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