Wrecking Local SEO 201 – Do External Links Cause Merged Reviews?

It’s no secret that this auberge de jeunesse in Montreal, the Auberge de Paris (I realize the name is unusual), is a client of mine. For a while now they’ve had issues with their reviews being merged with their sister downtown Montreal hotel‘s reviews.

The problem is that since the youth hostel’s reviews tend to score lower than the hotel’s reviews, on average, the hotel gets lower review scores. The result is that the hotel unfairly gets a bad rap.

(The hostel doesn’t get an offsetting revenue benefit because (i) hostel prices are lower and (ii) the Auberge de Paris doesn’t get shown in the Google universal maps results (in fact, only one youth hostel in Montreal does, oddly enough). )

So what causes these merged review listings?

There are a variety of possibilities, but the one that seems most logical to me is confusing external links. I was recently doing some competitor analysis and found an old link of the hotel’s on a page where its competitors also got links. The link featured the keyword “auberge,” which in French means inn. (An “auberge de jeunesse” is therefore a youth “inn” – a youth hostel.)

Auberge anchor text for hotel - montreal .com

From having been with the hotel for a couple of years now, I know that there are other links of a similar nature elsewhere, featuring youth hostel anchor text. So I’d say it’s fairly likely that this is the causa causans or at least one of several causes.

The implications if this hypothesis is correct, as far as SEO goes, is that competitors could manipulate your search marketing results. They could build/buy links with messy anchor text to

  • merge your reviews with their own (for extra publicity on your branded search terms) or
  • merge them with a business in a different industry and thus reduce your sales as customers get annoyed due to the wrong numbers etc.

Note: I’m not claiming credit for the hypothesis – I believe that Mike Blumenthal said it somewhere only I can’t find where (it might also have been Mike Belasco or Andrew Shotland ?). If you know who’s behind the idea, do let me know in the comments. You’ll get a link like Antonio from Marketing de Busca earned.

Another possibility is the co-citation with other hostels. As I mentioned, that link is far from being unique. So it’s possible that Google kept seeing http://www.hotel-montreal.com links in a youth hostel context and the co-citation lead it to think that the auberge and hotel are one and the same. Aaron Wall used to see his name offered up in SERPs as a related search to Traffic Power when he got sued by them; his hypothesis is that it was due to many common citations with TP.

A related but slightly different possibility is that the links to the hotel featuring the auberge keywords are often accompanied by the hotel’s pricing. Ergo, it’s really one and the same product just operating under two different names. The cause, in this case, could be described as a more advanced form of co-citation that is similar to how crawlers look for address info on a website for geolocation purposes. This could be perceived, as Mike Blumenthal suggested, as an attempt to avoid mapspam. “It is possibly a spam control strategy to prevent multiple optimized listings from the same business.”

A fourth possibility is that the two businesses share the same front office. People staying at either the hotel or the hostel check in through the same front office. In fact, both websites cite the same address. Publishing your address on your site is a common local SEO tactic, and this could easily be the source of the trouble.

Except that it’s not up to the Hotel and Auberge de Paris to rectify this problem – it’s up to Google. It would be totally unreasonable to have this small hospitality business add another front office and associated staff just for the sake of changing the address listed on the site for Google. Not to mention that Google is always encouraging site owners to act like it doesn’t exist. But then, maybe I’m being shortsighted; does anyone have a workaround to suggest/share?

What do you guys think the problem is? If you’re a Googler and you read this, some help/rectification/clarification/separation of the listings would be great. And please don’t tell me to try this in Google groups – that’s proven completely useless. Besides that, if you guys liked this post, you might care to subscribe to my RSS feed (link goes to XML, not Feedburner).

Update: I forgot to mention that Mike Blumenthal covered this earlier:

http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/02/21/google-maps-more-reports-of-merged-listings/

http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/02/20/google-maps-conflated-records/

Unfortunately, no word from Google on the real cause of the problem there nor have I seen it since. Hello? Webmaster communication effort? You guys there?

sroiadmin
Author: sroiadmin