Early in the days of web search, Inktomi (one of the first search engines that supplied results to Yahoo, MSN, AOL and other web portals) was updating their index every three to six months.
Many businesses were calling up the search engine asking how they could get into the search index more rapidly and potentially be refreshed more frequently. They were even willing to pay for such a service. As a result, Inktomi started a paid inclusion program that would either take a URL or a list of URLs as an order or an XML feed with associated metadata.
As search technology improved, having an updated index became table stakes for search engines to be relevant for users on the web. As a result, the value proposition of paid inclusion morphed into the ability to provide additional metadata and additional display fields both to be used in ranking.
As search engines caught up to this new value proposition with the launch of structured data and schema and disclosure concerns were no longer a concern, search engines made the decision to forego revenue and paid inclusion went the way of the dodo, and was superseded by natural SEO techniques and capabilities.
Three Reasons Why Natural SEO is Better
Local search and listings currently have many of the same challenges, and we are somewhere in the same continuum where we have the option of paying for automated citations to be updated much faster than we could if we just wait for the free crawl.
Mapquest, Yahoo, and others have automated processes that are updating new content to their respective databases almost instantaneously, or within a few days at the most. To enter these programs that offer more frequent inclusion and updating, a revenue-sharing agreement is put in place, resulting in what are now paid listings that appear in organic results that are being served (Crain’s New York Business, Matthew Flamm, March 2013). These citations have a “do follow” attribute in place, so the links do pass authority to the “pointed to site” boosting ranking through what is, in essence, a paid link.
Even with the advantages offered by paid programs like faster inclusion and refresh, as well as links that pass authority, it is better to play the long game and forego these paid local opportunities while adopting a local natural or non-paid approach to visibility and success in local search. The reason for this is that there are a number of pitfalls with these automated paid local programs such as:
- When you cancel your subscription to these listings the “lock comes off,” which means the enhanced content that you paid to have included in the local listing profile will no longer be presented to the user. (NGS Marketing, Nyagoslav Zhekov, July 2013)
- Revenue sharing makes these programs very expensive. Traditional SEO techniques can earn the same results at a third of the price and in a more scalable pay-once model.
- No long-term equity is established despite all of the effort and money spent on quickly populating your content to the local sources.
These three reasons are strong enough to tip the scales in favor of a natural approach to local SEO, but the paid link issue could be the biggest potential problem looming in the near future. Google has consistently communicated that sites paying for links will be penalized:
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” – Google Webmaster Tools Guidelines
The search giant put its money where its mouth is by penalizing major brands such as Overstock, JCPenney, and even news outlet BBC for unnatural links or paid links. The point being that if brands such as these – brands consumers are looking for many times a day – can get penalized, then anyone can.
Don’t Wait For an Algorithm Update to Adapt
Savvy marketers are taking a lesson from history and not waiting for a future Google algorithm update to derail their entire local search program. Instead, they recognize the value of a long-term organic SEO effort that builds accurate citations over time for the long haul.
Options for building these citations from a natural standpoint include:
- Develop relationships with key channels and submit your data directly on a continuous, ongoing basis to build authority.
- Create and distribute localized content within your network that is informative and provides real value to the consumer you’re trying to target.
- Identify contacts in your local network and establish relationships that can lead to reciprocity in content sharing and traditional linking.
Subversive SEO tactics are dead in the water these days. But they have been replaced by another shortsighted, expensive alternative to natural SEO that will most likely die another slow death as the search engines update their technologies. Thinking that paid local programs will result in long-term organic ranking success ignores the critical SEO lessons we’ve already learned with similar programs in horizontal web search in the 2001-2010 time frame.