Search Google for “restaurants 98225″ and you expect to find reviews of restaurants in and around Bellingham, Washington. There is a major university here, at least one Zagat rated restaurant on the waterfront (as if that meant anything), and many local cuisine options including some really good ones like Craig Miller’s Slow Food restaurant on Lummi Island. But Google says bellingham.areaconnect.com/restaurants is the best answer. Too bad Google doesn’t know that areaconnect doesn’t have a single listing for Bellingham. Neither does Citysearch. In fact, enter Bellingham Washington into the Citysearch form and it says it couldn’t find anything in Bellingham and then it redirects to a “national” Citysearch page with not a single restaurant listing. That’s really funny, especially because Google knows that Citysearch has this listing in Bellingham at: http://sanjuanislands.citysearch.com/profile/10823109/bellingham_wa/stanello_s_restaurant.html
The first page of Google results is all BigDirectory, and from this consumer’s perspective none of them are any good. You can look for yourself and try and pick a place to dine. So could Google’s Quality Engineers. As every SEO looking at what should have been a very competitive SERP will recognize, Google has turned the knob way down on supressing empty, overly templatic directories, and permitted subdomain and keyword spam to rule the SERPs once again. Completely useless SERPs, and a complete waste of time for the user.
Go onto page two to find Judy’s Book. Look mom, ONE restaurant review! Now I agree with Google there, Judy belongs buried on page two but relatively speaking, at least it had one restaurant review in Bellingham. Want to find Craig Millers restaurant on Lummi as per my recommendation (it’s a 20 minute drive from Bellingham)? Don’t bother with Judy, even though Google now thinks she’s a good answer (page 1). Not one listing for Lummi Island.
Now for the ugly part. Apologies to Matt Cutts, but we have to compare to Yahoo!
Well, restaurants.com is first and actually not a bad result. Second is chowbaby (right zip code, wrong state - that Bellingham is in Massachusetts::?). It’s also a broken page. But # 6 is good (local directory) and I found what I needed. Not perfect, but not nearly as bad IMHO.
Dear Google, I love you and want you to be your very best because it is good for all of us when you are, but honestly, what’s up with the SERPs? For every ounce of attention you spend scaring SEO-minded webmasters and denouncing the “dark side” of SEO, couldn’t you fix problems like these that drive people to try those desperate tactics?
It’s also a bit wierd that Yahoo!, the company that has cannibalized it’s own SERPs for affiliate income, ranks on page one of Google for restaurant and travel searches. Didn’t we learn anything from Coke vs. Pepsi? Every dollar you give to your competitor is at least two dollars in their pocket.
Attention all small business owners and web masters in Bellingham, Washington: You need an SEO, and you have one nearby :-)
Update: It is August 2008 and Google still fails the comparison test for restaurant listings in Bellingham. Microsoft’s Live search is consistently more useful than Yahoo! or Google for this topic, but Google continues to favor older business directories and especially the ones that favor National and regional food chains. It seems Google is ranking individual restaurants for “restaurant reviews” when those restaurants are located in Bellingham. In other words, it seems Google is passing anchor text relevance to the actual restaurants, ranking the restaurant instead of ranking the site that published the review. That’s pretty silly.
Update: My how things have changed at Google. The first page of restaurant review website links is now full of local and directories, except the tenth spot seems to be available for new things people might click. So for a real user in Bellingham looking for restaurant reviews, less choice and more commercials.