John Andrews posted today about MFA (made for adsense ) sites appearing in #1 place positions in competitive SERPS (search engine results pages)
One of his commenters remarked
A lot of our customers are small, local area businesses that serve their niche market very well, but the top SERPs are dominated by directory knockoffs like the one you mention above, often by national websites with huge PR but no real quality Maine-based services or content… Just oodles of keywords and links to sites which they extort a huge amount of money from to list.
If you follow this stuff with any level of intensity then you may have noticed a thing or two. This got me thinking about the current state of SERPs today and how frankly, nothing very much (the inception of local aside) has changed that much at all. Directories still cut it over and above singular business entities.
The search engines will say that they want to give their users the most relevant pages/sites for their queries. They tell us that this is determined via use of their algorithm. Their algo we are told looks at all manner of signals and is then given a score for a KW (keyword) or KP (key phrase) query and outputted in the SERP.
A local business providing legal services in Islington for example, would argue that they are pretty relevant to a query for the KP ‘Solicitors Islington’. The problem is though, so do the other 100 + other providers operating within the same locality.
How can the search engine best determine the relevance of any number of 100+ providers within the area? The short answer is it cannot. So, it takes a mix and match approach and returns (in the case of Google) 3 local businesses, and a mix of other sites that its algo decided might be relevant to the query at hand. Not an ideal way of handling things, but a way nonetheless.
In the Google example below , right at the very top it shows , 3 local listings with a prominent link to a number of other business drawn from the Thomson Local Directory. Below these are a number of other links to other websites. Position #1 a solicitors practice in Islington, positions #2,3,4,5,6,7 and 9 directory type sites, with 8 and 10 being 2 other Solicitor firms.
I refreshed the Google SERP for this KP a number of times and noticed that the businesses returned as local choices did not change. This might be rotated daily or weekly (I don’t know) but assuming it doesn’t (I’ll check tomorrow) then from the perspective of the Solicitor touting for business in Islington that didn’t ever appear in these local offerings, its a pretty poor show.
Of course, Google or any search engine for that matter isn’t obligated to return any of them – its a decision of their choosing entirely, they are after all, a capital generating enterprise in the business of making money.
Its clear to me that the business providers themselves appear to be the losers whilst the real winners it seems are the directory providers. These are often designed to attract adsense clicks from the unsavvy, they benefit 2 fold. They get to charge an inclusion fee to their advertisers and also receive a payment for a % of any adsense clicks they might generate too. It’s a familiar model and can be seen amongst all manner of competitive KW sectors. Travel, Money, Health Care, Law, – you name it, and you’ll find a directory listing amongst the returned results, for the directory owners it seems like a very good thing indeed.
The search engines seem to like this model too, as a best fits solution to a problem. After all, how do you objectively or fairly rank 1 , 2 or 3 hundred providers of a service operating in the same area? There are after all only 10 default spots to be had. Who is there to say who is best, most efficient, competitive etc. A relevancy algo doesn’t thats for sure.
Could this be addressed in any way?
Perhaps, with the right will of course why not.
For the search engines that run paid advertising programs, they could use the data held to determine which websites were targeting which keywords and then in some way integrate these on some kind of rotational level in their SERPs. For the business wanting to get customers to their sites, this would at least add some kind of perception of fairness and perhaps level the playing field somewhat as opposed to the current state which uses a mix of SEO’ed type data generated via link pop, on page and other relatively easy to manipulate metrics.
For those who might shout, hell what about us, we don’t use adwords why shouldn’t we be able to rank? Simple answer of course is that search engines are businesses with no obligation to include or rank anybody. Its their free SERPS which give them their user base, it is the platform on which they’ve built their advertising model around which paradoxically makes my whole suggestion null and void! As to take such a route undermines the whole concept of paid search and algorithmic ‘free’ search results as being a separate unrelated thing. The moment either of these lines are crossed then the whole house of cards implodes.
Anyways, getting back to ranking websites and getting a business in front of eyeballs, it seems that for now, the message is loud and clear. Get your business into local search directories. If you are really lucky then you might just get returned in those juicy little local spots as shown, and if you don’t quite make it there, then there are always a number of other directories with search engine result spots on page one to fall back on.
One things for sure. If you are starting from scratch and expect your nice new shiny website to start ranking for keywords and phrases that matter, then…well, it just isn’t going to happen.