The industry is abuzz once again with the now commonplace Google algorithm changes. If my inbox is any indication, carpetbaggers (shady opportunists) claiming to return web page ranking to sites that were penalized in the recent algorithm shifts are flooding the market. While I could spend hours discussing how having high-quality fresh content, "real" natural backlinks, and correct website architecture are the foundational elements of an SEO program, I'll let the other ClickZ SEO experts analyze and advise on these topics.
Instead, I want to explore the recent shifts as they relate to local Place Page listings and local search websites.
While backlinks are the "currency" of SEO, citations are the currency for local listing optimization. Unlike backlinks that use a URL, citations link web content to business listings and Place Pages through name, address, and phone (NAP). Google's recent shifts were targeted at sites that had "thin" content and/or poor quality external links or backlinks. As a result, business listings and Place Pages don't seem to have been impacted much by the Penguin update. We have observed some minor shifts in listing position for business websites that were downgraded via the algorithm updates if their site was a strong citation to their business listing and Place Page. So luckily marketers looking to improve listing business and Place Page position can continue to optimize based on traditional methods. (More on business listing optimization can be found here.) But there were some interesting, and unintended, consequences of the algorithm update.
Back to the Future
So how did local search sites' positions fare? It would appear that Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sites and other local search sites may have actually benefited from the algorithm shifts. In a non-scientific review of over 100 local queries over five days, I observed an overweight of directory listings vs. local business websites compared to a sampling I had made last fall. In fact, a number of business listing aggregator sites or sites that are only designed to simply refer traffic to other directories, including IYPs, are now prevalent once again in the search results. This is incredibility interesting considering the fact that Google was trying to downgrade the position of "thin" content websites.
Example: "Plumbers Danbury":
Five of the seven organic link positions are now once again dominated by IYPs or listings aggregators. I repeated the exercise over a number of geographies and category/keywords with similar results.
In all examples, the position shifts have come at the expense of local businesses' websites. So one has to question, was the Penguin update a step backward for local businesses?
One other interesting observation from the exercise is there appears to be an increased appearance of Facebook Place Pages for local businesses indexing into Google search results.
What is interesting about this observation is the fact that Facebook Place Pages have virtually no content beyond the business' NAP. So again, the fact that these web pages have no content beyond listing information leads me to believe that Google's most recent shifts are perplexing in light of its stated objectives.
Each Action Has An Equal and Opposite Reaction
Google's Penguin update appears to be a step backward in assisting consumers to quickly find information about local businesses (both SMBs and locations of national brands) when conducting geo-explicit queries. As Google sought to re-index sites that flagrantly violated its Webmaster Guidelines, it has affected the usability for its local searchers.
So What's An Advertiser to Do?
Usually at this point in the column I offer advice on tactics to help advertisers, both large and small, and address the topic at hand. In the case of these recent shifts, I propose advertisers monitor their positions for now and take a wait-and-see approach. The local search space is vital to Google's success and future growth. As Google shifts its strategy to more semantically-based search algorithms, I am sure we will see many anomalies that it will quickly revise. So give it a month; if it hasn't changed, I'll be refreshing my old column on directory advertising optimization.
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Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
March 19, 2014