January 2012

Why Local Paid Inclusion Is A Bad Idea

Like every other Local SEO in the country, I’ve spent the afternoon glued to the Bruce Clay/Local Paid Inclusion story. In case you missed it, Search Engine Watch published a post breaking the story of the launch of a very short-lived website at LocalPaidInclusion.com. Here is a Way-Back Machine capture of the site.

This story has made considerable waves in the Local sea. We’ve become used to seeing spammy companies make false claims of exclusive relationships with search engines. There have been scams like that on the web since the dawn of SEO. I would immediately write off any claim of paid top Local search engine rankings as a bunch of nonsense. What made this story significant was that this website was the product of Bruce Clay, Inc. – one of the most established SEO firms in the world. So, something definitely seemed weird.

Read Danny Sullivan’s article stating Google and Bing’s denial of any involvement with a paid local inclusion program, and especially read his post script in which Sullivan theorizes that Bruce Clay might have been confused about the capabilities of Universal Business Listings. Make up your own mind about how such wacky claims got briefly published on the Internet. The public may never fully understand the truth of the story.

But, all that aside, the events of today make discussion of the merits/perils of a paid local inclusion scenario a logical notion.

As I see it, the main potential benefit of a hypothetical situation in which a business owner could pay for his rankings would be that it could simplify his work load. The way things are in Local right now, there is no get-what-you-pay-for guarantee. You can work overtime on your Local efforts and still be shut out by spammers and bugs. If you could pay for a guaranteed rank, some troubles would be resolved.

Additionally, paid local inclusion would bring in money by the wagon-load for whomever offered it (Google, a third party, etc.). So it might be good for the providers!

But beyond these theoretical benefits, I think the idea of paid local rankings smells to high heaven and here’s why:

– Selling rankings means that relevance, as a priority, goes out the window altogether. Relevance is already having a hard time as it is. But if money is king, then relevance is dead.

– If Google decided to have people pay for Local rankings, there is nothing to stop them from charging for organic rankings of all stripes. Google would no longer be a search engine with an algorithmic system of sorting the value of documents. They would have become a paid directory. That’s really not a move up the ladder.

– Local is already drowning in spam. Do we really want any scamming locksmith with money to blow to be able to buy his way to #1 for every single city in the state of California? This will serve the public, how?

– Pardon the stars that get in my eyes sometimes, but the most noble aspect of organic search has been its aura of democracy. Yes, Google’s overemphasis on links as a trust metric have made it possible for people to rank garbage over good stuff, but in 2012, it is still possible to rank really well for a whole lot of searches with good, old-fashioned effort. Small businesses still have some chance to compete in some verticals (not talking about diamond jewelry and mortgages here). If Google, or any search engine, or any authorized third party decided to put local rankings on a paying basis, then the enticing romance of democracy would be a thing of the past in the SERPs and we’d be left with the cold, familiar monolith – capitalism. I just wouldn’t be as excited about my work, under those circumstances. Would you?

What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of a paid local inclusion model? I’d love to hear!

Update, 1/31/12 8:00pm PST: For further reference, see Mike Blumenthal’s .pdf file of LocalPaidInclusion.com.

How To Spin An Article And Why You Shouldn’t

A few months ago, I was repeatedly solicited by a relatively visible Internet Marketing firm that was trying to hook me up with some type of program. I declined the offer, but an acquaintance ending up hiring this firm to undertake an SEO campaign for him. Later, I got an inside look at one of the services this acquaintance had purchased and it turned out to be article distribution hinging on the practice known as spinning. Never heard of this?

Read my most recent Search Engine Guide article: The Shady Practice Of Spinning Articles To Avoid Duplicate Content Penalties.

It seems this is a growing post-Panda practice and suffice it to say that I really, really dislike it.

So, if you are about to hire a marketing firm that wants to put the dubious magic of the ‘spun’ article to work for you, do yourself a favor and read my piece on this first. It could save you time, money and a bothersome hassle.

My Second Article About Best Buy In 3 Years

Do you remember these guys? The guys who ran your town’s computer store in 1980?

computer guys from the old days

The above graphic is pulled from my original post on this topic: Best Buy Brings On Crashing Wave Of Nostalgia. In that piece, I compared my fondly-remembered formative experiences in the computer stores of three decades ago to the headache of shopping in the 21st century at the box store that came to replace all those neat small businesses.

Why am I writing about Best Buy again? Because Larry Downes has just published a really worthy article at Forbes entitled: Why Best Buy Is Going Out Of Business…Gradually. If you are a business owner on a scale from one-man-shop to corporate enterprise, please take a few minutes to read Downes’ piece. And please pay special attention to the author’s remarks regarding Best Buy’s most obvious failings:

Their “people” are not knowledgeable; they are annoying. The store “format” is entirely generic; perhaps a little confusing. The stores and Websites are not “preferred destinations”—they are destinations, at best, of inertia, or in the case of exclusives, destinations of the only resort. The “shopping environment” is the opposite of fun and informative. It’s depressing and humiliating, as in “I can’t believe I had to go to Best Buy to get this.”

Hear, hear, Mr. Downes! I salute your astute appraisal of the very qualities that have made shopping at Best Buy so unsatisfactory for so many people for so many years.

How you treat your customers is critical. Yet, the sad truth is that you can abuse your customers and succeed financially for a long time in America. After all, being wonderful to customers did not keep all of the little computer stores in business once the Best Buys and Circuit Cities came rolling along. But perhaps there is some type of long-range karma involved. Circuit City is gone, and if Larry Downes’ predictions come true, Best Buy will eventually disappear, leaving empty, hulking blue-and-purple hulls across the land where once a fortune was being made, for a little while.

We live in a service economy. Best Buy has never gotten this right. I’m not one to kick a man when he’s down, and I certainly sicken at the thought of further lost businesses and lost jobs in our present crazy economy. But moments like these should elicit introspection.

As the business owner – are you willing to put customer service first? As the consumer – have you learned a lesson yet? Do you miss the little shops yet, with their personal stake in good customer service and their personal accountability? Would you be more loyal, this time around, if – after the hypothetical closing of a store like Best Buy – the new only game in town was being run by a couple of old computer programmers with quirky manners and a world of real knowledge to share with you to make your interactions with electronics less problematic and more fulfilling? And when the next box store came to town, 5 years in the future, would you stay loyal to the superior experience or repeat the same mistake all over again?

Something to think about.