question the Second
If Directories were to be devalued, or Google sought quality over quantity, how do you think Google would compensate?
Mike: There are certainly plenty of local signals that could be obtained. The obvious ones are check ins and social shares.
There are a raft of transactional and post transactional tools coming to Google that will provide a raft of data to Google. Opentable reservations can give an idea of popularity for example.
But things like Punchd loyalty cards and Wallet both could provide very direct signals of popularity and volume.
Nyagoslav: Mike B already mentioned it – Google will be getting information through more channels over time. They NEED data.
That is one of the most, most important reasons why they are pushing G+ so hard. It is not that much about “social” in the sense of socially engaged etc, as it is about the data that social activities online provide. It is the most important set of data Google is badly missing.
When they collect enough of this they will open themselves widely for new factors to come into play, +1’s, shares, circles, check-ins, punches, driving directions, probably even comments and purchases, any kind of activity associated with anything.
And so it would seem that while citations and your NAP data will continue to be of importance its value is sure to decrease over time.
As it is, with the introduction of Venice, Google is looking at traditional SEO factors more closely when it comes to ranking localized results, meaning that a balance of local SEO as well as organic SEO is crucial for local businesses.
With that in mind I encourage local businesses to continue their efforts with local citation building, but stress the importance of focusing on quality over quantity. To do this consider starting with the local search ecosystem (US), (CA) and quality, niche specific citation sources.
From there you may want to continue building, but I would highly recommend you stick with quality websites that have an active user base and actually provide some sort of value.
Below are a few lists to help you along the way: