fbpx

Sean interviews “local search” expert Nyagoslav Zhekov about building citations and cleaning up your business listings to get much better results on Google.

Nyagoslav is the director of local search at whitespark.ca, and can be contacted at nyagoslav@whitespark.ca.

Click above to listen to the 31 min audio.

Read Full Transcript

Sean Corbett:
If you’ve ever wondered how things like reviews, Google maps, business directories might affect your website, this is a good one to listen to. We’re going to be talking to Nyagoslav Zhekov who’s the director of Local Search at Whitespark, and he’s going to help us understand how a thing called local citations can make or break your presence on Google. So Nyagoslav, thanks a lot for being here today.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Thank you, Sean. Thank you for having me.

Sean Corbett:
So before we get too deep into it, could you give our audience just a quick definition of Local Search and maybe some of the main factors they need to be aware of?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Okay. So in terms of Local Search, it’s just a major branch of search as a whole, organic search on search engines such as Google or Bing. The only difference is that these are searches with local intent. So the intent can be explicitly defined or can be implicit. For instance, in the early days of the search engines, you had to explicitly state that you are looking for a restaurant in a specific locality, like a city or a zip code, for instance, but later on search engines, and of course the first ones to do that were Google, they became smart enough to understand that if you are looking for a restaurant, especially using your mobile device, for instance, you are looking for a restaurant in the near vicinity of where you are physically located right now. So the search engine implicitly understands that your search might be with the local intent, for instance. So that constitutes a local search.

Sean Corbett:
Perfect. And most people would be familiar with that when they see the search like “such and such near me”, right? Pizza parlor near me, tailor near me.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Yes.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. Awesome. So then with that, that would go… if a business has a listing, if they appear on Google maps, if they have reviews and so on, then all of that is going to be factored into whether or not they show up for that local search.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Yes. So there are, there’s a large area of factors that affect organic search results as a whole. And there are extra factors that affect rankings in searches with local intents or local search. So I assume most of the listeners are familiar with the general factors, such as links, website content, and so on that are relevant to general organic search. In terms of local search, the main differences are that the so-called Google My Business is a very important differentiator. Then you have reviews that can be reviews, but on Google maps record or a Google My Business listing, for instance, or there can be reviews on third parties, such as Yelp, Yellow Pages and so on. And then of course you have the most unique factor, which is citations, which, so citations, in their core, they just affect local search ranking factors, local search rankings, basically. So they are not a factor that affects organic search in general.

Sean Corbett:
Perfect. And could you give us an example, the best example of what a local citation might be?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So a local citation is practically a mention of a business somewhere on the web and this mention can be a complete page that is just, it is just dedicated to that particular business or, for example, like a business listing on business directory [crosstalk]. So that could be, that be a page that is just dedicated to that business. Or it can be just a mention on a block post or a newspaper article or something like this. So these are both citations.

Sean Corbett:
Totally. Yeah. So it encompasses quite a few things, anything that relates, yeah. Before we get now into the nitty gritty of the topics, I was going to ask you a little bit about your background and expertise to do with Local Search.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So I landed up in being associated with the industry completely by chance. So when I was still in college, I went on an internship in a company in Japan. The company was doing nothing related to search engine optimization, but it just so happened that they needed somebody to handle their SEO in-house. And they, I was under the marketing department and they just assigned me that task and it was mostly just reading and doing research and so on. And so, yeah, that’s how I started. Later on, when I went back to my native country, there was a company that, it was a US company that was opening an office there, by the way, I’m from Bulgaria, and yeah, I just joined the office there. They were specifically doing local SEO. So it went from there and that was 12 years ago.

Sean Corbett:
Amazing. Okay. Yeah. You’ve been in this a long time. And then now with Whitespark, primarily, what is it that you do on a day-to-day basis to help out their clients?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So I, unfortunately, this for myself, I rarely have opportunities to do hands-on work nowadays. We have a team of now 20 people that work on our listings-related services. And I am mostly managing that team, even though my position is supposed to be broader than that. So we have ideas about expanding the scope of our services, but right now this is definitely the, and over the past many years, maybe seven years, that’s the service range that we have been focusing on. That’s what I’m doing on a daily basis. Basically, I’m managing this team of 20 people.

Sean Corbett:
Awesome. Yeah. So what’s the biggest misunderstanding when you and your team start helping a small business, what are the things that they tend to just have a misunderstanding with when it comes to local search and local citations?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So in terms of citations in particular, there are a few problems that crop up very frequently. One of them is that a lot of people, especially if we work directly with businesses, because in many cases we work, for example, with agencies. But when we work with businesses, frequently we notice that businesses would have tried to do some listings on their own. And the first thing that happens is that they just went ahead, so they found some list of, let’s say, business directories somewhere online, and they just went ahead and listed themselves everywhere on all of these directories, right. And the problem is that in most cases, businesses would already have some records, some listings on those business directories, right? So they would have something, for example, those records might, of course, in most of the case, they’re all generated records.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Maybe if we have time, we can talk more about that, but it’s a little bit more complicated how this sort of generation happens. But so when they create a new record, a new listing can be done, edit the, all the existing listings for instance that have incorrect information for instance or incomplete information, that doesn’t really solve the problem. So yes, they have a correct listing and that’s fine, but they also have an incorrect listing which then confuses search engines such as Google as to what exactly is the correct information for this particular business. Right? So is it that other listing that might feature the owner’s mobile phone number, or is it the new listing that features the landline or something like this?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So another thing that we get in terms of questions very frequently is related to this misconception that citations are very similar or work in a very similar manner to links. So in particular, people read of course articles about SEO and they read about links and they realize that links are a quick win, basically. So you get a few good links on high quality websites and so on. And within a few days you can actually bump up the rankings of your website in organic search.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Citations, unfortunately, don’t work the same way, so they don’t work in near instant capacity, in terms of their capability to improve rankings. Google has this system where they add new clusters of information to their maps database in certain intervals of time, right? So these intervals can be every month and a half or two months or something like this. And only if during this interval of a month and a half or two months, they have found the corresponding citation and they have actually associated it with the so-called cluster that they have for a particular business, only then this would affect the rankings of the business. So this means that you may get a citation on a very good quality website, for example, Yellow Pages, today, but this citation may not have any effect whatsoever on your rankings until potentially three or four months later, for instance. So this is pretty common.

Sean Corbett:
Got it. Okay. Right. So people have to have some patience as well. It’s not an overnight fix.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Yes. It takes months usually.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. Yeah. And you mentioned too that there’s that thought that citations and links in a lot of people’s minds are very similar. And then you also gave the example of getting a link on a really high ranking, authoritative website. Does that apply to citations? In other words, do people want to avoid being on, say, a crappy, poorly formatted, not-updated business directory as opposed to going to the best business directories or does it not really matter for citations?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
It certainly matters.

Sean Corbett:
Okay.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So while, so there are two issues here, or two related topics. The first one is that even though citations don’t act directly as the same way how links affect rankings, citations, of course, for example, a listing on a business directory might feature a link to the business’ website, which means that if you get a link from a poor quality website, business directory, for instance, to your own business website, that might have a negative effect on your rankings, for instance, right? So this is one way how this works.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Another thing is that, so there is a patent from the mid-2000s that was granted to Google. It’s related to Local Searches, related to, the short-term is location prominence. And in that patent and our patent that is also related, what is mentioned is that one of the factors that, these are secondary factors that Google looks into when they look into the web document from where the citation comes is the actual authority of the domain on which this web document is found. So in this regard, although a citation per se, so the citation itself, without an actual dofollow backlink to the business’ website would not have a negative effect on your rankings. Even if it’s on a low quality business director, for instance, it would have a very minimal impact even way down the road. For instance, I mentioned citations work with a lag.

Sean Corbett:
So the implication of that would be that people should just be getting as many citations as they possibly can?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Not as many, because again, the ROI is diminishing as you call down the quality, but yes, in general, it would be good if you are more robust with citations and you can be more free to, you can free, you can feel safer to go down this road, rather as compared to when you work with links, where of course, if you go to low quality sites, then you may actually indeed be penalized and so on.

Sean Corbett:
Okay, great. That really clarifies it. Thank you. Now, again, I don’t want to move on until I’ve sort of, we’ve hammered that point home in the audience’s mind, is that what he’s saying is getting citations is good, but you have to check first if you already have them. So you don’t want to listen to this and just jump out there and go start slamming as many business listing citations as you can without making sure that if there’s an existing one out there, you want to make sure that the information is the same from listing to listing, right? So there’s some consistency and everything’s up to date and all that kind of stuff. Now, with that in mind, could we tell our audience what are a few easy wins that a small business could basically do tomorrow to help improve their local search presence?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Okay. So the most important thing would be to just square away, so exactly what we were talking just now, you just square away your most important sites, right? So you just do that as the very basis of your strategy, and so I know that there are a lot of business owners, they like to go around and they want to check what are the general citation sources out there. And they see a huge list of sometimes hundreds of sources for instance, or they sometimes even use some our software to check on that. And in the end, they get scared, right? So they’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of business directories that are out there. And they’re like, okay, there’s no way that I can do that.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Again, you don’t need to go through of those hundreds of business directories. You just need to go through the top five for instance, for your corresponding country. So if you are from the US, let’s say you have a few data creators like Localeze and Infogroup that you need to hit, and then you need to go through Yellow Pages and Yelp, for instance, besides the, of course, the search engines such as Google Maps, Bing Maps and Apple Maps. And if you’re from Canada, you actually also have Infogroup in Canada. But of course the big one there is Yellow Pages Canada, which can be trickier sometimes to get right. So, but it is worth spending the time to actually getting your YP Canada listing properly done.

Sean Corbett:
So you can update your Yellow Pages listing without having to pay anything? Or do you have to pay to get that updated?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So it depends. Are you talking about Yellow Pages Canada?

Sean Corbett:
Yellow Pages Canada. Yeah.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So it depends. Yellow Pages Canada obtains information from a number of sources, including from phone registers, for instance. So it’s, the best thing that you can do is actually contact them and try to figure out where, especially if there are some incorrect, outdated information out there for you just to figure out where they’re getting that information from and fixing the source of the information very frequently is, so that’s actually better, especially in the long run than trying to fix in any way the listing itself on Yellow Pages Canada. For example, in many cases, they require an extra payment. So fixing the source would actually fix the listing itself after a while usually. And, but the more important thing is that if you don’t fix the source, even if you fix the listing, if you pay to fix the listing, if the source remains incorrect, then you have a problem down the road. For example, a listing with that incorrect information might popped up an incorrect duplicate, for example.

Sean Corbett:
Right. So people need to understand that the source is basically, all these other aggregators are pulling information from the source. So it’s best to fix that first.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Yes. Yes. So in Canada it’s usually easier to do that than, for example, in the US. In the US, there are a lot of complications because there are a lot of agencies that you might need to hit, like government agencies.

Sean Corbett:
Okay.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
And tracking the source is a little bit more complicated there in general, yes.

Sean Corbett:
Got it. Okay. Well, we found something where it’s easier in Canada. That’s a rare occurrence. So then I was also going to ask you what your opinion on this is. A lot of times when our customers will come to us with these types of questions, right, and we don’t totally help with all this kind of stuff, that’s why I’m glad you’re on here today. But sometimes we’ll just recommend that as a first step, they just sit down and they Google their company name and see what comes up. Obviously their website should come up and if they have social media and whatnot, but it’s sometimes interesting to see what comes up on the first two pages. Because there you can identify a few of the business directories that might list you that you didn’t even know you were in. Would you say that’s a pretty good step to take?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Oh yeah. I mean, that’s the simplest thing that anyone can do of course. And they can do that for free obviously. Another thing that a business can do is, so there’s a service called Yext and I have written extensively on the service and we can probably talk if we have time on that, but the most important thing about Yext is that they have this scanner and for example, a business can just use for free that scanner for Yext. And they actually go through the sites that are in Yext’s network for instance, and they basically discover any existing listings on those sites. Of course, there are some caveats like they don’t always find those listings or they just find one listing per website, but it’s still a good way to do a scan, a quick scan on your business listings.

Sean Corbett:
Oh, perfect. Okay. And that’s Y-E-X-T.com?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Yes. Y-E-X-T. Yes.

Sean Corbett:
Perfect. Okay. Yeah, so people should definitely check that. I was going to ask you about maybe if you could just tell us a story about a specific time that you helped a business, what their problem was and how you and the Whitespark team were able to solve it.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Okay. So this probably related to Yext because this is something that we see very frequently. So a while ago, that was a few years ago we discovered that with, so there are two types of listings management related services. One of them is of course the menu approach and the other one is an automated approach. And so with the automated approach, there exists this problem that you, so with many listings management, usually you don’t have to pay recurrent monthly or yearly fee for instance. So it’s a once-and-done type of job and citations in general are a once-and-done type of job, right? So you go to this website, you list yourself, and you’re pretty much done unless you change your business address or rebrand your business for instance, down the road, but other than that, you don’t really have to do a lot of ongoing management for your listings.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So, however, the way how most automated listings management services are set up is that you have this recurring fee. And when you cancel the service frequently for reasons that are beyond the scope right now, your listings might disappear or they might revert back, for example, if the service actually added an existing incorrect listing, that listing might revert back to the incorrect state in which it was before you signed up for that service. So we frequently, especially nowadays, we frequently get clients that have been subscribed to such type of an automated service. They decided that they don’t want this ongoing expense, I’m saying nowadays because that happened especially during the pandemic, and they just want to get rid of this ongoing costs and they want to switch to something else. So they turn off their subscription in the beginning and they think that that’s done, right? So they don’t have anything else to do. And then they discovered that some of their listings have, for example, disappeared.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So this is something we frequently help with, for instance, and this is something that businesses should look out for. So it’s not necessary that every service that you get gets you permanent listings, for instance.

Sean Corbett:
So they came to you before they had canceled their current service just as a precaution, or they had noticed after they canceled that a bunch of listings disappeared?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Yeah. Most of the time is the latter. So most of the time they discovered that only after they have canceled the service. Of course, when you cancel those services, they don’t usually explicitly mention that you may lose some of your listings for instance.

Sean Corbett:
Got it. And was there ever an instance of a company that you saw where it wasn’t so much that they were looking to get incredible traffic and great results from their local SEO. It’s maybe that it was done and set up so incorrectly in the past that it was hurting them and they just wanted to make that pain go away. Is that something that happens?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Oh, yes, of course. All the time. But, so the thing is, again, because citations are generally very weakly understood. I would say a lot of search related ranking factors are not understood very well in general, even by companies that specialize in the field. But citations are especially misunderstood. So it’s not common that businesses would come to us and would say okay, I have this problem. And I just want to do, for example, I have problems with my citations because they were set up incorrectly and so on, and I just want to fix it because it’s hurting my rankings. This relationship between hurt rankings and something being set up incorrectly, it’s usually not there. Right? So they are most of the time when businesses come to us, they are like okay, I have, my rankings have tanked and I don’t really know why. And can you help me to figure it out?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
And in some cases, yes, there have been problems in particular with citations, for example, there are, this happens especially with service-based businesses. So clients would have been working with an agency and that agency was thinking that it would be a good idea to actually get them listed in all the local areas that they service. So, for example, if you have a city like Chicago that has tens or hundreds of suburb areas, right? So what this agency would do is they would go and set up listings for that business, separate listings for each of the suburbs, right, thinking that this is a good idea. And then the business would end up with 20 or 30 listings that are completely rogue. And in some cases for some business directories, they might be able to skip, for example, the business address. In our case where they’re unable to, they would use a fake address or a PO Box or some virtual office or something like this. And usually that’s expensive, what those agencies do. And later on, it takes a substantial amount of time to actually fix.

Sean Corbett:
Right. So people should be aware that if it sounds like a shortcut or a hack, it’s probably a long cut into your business.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Most certainly. Yes.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. That actually reminds me when we were first starting out also many, many, many years ago. And a person asked if we could make him five copies of his existing website on all different domains. And we tried to explain that’s not really going to help. It’s probably going to hurt you. No, no, no, I insist. So yeah, that’s funny. A citation for every suburb. That’s great. So for the people out there who, I think you’ve made a pretty compelling case here, right, that, of course, there’s lots of things, lots of steps people can take to do on their own, but there are pitfalls. You have to understand what you’re doing. You have to be able to look for old stuff and correct stuff, know how to fix it. You don’t want to go with some fly-by-night company. So how, if somebody needs help with this sort of thing, what’s the process with Whitespark and how would they go about getting in touch with you and starting?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Oh, so the easiest way to get started, we have this page on our website and anyone can just select the package that they’re interested in and they can go from there. Usually what I suggest is what we talked about earlier was that, especially if you are in a not so competitive industry, it’s not necessary that you go with many citations, right? So there is this diminishing return on your investment where if you go down the list after the hundredth website or something like this, it does make a big difference anyway. And especially if you’re in an industry like most of the contractors in Canada are not really that competitive, except for probably in Toronto, for instance. So you can go with 20 or 30 citations, for instance, that would be perfectly sufficient.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
But if you are in an industry like, I always like to give as an example personal injury lawyers in different cities in California and the US, that’s one of the most aggressive industries out there where the competition is vicious. So you really want to go for as much as you can get. But these are rather exceptions from the rule. And for most industries, it would be 20 or 30 citations would be sufficient for sure.

Sean Corbett:
So what your staff do, a sort of introductory assessment to be able to help these businesses and say, look, this is what you need, or maybe these are some existing problems and go from there?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
So, yeah, of course, if a business contacts us directly and asks us for an assessment and for advice on what kind of package that might be most suitable for their situation, yes we definitely do that. In gen- so this order page that I mentioned to you, the service page is just a straight up order page. So you can just place your order directly there, but if you’re unsure, you can definitely contact us and we’ll definitely assess your situation.

Sean Corbett:
That’s awesome. Yeah. And should they email you directly then? Or is there a general email?

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Yeah, so anyone can email me directly. My email is nyagoslav- that’s N-Y-A-G-O-S-L-A-V @whitespark.ca.

Sean Corbett:
Thanks so much for being here today. I really appreciate it.

Nyagoslav Zhekov:
Thank you, Sean.