A new service offered by Bruce Clay Inc. called Local Paid Inclusion should raise a few eyebrows in the search marketing community – if there's any truth to it, that is. Officially in alpha, according to backend partner Universal Business Listings, the LPI program will offer top organic rankings in local listings for a fee, sources told Search Engine Watch.
UBL’s Doyal Bryant told SEW in a phone interview that the service is on hold, at the very least until next week, while the organizations test and troubleshoot.
However, both Google and Bing strongly deny any such program is in development.
"We are not working on any program that enables a site to pay to increase ranking in organic search results," according to a Google spokesperson.
Bing also denied taking part in such a program.
"Bing is not working on the Local Paid Inclusion program and would not consider giving preferential treatment to advertisers in organic search results," according to a Microsoft spokesperson.
Now UBL is also denying any involvement:
Universal Business Listing denies any association with articles and news reports about a "paid inclusion" business listing service. The company has made no such announcements or claims, particularly in regards to Google. It has no product announcements pending.
Bruce Clay Inc is a reseller of UBL's existing business listing syndication service and is not currently testing any new service from our company.
One program partner explained to Search Engine Watch how it will work:
“Using Google as an example, a local business in the ‘organic places’ area can pay a small monthly fee and this program moves them to the top area of the Places results. So essentially, it creates a premium section at the top of the Places results that never before existed, and a local business can pay a fee to appear in that area. As a result, whenever Places appears on the first page of Google results, and you are in the Local Paid Inclusion program, you should appear in that area of the first page of Google results.”
The Local Paid Inclusion website, owned by Bruce Clay, states:
“In January of 2012 we were approached to participate in a new and exciting program: Local Paid Inclusion (LPI). We’re offering it directly to local businesses, to chains of businesses, to resellers and through large distribution channels. We have an exclusive agreement to distribute LPI to domain registrars.
Local Paid Inclusion is a Google, Yahoo and Bing official service that is offered as an approved official contracted program in cooperation with those search engines. This is a program supported by the search engines directly - and you can order it here. The search engines do not sell this directly.”
The website also has pricing information:
The paid inclusion prices are based upon value: First page local results rankings for an average of less than $1.70 per day. If Call Tracking is involved that call fee is extra. This fee covers up to 30 keywords appropriate to your profile page and business, making the fee about $0.06 per day per keyword... less expensive than PPC and definitely higher impact because it is in the organic results area of the search results page.
One source said plans called for the paid listings to be categorized as organic and would not be marked paid, advertising, or sponsored - they would blend seamlessly with organic local listings. This offering is not connected with Google’s AdWords Express program or other similar programs offered by others in the arrangement, but would create new space for LPI program listings.
“It’s a really exciting program, when we’re ready we’ll start talking about it,” Bryant told us earlier today.
This arrangement raises a few important questions:
- Should search engines profit from the sale of organic listings?
- Should this type of paid advertising be marked as such?
- How does paid organic inclusion affect the quality of local listings, when paid listings can outrank those chosen for the top spot based on relevancy, geography, ratings, or other factors?
- Hasn’t paid inclusion died a slow death a few times already?
For now, there are more questions than answers. As it stands, the players have been dragged into the limelight on this one kicking and screaming, you could say; the search engines involved are reportedly working out technical issues and did not want the program announced for another two to three weeks.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include statements from Google, Bing, and UBL.