Google & Bing: We’re Not Involved In “Local Paid Inclusion”

It sounds great. A program that guarantees top listings for local searches on Google, Yahoo and Bing. An “officially approved” one in “cooperation” with those search engines. But it’s not so, say Google and Bing.

The “Local Paid Inclusion” service launched officially today. The site’s home page pitches:

Local Paid Inclusion is a Google, Yahoo and Bing contracted service and is offered as an approved official program in cooperation with those search engines.

Local Paid Inclusion promotes a local business’ profile page, like those found in Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local, into a top position on the search result page for up to 30 keywords per profile page.

This is a NEW program offered by Google, Yahoo!, Bing and 18 other major directories and indexes that places a business profile into a premium area above all other local profiles. Combine this with all of your other optimization programs to maximize your traffic.

What this means is local businesses that participate can essentially pay for the top local ranking position!

That copy reads like the type of email I’d normally delete as spam, if my spam filter didn’t catch it first. But since the service is backed by Bruce Clay, Inc. — a long-standing company in the SEO space — it really causes a double-take.

Clay dropped me an email late yesterday saying the service was going live, but I missed that (I have a lot of email I’m getting through) until some of the fireworks on Twitter erupted after his Facebook post went up and a story that Search Engine Watch did about the new service appeared

But Bing tells us:

Bing has no interest in paid inclusion into the local algo that artificially impacts ranking of algo results…. Microsoft does not have an agreement with UBL today.

UBL, for Universal Business Listings, appears to be a company that Clay is working with on the Local Paid Inclusion product.

As for Google, it tells us:

We are not working on any program that enables a site to pay to increase ranking in organic search results.

I’ve asked Clay for a further explanation, and we’ll update, when we hear more.

Postscript: Clay’s told me that he’s taken down the site while he investigates things further with UBL. Again, we’ll update, when we hear more.

Suffice to say, the claims are pretty unbelievable to me. I’ve also been seeing a lot of discussion about this on Twitter. So, in hopes of perhaps calming some concerns….

The idea that any one of these search engines would guarantee placement outside of their clearly marked advertising areas is pretty far-fetched. It’s not the way they’ve operated. The idea that all three would unite to do this in cooperation with an third-party company? Crazy.

So anyone believing this, or worrying about it, I’d relax. The denials above should be enough to do that, but they clearly aren’t for some people. But rather than the search engines having gone insane, it’s more likely there’s some massive confusion going on between UBL and Bruce Clay, Inc.

I get the impression that UBL — which I’ve never looked at closely — may provide data into local listings at the major search engines. Many companies do this type of thing. It doesn’t provide them any types of super-ranking powers. Some companies may try to stretch these type of relationships into some sort of endorsement by the major search engines. They shouldn’t be taken that way.

I get the impression (and this is solely my impression from afar, looking at all this), that Bruce Clay, Inc. is confused about what UBL can actually provide.

The idea that any company is going to guarantee an organic result simply makes no sense. It would be especially tricky in the local space. Google’s local results change significantly based on the city someone’s searching from. It literally becomes impossible to guarantee any ranking in that type of situation.

Postscript 2: UBL has posted:

Universal Business Listing denies any association with articles and news reports about a “paid inclusion” business listing service. The company has made no such announcements or claims, particularly in regards to Google. It has no product announcements pending.

Bruce Clay Inc is a reseller of UBL’s existing business listing syndication service and is not currently testing any new service from our company.

The site itself didn’t make a connection with UBL over this service, but the Search Engine Watch article did — and Clay himself also suggested a connection when he emailed that he was checking things with UBL. So, I’ll check with them further, too.

Postscript 3: Doyal Bryant, CEO of UBL, has emailed me:

We have no program or service with Bruce Clay providing this type of service as we gave put out in our website.

He also said that he would follow up more tomorrow. So stay tuned.

Postscript 4 (Feb. 1): UBL has updated their earlier statement to add:

UBL continues to innovate and experiment in the area of business listing syndication, and this includes methods to directly feed data into publishers on a free or paid basis. There are several methods of listing submission deployed by UBL and other companies in the field, so this should not be surprising to anyone. Some of these are indeed in an “Alpha” stage of development. However, there is absolutely no discussion under way with Google, nor have we ever represented it so. Furthermore, it would be a massive leap and hyperbole to describe any of this as “paid inclusion” which we would understand to imply preferential placement or ranking

Postscript 5 (Feb. 1): Bruce Clay Inc has now posted a statement, saying:

Late Monday, we announced the service “Local Paid Inclusion,” which we said gives local merchants higher rankings in the Places and local search results in Google, Yahoo! and Bing. We believed that the service offering was finalized between our backend partner and the aforementioned search engines.

So far, we have determined that it is not a released program, made even more complicated by statements of confidentiality agreements that put the kibosh on further discussion. Bruce Clay, Inc. has ceased to engage in Local Paid Inclusion while we dig into confusing and contradicting statements.

We announced what we believed to be a legitimate program where Bruce Clay, Inc. was going to be one of several distributors of this service. Our understanding of this service was that it impacted the sequence of entries within the Places or local results in search engines. And within that separate area of the results, this service would validate local profiles, assuring those entries would naturally result in appearing higher in the local results.

There was misinterpretation of the information surrounding this service; mainly that it would impact the organic search results, instead of only the local results. We take responsibility for an unclear message being announced in an untimely manner, where specifics of the program were not disclosed and the messaging was jumbled.

Bruce Clay, Inc. also takes responsibility for the early promotion of the service Local Paid Inclusion without taking the extra steps to verify these contracts existed as we understood them. For that, we apologize.

We believed at the time that the offering was valid and acted accordingly. We did not collect money at this time, choosing to only set up a notification contact list dubbed “pre-registration” for when the program formally released.

Bruce Clay, Inc. has always been committed to ethical search engine marketing practices that work alongside the values of the search engines: to serve the end user and provide exposure to businesses. This program seemed to be a solid way for local merchants to validate themselves online and to have their companies be found.

At this time, it’s our highest priority to be as clear as possible on this issue with the business and search communities. Bruce Clay, Inc. is prepared to openly discuss this matter as best we can with media and community to be as transparent as possible.

We will make every effort to answer looming questions as soon as we know more, but please understand that we are forced to work within confidentiality agreements, and may be unable to talk specifics.

We are currently working to better understand all of the contractual agreements in place, if any, with those search engines regarding this service.

We also need to thank the various social communities and search marketers for their passion regarding this matter; the voices were heard loud and clear, showing there’s no lack of diligent, inquisitive and knowledgeable marketers and business people in our community.

In the meantime, Bruce Clay, Inc. has withdrawn Local Paid Inclusion pending our further research into this matter. And the site has been taken down while this issue is resolved.

Postscript 6 (Feb. 2): Chris Silver Smith (a board member of UBL) weighs in with his speculation about what happened. He says that the LocalPaidInclusion concept was largely a notion dreamt up and/or predicted by Bruce Clay.

The bottom line: It doesn’t appear that there’s any type of top-ranking program that existed with the major search engines.

How Bruce Clay, Inc. came to believe there was such a program, to the degree it constructed an entire web site to sell it, still remains fairly unclear.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Maps & Local | Microsoft: Bing Maps & Local | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Winooski

    I’m afraid this is a rare but big black eye for Bruce Clay. The person I’d love to hear from in the comments is ex-”Clay”-er Lisa Barone, who probably has a choice thought or two on the matter.

  • Doc Sheldon


    While I appreciate that you’re trying to be even-handed in your assessment of the situation, I’d offer these comments.

    1. I agree that the notion of the Big 3 joining forces to sell SERP placement doesn’t seem plausible. But then, I wouldn’t have expected them to collaborate on, either, so what do I know?

    2. Setting aside for a moment the question of IF they were planning this, let’s talk about the fact that “someone” (waving hi to Bruce) published a site that SAID they were. And the alleged partner in that venture was aware of it and only said that it wasn’t to have launched so soon.

    Communication from outside into the inner sanctum of a behemoth like Google is difficult, to say the least. If you have contacts, they’re usually limited to a handful, and most are bound from speaking on the record, as well as possibly being ignorant about all the Google goings-on. So it’s a bit of a crap-shoot. You go with your source, decide if you have enough to warrant publishing, and either move ahead or dig deeper. You understand this, I know.

    The SEW piece was thoroughly investigated, and Miranda said nothing which she can’t prove. The site was registered and erected by Bruce, on the same IP as BCI. He hasn’t denied that, nor has UBL. The question, I think, is whether anyone believes that Bruce and UBL conspired to INVENT such a thing, with no shred of truth in it. Or is it more plausible that Google, for whatever reason, might decide to throw him under the bus? I know where my money is. Bruce is no friend of mine, but I’ve certainly never seen any evidence to lead me to believe he’s that stupid.

    As far as I’m concerned, the SEW piece was one that was properly vetted and will stand up to scrutiny. I guess we’ll just have to see if both the Google-haters and fan-boys can be even-handed in their analysis, too.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Doc, I get emails all the time from companies telling me they have partnerships with search engines that are clearly untrue. These types of claims aren’t new. Nor do they cause me or anyone to suddenly think “Finally, the search engines are conspiring to work together!”

    The only reason I even gave this a second thought is because Bruce Clay, Inc. isn’t some fly-by-night company I’ve never heard of. It’s fairly well known. But my second thought wasn’t “Hmm, maybe this IS true.” My second thought was “Wow, I’d better get confirmation this isn’t true, because it almost certainly isn’t — and some people might take it seriously.”

    Yes, the search engines do indeed cooperate on some things. When they’ve done so with things like or, they say so. They’ve said nothing like that, in this case. Two of them have said the opposite.

    Just because Bruce or anyone publishes a site saying something about a partnership doesn’t make it true. What makes it true is when the partners confirm that. And partners usually do. The confirmation isn’t here.

    In terms of investigating stuff, well, I’ve got two search engines telling me this isn’t so. I’ve got Bruce telling me he’s checking with his business partner to further confirm things.

    If I’m looking for what’s most plausible, it isn’t that within the space of a half-hour, Google PR and Microsoft PR managed to call each other, find the right business people in their organizations, get the word back that “Oh no, this isn’t going over well – let’s through Bruce under the bus.”

    What’s plausible is that both companies check, no one knew anything about these far-fetched claims because they were indeed just far-fetched claims, and there’s some serious confusion between what UBL actually does and maybe what Bruce Clay, Inc. believed they could do.

    As I’ve explained, common sense alone tells you that can’t be done. A top position for 30 different keywords? For a searcher who is looking in New York versus Denver versus San Francisco, when each of them get different results? It doesn’t hold up.

    By the way, I’m not looking at all this as somehow trying to disprove what SEW wrote originally. I get the impression you have that idea. I’m trying to answer for people who think this might seem some type of a real service they potentially might buy if it really exists as promised. And no, it doesn’t seem to be.

    That’s my best read on the situation. That’s all I can tell you. Right now, I see no evidence that there’s a program that allows anyone to buy guaranteed local placement with the three major search engines.

  • cptravers

    Danny, thanks for taking a balanced approach on this. Please see our UBL full denial at
    UBL is not the source of this wishful thinking.

  • Danny Sullivan

    cptravers, Yes, I saw that, postscripted it a few minutes ago and sent a follow-up email to you. To quote what SEW said:

    “Officially in alpha, according to backend partner Universal Business Listings, the LPI program will offer top organic rankings in local listings for a fee.

    UBL’s Doyal Bryant told Search Engine Watch the service is on hold, at the very least until next week, while the organizations test and troubleshoot.”

    So are you denying that’s what Bryant said?

  • Doc Sheldon

    A fair and reasoned response, Danny. I still think there is more here than we know, or may ever know. Someone is being made a scapegoat… that’s what my gut is telling me.

  • Nick Barber

    I agree Danny. How does UBL reconcile what Mr. Bryant said in the SEW article and their subsequent complete denial. Miranda updated the SEW post to reflect “Now UBL is also denying any involvement”…the key word there being “now”. But she left in all of the original quotes from Bryant and company that clearly misrepresent their relationship with Google and Bing. The only way Clay and UBL save face is if this turns out to be a legit program endorsed by Google and Bing…and that doesn’t look likely at this point.

  • Mara

    This is what Bruce said yesterday in FacebookSEO Group
    “…This is a program sanctioned by Google, Yahoo and Bing. Google is just (for now) a premium Places program where participants jump to the top of the Places entries for a fee. Yahoo/Bing does the same plus has Call Tracking included. Google will have Call Tracking as an option later. This is an exclusive program and is not available from Google directly”.


  • Mark Barrera

    Danny – while I agree that this is something that would never be done by the SEs, I was wondering why SMX has been promoting this program via SMX as well?

    This is where I first saw any mention of this –

  • Danny Sullivan

    Mark, that’s a presentation on the expo floor. Vendors speak about whatever they want there. It’s not something that’s part of our editorial agenda. And I’m pretty sure that’s likely to be something that Bruce Clay Inc is likely to drop, since it doesn’t appear to be a real program.

  • Mark Barrera

    Gotcha – thanks Danny.

  • Miguel Salcido

    It is very unusual that a firm, and individual, such as BCI would make such a mistake. IMHO it would show a very real and large lack of understanding of business practices. And seeing how BCI is such a mature SEO firm, long time advertiser and tradeshow sponsor for over a decade, it is just so odd.

    Although this is all FANTASTIC press for UBL. If you hadn’t heard of them before you have now!

  • Bret

    I think Bruce Clay’s explanation is a total farce.

    Pull up the Google Cached version of this page here:

    It reads:
    “…. The primary issue is that SEO is getting harder, and is quickly becoming the realm of national businesses with money to invest. Local businesses are having difficulty getting a fair share of the traffic from search, and the search engines know it. …Local results are a great equalizer… and Local Paid Inclusion is how it makes financial sense to the search engines. Local Paid Inclusion allows any local business to compete.”

    They try and make it SOUND like they have deals in place with the major search engines, but if you read lower down on the page, you’ll see that this is a classic bait and switch… They aren’t selling paid inclusion that is sanctioned by the search engines, no – instead they want you to pay them to to optimize your local listing pages on Yahoo!, BING, and Google.

    Why else would they say:

    “We recommend that you also submit your site through our expedited LocalPack service to assure that your site receives maximum traffic.”


    “Please remember that Google Places Optimization is still required with this program.”


    “You will need to give us the URL of your local profile page.”


    “We’ll… format the appropriate local placement ad based upon the search engine, and schedule the update of the individual search engine accounts.”

    Search Engine Accounts = SE Local Dashboards (they all have one).

    They also don’t guarantee 1st page rankings (local or organic), they guarantee rankings. This could mean position #1 or 100.

    For ex. they say:

    “With guaranteed rankings for local queries and click-to-call tracking, it’s easy to see the financial impact Local Paid Inclusion can have on your business.”

    That’s a LOADED but safe statement to make.

    You are paying Bruce Clay to let them optimize and SUBMIT your business listing to these services, nothing more, nothing less.

    But it get’s worse. They actually hijack your listing and insert a pay to play phone number in Yahoo! and BING local. Notice that Google is excluded from this portion of the service? I’m not certain of this, but I’m assuming it is because it violates their terms of service and/or Google often CALLS to verify or confirm a business listing… and maybe this is something that tracking phone numbers aren’t very good at?!?!?

    The rub with this entire business concept is this… A business could create their own profile pages, optimize their listings on these local directories (for free), AND use their real phone numbers; saving them a boat load of money.

    My question is – WHAT is Bruce Clay going to do with all the contact info/leads it netted as a result of this fake product?

  • SteveL

    Okay, here’s my theory on what happened here.

    Since last September, Bruce Clay was selling its “Localware™” Local SEO product. It was a basic SEO Web development package that also included a white labeled version of UBL’s basic listing service that sends basic business listings to 350 directories, which they dubbed “LocalPack™” (to be honest, I’ve used UBL many times and never got more than 20 listings out of it, but I digress).

    I’m guessing they then cut a deal with UBL to resell their “Premium service”, which includes “claimed” listings on Google, Yahoo, Bing, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, etc.. You can see details here:

    Some overzealous marketing person probably thought…hey, claimed listings will show up over unclaimed listings. Therefore, we’ll put in our marketing copy that we guarantee “top” placement. Then they probably had a meeting to figure a name to call this service that was as cool as “LocalWare™” and “LocalPack™”. I’m sure the logic then went…Let’s see, it’s “Local” because we’re submitting to local directories. It’s “paid” because it costs money. And it’s “inclusion” because you’re going to get included in those directories. Of course, then the marketing copywriters went hog-wild trying to spin a profile claiming service into something much bigger.

    Not to be an apologist for Bruce Clay, but if this is what happened I don’t necessarily begrudge them–after all, their target audience is filled with big corporate people with no SEO knowledge and no preconceived notions of what the phrase “paid inclusion” means nor all the baggage it carries, unlike all of us who were doing SEO in 2002 on the AltaVistas and Yahoos of the world (although shame on Bruce Clay, who was right there with us).

    I could be wrong, of course, but that would explain a whole lot. In short, I’m guessing this is all a tempest in a teapot over some unfortunate marketing copy. Plenty of SEO companies write much worse, but to Danny’s original point I would have expected more from a firm with the gravitas of the Bruce Clay name. I imagine they are having a lot of internal discussions right now.

  • SteveL

    One more thing…if it’s true that they were planning on pushing tracking numbers into their claimed profiles of Bing and Yahoo, shame on them. If this is the case, Bruce needs to read up on his David Mihm!

  • catkins10

    Was this all just going to happen on the US versions? There wasn’t anything about it over in the UK? In fact I’m not sure if you can rank in Bing and Yahoo Local places in the UK without paying a 3rd party for a featured inclusion.

  • GMS


    Was curious as to what you thought about the possibility that this whole mess stems from the possibility that Google, at the least, is considering or close to implementing, some sort of paid model when it comes to local listings? They do have an opportunity and with the news out of France today they have a motive.

  • Pat

    This tree didn’t fall in the woods, bet some now wish it had.

  • CaesarSosse

    I think this pretty much says it all:

  • CaesarSosse

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