To: Local Directory Sites

From: Google

Subject: A Little Head’s Up

As you may have heard, we’ve been testing a new design for the SERPs we display when we detect a query with local intent.  In the past these results have typically been a mix of local businesses, local directories and other random sites that figured out how to get in there by creating compelling content and earning the trust of the Web community while in no way engaging in shady backlinking tactics.

As you know, it is our stated goal to organize the world’s information while simultaneously doing no evil.  In the past we have been happy to display those local directory sites with enough resources to invest in a good SEO program.  Many of these larger players were in fact good for our ecosystem as they typically helped bring small businesses onto the Web where they could learn about Google’s services.  And to be honest, we were too busy figuring out what to do with YouTube, Android, Chrome and DoubleClick to spend much time worrying about catering to the SMBs.  Frankly, we had seen several investor pitches from local SEM start-ups and were totally not digging the churn rates and customer service costs.

Besides, these companies bought a lot of Adwords clicks to fulfill their inventory commitments for their SMB clients, so we did ok anyhow.

But now, since we couldn’t buy Yelp, we have come to realize that perhaps showing links to yellow pages-type sites for local queries may be a tad on the evil side.  I mean we’re already showing you our list of plumbers in Topeka so why do we need to show ten other sites’ lists?  So we’re thinking we may not want to do it anymore.  Doing what’s good for users and all that kind of thing.

Of course we’re still happy to show your reviews, hours of operation, payment accepted info, services offered, business descriptions, coupons, photos, videos, addresses and phone numbers on our Google Place Pages.  We are organizing the world’s information after all and who doesn’t want attribution from a Google URL?  Hello Link Juice!

And don’t worry that links to your sites are buried and won’t be seen.   As you know, someone who has clicked through numerous pages and then clicks on your link is clearly a more qualified clicker and will convert at a much higher rate than all those lookie-loos coming in from page one of the SERPs.

We know you’ve built a huge part of your business on getting traffic from Google.  The good news is that doesn’t have to change.  For your convenience we’ve included a link to Google Adwords to get a head start on your campaign.  And remember to use the promo code: URSCRWD

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51 Response Comments

  • Elaine Ellis  July 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Hilarious! I used to have to do PR for a phone book company, and they were very much in denial about the changing industry.

  • James Svoboda  July 14, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Brilliant! really great take on how this is going to affect non-local-business sites like directories, and maybe even Wikipedia???

  • Andrew Shotland  July 14, 2010 at 11:38 am

    James, I don’t think this will have a big effect on Wiki’s traffic. I don’t see them showing up for a lot of local queries.

  • David Mihm  July 14, 2010 at 11:39 am

    I’m buying you a beer at the next conference just for this post. Great stuff.

    Oh wait, I bought you a beer in Seattle last month. At least now there was a reason.

  • David  July 14, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I think there are many, many people that have adopted Wikipedia and will pass this on to other it will be a great WOM resource.


  • Jim Rudnick  July 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    yuk yuk yuk, Andrew!!! tooooo funny! I love it….and can’t wait till our YPG folks notice the title of this blog posting, eh!

    sure to get you a C&D from them….



  • Andrew Shotland  July 14, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Tim Robbins’ people have already been in touch

  • Stever  July 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Americans don’t get enough exercise, so Google has taken it upon themselves to remedy that by forcing users to use the scroll wheel on their mouse more. Much much more. Get the fingers really moving. Obesity rates may decline, but arthritis will see an uptick.

  • Deep Ripples Bill  July 14, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I love an informative post but it’s a real treat when they’re poignant and humorous. Well done, Mr. Shotland.

  • Dev Basu  July 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I have heard secret murmurs that YP folks are trying the URSCRWD coupon code on Google Adwords and aren’t able to redeem it because they already have accounts in the first place.

    Seriously funny post Andrew!

  • Ben Krull  July 14, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hilarious post Andrew… and exactly what I was thinking when I read Mike’s post. If this change actually goes live, YP sites are going to take a bit hit. On the flip side, this change would open up a huge opportunity for real local businesses that are paying attention.

  • Stever  July 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    From that screen shot we only see 3 results (ignoring the PPC results). A client in Seattle has been seeing the new layout and sent me a screenshoot, using a larger monitor I presume as it has 5 results.

    Seems to me this is a step back in offering choices for the user. I thought 7 little map results and a full set of 10 organic results right below the map, some still visible above the fold, was a great setup. But now we have a full 66.6% (2/3rds) of the results being paid. Above screen shot has 3 map listings and 6 paid results. Screenshot from my client shows 5 map results and 10 paid results.

    That promo code gonna come in really handy.

  • Andy Beard  July 14, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    I think you are looking at this with rose tinted Google goggles.

    You really don’t expect links from Google places to pass PageRank do you?

    I haven’t been able to prove Google profiles pass anchor text
    I haven’t persuaded a post on Google buzz to get an unindexed page even crawled

  • Andrew Shotland  July 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    So nice to see you here Andy. It’s been a while.

    Methinks your sarcasm meter needs some adjusting 😉

  • Stever  July 14, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    @Andy, besides the fact that Places use a robots noindex directive, the rest of Andrew’s sarcasm is spot on.

  • Jason Hyman  July 15, 2010 at 4:39 am

    Funny (and clever) post!
    I have yet to see the new layout.

    I commented awhile ago on Sterlings blog about IYP’s and serps.

    And oh, don’t forget, you an now “Control your budget with a $25/month flat fee!” using Google Tags.

    Pretty soon the only way to be on page ONE of Google will be to pay for it using PPC or Tags.

    What are they trying to do to the poor SEO industry that is here to help!

    According to, traffic is down -20.52% over the last 12 months.

    I saw a decline of IYP’s in SERPs, specifically on 12/5/09 I started a blog post that I never finished. it was called “Google and the color Yellow “.

    I started to say…Lately I feel that Google is slowly filtering out IYPs from the SERP’s.
    (fast forward 7 months and I still never finished it).

    Regardless, the directories showing up in the top 10 of the SERPs was an added benefit if you’re an IYP (and/or advertising in one). For the local plumber, electrician, etc., advertising in an IYP puts you in front of the IYP’s audience AND also can put you in front of the users of the Search Engines because typically an IYPs directory for that business ranks well on the SERPs.

    A search for “st louis roofing contractors” puts #1
    Google is slowing removing that bit of “gravy” from an IYPs offering by filtering out directories in their results (at least the top 10).
    Anyone else see Google slowly trying to take over all things Yellow?
    I will continue to monitor the SERPS and IYPs rankings within them.

  • Sean Elkin  July 15, 2010 at 6:23 am

    And this is exactly why the SEO community needs more cow bell, ur, ah, I mean Local SEO Guide.

    Thanks Andrew, made my morning.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 15, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Jason, not sure but I think SEO issues are of its own making.

    Sean, definitely need more cowbell

  • Shelly Towns  July 15, 2010 at 7:53 am

    great post andrew! Stever, i saw this test page in Indianapolis twice last week – 3 organic results appeared above place page listings and 1 organic result appeared beneath them. for a whopping total of 4 organic listings on the page.

    i heard it was a big CPC experiment and the map scrolling over the PPC results created a much needed monetary infusion for google. whew.

    so, less organic visibility and exorbitant CPC rates…thanks google!

  • Micah Heath  July 15, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Amazing Andrew, simply amazing! Have you received Google’s resume in the mail yet? Seriously, they sent me a “cover letter” and “resume” the other day since I am such a “valued” Google Places user. They asked me to “hire” them to “help my growing business find new customers” and included a $100 gift card for Adwords. I thought that was the most hilarious letter I would read from Google this week, boy was I wrong haha. Keep up the good work!

  • Foot In Mouth  July 15, 2010 at 11:22 am

    While the read was definitely amusing, this does change the game quite a bit. I don’t think most small businesses have even scratched the surface of Local SEO, they’re almost all still buying newspaper ads and bus bench posters.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 15, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Ok you just beat the Deep Ripples

  • Micah Heath  July 15, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Foot in Mouth,
    I couldn’t agree more! I just recently stepped out of the agency realm to work in-house for a local small business doing SEO. I am now fully immersed in the world of local SEO, and the endless untapped opportunities and possibilities for local businesses excites me down to the deepest depths of my SEOul. Too cheesy?
    I believe the problems stems from a lack of knowledgeable, honest, and hard working SEO’s such as ourselves to show these opportunities to them. Luckily, we have gracious information gods such as Andrew who are willing to share their expertise with us, and in turn it is our responsibility to pay it forward. Until we have created an army of us, SMB’s will continue to be duped by agencies selling snake oil, and avoid learning for themselves the vast opportunities that lie directly in front of them, ripe for the plucking.

  • Jeffrey Magner  July 15, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    When I take a look at the screenshot I really don’t know what I’m looking at. Is it April Fools Day?

    Doing a Google Search today for “Dentist Chicago” renders a familiar 7-pack with Strobel Dentistry at the top with 83 reviews. Scrolling down I see the #1 organic result to be Dentist Chicago, which is at the top of this new local listing format.

    If Dentist Chicago has 377 reviews and is at the top of this supposed new format, where are they today? I can’t find them. Can you? This doesn’t look like just a new format change – it’s a complete ranking upheaval.

    It makes no sense to me that Google would roll out their Tags product nationwide, put some money behind it and then to shake it up 3 weeks later like a snow globe.

    I have yet to see the new format and I’m not buyin it.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm


    I think this is only in the test phase right now. I have so far heard sightings confirmed from three cities. There is no guarantee that this will be rolled out nationally, but didn’t someone once say “only the paranoid survive”?

  • chip  July 18, 2010 at 11:44 am

    thanks! great tips for local seo:)

  • Mark  July 19, 2010 at 10:15 am

    very funny!!

  • Blackball Online  July 19, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Love the post and the Andrew Grove reference. One sure fire way to spot a dysfunctional relationship is the inability to predict what the other will do, thus keeping the relationship dysfunctional. Google you got our number. Remember the 800 lb gorilla in the room? I heard a rumor Google is driving down the Yellow listings to buy them all. LOL Planet Google readers unite.

  • Gareth Rees  July 21, 2010 at 1:18 am

    Ha, brilliant stuff Andrew. I can see this becoming a regular feature. It certainly made me smile although the reality of the fact feels like Google is about to say check mate on me.

  • Mike Stewart  July 21, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Andrew, you have made my year. I actually thought about posting this, but considering my distaste for the YP spam/fraud business after over 9 years at Verizon YP and, I think it was 10x better coming from you!

    I am ROTFLMAO. For the next few months I will save this blog post in the event I need some cheering up.

    You ROCK!

  • Fern Liss  July 21, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Don’t disagree with what you are saying Andrew.

    But an alternative perspective is:

    Quite a few local directories employ some of the spammiest seo tactics to get backlinks and then cream it off the SMEs who feel they need to be on the highly ranked page – even though most of them generate little traffic.

    It’s quite a cynical business model and I for one won’t mind if some of them are dumped.

  • Jon Payne  July 21, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Great post Andrew. The onslaught against organic listings showing up above the fold seems to continue. Its a tough pill to swallow here.

  • mike  July 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    That’s golden!
    And the comments are just as funny!
    Thanks for the smile.

  • Richard May  July 22, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Serves YELP and right. They claim to promote or expose local businesses, but have caved in to national resellers by selling zip codes and towns out to the highest bidder. They have only themselves to blame.

    Great post and very interesting.

  • Joe Griffin  July 22, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Nice work Andrew – this is a little scary for the SEO community – it will take some serious strategy revamping for a lot of colleagues I know…

  • Brian Barron  July 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Scary indeed. Let’s just all go to bing!

  • Devon Artis  July 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    I have also seen this in the Raleigh area but I think this is only going to effect big cities or popular cities. As it stands now there are 100’s of cities that does not even have 7 listings.

    I don’t really think there is a reason to be concerned now as the local business are still very young when it comes to online marketing.

    I have clients that I am still using direct mail..

  • Andrew Shotland  July 24, 2010 at 8:46 pm


    The concern is for the companies that are tremendously reliant on the local SERPs referrals that are in danger of getting that traffic choked off. It doesn’t matter if a SMB is a savvy online marketer or not. If this new design goes nationwide, then many more SMB sites will be getting traffic instead of local directories.

  • Menachem Pritzker  July 27, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Great post!

    It’s easy to laugh at the IYPs, but this whole situation only goes to show how dangerous the current Google-dominated situation is.

    It could have happened to any industry that relies on search traffic for income – Google is simply replacing the entire first page above the fold with their own content (much of it UGC, but still google’s). Seems a little evil to me

  • truedentistry  August 5, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Well stated. Even though you have a very creepy title.

  • Jeffrey Magner  August 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Just for fun I called up DexKnows to ask how much it would cost to get a listing in their online directory. They would not give me that information. Instead they asked me 10 questions to fill out a form which they’d give to a “Rep” who would call me back. I played along while giving some bogus info. Four days later (4 DAYS LATER) I got a call from a DexKnows rep who still would not give me the price. He asked me another 10 questions about my business until I finally got fed up and went off! Finally – the price: $106/month – which includes, of course, highlighted listings in as many door stop publications as I wanted.

    Of course, the rep has called me every week since – diligently following up on his “leads list” even after I said “No Thanks.”

    IYP advertisers seem to be operating in the real world as if it’s still 1983. They are not adapting to the fact that it’s 2010! How do they survive? When was the last time you searched for anything on DexKnows?

    If the IYPs are relevant, smart and savvy they’ll figure it out. If not – I won’t mind living in the Google Universe without them.

  • Tim Cohn  September 16, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Google: Mmm mm mm… those Yellow Pages were finger lickin’ good!

  • Mike Stewart  October 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    creating backlinks is fun. Andrew, this one needs another round of Tweets and ReTweets… it is going to be a classic! Like Gone With The Wind or something!

  • Viva Traffic  August 6, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    Haha , found this searching online , good throwback article.