Citations are an important part of a search engine optimization campaign. With so many directories where you can list your business, some companies turn to automated services, like Yext. However, taking the easy way out by paying a company to automate business listings can cause problems down the line, and working on it manually will give better benefits to your business.

What Are Citations and Business Listings?

Citations or business listings are mention of your business using your NAP (name, address, phone number) details. Citations can take the place of online directories, social media profiles, chamber of commerce pages and other websites that allow you to list the details of your business. Yellowpages and Yelp are two examples of sites with citations.

Why Are Citations Needed?

Having your business show up in a number of different map listings and business directories is important for SEO. The most important part of this process is making sure your listing is consistent throughout the Internet, and this is where many people run into a problem. Your business is probably listed in numerous places without you even knowing about it, but are all your details consistent? Making sure you are not only listed in directories but also have consistent information will help Google know that it’s your business and what the right address is. With different variations, Google can get confused and start thinking that those are different businesses. If you have changed any details of your business, or if you have taken over a business recently, you are going to have to sort out these issues in order to maximize your SEO efforts.

Automated Citations or Manual Citations?

Since there are so many citations, many businesses, especially small businesses, like to use a service that allows them to just set and forget the citation process. Automated citations can take just a few minutes, while manual citations can take days or even months. If you create manual citations, you own them, which means if your business moves or if you have other changes, you can log in and make changes to listings yourself. When you use a service like Yext, you have a “phantom page.” You have a dashboard with the service, and what appears in your dashboard is shown on the citation, which then shows on the phantom page. With either manual or automated citations, there needs to be special attention to duplicate profiles. An automated citation builder can’t just be building a new profile without checking for an old one and if you are doing it manually, there needs to be a check in place as well.

Disadvantages of Automated Citations

Since one of the biggest automated business listing builders is Yext, this is the example that is used when discussing the advantages and disadvantages of automated citations. With Yext, there are only 68 citations created. While 68 citations is still a good number, there are many more options that may be more relevant to your business and actually better for you to be listed on. Some of the Yext listings are only available to Yext, so it gives an advantage because you or your SEO specialist can’t go in and add your business to them on your own. You are not able to be very specific with your Yext listings either. Some niche industries and citation sites allow businesses to be more specific with their service listings and other aspects of their business, but those can only be accessed by doing a manual citation.

Some citations do require a customer to step in and help make sure it’s finalized. This usually requires customers to get a postcard verification so they can make sure that the address is a valid address and business. In this case, even with automated citations, the customer would still have to participate. These citations are still valid and valuable, and just because they require extra work doesn’t mean they should be taken off any list. The company you choose to use for automated business listings may take these off the list because they can’t just be easily done. However, Google My Business requires a postcard verification and this is definitely a listing you would want to have.

Of course there are a few advantages of using a citation builder, but you will have to know what happens after you stop using the service. It may not be worth the short-term advantages. When using a citation builder, it does help that there are less errors. When humans are working on these citations, errors can occur. A citation builder can also work best for multi-location businesses, since each location would have to be listed separately. Depending on how many locations a business operates, that can take a lot of time. There is usually an integrated dashboard that will help you see what needs updating or if something has changed in the business, as well as which listings are up to date.

What Happens if You Cancel Your Citation Builder?

It’s widely believed that if you cancel your automated business listing service, you lose your citations. Does this really happen? There have been many case studies and tests done to see what happens when you cancel a service like Yext.

A recent study done by Whitespark showed that about 60% listings either disappeared or started showing incorrect information after a company stopped using Yext. Of those that remained, 35% of the citations weren’t showing full and enhanced details. They were either partially stripped or fully stripped of these details. The study concluded that only 5% of the listings remained up and accurate and with the enhanced details. These are usually the listings that were already claimed prior to starting services with Yext or a similar company.

Many of the case studies don’t have information on what the listings looked like prior to starting the service, so it is difficult to determine exactly what happens when these services are cancelled. Another case study found that the citations don’t get disconnected from the service right away, but instead just disconnect partially, where only some of the information either changes or disappears. Many of these case studies do two audits to determine exactly what happens because no change is immediate.

Services are likely not doing this on purpose in order to punish customers that cancel their services. When you use a service, they are creating the citation with an API or another automatic method in order to update the listings. Because they are using an API they control, they essentially own the listings while you are under contract. When you stop working with them, then the listings just revert back to the way they were when you first started working with the company. This is why many of the listings either have wrong information or simply don’t exist any more and only about 5% are still active.

While there is no harm done on purpose, you have to keep paying the company in order for your listings to stay active. This is not a good option for those on a tight budget. Many of the listings that have stayed the same after cancelling the service show that these listings were most likely done manually to begin with, making the manual route a much better option in the long run. Convenience is not always the way to go in order for the long-term success of the business.

Benefits of Manual Citations

Manual citations are better for those that are on a lower budget. Manual citations are going to be cheaper than having a company do automated business listings. There are companies that will do manual submissions for you that may be the same costs as automated citations, but you will be able to experience the other benefits that come with manual. Manual submission services are usually a one-time fee. Once the company does the citations, they are done and don’t need any additional work and you should own the content from then on.

Depending on the plan, you may be contracted for a few months or however long it takes to build the citations that are needed for your industry. You don’t want to build too many citations at once because it could look spammy. With manual citations, you can personalize the list of the directories, making sure they are relevant to your business. For example, there are plenty of law directories, but if you are a plumber then it makes no sense to be listed in those directories, even if they are on a fixed list. The fixed list you get with automated citations may only include general listings, so as not to list businesses in directories that are wrong for them. The personalized niche directories may be a much better benefit for you. Have you ever done a search for one of your keywords and looked through the results? Not only are you likely to find your competitors, you are also going to see which directories pop up first. Those are the directories that you want to be listed in based on your industry.

With manual citations, you have ownership over your listings. Your information can’t be deleted if you stop paying for a service and listings can’t be claimed by anyone else. Some argue that search engines see this information as more legitimate. It’s much easier to make changes when you have ownership and you can fill out the profile much more thoroughly. It’s important to consider the duration of the citation and with manual submissions you won’t have to worry about the citation going away.

Duplicate citations can cause a problem and can confuse customers. The service you use for manual citations should check for duplicate situations and any incorrect listing should be corrected.

How to Do Manual Citations

Manual citations can be done just as the name states, with someone working for the business submitting the information to each citation site you want your business listed in. This usually starts with a list of citations that you want to build your business on. Manual citations don’t have to be done by someone in the business. Instead, you can contract with a company that uses a human employee to do manual citations. These are usually done for a one-time fee or an ongoing monthly fee until there are no more relevant citations missing. With manual citations, you may not have an integrated dashboard, like with automated business listings, so it’s a good idea to keep track of your citations in a spreadsheet or with another method. This will allow you to be able to be make changes if needed. Some citations require log-ins, so make sure these are all in one place in order to help you save time should something need to be updated.

If you are using a company for manual citations and not doing them on your own, keep these things in mind to ask the company. This helps you know what you will be responsible for and how you will be able to keep track of the listings that are created.