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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.