This week, Bruce Clay, a respected search engine marketing agency (whose founder WebProNews has interviewed many times) launched something called Local Paid Inclusion. The official description said:
Local Paid Inclusion is a Google, Yahoo and Bing contracted service and is offered as an approved official program in cooperation with those search engines.
Local Paid Inclusion promotes a local business’ profile page, like those found in Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local, into a top position on the search result page for up to 30 keywords per profile page.
This is a NEW program offered by Google, Yahoo!, Bing and 18 other major directories and indexes that places a business profile into a premium area above all other local profiles. Combine this with all of your other optimization programs to maximize your traffic.
What this means is local businesses that participate can essentially pay for the top local ranking position!
This caused some uproar among the SEO community, and has turned into a big, jumbled, confusing PR disaster.
There was indication from Bruce Clay that a company called Universal Business Listings was involved, but UBL denied this in communications with Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, who also shares a pair of statements from Google and Bing (respectively):
"We are not working on any program that enables a site to pay to increase ranking in organic search results."
"Bing has no interest in paid inclusion into the local algo that artificially impacts ranking of algo results…. Microsoft does not have an agreement with UBL today."
The denial from UBL seems fairly fishy, considering that Search Engine Watch, which first reported on Local Paid Inclusion this week, spoke to them on the phone, and they reportedly said the service was on hold.
LocalPaidInclusion.com, the landing page for the service in question, now redirects to a statement from Bruce Clay Inc on the matter. It says:
Late Monday, we announced the service “Local Paid Inclusion,” which we said gives local merchants higher rankings in the Places and local search results in Google, Yahoo! and Bing. We believed that the service offering was finalized between our backend partner and the aforementioned search engines.
So far, we have determined that it is not a released program, made even more complicated by statements of confidentiality agreements that put the kibosh on further discussion. Bruce Clay, Inc. has ceased to engage in Local Paid Inclusion while we dig into confusing and contradicting statements.
We announced what we believed to be a legitimate program where Bruce Clay, Inc. was going to be one of several distributors of this service. Our understanding of this service was that it impacted the sequence of entries within the Places or local results in search engines. And within that separate area of the results, this service would validate local profiles, assuring those entries would naturally result in appearing higher in the local results.
There was misinterpretation of the information surrounding this service; mainly that it would impact the organic search results, instead of only the local results. We take responsibility for an unclear message being announced in an untimely manner, where specifics of the program were not disclosed and the messaging was jumbled.
Bruce Clay, Inc. also takes responsibility for the early promotion of the service Local Paid Inclusion without taking the extra steps to verify these contracts existed as we understood them. For that, we apologize.
We believed at the time that the offering was valid and acted accordingly. We did not collect money at this time, choosing to only set up a notification contact list dubbed “pre-registration” for when the program formally released.
Bruce Clay, Inc. has always been committed to ethical search engine marketing practices that work alongside the values of the search engines: to serve the end user and provide exposure to businesses. This program seemed to be a solid way for local merchants to validate themselves online and to have their companies be found.
At this time, it’s our highest priority to be as clear as possible on this issue with the business and search communities. Bruce Clay, Inc. is prepared to openly discuss this matter as best we can with media and community to be as transparent as possible.
We will make every effort to answer looming questions as soon as we know more, but please understand that we are forced to work within confidentiality agreements, and may be unable to talk specifics.
We are currently working to better understand all of the contractual agreements in place, if any, with those search engines regarding this service.
We also need to thank the various social communities and search marketers for their passion regarding this matter; the voices were heard loud and clear, showing there’s no lack of diligent, inquisitive and knowledgeable marketers and business people in our community.
In the meantime, Bruce Clay, Inc. has withdrawn Local Paid Inclusion pending our further research into this matter. And the site LocalPaidInclusion.com has been taken down while this issue is resolved.
Clay himself talked about Local Paid Inclusion in an interview with WebProNews in December.
"There's a group of people that remember the Yahoo Search Submit Pro, which is a process where you could pay them, and it would get you into the index," said Clay in the interview. "What seems to be forming is the ability to create a premium, local entity, much like a Places type page,except across the various engines - their own respective 'Places' if you will. And that you create a premium account, and that the premium account would allow you to appear at the top of the local results."
"Now, those premium accounts have additional features," he continued. "One would be the ability to put in a call tracking type system, where you could actually appear at the top of the local results and have a phone number appear there - and much like pay-per-click, if they click on that phone number or they call that phone number, there would be a fee paid to the search engine. So it's a fairly similar concept to Search Submit Pro of years gone by. I'm pretty sure we're going to see that emerge as a significant local resource in 2012. It is in the process, and we're actually building a product around it, assuming all those pieces come to be in 2012. And I think that it has to be."
"I think there's going to be a natural tendency for people to click more in the organic space, and the organic space includes...the Places type results," he continued. "The local results. And those local results will get a lot of clicks. Or they will get a lot of interest, because a lot more local people are going to be doing searches. There has to be a way to monetize that. And I think that paid inclusion is actually the least intrusive, the most easily embraced, keyword-centric way to be able to do that."
"The way I envision it working is: there will be a base fee, there'll probably be a fee added for call tracking...and the search engines are going to share that with a channel," he said. "In which case you're going to see a great many people encouraging (as SEOs) their clients to embrace a local paid inclusion program."
"The earliest adopter, if you can base it on history, will be the Yahoo and Bing environment," he said at the time. "They're likely to embrace it, and Google will watch it, and of course invent their own version of it that's a little bit better in the eyes of Google. Now I think that the program will be somewhat similar across all of them to facilitate the ease of selling it. I don't think anybody wants to be particularly different from everybody else..."
Based on the statements Sullivan received, it doesn't sound like the search engines are much interested in this at all.
In the video, Clay then goes on to talk about his company's other local business service "LocalWare," which promises: local SEO, custom keyword research, content development, SEO-friendly CMS with "pristine code" to support local organic SEO, optimization of other online avenues such as Google Places, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Yelp, et. and "Bruce Clay's world-class online Seo training for you and your team."
WebProNews is communicating with Bruce Clay, and will have more details as they become available.