Ancestor of Local Search or Mere Coincidence?

I’m quite a fan of local search, so much so that when I recently acquired a 1915 directory for the city of Los Angeles, I read it for hours like it was a mystery novel. The entire publication is more than 2000 pages, and I’m not yet completely through, but I wanted to share at least one of my discoveries. I’ll get into details below.

street avenue guide los angeles 1915Is this the ancestor to online directory pages?

Hundreds upon hundreds of pages in the printed directory were formatted like the one above. At first glance it may appear like a typical page from a Yellow Pages directory. But could it be an ancestor to a best practices webpage (at least pre panda update)? Remember, this was printed nearly a century ago, in 1915. I decided to highlight the similarities.

street avenue guide los angeles 1915 tagged1915 Edition of the Los Angeles City Directory – Street and Avenue Guide

Perhaps I’ve viewed one to many search results, but flipping through page after page, I couldn’t help but notice the layout of advertising on each page. Not every page in the book was like the one shown above, but this was the most typical format. On the page there were 4 blocks of advertising with the nonpaid (organic) content appearing in the middle.

The advertising is highlighted by red rectangles. Notice that the top is formatted for a Leaderboard 768×90 ad (image resized for blog post formatting). I imagine R.A. Rowan & Co. paid the most among advertisers to be in this position.

The two advertisements along the right of the page measure for a near-perfect 120×600 Skyscraper format and the advertisement along the footer measures near 728×90.

Once I highlighted the advertising this 1915 printed page began looking a lot more like a webpage and the coincidences continued. Let’s take a look at three more elements on the page.

1) Los Angeles (1915) City Directory (navigation back to the homepage)

2) Street and Avenue Guide of the City of Los Angeles (page title)

This is what it would appear like if we put the page title in H1 tag (considered by many to be a good SEO practice) format, which matches nearly exactly the size on the printed page.

Street and Avenue Guide

Take a look at the image again, notice the spelling error? There was no spell check in the 1915 printed directory days.

3) Look at the first sentence in this blue rectangle block section (organic content). Do you see what I see? Here is the text…

In this department of the City Directory the streets are alphabetically arranged and described by giving the point of commencement of each and its intersection.

Yes SEO lovers, that’s exactly 160 characters (when you include the spaces), a textbook perfect 160 character meta description.

According to SEOmoz Meta Description best practices, meta descriptions can be any length but search engines generally truncate snippets longer than 160 characters, For this reason it is best to keep meta descriptions between 150-160 characters.

I underlined the term City Directory in orange to suggest that if this was a webpage, we’d likely see a link here back to the directory homepage (we would if it was my directory).

After the 160 character first sentence is the following content.

Main Street and First Street are the principal dividing lines. Most of the streets running East and West from Main are designated by the prefixes E and W respectively. Those running North from First by the prefix N for North, and those running South from First by the prefix S for South. In East Los Angeles, North Broadway divides the streets crossing it into North and South, and Pasadena Avenue, from Avenue 26 to Avenue 21, divides the streets crossing it into East and West.

That’s an additional 479 characters, that when added to the first sentence, provides 639 characters of unique organic content, which doesn’t appear anywhere else in the 2000+ page directory.

The remaining content is a list of streets in the city of Los Angeles. Street names appear repeatedly throughout the directory.

Is this an ancestor to a pre-panda well optimized SEO webpage or am I imagining things?


  1. Spot on analysis Michael. It truly does look like a well-optimized webpage, before webpages existed.

    Good find and great analysis!

  2. I should have been studying this “phone book” long ago, could have saved me some trouble. 🙂


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