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Citations Matter Less Than Ever — Focus on Top Sites Instead


Imagine a time when a simple listing on numerous directories could skyrocket your local SEO rankings. This was the reality a decade ago, but today, we’re navigating a dramatically different digital landscape. Let’s dig into it.


Google’s directory of local business listings was originally built on the strength of third-party sources such as data aggregators (companies that compile data and license it to publishers) and directory sites like, Citysearch, and Mapquest (remember those?). Over the years, Google has strengthened its connections with local businesses, and with companies like SOCi that represent them. Google now relies much less on local data from sources other than the business itself. 


You may be aware of a report called Local Search Ranking Factors that has been produced regularly since 2008, when it was first published by local search pioneer David Mihm. The report gathers the votes of experts about what matters most for ranking in local search. 


The 2023 edition of Local Search Ranking Factors shows the overall increase in importance of GBP signals and the decline in importance of directory citations from 2015 to present


The 2023 edition of Local Search Ranking Factors shows the overall increase in importance of GBP signals and the decline in importance of directory citations from 2015 to present


Over the years, as Google worked to transition from third party to first party local data, Local Search Ranking Factors has reported the diminished importance of citations and the growing influence of Google Business Profiles themselves and the rich data they contain, most of it provided by businesses themselves. 


So the question becomes: do citations still matter?


A Look at How Much Citations Matter


The answer is “not much.” Far more important is direct management of profiles and engagement with consumer feedback on top sites. Aside from Google, this short list includes Facebook, Instagram, Apple Maps, Yelp, Bing, and, depending on your business type, certain niche sites like TripAdvisor or Nextdoor. 


For multi-location brands, the challenge of managing these crucial profiles is compounded; this is where automated solutions like SOCi can be especially helpful.



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As for sites like Mapquest that once served an important role in consumer navigation, it may do no harm to keep your content up to date, but it doesn’t help you much either, and it ultimately can prove to be a distraction from more important things. See the graph below showing the relative traffic of Google vs. other sites.



A graph showing that Google has a significantly higher amount of traffic than other sites


Some local SEOs believe citations still play a minor role in local search optimization, for which reason at SOCi we’ve retained the ability to update many smaller directory sites. But an inordinate focus on citation building takes your eye off the most important priority, which is ensuring that customers find and engage with your business on Google and other highly popular platforms. 


Google, Apple Maps, Facebook, Yelp, and others — where local search, discovery, and conversion actually happens today — have greatly built out the fields and features available to businesses to promote their products and services, and businesses who make the best use of these tools will far outpace those who rely on an out-of-date understanding of the listing ecosystem. 


Speaking of which, David Mihm was also known back in the day for a chart called the Local Search Ecosystem. Informally known as the “spaghetti chart,” Mihm’s map of directories and where they get their data helped local SEOs navigate the extremely complex path to effective citation building, back when that was the only tactic that mattered.


Just this month, Mihm published a new article that sums up the current thinking. Its title? “Why Citations Ain’t What They Used to Be.” He writes, “Businesses should focus more on building a robust online presence on the local and vertical sites prominent in today’s search results, and less on broad directory listings of yore.” (Research from noted local SEO expert Joy Hawkins even shows that third-party directories have diminished further in importance in the last few months due to recent algorithm updates.) 


What’s Next?


So if you’re looking for where to spend money, resources, and time to get the most out of local search, Google and its very few top competitors should be top of mind. Citations, once a silver bullet, are now more of an afterthought. 


While citations once reigned supreme, today’s local SEO success hinges on your presence on top-tier platforms. Take the first step today by reviewing and updating your key profiles with SOCi Listings.


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Damian Rollison

With over a decade of local search experience, Damian Rollison, SOCI's Director of Market Insights, has focused his career on discovering innovative ways to help businesses large and small get noticed online. Damian's columns appear frequently at Street Fight, Search Engine Land, and other publications, and he is a frequent speaker at industry conferences such as Localogy, Brand Innovators, State of Search, SMX, and more.

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