2011 has been a dramatic year for the local SEO industry. Our little world is growing faster than ever with more businesses, more SEOs and more money flowing into the market. But it has also had its share of drama too.
Google has kept us on our toes with some fundamental changes to its Places algorithm, integration of local results and a major update to its Places interface.
There have also been considerable waves from Google Panda with 12% of search results being affected by this new algorithm. By and large, local business websites have escaped the effects of Panda, but they were not the intended targets of this algorithm update.
However, the local directory/IYP market is a sector that has been affected by both the changes to Google Places interface and by Panda. I’m a big fan of IYPs and the marketing opportunities (both free and paid) they offer to local businesses.
The following charts look at the impact of Google’s changes on the IYP market and determine who are the big winners & losers in 2011 (so far!)
Key Dates For Google’s Local Changes In 2011 (US dates, Not Global)
- February 23 – Panda v1 – Google unleashes Panda on the world
- April 11 – Panda 2.0 – 1st update to Panda
- May 9- Panda 2.1 – further iteration on Panda
- June 21 – Panda 2.2 – further iteration on Panda
- July 25 – Google Places Interface Update – Google relegates 3rd party reviews and removes ‘Citation’ information from Google Places listings.
- September 28 – Panda 2.5 – further iteration on Panda
What Is Panda?
‘Panda’ is the name that Google gave to a new algorithm it implemented which ‘scores’ websites on their content and user-experience. The focus of Panda is to reduce the prominence of websites which have ‘thin’, low quality and duplicate content. It also targeted sites which come up short on other site-quality metrics, e.g. high advert-to-content ratios.
Conversely, Panda benefited sites with lots of high-quality, unique content and which had recognized and trusted brands.
US IYP Market – Top 20 IYPs
This data is taken from Google AdPlanner*. It shows average daily visitors to the Top 20 IYP sites within the US.
The data is aggregate data for all 20 IYPs (data is US only – not worldwide data)
The data has been split further to distinguish between the Top 5 IYPs and the ‘other’ 15 IYPs. (determined by visitor numbers)
As you can see, there is a clear correlation between these Google changes the traffic received by the IYPs.
Visitors to IYPs have grown 39% between January-October:
- 8 of top 20 IYPs saw visitor numbers grow (other 12 saw a fall)
- Visitors to top 5 IYPs grew by 50%
- Visitors to other 15 IYPs grew by 20%
Panda benefited larger IYPs but not smaller IYPs:
- After each Panda update, the top 5 IYPs all gained visitors
- The other 15 IYPs tended to see a drop in visitor numbers
This fits with Google’s stated objective of Panda – to reduce the prominence of lower quality and lesser known sites and promote more trusted sites above them.
Google Places Interface Changes Hit Both Large & Small IYPs
- Visitors to IYPs dropped by 14% between July – August
- Top 5 IYPs saw 19% drop in visitor numbers
- Other 15 IYPs saw 25% drop
Many IYPs used to generate considerable traffic from Google Places through aggregated reviews and citation links. When these reviews and links were downgraded/removed from the Places interface, traffic from Google Places fell sharply across the board.
IYPs – Winners & Losers
These two tables isolate the IYPs which appeared to gain or lose the most visitors between January-October 2011.
The Winners – 5 IYPs who gained the most vistors (%) in 2011:
The Losers – 5 IYPs who lost the most vistors (%) in 2011:
What Do These Changes Mean?
For Local Businesses…
- Local businesses compete with IYPs for rankings within Google; therefore a downgrading of some IYP content reduces the competition for local businesses which should result in more local business websites appearing within top 10 search results.
- With stronger IYPs growing & gaining audience while smaller IYPs struggle, it’s bound to result in some consolidation within the overcrowded IYP sector. This will mean that local business owners can reach a bigger local audience through fewer sites, making it clearer where they should invest their marketing money and efforts.
- The power and influence of Google Places continues to grow which makes it even more critical to local businesses. In the short term, this means that good local optimization becomes more essential and competition even more intense. Long term, it puts Google in a extremely dominant position which it could use to hold local businesses to ransom.
- Larger IYPs that have benefited from the changes this year and can genuinely offer better value and ROI to their customers. But with IYPs so reliant on Google for visitors it leaves them vulnerable to Google’s changes. And with Google determined to strengthen its position in the local market, you can bet Google has its sights set on the IYPs.
- Smaller IYPs face a very tough time. Some will fold and disappear, others will scale back to skeleton operations (many already are) and some will be snapped up by larger competitors. Smarter IYPs will use their considerable SEO/SEM knowledge and diversify into new local marketing services including on-site optimization, Google Places optimization, PPC and even daily deals.
3 Easy Tools To Help Identify Where Your Business Is Listed Online
Use one of these free, useful tools to find out which IYPs & sites your business is listed on:
*For the purposes of full disclosure, I run BrightLocal.com and am therefore admittedly a little biased towards our SEO tools.
3 Informative, Related Blog Posts
For more information and insight on this topic, here are 3 other articles you may find useful:
- Drop In Major IYP Traffic (nodalbits.com)
- Google Panda 2.5 - Winners & Losers (SearchEngineLand)
- Google Algorithim Change History (seomoz.org)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.