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 LocalPaidInclusion.com 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.