Cleaning up & generating new Citations on online directories is an essential part of any complete local search optimization program. The primary objective in building these business listings is to boost rankings within local results on Google, Bing and that other site…what’s it called?! Oh yes Yahoo.
The reason for this is very simple. The huge volume or users & searches on these search services represents the BIGGEST opportunity for reaching new customers online.
But it’s not the only opportunity, and we often overlook the direct benefits of having an optimized listing on a raft of national, local & niche directories. After all they have their own local user base and they also attract searchers by virtue of ranking for certain local keywords in search engines. In fact these directories often complete against our own clients for page 1 visibility in the SERPs. So if we can’t beat them then we might as well join them and benefit from whatever trickle down traffic & leads they can send to us.
But how big is this direct traffic opportunity? Well…our research team decided to investigate
Quantifying Visitors on Directories & IYPs
We studied 40 of the largest and most well known directories/IYPs and compared the volume of US-based traffic they received over a 12 month period from Jan-Dec 2013.
We used data gathered by quantcast.com to drive this research. Some of the directories reviewed have officially implemented the ‘Quantcast Measurement’ system and their visitor numbers are officially tracked by Quantcast; for those who don’t the visitors are estimated. In their own words, Quantcast…
“Estimates the number of people accessing a website from online and mobile web in aggregate”
The aim of the research is to calculate total traffic to the top 40 directories, compare the visitor numbers each of these sites gets and to identify any macro trends in the industry. We have cross-referenced the trends with the Google’s algorithm updates to determine how they affected the local directory / IYP market. It’s important to reiterate that some traffic figures are estimations and so actual site traffic numbers should be viewed with this in mind. However we believe that the data provides a reliable comparison between the sites & reliable macro trend insights.
Please also note that Yelp.com data in quantcast is only available from August-December 2013. Therefore, in some of the following charts, Yelp.com data has been removed where it skews the 12 month trend view.
“Big 12″ Directories
From the 40 sites we compared, we selected a sub-group of the most prominent directories that we have grouped together into the “big 12”. We’ve have provided additional analysis of this group as they represent the sites that many search marketeers are most interested in. This Big 12 group consists of the following:
In the first charts below we look at ‘All Sites’ (top 40 directories) as a whole, enabling us to gauge industry performance on a much wider scale. Later on we look specifically at the Big 12 and see how they have faired across 2013.
All Sites* – Total Aggregated Traffic
This chart looks at the total aggregated traffic for the top 40 directories / IYPs. We can see a clear decline in traffic throughout 2013.
- Traffic dropped 22% across the year
- Jan – 137 million visitors/month
- Dec – 107 million visitors/month
- Jan / Feb saw a decline of 11%
- April / May saw further drop of 13%
- December appears to buck the decline & shows a 6% increase from November
- On closer inspection the sole reason for this up-tick is stirling performance by Whitepages.com which saw it’s traffic increase by 8 million users M-on-M
- With Whitepages.com data removed, overall industry traffic fell by 2% in December
IYP traffic fell 22% from 137 million/month in January 2013 to 107 million/month in December 2013.
In January 2013, total aggregated traffic was estimated at 137 million. In December this dropped to 107 million, accounting for a 30 million loss in traffic (22%). It’s fair to say that the visitor numbers dropped by a significant amount during the year. However, the reasons behind this are not ultimately clear from this graph alone.
We can see from a previous study that 2013 was not an isolated moment, and that directories had been losing traffic in 2011 – at that time also affected by a wave of Google updates. The question is, whether the 2013 decline is down to similar search engine updates, or if it’s more of a natural decline stemming from changing user behavior.
We excluded Yelp.com from the above chart due to limited data. However we found out that from August – December, Yelp acquired an approximate 83 million visits per month on average, which is more than double the amount any other directory we looked at received.
With Yelp.com receiving such high visitor numbers, it’s fair to assume that directories are not simply considered “not useful” to us anymore, and in fact it could be that any effects from Google updates may have been easier for Yelp.com to ride out due to a large loyal user base.
All Sites* – Percentage Change Per Month
In the chart below, we have highlighted the percentage change from month to month:
Jan-Feb & April-May highlight the key months where the total traffic altered significantly across the board. To get a better idea of what caused these spikes, we’ve looked at Google updates which occurred during the year and overlayed these on the chart below.
We’ve borrowed the Google updates timeline published by Moz (thank you Moz), and we can see the following events that took place around these dates:
Significant Google Updates
- “Panda #24″ update in January 22, 2013 – 1.2% of queries were affected
- “Phantom” update – May 9th 2013 – unknown update affecting many sites
- Domain Crowding update – May 21st 2013 – to control diversity in SERPs
- Penguin 2.0 (#4) – May 22nd 2013 – 4th Penguin update
- Hummingbird update – August 20th 2013 – core algorithm update
- Penguin 2.1 (#5) – October 4th 2013 – moderate update to Penguin algorithm
- Unnamed update – December 17 2013 – No confirmed update but high activity.
It’s worth pointing out that these weren’t the only updates that took place throughout the year. I’m sure everyone is aware of the amount of updates going on over a 12 month period. However the ones highlighted above simply occurred at the same time as we’ve seen fluctuations in IYP traffic and therefore we’ve highlighted them.
Google vs Directories / IYPs
If we remove Whitepages.com from the picture – because of their strong december performance – then we see a strong correlation between Google Updates & declines in traffic to IYPs.
*Yelp.com & Whitepages.com removed
We can look towards the Panda #24 roll-out which of course targets ‘low quality sites’. Although this particular update wasn’t a ‘major’ Panda roll-out, it’s well documented in the past that many IYPs have fallen foul of the Panda. It’s also reasonable to suggest that with the nature of directories, ie. thinner content, simplistic, repetitive format, that it is much harder to prove to Google your quality and authority – something which is easier to achieve on sites with richer content. This of course would be even harder for some of the smaller directories – which later on we can see were among the hardest hit.
As you can see, there was a flurry of activity in May, with 3 potential updates affecting traffic. The domain crowding update is interesting as it was aimed specifically at addressing the problem of having multiple consecutive SERP results from the same root domain. This would certainly have affected local directories/ IYPs which often dominated page 1 for local terms, squeezing out the local business sites.
The “phantom” update refers to a time in early May where there was plenty of webmaster chatter about a suspected Google update. Google wouldn’t confirm this but there was significant chatter to warrant an inclusion above. Shortly after this time there was an announcement that Penguin 2.0 would be rolling out within the next few weeks. Penguin 2.0 was actually the 4th Penguin update but contained ‘Penguin 2.0 technology’ which was said to be a new generation of technology that would be more effective against stopping spam.
In May 2013 Moz analyzed the Big 20 sub-domains the day after Penguin 2.0 hit, along with their SERP share and 1-day change. Moz stated that:
“By percentage change, Yelp was the big day-over-day loser, at -8.11%”.
We can also see from the data that Yellowpages.com lost 4.37% in the same period. It does therefore seem reasonable enough to suggest that the activity around April / May was in fact a result of Penguin 2.0 affecting local directories / IYPs.
Perhaps the biggest SEO related story towards the end of last year was of course the Google Hummingbird update. Rather than a traditional update, Hummingbird was more of an algorithm ‘engine change’. It represented a significant change in the way Google serves up content to searchers, with more emphasis on the intent of each search, not just the keywords used. Although we saw a minor spike in traffic for directories around this time, it’s unclear whether Hummingbird had a direct effect or not. Consequently we can see that in the 4 months after Hummingbird, visitor numbers fell again – showing that any benefit would have been short-lived.
October was the month of Penguin 2.1 (#5). The overall impact was considered moderate compared to previous updates, although it’s sensible to assume that if directories were hit by the May update, then they could have been affected by this also. We can also see that traffic started to drop prior to October (in September), which suggests that Penguin 2.1 wasn’t the over-riding factor in this particular fall/winter trend-line.
All Directories – Best Performing Directories of 2013
This chart highlights the directories which performed best in terms of stabilizing or growing total traffic throughout the year.
- Salespider.com the biggest winner – up 74%
- Yelp.com, Whitepages.com, Local.com & Allpages.com were only other sites to see increases
- Yellowpages.com, Chamberofcommerce.com & Switchboard.com show decreases of more than 20% each
Our list of ‘best performing’ sites only shows 5 directories that actually increased traffic. In addition to this, only one of those can boast an increase of more than 15%. This of course speaks volumes that a site can lose more than 20% of its traffic and still feature as a “best performing” site. Ouch!
All Directories – Worst Performing Directories of 2013
This chart highlights the directories which performed worst and lost the most amount of traffic throughout the year.
- Smaller sites come off worse than “bigger brands”
- 5 sites dropped by more than 80%
We’ve included 10 directory sites that lost more than 70% of their traffic over the course of 2013. Although these are fairly small names in the market, it is a worrying trend that so many are losing so much in terms of visitor numbers. Following on from the analysis above, it’s perhaps more evidence of Google hitting sites that are considered ‘lower quality’. Google has often been accused of favoring bigger brands in SERPs, and there’s no evidence to suggest that the smaller directories have been given a smoother ride here.
Big 12 – Monthly Traffic Average
This chart looks at the “Big 12″ directories and the average estimated amounts of traffic received each month.
- Yelp had an average of 83 million visits per month (Aug-Dec 2013)
- Average traffic for Big 12 = 15 million visits per month
- Whitepages (32m), Mapquest (20m), Yellowpages (18m), Local.com (11m) were next highest
Although the Yelp data was only available from Aug-Dec, those 5 months give us a good indication of the average monthly traffic received throughout the year. Yelp gets a huge amount of visits compared to competing directories.
Of the bigger sites that we highlighted, there were 3 sites that received less than 3 million visits per month on average; Citysearch.com (2.8m), Dexknows.com (1m) & Insiderpages (500k).
Big 12 Directories* – Month by Month Traffic
This chart looks at the “big 12″ directories and their estimated flow of traffic throughout the year.
*Note: Yelp.com has been removed to give us a clearer view of the trends of the other sites.
- Local.com (yellow line) shows lots of fluctuation over the year
- Declines in April / May common amongst a number of sites
- Whitepages.com saw big upsurge around Nov / Dec
By looking at monthly traffic we can see the ups and downs of each site more clearly and start to analyse market trends. In particular, we can see that Local.com had a relatively turbulent year, with an early upsurge in traffic quickly taking a rapid decline during May. Looking closely at the figures, Local.com had 14.2m visitors in April but this dropped to 11m in May – then a decline to 8.3m in June and 7.9m in July. A gradual recovery began in August which eventually led to a more promising 12.9m visitors in December.
Big 12 Directories – Annual Change
This chart takes into account the increase / decrease that each “big 12″ directories / IYPs received from Jan-Dec 2013.
- Only Yelp.com, Whitepages.com & Local.com saw increases over a 12 month period
- Superpages.com, manta.com, Merchantcircle.com, Citysearch.com & Insiderpages.com all show declines more than 50%
Despite the previously discussed turbulent year of traffic for Local.com, it still managed to end 2013 with more monthly traffic than it started with. This is despite the relative technical difficulties that have been reported for listing details.
Insiderpages.com, Citysearch.com & Merchentcircle.com saw the biggest declines of the “big 12” directories. It’s very interesting that CityGrid Media owns and operates leading local consumer properties such as Urbanspoon, Citysearch, and Insider Pages – 2 of which appear on this chart.
It’s also worth pointing out that April 2013 saw the merger of Dexknows & Superpages, creating Dex Media. This was unable to halt their slide for the latter half of 2013, but perhaps with wise investment this trend can be reversed in 2014. Ultimately it was the smaller directories which lack a significant brand that have faltered the most – and so increasing this aspect of their profile can perhaps help with their fortunes throughout the coming months.
Of course, a lot of this will once again depend on what updates Google has in store for us all in 2014 and beyond!