The State of Local Search in Canada

Local search is generally the same here in Canada as it is in the US. SEO tactics are the same to get ranked at the top of organic results or map results, though there are a few geo-targeting techniques needed to ensure Google knows your site belongs in Canada, but this piece is not about that. I want to look at the state of the market in the local space online.

From my experience local is very healthy in Canada as far is internet users go. Internet usage on a per capita basis is higher than in the US at 80% vs. about 73% as Canada was an early adopter of the web. For a similar type local business in a similar sized city I’ve seen some of my Canadian clients receive a slightly higher level of search traffic volumes and online leads. Slight, but noticeable in the few instances I’ve had the opportunity to compare. So like I said local is healthy on the user side.

Where the big difference lies, in my opinion, is in the local space outside of traditional search, except Google Maps. Yahoo Local is still just pushing YellowPages.ca data and you can’t add or edit businesses like you can in the US version.

In the chart below you can see how Google Maps is growing and is well ahead of YellowPages.ca. At the bottom of the chart you see a couple of the web2.0 local review sites. I get into more detail about them below.

Local Search Traffic in Canada

It’s in the IYP (internet yellow pages) space and the other local review/mash-up sites where Canada is far behind the US. There are still a large amount of older web1.0 style directories at the city level, or provincial level, appearing in the SERPs for many local service type searches and only a few web2.0 versions, but they are don’t have much market share, though it’s growing for some of them.

In that graph above you see where the review sites compare to YellowPages. The chart below shows how things look in the US where Yelp is right up there with the major yellow pages directories, in fact now leading them.

Local Search Traffic in America

Internet Yellow Pages - IYP

In Canada there is essentially only one major yellow pages directory. There are smaller regional print yellow pages that try to compete in their regional markets. They have websites but nothing to brag about so I’ll just talk about YP.

YellowPages.ca

YellowPages is the real market leader here, in terms of web traffic, though their services and web presentation are poor, IMHO. Granted that a large portion of YP users may be looking for a phone number, not a website, the YellowPages.ca site sends very little traffic to the business websites listed with them. Looking in Analytics data for my Canadian clients I see Google(organic) sending 100’s of visitors per month while yellowpages.ca is lucky to send a couple referrals a month. It’s right up there with images.google.ru for referrals.

YellowPages is trying hard to compete against Google by now calling themselves “The Find Engine” and have some decent TV ads around that campaign. They try to really push the local search but Google is pulling away from them.

Local Review Sites

The local review type sites are far behind YellowPages and Google Maps, as seen in the charts above, but there are some interesting trends we can see in their traffic. Below is the compete.com comparison between the 3 major sites and then below that is the Alexa data which I find more telling.

Local Review sites in Canada - Compete

Local Review sites in Canada - Alexa

Just look at the growth WebLocal is having there! Impressive.

Yelp.ca

Yelp is a real leader in the local review space in the US and they have a Canadian presence too though traction has not been great. With significant competition and growth in the larger US market Yelp is likely not pushing it as hard as they could in Canada. I don’t believe I’ve ever noticed their pages in the SERPs, for city name/business type kinds of keywords.

Yelp offers a rich user experience with the way they present data and have a great web2.0 feel with lots of user profile links and avatars showing. They should be doing much better in Canada than they are.

ZipLocal

These guys were an early innovator in the local space in Canada but they don’t seem to be moving forward very well. The Alexa data data does not point to growth. Shortly after launch Yelp had already caught right up to them. It looks like they just recently switched the Canadian portion over to the .ca domain and I suspect they plan to try to gain more traction in the US market through the .com domain. The Alexa graph below shows how .com traffic dropped right off as .ca kicked in over the past few weeks.

Ziplocal traffic after domain switch

From an SEO perspective they may be shooting themselves in the foot by having far too many category links on each city page. The city page is simply a site map listing every category. Take a look at the Toronto page here, that list is over 1000 links. Wow! Is Google going to crawl all those? And how much link juice are they passing to each category?

Oh, and they have an Adult category as one of the main navigation links in the header??? Does that trump the biggies in local search, like the hotels, restaurants, real estate, or auto repair? I’m pretty sure calling that much attention to Adult Entertainment isn’t that great for their credibility.

WebLocal.ca

Weblocal.ca is essentially the Canadian version of YellowBot and it looks like they are doing something right, based on their traffic growth. According to the Alexa data they have swiftly overtaken the competition, by a long shot. Compete.com shows them neck and neck but the slope on that graph indicates they will blow right past them, like Alexa is showing already.

Like ZipLocal, the city page is mostly just a list of categories, but they keep it condensed to a more reasonable number and even use font sizing (tagging) to indicate the more popular categories.

Where they stand out is in offering translations of business descriptions in French. They do this everywhere, not just French sections of Canada. Not sure if they have translators doing this or automate it through a computer translation application but it’s a nice touch. Although, if you check out French cities in Quebec, the category titles are in English and English descriptions are above French ones. Nice to see an attempt at covering both official languages though.

Update: I was wrong on the English categories in French cities. If you switch to the French language version of the site all the categories are in French there.

The Big Question - Do they Send Traffic?

As I stated above, the YellowPages site does a piss poor job of sending traffic. It certainly does send phone calls but I’ve yet to be able to do a proper test, using a call tracking phone number, to gauge how cost effective it actually is.

As for the review sites, I’ve only just begun to add some clients to these. I’ve always been very Google centric in working to drive local traffic to client websites, for all the obvious reasons (it sends gobs of traffic!), and have been weary of the review sites simply because they don’t have the exposure, and thus traffic that they should. How much traffic can they possibly send under these current conditions? Frankly, for most my clients it is simply not worth my time to go create optimized profiles there. But now that I see the breakaway growth at WebLocal I will test a few of them out and see how it goes.

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14 Comments to “The State of Local Search in Canada”

MiriamEllis on February 13th, 2009 wrote:

Hi Steve,
This was a very nice overview of a day in the life of Local in Canada. I read it with interest.

A question for you…even if profiles in the various local indexes aren’t big traffic drivers for your clients, is there a chance that some of the companies you’ve named are being used as citation sources in Canada by Google Maps? If so, there is some value, right there.

Your perspective, working with both Canadian and US clients, is valuable, Steve.

Miriam

Stever on February 13th, 2009 wrote:

Hey Miriam, this was something I’ve been thinking of writing for a while and our email conversation the other day helped get me thinking about it again.

It’s true those review sites may be used as citation sources for improved rankings in Gmaps so for those clients where competition is a bit stiffer I’ll likely use more of those sites to get a few more web citations.

MiriamEllis on February 13th, 2009 wrote:

Hi Steve,
I wondered if you were thinking about my question about Canada when you wrote this! I very much enjoyed it.

Ah, I must say I envy you your more sparsely populated country. We’re living in a rural area with some breathing room, but overall, the US is just so crowded compared to Canada. Plus, Canada has the distinction of being the home of my all-time favorite rock band!

Thanks again for the bird’s eye view of your local Local.
Miriam

Stever on February 13th, 2009 wrote:

You’re gonna leave me hanging on who the all-time favorite rock band is???

update : She told me by email it was Rush :)

The Latest In Local Search - SMX West And More | Seo Services, LLC - Indiana based search engine optimization consultant on February 15th, 2009 wrote:

[…] our way northward, Steve Hatcher of Axemedia gives us a terrific article on the state of local search in Canada. He highlights some very interesting differences in the quantity and quality of 3rd party data […]

Ask Bjørn Hansen on February 20th, 2009 wrote:

Hi Steve,

Thank you for covering this! I work on YellowBot.com and Weblocal.ca.

One thing I wanted to point out is that compete only/mostly covers US traffic, so their numbers are waaaay off. (About a month ago we announced that we’d reached a million monthly uniques on weblocal.ca).

- ask

Stever on February 20th, 2009 wrote:

Thanks for stopping by Ask!

Yes, i just recently realized that compete.com mostly covers US traffic. Probably why Alexa shows what I think is a more realistic representation. But the graphs are mostly for relative comparison between sites, not the hard numbers.

Million monthly uniques on weblocal.ca, nice.

brian on April 2nd, 2009 wrote:

I thought yellow pages partnered with google local (now google maps)in 2004, all 2.4 million directory listings would be available on the google site. A win win situation for both. Am I missing something here? Let me know.

Brian

Stever on April 2nd, 2009 wrote:

@Brian, yes Google populates it’s local listings with yellow pages data. The only win there for YP, I think, is the money GOOG might be paying them for license to the data. It’s not equating to traffic to the YP website.

The only link I can find is at the very bottom when you do a search inside Maps. “Business listings distributed by YellowPages.ca™”. There are no links to YP while you are on an individual business listing.

I think Google gets the bigger win here.

Bob Parker on April 7th, 2009 wrote:

Hey Stever,

Just a quick comment for you, as another person working on the weblocal.ca website. :-)

You mention weblocal.ca supporting French on the website, and commented “Nice to see an attempt at covering both official languages though.”

This is something that we are actually quite proud of. The entire website is completely bi-lingual, and adjusts its content depending on which language you are using to view it. So while you were apparently viewing it in English, you saw cities in Quebec with Categories in English. Had you switched to viewing the site in French, you would have seen everything in French - including the categories, cities and additional content in French.

We are very aware of the proud heritage of the French-speaking community in Canada, so every effort has been made to ensure that the site and its tools are completely supportive of both languages. We want all users to enjoy using the site and get the most benefit from it, using the language that they feel most comfortable with, not the language WE feel comfortable with, as it should be.

I would invite you to revisit the site, and test it out by clicking the “French” link at the upper right of any page to switch your language preference. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Stever on April 7th, 2009 wrote:

Thanks for stopping by Bob. And I did just check it out in the French version and see that the categories are indeed in French too.

Nice job guys!

But you might want to make that link to switch languages a little more noticible, maybe include a graphic. I completely missed it before.

Dev Basu on April 14th, 2009 wrote:

Hey Stever - Very neat writeup. I wrote about a list of Canadian citation sources that you and probably Mariam could use http://devbasu.com/the-canadian-guide-to-local-seo-citations/

Stever on April 14th, 2009 wrote:

Right on Dev, thanks, there were a couple in your list I was not aware of.

Todd on August 26th, 2009 wrote:

Please be aware that Compete doesn’t report Canadian but only US traffic.

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