What Is Citation Flow (CF) in SEO?

Citation flow (CF) is a metric from the SEO software company Majestic, that expresses how authoritative a website is based on a score from 0 to 100.

Understanding Citation Flow

Consider you are a scientist and have been published in a journal. Many other scientists agree with your work and mention it in their own published works going forward. You would be considered an expert, correct? This is precisely how citation flow works.

Citation flow (CF) is a reinvention of Majestic's ACRank. This new metric expresses a score from 0 to 100, and aims to depict how authoritative a website might be according to how many sites are linking to it. In addition, citation flow also determines the link equity your site has and may pass on.

Citation flow alone is not enough to determine the authority of a website, and it will work in conjunction with many other facets of SEO to get a firm grasp on the trustworthiness, expertise, and authority of your site.

Flow Metrics Explained

Majestic creates and determines a profile of the quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to every site on the web. This well-known metric includes citation flow and trust flow. Together, these two metrics can be used to create an accurate picture of your site's influence. It is useful having a score of the backlinks to your site, as backlinks (and quality of backlinks) are a known ranking factor for search engines. 

Essentially, flow metrics are vital data points that give insight into how much link equity is passed from page A to page B to page C, and so on down the linking line.

Citation Flow vs. Trust Flow

Simply put, citation flow measures the number (or quantity) of your links while trust flow (TF) measures the quality. For each flow metric, Majestic will give you a score between 0 and 100.

It should be noted that CF and TF are not part of Google’s algorithm and therefore aren’t ranking factors. Flow metrics are a way to measure SEO KPIs and are not KPIs themselves.

How the Metrics Interact

Consider the analogy proposed at the beginning of this article. A scientist may be deemed an expert if other scientists cite and refer to their work. However, while there may be many scientists referring to this work, they themselves may not be credible scientists. This is where trust flow steps in. In this analogy, trust flow will take a look at the trustworthiness and influence of the sources citing the original scientist, and if the original scientist deserves the credit and accolades they are claiming she does.

Let's take this to the SEO level: your site may show a high citation flow, indicating that your site is being linked to by a large number of other domains. This may seem great at first, however, the majority of the sites turn out to be robot sites, spammers, random and little-known blogs, and more. Ultimately, this does little to show that your site is an authority and deserves to be ranked, and is indicative of a high citation flow and low trust flow.

A high citation flow and high trust flow means that your site is frequently being linked to by other high-authority sites such as Forbes, Washington Post, Reuters, etc. This combination of flow metrics highlights that your site (or a page on your site) is trustworthy and the people citing it are experts.

Want to learn more?
Visit our blog to learn more about search and search engine optimization.
 SEO Keyword Research

SEO Keyword Research

Read our comprehensive SEO keyword research guide to learn how you can get your web pages to show up higher in the SERPs.

 Link Building Guide

Link Building Guide

Check out our ultimate link building guide to learn how to earn powerful backlinks to empower your web content in search.

How to Check Citation Flow

Since flow metrics are trademarked by Majestic, you can go to their website for citation flow, trust flow, and other link intelligence data. There, you can get backlink information for your website and competitor sites alike. Signing up for this tool can enlighten you on topical trust flow, a list of all referring domains linking to your site, the context of these backlinks, anchor text used in links, and much more.

What Is a Good Citation Flow?

Since citation flow is only half of the flow metrics conversation, there really is no "good" citation flow number to shoot for. Naturally, you want sites to link to yours, but a good citation flow will only be understood in its relation to trust flow. 

Ideally, you want every link you acquire to be a trustworthy link. This would represent a citation-to-trust ratio of 1:1, and would be exemplary. However, the average CF-to-TF ratio is closer to 2:1, or 50%. Anything below this means that the majority of your links are low quality. 

For instance, if your citation flow is 30 and trust flow is 15, then you have a ratio of 2:1 — an average site. Work to keep your CF and TF above this line. If you have a citation flow of 30 and your trust flow is 40 this would be a ratio of 3:4 (having fewer links but higher trust with each link), then your links would be 25% more trustworthy than that of a site who had a 1:1 CF-to-TF ratio.

How Do You Increase Citation Flow?

Increasing the number of links pointing to your website won't do much on its own; however, increasing the number of high-quality links pointing to your website will. There are several ways you can obtain high-quality backlinks:

Citation flow alongside trust flow isn’t something to obsess over but is something for you to be aware of. If you aren’t pairing your citation flow metric with trust flow, you’re only getting half of the story of the health of your site. Nonetheless, Majestic should be a tool for your SEO workload scaling and productivity arsenal.