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No. 129
September 22nd, 2008

IYP Case Study: My Reaction

Last week I published a guest post written by Ed Reese on the Value of Internet Yellow Pages websites for Small Businesses. Other than a few notes for readers, and re-wording a few phrases for clarity, that post was essentially un-edited by yours truly.

I promised a reaction to it today, so here it is!

The Importance of Categorization

Mary Bowling made a truly insightful comment in her response to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey in June regarding categorization:

If you don’t place yourself in categories, [Google] will pull them from another source, such as the IYPS.

In Ed’s case, it appears that some businesses, prior to the adjustment in the Local Business Center where Google now allows SMB’s to enter their OWN categories, were indeed better off letting the IYP’s categorize them than to enter their categories in Google!

I no longer think that is the case, as custom categories allow for ALL kinds of businesses to describe themselves accurately, even if their business type is not listed in Google’s “official” category index. I would definitely not advise Ed’s strategy from February today for Yahoo Local, where, according to Shailesh Bhat, proper categorization has a direct effect on what Local businesses are returned for certain searches.

However, we do know that Superpages is still one of Google’s trusted data sources. So one strategy for Google Local optimization might be that IF your business only fits in one or two “official” Google categories, to enter your remaining categories as identical to the nomenclature used by Superpages, as a way to reinforce the strength of your signal coming from your Superpages listing.

Citation Prominence

One of the most fascinating things about Ed’s story, for me, is the fact that his Superpages featured listing appeared to have such an effect on his Local ranking.

It’s true that his study was flawed in some sense, as he added categories back to his Google LBL at the same time he dropped his featured Superpages listing. But because I’m such a strong believer in verifying your categories with Google, I’ve got to think that most of it had to do with dropping that Superpages feature.

Here’s the interesting part: none of Superpages’ featured listings appear to pass ANY link juice, and yet both his Local AND organic rankings dropped. Direct clickthroughs on a URL from Superpages are passed through a tracking script which cannot possibly pass any link juice whatsoever. And clickthroughs on a business name simply land you on a Superpages profile page with the same tracking script in place on the business URL again.

The fact that dropping his featured listing ALSO meant he dropped off the first page signaled to me that perhaps Google’s Local bot does not crawl directory sites as deeply as I had previously thought it did, and that it is important to receive citations as close to the “front of the line” as possible.

Citation Diversity

Ed’s story certainly highlights the importance of being listed on as many different platforms as possible, and even in as many different media as possible (eLocalListing’s video seems to have had a positive effect). I wrote in my YellowPages blog post last week that “Small businesses should play in as many portals as they have the time and the money to play in,” a line which Michael Dorausch said he plans to use in an upcoming conference–go right ahead, Michael!

It has seemed clear to me for several months, and certainly since Mike Blumenthal published the results of his “Cracking the Code” study, that the more citations a business is able to acquire, the higher they are going to rank in the Local algorithms. Ed’s story certainly backs that up.

Paid Citations

To me, this is by FAR the most interesting topic that Ed’s experience has raised for me, and it’s the main topic that piqued my interest initially when Ed approached me about writing his post last month.

The success in Google Local ranking that Ed was able to achieve largely on the back of one featured listing on a prominent IYP portal does beg the question: Will paid citations eventually violate Google’s Local guidelines and if so, how are they going to police them?

Either buying OR selling paid citations do not appear to violate any of Google’s guidelines, since they aren’t passing any PageRank. They do pass some kind of ListingRank, however. Additionally, featured / sponsored listings are the backbone of almost every major Local Search portal’s business model.

This kind of citation clearly seemed to help Ed, and it stands to reason that others on prominent portals like Citysearch and InsiderPages are probably very helpful also.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that Ed reported to me on Friday that Hotbed’s organic rankings had suddenly dropped after I published his guest post earlier in the week (Hotbed’s Local rankings remained intact). This could be a temporary fluctuation in the SERPs, a reaction by a Googler to reading his post, or something totally unrelated. He says Hotbed is again ranking just fine on Monday morning, but the timing of this drop is curious to say the least.

Overall Citation Strategy

I wouldn’t advise businesses to spend much money on IYP listings that aren’t getting SOME kind of search traffic. If those sites are relying on URL recognition, they’re fighting a losing battle, as Dave and I joked about YellowBook in the comments of my initial YellowPages blog post last week. IF you can get a FREE listing from an IYP website that you know is giving you value in your Google and Yahoo Local rankings, all the better, but at the very least, make sure that the sites on which you buy advertising are showing up as citations.

A more effective strategy might be to get yourself listed with a big data provider, like InfoUSA, Localeze, or Universal Business Listing, since you know their data is going to be the backbone of a lot of free listings on Local search portals. This will give you the citation diversity you need and keep you from running afoul of any potential future Google guidelines.