The Value of Internet Yellow Pages Websites: A Case Study

MIHMORANDUM NO. 124 | September 17th, 2008Reader Comments (8)

Introduction

This is a first here at Mihmorandum — a guest post! It’s written by Ed Reese, a budding Local marketer from Spokane, WA. Ed described his situation to me at the recent SEOmoz Seminar, and I thought his story held some important insights for the Local Search community.

It’s a two-part series–the first being the case as described by Ed, and the second being my reaction to his data. So without further ado, here is Ed’s story…

I’ve been tracking the search ranking influence of a Superpages listing for a company called Hotbed Media for about nine months now and would like to share my findings. While this article is very narrow in focus, I believe the data and observations can be applied to other IYP’s, local search tactics, and organic search strategy in general. However, because the data only reflects a single company, it should be viewed as what it is: a case study. I am interested to know if others have found similar/different results or agree/disagree with my conclusions.

Fluctuating SERPs: The Reason for My Curiosity

In late 2007/early 2008 I noticed something very interesting. When I upgraded our free Superpages listing to a featured listing, our organic traffic immediately increased for nearly all of our desired keywords + location. We ranked on page one in organic search as well as in the blended, 10-pack results for our desired keywords + location. Then I stopped the featured listing to see what would happen (though I kept the free listing intact). Sure enough, the rankings, as well as traffic, dropped. After seeing low traffic for a while I upgraded again and the SERP’s jumped back to life.

Initial Investigations

I brought this up at the Q&A session at SMX in Santa Clara. It seemed that my featured Superpages listing was getting priority and I asked the Local Search Panel if that was the case. The consensus of the panel was that it didn’t have much effect, and that it was likely other factors causing the spikes in rank.

The person sitting next to me happened to be a reporter from Wired. The next day she published a quick blog post about my observations. Had I taken some time to think about it a bit more that day rather than rant, I might not have looked like such an idiot. However, it did start amplify the discussion. A very good take on her article can be found on Greg Sterling’s Screenwerk blog. It includes some great comments from Chris Silver Smith, Mike Blumenthal, and others. While many of the original comments to the article were negative in tone (can’t say I blame them), a few people emailed directly to say they had experienced similar results.

The Importance of Categories

I was advised to delete my Google Local Business Center categories, instead relying on Google to index and incorporate the more detailed Superpages categories and sub-categories. Within six weeks of this change, my search results for all relevant keywords + location (San Francisco) increased 40%.

My first assumption was that this was mostly category-based, as Superpages’ (and other IYPs’) category list is much more robust than Google’s.

While I’m not sure if this is the case for all industries, only a few of GLBC’s categories are related to our industry (film and video production). In the Google Local Business Center category list, only three make sense. Meanwhile, for Superpages, the related category list is extensive.

Sharing, Caring, and Matt Cutts

A few months later I shared this tip at SMX Advanced in Seattle during the final Q&A session. I talked with several SEO’s after the show (including David Mihm) that had ideas as to why this might be happening.

On my way out the door, Matt Cutts stopped me and mentioned that Google took a look at the site after they read the article in Wired. He mentioned that it was possible my recent results were as much due to the work of their engineers as my category change. I thought it was pretty cool of him to let me know they had been working on the relevancy for Local Search. It isn’t every day that you hear that you helped influence a search algorithm (at least not for me).

(n.b. from David, Google undertook a massive adjustment in their determination of category around the time of SMX Santa Clara. Mike Blumenthal has a great write-up on this, including a quote from a Superpages resource saying “Perhaps they only accept categorizations from partners which have taxonomic processes which they believe to be of higher quality.)

My Experiment

I decided to test the two variables that I hypothesized were affecting Hotbed’s search results. I dropped my Superpages listing from featured to free and added my categories back to my GLBC.

My keyword + location results in both organic and blended search dropped almost immediately. My organic traffic dropped 70% in one month!

Thank God for SMX Local. Armed with this data I was determined to find out why this was happening. My citation with Superpages was still there (though no longer a featured listing). I was trying to wrap my head around the drop in rankings. Do featured listings in the IYP’s receive more link juice? Are they somehow circulated through a wider network of distribution partners? Are they somehow perceived as more relevant?

The content and discussions at SMX Local in San Francisco got me back on track. Definitely check out David Mihm’s great SMX Local recap for a summary of content.

During one of the breaks I had an opportunity to talk with a group of ten local SEO’s to figure out why I was receiving these dramatic results. What follows is are the assumptions of that group as well as continued discussions with David for this post.

  1. While Superpages is a strong, relevant, and authoritative site, it shouldn’t have that much power in determining rank.
  2. An authoritative citation shouldn’t have any more or less power at the search engines whether it’s a featured listing/citation or not.
  3. As business for Hotbed is mostly local/regional traffic, keyword + location specific searches will dominate both local and organic search traffic.

Delving Deeper (Even If Google Isn’t)

David and I took a close look at my Superpages listing. No matter how we searched for Hotbed, it always came up on page four or five of the results within Superpages. It’s a good possibility that the citation is not being indexed by Google that deep in the Superpages results.

As a featured listing, the citation is guaranteed page one visibility. The default results are generally listed in alphabetical order. So, if you happed to be Abe’s House of Video Production you’d be just fine. Hotbed Media less than fine, and Zeek’s Zany Film Studio would be absolutely screwed.

The Answer

I just checked the results again on Superpages and noticed that default is no longer alphabetical but standard search results. This could explain my recent increase in rank. However, many other factors are now in play that I believe are having a very positive impact on the web site ranking and overall exposure. There were many great take-a-ways from SMX Local that I have since implemented.

  1. Addition of a citation and video on eLocal Listing. Steve Espinosa from eLocalListing had a great presentation and I really wanted to try their services.
  2. Addition of BOTW local listing per David Mihm’s suggestion.
  3. Addition of MetaCafe citation and video as another authoritative citation/video source
  4. Created an account on Universal Business Listing to ease submission process.

Conclusion

I was relying too heavily on a single featured listing for local authority. Per Mike Blumenthal and others at the conference, addition of many authoritative citations is very important in local search. A featured listing in the IYP’s is probably a good way to kick-start your local listing. However, the same effect can be accomplished for less money with a little bit of effort. I have still not re-activated my Superpages featured listing and have seen great gains in the past several weeks.

Keyword + Location Rankings
San Francisco CA Film Production
Film Production Company San Francisco
Film Companies San Francisco CA
Production Company San Francisco

I plan on letting this run for the next month or so and then upgrading to a featured listing again to see if it makes a difference in the results.

My belief is that I’ve added enough authoritative citations to provide local authority and improve search results without the featured listing. I do believe that page one inclusion on the IYP’s and other relevant listings are important for citation recognition and effect in search engine results. It seems logical to assume that their much richer category and sub-category lists help the search process as well. I hope this perspective has been helpful. I’m curious if others have had similar observations.

Thanks for contributing, Ed. Readers, my full comments appear in a full-length followup published on Monday, September 22, but please leave your responses below!

8 Responses to “The Value of Internet Yellow Pages Websites: A Case Study”

  1. Clark Mackey says at

    Thanks for this. The real world results, the practical problem solving – I really appreciate content like this, both from you, Ed, and from this blog in general, David. It is has been eye opening for me, regardless of how Google evolves local search from here, to see first hand the power of citations in the other directories like BOTW and Superpages.

  2. Ed Reese says at

    Hi Clark,

    Thanks for the comments. I’m glad you found it helpful. I’m a big fan of real world examples as well and thought it would be good to share. It was actually quite therapeutic to document the process now that I’m through it. Most of the year I was just scratching my head trying to figure out what was going on. I’m really looking forward to David’s take on it in his next post as well as comments from others who have had similar/different experiences or perspectives.

    Thanks again,

    Ed

  3. Joshua Sciarrino (schreno) says at

    Holy crap.

    Thank you Ed and David. Wow. I absolutely love Case Studies but this was tremendously valuable to me. It’s great to see Matt Cutts speak in about possible effects as well. I also look forward to a follow-up on the additional impacts of the ‘featured listing’.

    I’m thinking about rounding up a bunch of local SEO information and this most definitely will be included. Great case study. :)

  4. Ed Reese says at

    Hi Joshua,

    Nothing makes me happier (at least in terms of SEO) than seeing a comment to an article or work start with “holy crap.” To me, that jumps exponentially past “nice job.” I’m glad you found it valuable. I’m a big fan of case studies as well. I’m not sure that the new data from the SuperPages featured listing update will be worth a post of its own, but I’m sure we can figure out a way to include it as an update down the road.

    Thanks again,

    Ed

  5. Maid In Cincinnati says at

    We tried http://www.universalbusinesslistings.org and couldn’t see any evidence that they actually do anything.

    After joining them in 2009 we didn’t see ay resules so we did a little test. We inserted a made up word in the profile UBL promised to submit. We then waited to see where that word showed up. A year later and Google, Bing and Yahoo still have no records of that word in any directories. On several occasions we have looked up our listings on the directories themselves and still nothing.

    UBL doesn’t provide any proof that their service works, have no kind of tracking and when you call their customer service they state they don’t actually guarantee that your submissions will be accepted into a directory.

  6. MrSmith says at

    Had suspected UBL was worthless … been asking myself whether that was a valid opinion for awhile now. Glad I came across the above post cause Im going to take it on top of a gut feeling and some common sense and delegate UBL as a scam.

    I also noticed several discouraging things about their service. Many of the informational sources they say they submit a business too. Are worthless as any prospective source of business for anyone. As well as being pretty much worthless in terms of any citation possibility … a goodly number of them are closed proprietary internet marketing services and I really doubt any SE indexing bots have access to their databases regardless.

    You go to their website and there’s no possible option of adding any listing in the way of an online directory or seeing any way in which, whatever data they do maintain could be accessible to anyone except company staff. Think people are paying UBL to add them to a prospective customer list and sell them to marketers who will later solicit your business as a potential prospective customer. While doing nothing you couldnt do yourself with a few submissions on your own to get data syndicated.

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