How Inconsistent Online Citations Hurts Auto Dealers’ Business

“There’s a direct line between a successful business and one where the vital information about how to reach them is consistent,” says CDK’s Colleen Harris.

It’s easy for local businesses to take search rankings for granted. After all, hardware stores, apparel shops, automotive dealerships tend to concentrate on what they’re selling, not necessarily how customers find them when searching the web.

But online citations and listings are the dominant way people find a business. And when it comes to a large, considered purchase such as a car, ensuring correct information about location, hours, contacts, services, inventory, and other vital details that help a consumer choose one business over another often makes all the difference in who gets a sale and who doesn’t.

CDK Global, an integrated marketing company focused automotive dealers across 27,000 retail locations in over 100 countries, decided to tackle the issue once and for last October when it began working with digital knowledge management provider Yext. (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here).

“‘Inconsistent’ is probably the best way to describe the state of citations before we started working with Yext,” says Colleen Harris, Earned Marketing Lead Analyst at CDK. We know the importance of focusing on off-page, and that off-page is a very big value-add in terms of what we do with dealers and our advanced, high-level SEO product.

“The struggle was always that it took so much time to try to manually hit all of the different citations,” Harris adds. “It’s a particularly big problem within the auto industry with buy-sells and name changes and the various franchises that no longer exist. As a result, you could have six or seven listings at one dealership on Yellow Pages, for example.”

CDK’s goal with citations involved providing the consistency for dealers and making it easy and seamless to ensure customers were getting the same, correct information on all online touchpoints.

What Are Citations?

A Citation is a listing of the information about a business and was somewhat synonymous with the term “business listing” in the past, although a citation isn’t limited to the classic business listing experience, says Christian Ward, Yext’s EVP, Data Partnerships.

For example, a blog post that mentions a business, with the business name, address, and/or phone number is also a citation, Ward notes.

“In fact, countless articles exist on strategies to syndicate out structured and unstructured citations, beyond the classic business listing type, although their efficacy seems to be somewhat questionable, or at best, highly anecdotal,” Ward says.

Citations also tend to focus on the core business name, address, phone number, and occasionally, the website. Additional knowledge like hours of operation, products, services, specials, events and more have evolved a long way since citations were first taught to burgeoning SEO practitioners, Ward adds.

“For this reason, citations tend to be more related to relatively static elements, where the future of knowledge, answers, and consumer experience and discovery is steadily marching toward more timely and changing content,” he says. “But to be fair to citations, they are still the bracket by which most knowledge about a business is bolted to the web. After all, if the location is wrong, well, it really doesn’t matter if the hours of operation are right.”

And those are the minute issues CDK wanted to get right for its auto manufacturer clients at the local level.

Understanding Citations And Listings – And Getting Them Right

“The big problems and differences tended to have to do with phone numbers that were different on various sites,” Harris says. “As call-tracking numbers and other numbers got picked up, the inconsistency of information served as a horrible signal to the shopper.

“When someone Googles a business, if citations are inconsistent, that has an immediate impact on the decisions a consumer is going to make,” Harris says. “There’s a direct line between a successful business and one where the vital information about how to reach them is consistent. And we see the importance of that for dealers.”

When it comes to the information consumers encounter when searching for an “car dealership” or looking for local automakers’ showrooms on Facebook, the listings and citations can be considered “close, close cousins, and even the same,” notes Yext’s Ward. A business listing is a form of a citation — but there are also citations that are not a business listing.

“Business listings are the most important ones to get right, and CDK recognized that and decided to leverage the Yext platform to solve for that,” Ward said.

Common mistakes around citations tend to be in businesses’ approach to handling them.

As CDK’s Harris notes, you can’t chase individual citations over and over again to try and fix them. And when you work with highly sophisticated (and if not somewhat aggressive) customers like auto dealers, you better not take a lackadaisical approach, Ward says.

“Because citations have (and continue to have) and overweighted presence in local search and discovery, they can’t be left to chance or ‘chasing the error,'” he says. “Unfortunately, even if your customer doesn’t see the errors, Google and other search platforms will.”

The other big issue is thinking only the “biggest” citations matter. To some degree, the major ones are obviously critical, but you can’t ignore the smaller sites or citation sources because they are the chief instigators of bad data finding and persisting online about your business, Ward says.

“So be thorough, and recognize the importance that large search platforms put on analyzing smaller sites citation data,” he advises.

A Gradual Process

One of the problems individual businesses — and marketing services providers like CDK — have is that the function of checking and clearing up incorrect citations is not a dedicated internal job for one person or even a team. Therefore, the fix tends to be ad hoc and episodic.

“When we switched to Yext, it freed up a great deal of our time to serve our clients in other ways,” Harris says. “It freed up the analyst time to be able to do more important work that’s going to drive even more value. We found the solution that drove a lot of value for clients and provided a good time experience for the analyst.

“By having Yext pushing out the correct information, we switched over to using local call tracking numbers,” she adds. Now we’re able to quantify for a dealership how many leads are coming from that off-page work.”

(Off-pages refers to all digital presence information outside of a business’s website, such as reviews sites, online directories, and social media networks.)

The process of fixing inconsistent listings — which Yext calls “duplicate suppression” — was a gradual process, Harris says. But by November 2016, organic traffic for its clients was rising as a result. And the cost efficiencies become clear by the spring of 2017.

“Being able to have a path when an issue arises or when a location’s name changes, and having a path to really get that information cleaned up and show the value right away has been a big win for us, too. It’s an ongoing benefit for all of our clients.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.