The Hideous Site: An Allegory For Oddities In Local Search Results
The small, local businesses in a particular industry on this island all vied for top slot in Google’s rankings, since the top dog could command a substantially higher yearly profit as a result. The competitors’ products weren’t all that different, and their potential customers didn’t have the expertise to tell the difference, either.
Their relative success relied upon who could nab the consumer first — and, this all devolved down into: who ranked highest for the search keywords associated with their business.
The galling thing was that the business which was often in the very top slot (and had taken that spot some time ago) was represented by ugly design, which plagues many local and small business sites on the Internet.
Considering the industry these businesses were in, this was surprising and upsetting in of itself. Their businesses were associated with aesthetics — art and design. Indeed, if any of them had applied the same design skills used on the ugly duckling website to the products they sold, well, they’d be out of business very shortly!
So, there wasn’t a good explanation for why the site was so ugly. It certainly had to be a do-it-yourself job. No website designer had committed such an atrocity since about circa 1996. Was it done by the owner, or perhaps an elderly uncle who puttered away on his vintage Internet account, applying a nostalgic design sensibility common to AOL and GeoCities websites of the past.
Perhaps the site actually hadn’t been updated since 1996? No one could remember for sure, but that didn’t seem possible, since it sported photos of presidents who held terms after that date.
Regardless of the excuses for why the website was ugly, the sheer, audacious degree of its hideousness could be expected to absolutely stun a site visitor of even average online sophistication.
In the upper left corner, on a starry black background appeared to be miniature starships firing upon one another in flickering sparks. On the right side at the top, an animation of the world rotated rapidly enough to throw inhabitants into lunar orbit.
The rainbow-colored letters of the business name formed an arc (was it intended to be a logo?) above a few links to other top pages on the site. Indigenous music of their area played upon page load, with no visible means of shutting it up.
Below this, tables with florescent colored borders surrounded nearly a scrollable mile of assorted webpage flotsam.
Product names/links, QR codes, photos of customers and employees, dedications to local graduating students, memorials for people (and pets) who had died, seemingly-random products such as cellphone accessories, phone numbers, animated flashing letters, photos of awards won by the company, email addresses, links to videos and Facebook pages and local charities — reams of links, ads for local travel agencies, icons for local webcams, maps, webcounter badges, Star Trek, UFOs, aliens, and the equivalent of the Internet kitchen sink. And, this was just the homepage.
(I’m perhaps understating the seriousness — you be the judge, if you’re brave enough — but, be warned, you cannot unsee this monstrosity.)
For their competitors, it must be irritating that the site ranks so well. After flunking nearly every rule of good design, usability and user-experience, the site outranked the rest for any local searches for “leis, honolulu, hi”.
Even some general rules of good SEO were assassinated in the construction of the site over time. Their meta description seems mildly less focused than it could be, while the meta keywords takes the concept of “bloated” to a whole new level, sort of in the same way that a star going supernova could be said to suffer from “swelling”:
The sheer number of links on the page is something I’d normally recommend against, but it’s obviously not been quite bad enough to keep them from ranking well.
The sheer size of the homepage creates a very poor usability and user experience. The 10.4 megabytes combined filesize of the page plus all of its images produces a slower-than-necessary time to resolve in users’ browsers.
Since Google has taken an active role in trying to improve the user experience of the Internet as a whole, Leis of Hawaii website risks getting suppressed in the search results due to slow loading times, as assessed by Google PageSpeed.
For their competitors who have more tasteful, subdued websites which likely cost some money to graphic artists and Web designers, Google’s current ranking the Leis Of Hawaii site likely seems arbitrary, galling and unfathomable.
But, if we peel back the layers just a bit, we can find some explanations for why this site may be outranking others in its category and location.
Many small businesses across the U.S. experience similar confusion and consternation about why other sites/listings are ranking higher than theirs in search results. So, I have explored a few of the reasons why this site, in this market is ranking well compared to its competitors, and you’ll find a great many commonalities with other markets and industries elsewhere.
PageRank Factors In
First, Leis of Hawaii has a higher Google Toolbar PageRank than other businesses selling leis in Honolulu. PageRank is Google’s measure of ranking value based upon how many links there are to a page, and how important those webpages are.
Google’s algorithms score all webpages using this metric, so one webpage which has a larger PageRank in many cases may rank higher than other similar webpages which have lower PageRank. (You can find out the PageRank of a webpage by viewing it in a browser window which has the Google Toolbar installed and configured correctly.)
Leis of Hawaii‘s homepage has a PageRank of 2, which, while still low, is stronger than the next few florist businesses ranking for the term. For example, Myra’s Leis has PageRank of 0, Lita’s Leis & Flower Shoppe has PageRank 0 (because there’s no website associated with their Google Places listing), Leis by Ron has PageRank 0, but Royal Hawaiian Leis has PageRank 2 as well.
As the PageRank scale is not actually composed of whole numbers between zero and ten — it is a logarithmic scale with much smaller value units, there can be a whole range of higher and lower PageRank values within each of the ten bands of the rounded ten-point toolbar scale, meaning it still could be a smaller PageRank value than Leis of Hawaii.
One thing the competitors of Leis of Hawaii need to do in order to improve their chances of ranking higher is to get more links from important websites. PageRank is not the sole ranking factor, however, since Google incorporates a couple hundred other factors as well — so, read on…
Text & Keyword Frequency/Density Is Influential
The Leis of Hawaii homepage has tons of text content, which helps it virtually shout its relevancy for various keyword combinations. The word “leis” is used over 100 times on the page! Honolulu is used 19 times, and “flowers” is used 24 times.
I’m not at all suggesting that anyone should repeat and cram keywords into their pages to this degree — I don’t believe it’s the sheer number of times a keyword is used in the page, so much as that it’s present, it’s algorithmically obvious that the keyword phrase is a specific, main topic for the page, and it’s used naturally for the page’s content.
By comparison, some of the other top competitors are not incorporating the main keyword phrases effectively on their homepages. Myra’s Leis & Flowers only seems to have it as part of their business name, and only uses it in the Title and just two places in the visible text on their webpage — as part of their business name in the header, and in the tiny print at the bottom of the page.
Leis By Ron has it in their Title, and “leis” is mentioned in a few of their sitewide navigation toolbar links; but, having it only in those links tends to make “leis” more relevant for the PageRank-weaker subpages on the site, rather than their homepage.
Leis By Ron is using a large image for the content in the middle of their homepage, and this image has text embedded in it, making it harder for Google to read out.
Royal Hawaiian Leis only uses the word “leis” once in their homepage’s visible text — it’s a lost opportunity that they didn’t mention their business name once or twice in plain text on the page. If these sites incorporated keyword text in their homepages a little more effectively, they’d likely be considered more relevant for their primary search phrases.
Local Businesses Need At Least A Basic Website
Quite a number of competitors of Leis of Hawaii do not have websites at all, or are associated with general websites that don’t specifically represent them.
A couple of the locations are apparently shops in the airport (ex: Rachel’s Lei Stand and Bessie’s Lei Stand as well as a few others), and Google has associated their business listings with the airport’s homepage, which has no significant/specific content on it about leis or flowers.
Yet another listing is apparently a shop in a hotel (or Google mistakenly associated the shop with the hotel due to similarities in names), and Google has associated their listing, Waikiki Beach Leis & Flowers, with the hotel’s website, which has no text content about leis.
So, all of these businesses could compete more effectively against Leis Of Hawaii if they actually had their own websites which contained text content talking about their products, services and location.
Equally as important, the local businesses without websites do not appear in the 7-pack of business listings-with-small-map that Google displays embedded in their regular keyword search results under “Universal Search“, so all of these businesses without webpages are missing out of numerous potential customers by not sticking something up on the net.
I strongly suspect that those businesses which don’t have websites experience a further sandbagging effect on their potential rankings, because they will achieve lower overall click-through numbers compared to businesses which have websites.
I believe that under certain circumstances, for sites about certain topics, the click-through-rate from the search results affects Google’s overall rating of their relevancy for particular keyword combinations and quality score. So, lack of a website probably has some indirect negative effects for a great many local businesses.
Business Profile Data In Google Places Can Make A Difference
In terms of how the businesses ranking for “leis” in Honolulu are handled in Google Places, the results are a little surprising. Leis of Hawaii has top status, but it isn’t even owner-verified, and has little additional content about it — it’s only categorized in “Florists” with a few business photos, and no written description.
Some of the other businesses have done a better job in their Google Place page, but there are a few things they do sub-optimally worth noting. Honolulu Lei Greetings has some odd Categories like “Transportation – Limousines, Services, Transportation”, and “Transportation – Airport Shuttles” along with the “Florist” category.
While they apparently are a combo business which does floristry along with limo service, I suspect that there are some oddball business type combinations which could cause indigestion for the Google algo — so, they might benefit if they split these disparate business types into separate listings with different websites.
The Maunakea Street Florist listing is actually missing its phone number – that doesn’t help in local!
Fujikami Florist has a few good categories, but they also used one for “Funeral Flowers” — I suspect that “Wedding Flowers” would get them significantly more customers and higher sales prices, but I don’t know the Hawaiian florist marketplace well enough to be certain. Similarly, Shirley’s Flowers includes the category, “Funeral Home”, which I strongly suspect they are not.
Custom Leis Hawaii is completely miscategorized as “Divorce Attorney, Store”. Hawaiian Lei Greetings is owner-verified, but I believe they unwittingly over-optimized their second category, setting it up as “Hawaii Airport Lei Greeting” which goes against Google’s guidelines for incorporating place names in the business type; this listing could possibly be penalized as a result, causing it to rank lower than it should.
A small handful of business listings don’t have street addresses, which makes them appear less optimal in Google’s eyes, and results in them having approximate placement in Google Maps and lower rankings.
So, the moral of this story is that we can see that Leis Of Hawaii didn’t achieve their rankings because they were doing everything better than their competitors. The hideousness of their website doesn’t in of itself break all that many rules of good local SEO practice, and Google could any day announce a penalty for things like launching music immediately when the webpage loads.
(If you think I’ve been too harsh on Leis of Hawaii in writing this, keep in mind that they will receive a benefit in terms of gaining a few more links due to this article, and they’re also apparently aware they need to update their site — one of the many links on their homepage is to a whole new version of their site for 2012. The design looks light years better at this point, although they’ve kept the music playing on-load.)
The vintage design for the Leis of Hawaii site actually helps it to have plenty of text with associated keyword relevancy for its core search terms. But, they’re also enjoying a higher position because most of their competitors haven’t done much in the way of SEO either.
It probably wouldn’t take much work for the competition to outrank Leis Of Hawaii. The competitor sites would need to increase their inbound links and citations, include relevant text on their websites, claim and tweak their listings in Google Places to insure they include street addresses, phone numbers, appropriate categorizations, website URLs, and relevant description text.
The factors impacting rankings in searches for “Leis in Honolulu” are not really unique to the Florists industry, nor to that local market — these are the sorts of things which affect the rankings of local businesses in all sorts of industries all over the country.
So, if you’re wondering why your business isn’t ranking better in Google Places than your competition, you might review the issues outlined above in this niche market, and see if they apply to your situation as well!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
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