In my article on Search Engine Land today, I outline how the recent local SERP testing being conducted by Google has the potential to not only reduce organic traffic to Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) and online directories, but could also freeze out many well-marketed small-to-medium businesses.
So, is it “game over” for IYPs? Should they throw in the towel and move their promotional dollars to other, greener pastures?
My answer to that is a confident “no!”, and not merely because I do SEO consulting.
It’s still a bit stunning to me here in the middle of 2010 that IYPs continue to operate so far below the curve where online marketing is concerned. I mean, some of the IYPs used to be well ahead of the curve — they used to lead the pack and used to be the place to be for local businesses. Newspapers held numerous strategy sessions on how to fight the threat of the IYPs in order to regain lost marketshare. Search engines practically broke down their doors to sign IYPs up for mutual promotion deals with them, and everyone was envious of IYPs due to their well-established premise sales force. And, IYPs commanded large shares of local search traffic and rankings from within the search engine’s result pages for local queries.
From my perspective, IYPs have fallen a bit behind in the local online arms race. For some, their companies have been distracted by Chapter 11 reorganizations and continued distraction of trying to shore up ailing print business. For others, they’re not building the winning teams necessary to build the best-in-class websites necessary to really effectively compete.
On the SEO side of the equation, there is still a simply huge potential for organic referral traffic from Google, supplemented by traffic from Yahoo! and a growing number of visits from Bing. Sure, for some highly-desirable queries in Google, these directories have been edged completely off the first page of results. But, for many specific, longer-tailed queries, the special local results page isn’t invoked, and it’s likely not going to be invoked in all those cases.
Most of the IYP companies I’ve consulted with in one capacity or another still do not properly target all of the potential traffic they could easily qualify to receive.
Even considering the limited approach to SEO that I see many of these companies employing, they’re doing a poor job of the basics as well. The combination of tactics necessary include on-page optimizations, keyword research and taxonomic development, robust complimentary link hierarchies, external link development, and more.
So, what are the major issues limiting the SEO programs at IYPs?
I believe there are two primary issues:
1. Yellow pages companies in general are not swinging enough of their capital behind IYP investment. The print sides appear to be leaching too much away, or there’s insufficient revenue/investment to properly fund advanced R&D. IYP — or, at least online/interactive applications — are the futures of these companies, but they’re under serious threats at this time. If the investment level isn’t pumped-up, their survival potential is likely short-term at best. Maybe they have insufficient money available, but it frequently appears they’re spending in less-productive areas. This goes beyond mere SEO programs, but affects Marketing, IT development, Usability, and Advanced Development.
2. When hiring individuals to flesh out their teams (and selecting consultants), they’re not being aggressive enough. Look, you’re in a fight with the Googles, Facebooks, and Twitters of the world, and they all push hard to hire the creme-de-la-creme! You simply cannot cough up the best product if you don’t have the best people and the best teams. There’s a fairly endemic point of view in the current business world that programming and IT work is a commodity that one may get from anywhere. However, you really get what you pay for — imagination is not a commodity, and individuals who can operate at a high level on multiple fronts simultaneously are hard to come by.
Just try finding programming engineers who can also design good user-interfaces and you’ll find that these types of people are few and far between — once you have one, don’t let them go! And, if you can find someone with the analytic sense of a programmer and the design sense of a usability expert, coupled with business acumen and strategic thinking, you have an even rarer beast — and that’s what you need for a really good SEO expert.
I run across a lot of fairly junior people who have been installed by their companies to do SEO. For IYPs, a faultily-operated SEO program could squeak by in the past. But, if Google deploys new local search result pages similar to what they’ve been testing, these companies may need to seriously consider contracting with someone far more sophisticated at exploiting local search engine optimization.
Self-serving of me to bluntly state this? Yes, it is. But, it’s also true that paying a high-priced consultant for six to eight months might be more profitable in the long run than attempting to hunt for bargain-basement workers.
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