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MIHMORANDUM
No. 103
June 30th, 2008


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The “BCS” for Local Search Engine Optimization

A Look at Why InfoUSA, SuperPages, Acxiom, Localeze, Yelp and InsiderPages Are So Important in Local Search

Frequent readers know that for five months a year, I have college basketball on the brain. But while the hardwood is vacant, I happily fix my gaze upon the college gridiron for a few months.

For you non sports fans, college football features a confusing ranking system known as the “Bowl Championship Series.” Here’s a CliffsNotes version of that system:

  • Writers, coaches, and the computers all weigh at 33%, creating a ranking of the top teams in the country.
  • Five bowls are designated as “BCS” and each pays out a ridiculous sum of money to the conferences and 10 teams who are represented in them.
  • The traditional powerhouse conferences in NCAA football — the SEC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-10 — are known as “BCS” leagues because the champion of each automatically earns a berth in the BCS Bowl system.
  • There are four “at-large” positions available to teams from smaller conferences (Boise State being the most notable at-large by virtue of its win over Oklahoma in 2007.), but these tend to be filled by some combination of runners-up in the power leagues, too.
  • (Side note: Why college football doesn’t just do away with the BCS and just have a selection committee is beyond my comprehension.)

My assertion with this article is that the college football BCS serves as a great analogy for Local Search–only in this case BCS stands for “Best Citation Sources.” For those unfamiliar with my use of the word ‘Citation’ as it pertains to Local Search, please check out my initial post on Citations from last month.

Let me explain why I think the Best Citation Source analogy is so appropriate:

  • It doesn’t always work out to each factor having 33% influence, but Local Business Listing information, On-Page SEO Criteria, and Off-Page SEO Criteria are the three main contributors in the Local Search algorithms. Kind of like the coaches, writers, and computers in the football BCS.
  • As with the BCS bowl system, there are 10 sites selected for inclusion in the Google Local 10-pack.
  • The top 10 Local results all pay out ridiculous amounts of traffic (and hopefully profit if you’ve got a good website!).
  • The sites that are referenced by the “Best Citation Sources” have a disproportionate chance of making it into the 10-pack ahead of those who are not cited by those sources.

So who makes up the BCS of the Local Search world, and why are they so important?

Here’s my take, anyway, in no particular order. Would love to hear all of your faves in the comments 🙂

1) InfoUSA – InfoUSA is basically the original YellowPages data provider, and IMHO should be the starting point for any Local online business. Why? Lots and lots of what I would call “crappy” directory-style websites have purchased data from InfoUSA and published it online (and some good ones, too, like Yahoo Local and CitySearch). Just do a Google search for “business data provided by infoUSA” (in quotes) and add your city name at the end, and you will see what I mean. (Like this.) Listings in these kinds of directories that have scraped InfoUSA data often count as citations. Additionally, a large percentage of Local Business Listings will also show a citation from “daplus.us,” usually as the very last in the list. DaPlus is a subsidiary of infoUSA, according to their website. Here’s where to submit your business to InfoUSA »

2) Superpages.com – One of my clients recently moved offices, staying in the same city but a few blocks away to a more prominent space. I actually hadn’t done any Local optimization for them in quite a while, so I had to create a brand new listing for them in Superpages. In less than 10 days it was showing up as a “Web Page” citation in their Google Local Business Listing. That kind of speed leads me to believe that Google is spidering Superpages.com quite frequently. Superpages results also show up for incredibly uncompetitive searches. Signing up is free, quick, and painless. Here’s where to submit your business to Superpages »

3) Acxiom – See InfoUSA. Again, lots of crappy directories, in this case even more than from InfoUSA, have bought their data set from Acxiom. Look at this search. And again, lots of those directories show up as citations. The problem is, with Acxiom, there’s no way to submit your business. I’ll buy a beer for, and happily link to the website of, the first person who can lay out for us how to submit to Acxiom’s data set online! 🙂

4) Localeze – Localeze is an interesting case. I believe they inked a distribution deal with Yahoo awhile back (though now I can’t seem to find that reference), and I know they signed one with ShopLocal.com recently, and (this is a biggie) they appear to be the main content provider that has seeded Marchex’s entire OpenList network. Check out this search. The Marchex network itself shows up with increasing frequency as citation material, and would be reason enough to submit to Localeze, even without any other distribution deals going forward. Basically, while I see InfoUSA and Acxiom as vestigial players from the print world who will eventually become obsolete, Localeze is the evolving organ that is poised to be a MAJOR player. So even though Localeze might not carry as much weight now, I encourage businesses to sign up with them for future success. Here’s how to submit your business to Localeze »

5) Yelp – As with SuperPages, the updated address for my own Yelp listing showed up in Google Local within 10 days of me changing it. I’m also seeing a lot of my clients’ competitors getting cited via Yelp…Google seems to be spidering it like CRAZY these days (maybe because they know they’ve got one of the best and most up-to-date Local data sets, at least on the West Coast?). Submitting your business to Yelp is difficult, but do a search for your business in your town, and if you don’t show up, look for the button at the bottom right side of the main content area that says “Add Business.”

6) InsiderPages – I’m a BIG fan of this website & I don’t think it gets nearly enough buzz in the SEO community. The ‘Web Pages’ tab for my own site shows a limited number of citations (I just updated with my new address in Portland last month), but InsiderPages is one of them. I think of it as sort of the Pac-10 of the Local SEO BCS. It’s rare that you see an InsiderPages result show up as a citation, but when you do see one, it carries a lot of weight (think USC vs. the rest of the Pac-10 conference). Interestingly enough, it looks like InsiderPages is an affiliate of CitySearch, judging by the links in the footer. Didn’t know that until today. Here’s where to submit your business to InsiderPages »

The best of the “Mid-Majors” :

Citysearch – Can be VERY powerful, and reviews are spidered very well. If I ever expand my BCS to a seventh site, this would be it. But it can be pricey (there are no free listings), especially in the larger metro areas, and if your goal is simply to rank well in the 10-pack, I think your money would be better invested elsewhere. I also think that CitySearch is becoming too large a player and either they’re going to fight Google on syndicating their content OR Google is going to stop showing CitySearch references because they’re building brand value for too great a competitor.

TripAdvisor – If you’re in the travel industry, this site is a MUST. Mary Bowling of Blizzard Internet would know more about SEO for this industry than I would, but I bet she’d agree.

DexKnows – Intuitively, it seems like I’m starting to see this site popping up more and more under the “Web Pages” tab, but I don’t have any hard data, or even any soft data, to back it up.

OpenList – See my comments above re:DexKnows AND Localeze…

I will say that the most important citation sources do seem to vary a good deal by industry. As I mentioned earlier, Hotels and Spas would do well to look at TripAdvisor. Restaurants get cited in Zagat’s. Lawyers get cited on Martindale-Hubbell’s Lawyers.com. Basically, if there’s a traditional print source that has served as a reference in your industry for decades, make sure you’re listed there. If their website has ANY kind of pulse (i.e. is not built in Flash or completely form-dependent), it’s likely to be crawled by the search engines and counted as a citation.

The best strategy you can use as a starting point for finding your own “BCS,” analogous to linkbuilding in traditional SEO, is to look at sites that are doing well in Local and where they are being cited. Lots of times if they’re standard directories, with just a little digging, you can be listed there as well.

And one final note: for those of you interested in Local SEO, Pat Sexton just put out a call for help with a Local Search Guidelines project he’s putting together. Head on over to SEOish and check it out to see if you can help!