Yesterday, I was shocked to see a post on Search Engine Watch, a well-known and widely-read industry site, covering a new service called 'Local Paid Inclusion'. According to the article, LPI was some sort of a partnership between Bruce Clay, Inc (a long-running internet marketing and training agency), and multiple search engines and directories -- including Google, Bing and Yahoo. The post explained that the new service would allow companies to pay to show up in the local results section of a search engine results page. At first glance, that might not sound unreasonable. After all, search engines do make nearly all of their money off of advertising, right. So it seems entirely possible that they might partner with a third-party agency to improve their local advertising solutions. But what really stuck out about this proposal was the suggestion that this wasn't advertising in the usual, search engine sense. Rather than placing their customers' sites in a clearly-marked 'paid advertisement' area on the site--which has been the MO of search engines since the dawn of online advertising--this new service would actually allow people to pay their way into the normal search engine results.
When this article first came to my attention yesterday afternoon, I was in the middle of another project, so I wasn't able to give it my immediate attention. And I'm glad I wasn't able to do so, because my instinctual reaction would probably have been to panic. Like a lot of people in our industry, I'm always trying to 'stay ahead of the curve'. And part of being on the cutting-edge means thinking about the potential, far-off implications of updates to the constantly changing landscape that is internet marketing. So had I not been busy when this news broke, I probably would have gone into a tizzy of trying to figure out how this would affect our local search optimization services. My mind would have been racing thinking about an unclear (and totally imaginary) future for the industry. Vague plans would have been made, under the assumption that this is a whole new world. And all that would have been a waste of my time and energy. A few hours after I found out about 'Local Paid Inclusion', Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land reported that some bizarre events were unfolding. Both Google and Bing had gotten in touch with him, reporting that they weren't involved in LPI at all. Later, Universal Business Listing--a third-party data provider allegedly involved in the new service--likewise confirmed that it had nothing to do with it.
By this morning, the site for Local Paid Inclusion appears to have been taken off the web. If it wasn't a hoax, it looks like this service is mired in a ridiculous storm of hype and confusion. In other words, there was never any reason for me--or anyone else working in Local Search Optimization--to even bat an eye over the whole episode. This story is illustrative of a much larger point: there is a tendency for all parties involved in digital marketing: software providers, agencies, clients, and everyone in between, to get caught up in splashy news or big hype. With twitter feeds constantly rolling, Facebook updates being 'pushed' to mobile devices, and an unhealthy stream of email, it's all too easy to get caught up in some 'important' news that turns out to be a non-event. Of course, these factors are magnified when something comes along that promises to 'change everything'. The whole LPI episode shows that, when one of these pieces of news comes along, the smartest bet is to be skeptical, take a moment, and relax before making any big plans. A vast majority of the time, a skeptical attitude towards the hype can help prevent a whole lot of unnecessary headaches.