organic-listings
A business listing on tripadvisor – an influential local business directory.

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the usefulness and value of sponsored business listings as opposed to organic listings. While these services might seem like a powerful and convenient tool, like many things that are too good to be true, it has its issues. Before we discover those, let’s first take a look at why a business listing is different than a citation, and why they are both so important.

Perhaps Raisa from LocalIQ gives the best descriptions of these two local SEO must haves. She points out that a business listing is an entry of your business name and physical address on an online directory like Whitepages, Yahoo Local, Foursquare, and even Facebook. It’s basically an online version of what used to appear in the physical Yellow Pages phone book that used to be delivered to your door.

A citation, on the other hand, is a mention of your business name, sometimes by itself, but usually with your business telephone number and address, with or without a link to your business’s website. “A citation is to local SEO, what links are to traditional SEO,” states Raisa. It’s a key component to making sure you rank in local SEO. They’re also an important part of your business’s overall local online presence.

Citations can be structured or unstructured. Business listing entries can be called structured citations and differ from unstructured citations because they appear in a pattern that is easy for a search engine to crawl. An unstructured citation is a mention of your business name online in a blog or a newspaper, or on any webpage that is not a directory. They are easier to recognize when they also have your address and phone number. They are crucial for helping local businesses be seen by consumers looking for that type of local business, and they also help websites rank higher on search engines like Google.

Interestingly, different citations have different value. Citations from famous, nationwide directories in the majority of the cases would have lesser value, than citations from locally-oriented and niche oriented directories. So, if a plumber from Rancho Cucamonga, CA gets a citation from a directory which is mainly oriented towards serving the people in the area of Rancho Cucamonga, and is mainly about plumbers, then this citation will have much higher value than one from a nationwide business directory. Unfortunately, those citations from the specific and local directories generally come at a slower rate and less frequently. The highest value for any citation would come from a business’s own website, as it would be the most relevant one.

Yext-Power-Listings
Although both are crucial for any small business, a business listing holds much more SEO power than just the typical NAP info of a citation. Photos, videos, and customer testimonials along with maps and popular products can all be displayed for consumers on sites like Yelp.

The ultimate goal with citations is to outdo all the competition and appear at the first position on a search engine. Some businesses may only need to verify their ownership of a Google+ Business Listing to be at the top, but for many businesses not even 100 citations will be enough. It all depends on your type of business. A Mexican food restaurant in Los Angeles, CA will have a lot harder time getting to page 1 than a mobile pet groomer in Palmdale, CA.

The hard part is getting a solid number of citations out there on the web. That’s because citation building takes time. To completely fill out your basic business information – business name, business physical address, and business land line number – and then to add photos, videos, and descriptions may seem easy. But to log onto 50 different platforms and create new accounts with all of the information required can be a task that most busy business owners simply don’t have time to tackle.

Furthermore, the business information must be consistent all over the web for your citation to appear on your Google+ Business Listing, the most important citation. One letter in the business name, one number in the address, or one dash in the phone number that’s different from your other listings may cause Google to think your citation is from a different business, and all that important info will be bypassed by the golden child of search engines.

Sometimes, even if you’ve completed everything in your citation/business listing perfectly, you will not see the results for months. That’s because Google crawls sites that have lower authority and sites with content that doesn’t change frequently less often. That’s why the fastest results come from famous directories that get crawled by Google more frequently like City Search, Local.com, Yelp Business Listings, Judy’s Book, Merchant Circle, or Kudzu.

Yext-Power-Listings
Graphic via rimmkaufman.com

So that’s where a service like Yext Power Listings seems like a reasonable alternative for attaining citations rather than manually entering your business listing across the web. Yext’s definition of “Power Listings” declares that they syndicate your business listing information across a network of over 40 local search platforms. Included in these platforms are both “yellow pages” types of directories like Yahoo Local, Whitepages, and Local.com, and social network and online customer review sites like Yelp, City Search, and Foursquare.

While speed is definitely the advantage when using sponsored business listings, it comes at a cost. And like many large, nationwide online services, the brand might not have the best track record for customer service. In fact, there are several factors and concerns that should be considered before using any sponsored listings service.

Over the next few weeks we’ll discuss the difference between sponsored and organic listings, and what work’s best for your business.