I originally posted this article to Mihmorandum: The Small Business Web Design + Local SEO Blog by Local Search Guru David Mihm. I met David at SMX Advanced this Summer and talked with him briefly about some very curious data that I believed was being driven by status changes in my SuperPages account. I saw him again at The SEOmoz Expert Seminar in Seattle and talked about it in detail. He thought my data was interesting enough to warrant an article and gave it a platform on his blog. This is a re-post of that article. David wrote a reaction to my analysis the following week.
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.
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 IYP’s) 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.”)
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.
- While Superpages is a strong, relevant, and authoritative site, it shouldn’t have that much power in determining rank.
- An authoritative citation shouldn’t have any more or less power at the search engines whether it’s a featured listing/citation or not.
- As business for Hotbed is mostly local/regional traffic, keyword + location specific searches will dominate both local and organic search traffic.
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 happened to be Abe’s House of Video Production you’d be just fine. Hotbed Media less than fine, and Zeekâ’s Zany Film Studio would be absolutely screwed.
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.
- 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.
- Addition of BOTW local listing per David Mihm’s suggestion.
- Addition of MetaCafe citation and video as another authoritative citation/video source
- Created an account on Universal Business Listing to ease submission process.
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.