Does Long-Tail Syndication Still Work?

 

Local SEO began as a discipline roughly 20 years ago, long before businesses could directly update their listings on Google. At the time, ranking well in local searches was achieved through a tactic called citation building, where the business would create or update its listings on a broad base of directory sites, many of which got significant consumer traffic back then.

 

But does long-tail syndication still work?

 

It’s Not 2015 Anymore: What’s Changed in Search

 

In the time since the discipline of local SEO was established, Google has progressively gained more and more market share for its own offerings, while simultaneously building out a much more sophisticated platform, now called Google Business Profiles, that accepts inputs directly from businesses.

 

As to the value of long-tail directory sites today, all you have to ask yourself is this: when’s the last time you looked up directions to a business on Mapquest, or read a review on Citysearch or Superpages?

 

Those sites simply don’t matter to consumers anymore, and it’s been our observation that they don’t make a difference for local SEO either.

 

Quality Over Quantity: What Matters Now

 

Instead, Google Business Profile optimization — as well as optimization on some other key platforms consumers do use, like Apple Maps, Facebook, and Yelp to name a few — is the key to modern SEO at the local level. 

 

Still, many of us still remember a time when ranking well meant building out a ton of citations on dozens of directories. We wanted to know whether any of that work makes a measurable difference today.

 

Our Syndication Study

 

That’s where our syndication study comes in. We looked at three multi-location brands who were not receiving any long-tail syndication; their local SEO strategy was focused, as we feel it should be, on top platforms only. We divided their locations equally into two randomized groups and added long-tail syndication to one group per brand. Then we waited.

 

First, we checked to make sure listings were created or updated for the syndicated locations on multiple smaller directories, including YP.com, Merchant Circle, Yahoo, Mapquest, Citysearch, and several others. Next, we monitored Google rankings, impressions, and actions for five months. Would long-tail syndication make a difference to business performance — in other words, would it improve ranking, traffic, or conversions in a measurable way?

 

The Result: Syndication Doesn’t Move the Needle

 

Local Ranking

 

In our analysis, we looked at the key metric where citations once had an important impact: local search ranking. The current consensus of local SEO professionals, according to the long-running industry survey Local Search Ranking Factors, is that citation building has a 7% influence on local ranking, down massively from prior years, with all other factors amounting to 93%. Would our data support this assumption? 

 

In fact, we found no measurable difference in local search ranking between locations syndicated to long-tail directories and non-syndicated locations. 

 

Below we show the average local rank change month-by-month across all keywords for the syndicated group and the non-syndicated group. Syndication began in the first week of January.

 

Blue and white table showing Average Local Rank Change with and without syndication

 

As shown in the table, rank fluctuations occurred before and during the test period, but there was no evidence that syndication itself made a difference. For example, in March, two months after syndication began, the syndicated group saw a rise in average rank of 2.20 rank positions — but the non-syndicated group saw an even greater rise of 3.31 rank positions in the same period. 

 

During the entirety of our test period, the non-syndicated group saw a higher average improvement of 3.17 rank positions, compared to 1.41 rank positions for the syndicated group. The difference between the two groups was 1.76 rank positions — and the difference was in the favor of the group that was not syndicated.

 

Google Impressions and Actions

 

We also examined traffic to the Google Business Profiles in our study, as well as actions taken by consumers on those profiles, including clicks to call, clicks for directions, and clicks to the business website.

 

For this part of the study, we focused on the growth trends for impressions and actions, comparing the syndicated group to the non-syndicated group. We aggregated impressions and actions data on a monthly basis, so the scope of this section extends to the end of April rather than May, but the results are consistent with those in our local ranking analysis.

 

Likely because our test took place during the post-holiday period, we found that impressions trended downward for both groups of locations, until April when the non-syndicated group began trending upward. Actions were down for both groups in January-February but rose slightly between February and April. Overall, the growth trend for the non-syndicated group was more positive than that of the syndicated group.

 

Blue and white table showing Impressions with and without syndication

 

Blue and white table showing actions with and without syndication

 

In all months, the growth trend for impressions was more positive for the non-syndicated group. In all months but one, the growth trend for actions was more positive for the non-syndicated group.

 

It’s probable that the slight advantage exhibited in the data towards non-syndicated locations is a matter of normal fluctuation of local results — not an indication that long-tail syndication impacts performance negatively. Rather, syndication made no difference one way or another to the performance indicators we examined. 

 

In summary, long-tail syndication was shown to have no measurable benefit in local ranking, local impressions, or local actions.

 

What Do Our Findings Mean for You?

 

Our findings take one worry off your plate, demonstrating that long-tail syndication is, at best, a nice-to-have, and certainly not a guarantee of improved local visibility. Though long-tail syndication may ensure accuracy across a broad base of sites, does this really matter when the sites in question get very little attention from consumers? 

 

To underline our point, let’s look at actual traffic to local directories — both today’s most popular platforms and several of yesterday’s citation sites.

 

Blue sideways bar graph on white background showing volume of traffic for over a dozen local directories.

 

The numbers don’t lie: Google and the rest of the platforms in the top ten earn 98% of the traffic in the entire list, with Google on its own generating 44% of all traffic. If citation building, as our study demonstrates, doesn’t help you with your Google visibility, why would you bother? 

 

Indeed, the results of our study reinforce comments made by multiple local SEO experts in the most recent Local Search Ranking Factors report. A few of those comments are noted below. 

 

  • Greg Gifford: “Citations don’t seem to matter at all anymore.”
  • Brian Barwig: “Citations are still not doing anything to move the needle.”
  • Noah Lerner: “I haven’t given citations much thought in the past two years.”
  • Rasmus Himmelstrup: “It has been a downward trend for years but citations are not what they used to be. I spend a minimum of time on citations beyond the large players.”
  • Brandon Schmidt: “The importance and impact of citations continue to dwindle.” 
  • Gyi Tsakalakis: “Stop wasting your time and money on citations.”

 

Instead of citations, your brand should focus on optimizing your local profiles on huge platforms like Google and Apple, responding to consumer reviews, posting engaging content in both search and social channels, and meeting consumer needs, not on the directory sites of the past, but on the platforms they actually use today.

 

The data speaks for itself. Don’t waste your time on tactics that won’t move the needle for your brand. A modern approach to local SEO, properly focused on top platforms, will win the eyeballs and dollars of local consumers.

 

Methodology

 

For this study, we gathered locations from three multi-location brands in the retail and healthcare industries, totaling 451 locations. These locations had previously received listing management services on top platforms only. We divided the locations equally into two randomized groups. The test group received syndication on a broad base of directories; the control group did not.

 

We measured local search ranking once per month over the course of seven months, two before syndication and five after, averaging seven keywords per location or approximately 3,300 local queries per month, for a total of about 23,100 queries. We also gathered Google impressions and actions for every location, aggregated by month. We then compared the syndicated group to the non-syndicated group.

 

How SOCi Can Help 

 

While it’s clear that your business must have detailed and optimized listings across top platforms, managing this across numerous business locations can be challenging. That’s where SOCi comes in!

 

SOCi Listings empowers your multi-location business to manage your business listings at scale. You can claim and modify your listings on all major directories, improving your local search rankings and driving more store traffic.

 

Clients like Ike’s Love and Sandwiches increased their total GBP impressions 77% YoY, with 16.3 million record views. Or Estrella Insurance, who — with the help of SOCi — increased leads by 24.4% YoY from its Google profiles.

 

Lastly, we’ve just released Genius Search, our AI-powered application that transforms local search management. Genius Search transcends traditional listings management tools. It optimizes local search rankings by analyzing real-time consumer activity, such as search behavior, reviews, and social media engagement. It enhances each location’s online visibility across crucial local search platforms, including generative search results.

 

What are you waiting for? Request a personalized demo today and level up your brand’s online presence. 

 

 

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