The Dangers of Citation Directory Networks

Importance of citations and a clean citation profile

A solid foundation of citations can significantly boost the local ranking of a business. In fact, citations are among the top ranking factors as determined by the Local SEO experts in this 2013 survey organized by David Mihm. In order to send even more location- and/or niche-specific signals to Google to help you achieve a competitive advantage in the local rankings, you can boost your citation profile with listings in location-specific (here just called ‘local’) and industry-specific(here called ‘niche’) directories.

Citations can have a great positive impact on your local rankings but if not done properly – for example if the directories where your business is listed are of poor quality – they can also hurt you. There is a huge number of factors that can make a directory a good or a bad choice. Here I’ll discuss directory networks and more specifically how some networks can present a good source for your local citations, while others must be avoided at all costs.

What are directory networks?

A network of directories is a set of similar (functionally and/or visually) business directories owned and managed usually by one company. Niche directory networks can cover from just a few professions to a wide range of industries. Local directory networks share a similar pattern – one can contain, for example, directories which specialize in a few city neighborhoods, or directories for all States in the US, providing a great spectrum of sources for a nation-wide citation building campaign.

(Don’t) Open a can of networks

Submitting a listing to the average local or niche directory will result in a single citation. This is the most common scenario for directories which are a part of a network as well – a single listing submission equals a single citation, even if there are other directories in the network that are appropriate for your business profile. In some cases, however, after submitting the listing, the information you filled out will automatically propagate in multiple directories, part of the same network.

An example for such a network is ‘The Business List Network’. Its directories are local and cover larger US cities and counties. When you submit a business listing to directory for one city, the listing will be propagated to the directory for this city’s corresponding county as well.

Another example is the ‘Business Portals’network – after submitting to one of the directories, you are prompted to choose categories suitable for your business. The network uses your input to automatically create listings in other directories from the network. Being listed in directories which you did not request to be listed in can be potentially harmful for your local SEO campaign. While this network in particular makes an attempt to list you in directories somewhat suitable for your specific niche, this is not the case with all networks.

Some networks will distribute your listing information to ALL directories in the network, regardless of whether your business is a good match for them or not (e.g. your Los Angeles office will be listed in an Ohio directory). Imagine submitting a listing to such a network, expecting to be listed in the California directory and instead being listed in a total of 50 directories for all states. Such misleading signals can be confusing for both people and search engines. The presence of your business in such a network of sites can compromise the quality and the consistency of information across all your citations. An example of a network which uses this type of ‘blind’ propagation is the YPages network.

You want to be extra careful when picking citation sources for your citation building campaign. To get you started, I’ll go over a few tips how to recognize which sites belong in a network and how to identify which networks might hurt your campaign.

Finding and Recognizing a Network

Ideally you’ll be able to recognize if a directory is part of a network before submitting your business info. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, but there are a few signs which can help you recognize a network of directories almost every time.

Use the following steps before moving on to submitting any business information.

Step #1 – do your research first

Prospect suitable citation sources for your business. It’s really important to document everything you do, so you don’t have to redo any of the work. So make sure you write all prospected directories down.

Step #2 – what domains are associated with the same IP address?

There are free tools which will tell you what websites are hosted behind some IP address. They can be useful in your research, because often directory networks don’t even bother registering their different domain names under different IPs. Here is one such tool. If you check this IP address ‘23.21.138.12’ you’ll easily spot the ‘Hello*’ network by the domain-name structure of the sites in the output. Instead of an IP, you can enter the domain of the directory which you want to investigate. A few seconds after entering the domain in the tool, it will spit out a list of all websites which share the same IP. Another good hint is to look IP neighbourhoods also. You can recognize the websites which are part of a network by the similar domain names that they use. You can read more about identifying patterns in the domain names in Step #3.

Note: This following step is very effective but usually for the pros. To be able to use it, you’ll probably need to spend a considerable amount of time prospecting for directories and keep your eyes open for the following patterns.

Step #3– find similar patterns

As a site prospector at Optilocal, I can say that I have a solid experience finding the appropriate directories for a given business. It wasn’t straightforward at first but now it’s really easy to spot the patterns which reveal that some sites are part of a network. Very frequently all sites from a network share the same template. Since these standard templates are widely used for a variety of unrelated directories, it helps to look for patterns in the header style, the domain names, the footer, the IPs of the hosting servers of the directories, etc.. Here are some examples:

a)     Identical or similar parts in the design

Directory #1

head1

Directory #2

head2

 

b)     Similar domain-name/directory name structure –a shared common part of the domain name (in this example ‘at a glance’, ‘uscitybest’ and ‘elocal’) with changing locations/niches

      Directory #1                                                                                     Directory #2

 laataglance_url  seattleataglance_url
 ftlauderdale  denverbest
 elocal_exterminators

elocal_roofers

c) Links in the directory leading to other networks (such as ads or banners)

bann4

banners

Identifying a Spammy Network

Not all networks propagate your information to multiple directories. However, you want to recognize the ones that do and avoid submitting any information in them.

Let’s say one of the directories you prospected was ‘mynetworkCA.com’. You performed the steps described above and found out that ‘mynetworkCA.com’ is a part of a network. Now you want to test, if you can submit your business information to this website, without risking automatically listing in other directories as well.

First browse ‘mynetworkCA.com’ for other business listings. Pick one of them and copy its business’ Name, Address, and Phone (NAP). You can use this information to find out if this business was listed just in one directory or in multiple directories. For ease, I’ll call this business “Business X”

There a few ways to do that:

a)     Check if Business X was listed and indexed in a specific directory from the network

Let’s say Business X is based in Los Angeles and the directory to which its owner submitted his/her business info is mynetworkCA.com (a directory for California in the ‘mynetwork’ network).

First check if Google already indexed the listing in mynetworkCA.com:

Do a Google search for ‘site: mynetworkCA.com *part of NAP*’ (NAP stands for ‘Name, Address, Phone’, so *part of NAP* in this case is any of these three). If you see Business X’s listing in the SERP, this means that Google already indexed the corresponding page. Chances are that if the listing information was propagated in another directory from the same network, Google indexed the pages (with Business X’s info in them) in the other directories as well because usually the info propagation happens almost at the same time of the original listing submission.

Let’s say now you want to check if Business X was listed in the directory mynetworkTX.com (where you don’t expect it to be since it’s a Texas directory). Search for ‘site:mynetworkTX.com *same part of NAP as in the previous search*’. If Google returns any results for this search then you either found a listing for another company which happens to have the same Name, Address (yes, that’s also possible sometimes), or Phone (usually in the case of outdated business info) or just Business X – an LA business was listed in a Texas directory as well. Carefully check the listing information to see if this is the business you are looking for and hope that it isn’t.

b)     Search the whole network for Business X’s listing

As I mentioned before the patterns of the domain names of the directories in one network are often a giveaway. In this example we assume that the domain name pattern follows this structure [state][networkname].com (the brackets are just used to separate the logical components in the domain name); [state] can be any US State; [networkname] is the corresponding name of the network).Let’s say you found Business X in a directory for which [state]=CA and [networkname]=mynetwork (so we get the directory ‘CAmynetwork.com’). You search for ‘site:CAmynetwork.com *part of NAP*’ (as in a)) and find out that Google already indexed thisbusiness listing’s corresponding page. Now you can use Google to find other indexed pages in the whole network ‘mynetwork’ using ‘inurl’:

‘inurl:mynetwork.com *part of NAP*’

In this search Google will return all pages that contain *part of NAP* and also contain ‘mynetwork.com’in their URLs (so that means ‘CAmynetwork.com’, ‘TXmynetwork.com’, ‘WAmynetwork.com’, etc.). If the business is indexed in TXmynetwork.com, for example, then you have a problem.

If you do not see the Business X listing on the directory page, where it was supposedly found and indexed by Google, it may be because the business listing appeared in the rotating featured listings in the exact same moment when Google Bot crawled the page. Still this is not good for your local rankings, so you might reconsider submitting your information in that network.

Some directories have a feed of the most recently submitted or updated listings from the network. The problem here is that the Texas directory TXmynetwork.com might update the feed with your newly updated/claimed California business listing when Google is replenishing their index data, so your business ends up indexed in the wrong directory again. This may be temporary until Google updates their index, but it can add some discrepancies to your citation consistency.

Recovery

In some cases you might submit your listing to a malicious network without realizing it. The next logical question is how to go about recovering from being listed in the wrong network. First check if you have an account for the directory/network you were originally listed in. If so, log in and look for an easy way to delete the listing if the directory allows it. Some networks will fortunately propagate not only listing submissions but also listing removals. If you can‘t remove the listing, however, or if the removal was not propagated in the entire network then contact the network webmaster and ask them (politely) to remove your business info from their network. If that doesn’t work, feel free to ignore my comment about being polite with your request. If that fails too, then another option is to completely change the business information – NAP, website, URLs to the social media pages, etc., in order to erase any piece of info that might associate the listing with your business (try not to use someone else’s business info by accident).