A few months ago I noticed that Yelp, one of the media darlings of local search, had hired Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz to update their SEO strategy. As a former Yelp competitor I had spent a fair amount of time studying their local SEO tactics and I thought it might be helpful for my readers to provide an overview of how their strategy has changed and what the results have been. Apologies to any SEO newbies as this might be a bit of info overload. Here goes:
If you’d like to see a narrated presentation of my analysis I am testing a new service in extreme beta called Goldmail. I put it together kind of fast and the images are not so great but it’s late and I am losing my voice so cut me some slack. Give it a try here.
According to the Internet Archive it looks like Yelp made these changes some time in early July of 2007. Compare the home page from July 1, 2007 to today’s (make sure to disable cookies in your browser).
More City Links on the Home Page
Old Home Page:
They used to show links to a couple of cities and then offer a “more cities” option that takes you to a city directory. I am not certain, but I think they may have been using your IP address to show you information for your city on the homepage. For more about why this is a no-no check out Geotargeting Location by IP Address = SEO Death.
Related Post: How To Add a Business Listing To Yelp. Good if you need to update your Yelp listing too.
New Home Page:
Links to 27 cities now appear at the top of the home page. It appears they have chosen a mix of cities with the largest populations (e.g. New York & Los Angeles) along with a few cities that have strategic value or perhaps the most content (Berkeley, Palo Alto, Oakland). Despite being national, Yelp still seems to have the biggest following in Northern California so it makes sense to promote these cities and grow the base.
Why the Change?:
In local search the “City Home Page” is one of the most interconnected pages in the entire site. Theoretically any page with information about a particular city would link back to this page and the most important content in the city would be linked to from this page. So it makes sense to prioritize this in the architecture and make sure that these pages get crawled the most often.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the wholesale use of the “NoFollow” tag throughout the site. Here’s a list of the types of links that Yelp is now nofollowing:
– Any link that requires membership to see the page
– Links that divert the bots from efficiently drilling down to business profile pages via the following route – City Page > Category in City Page > Business Profile Page.
– In most cases any links that don’t lead to these pages are tagged as “NoFollow”
– All Navigation links except for “Talk” & “Events”
Why the Change?:
This should be no surprise to anyone who has been following Rand’s blog over the past six months. Strategically nofollowing links is now a standard part of the SEO toolkit. The idea is to not pass any SEO power (not a great term but I loathe the current industry standards such as “link love” or “Google Juice” – sounds like dialogue from a techy porn film) to pages that they are not trying to get ranked and to concentrate on the highest value pages (i.e. those that capture the highest search volumes or highest ad dollars) such as “Plumbers in Pleasanton”. Most of the navigation links are not to high value pages except for the Talk & Events links, which both contain a lot of potential local search queries.
An interesting tactic they are using is to tag the links to businesses featured on the home page as “NoFollow” in favor of only linking to Category Pages. I am not sure I agree with this tactic as the Business Profile Page (BPP) takes the most clicks to get to via the above route so I would think you would want to offer the highest rated businesses the chance to get a boost from having a direct link from the home page and the City Pages. My guess is that they are interested in targeting the maximum amount of SEO value to the Category Pages as a single Category Page can usually generate far more traffic than a single BPP.
They also may want to take advantage of the semantic relationships (I can’t believe I now use that term in daily conversations) that can be derived from the bot following the right path to the BPP. In English this means that if the bot hits the “Restaurants in Palo Alto” page before it hits the “Mondo Sushi” page that it will be more likely to associate Mondo Sushi with the term “Restaurants in Palo Alto”.
Business Listings Site Map
You’ll notice in the footer there now is a line of letters and numerical links called “Business Listings”. Each link leads to a directory of links to businesses that start with the appropriate letter or number. There is also a “Newly Added” link which leads to a list of businesses that have been recently added to Yelp’s database.
In theory these links are a good idea as they provide an alternative linear path to the bots getting to all of the businesses in the database, but with over 10,000,000 businesses in the system I wonder how effective this method is. For instance each letter page is broken down by sub-pages like “Aa – A16”, “A1a – Aaa”, etc. Rand has spoken out on his blog about the drawbacks of providing these alternative path solutions that add numerous low-value pages to the site which can be a bot distraction. That said this is probably a better way to get a bot to a BPP v. hoping it crawls every Category Search Results Page. I like the “Newly Added” feature as this provides a way to get new businesses in each city seen quickly. Possibly the best part about this strategy is they provide a different set of these directories for each city. So you can see newly added in Atlanta, etc.
Yelp has had extensive alternative path sitemaps in their footer for years – see the Review Directories and Talk Directories. I have always wondered how effective these were. I guess they couldn’t hurt and I have certainly been guilty of stuffing footers for internal linking benefit, but I think at this point Yelp doesn’t need these tactics. They are likely getting well crawled and their site architecture is fairly flat. Of course “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a good SEO maxim.
I should note that the Search Directories links they use are an exception. If you click on these you will see pages for the top cities that display a list of category links using a variation of the category names to help them rank for various searches. This is a great tactic and I give them big points for doing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this tactic is responsible for 90% of any uplift they have received from these changes.
Of course if you want to cut to the chase check out Yelp’s Compete stats.
End of SEO Analysis.