Local Search · SEO

When Local SEO is not Local – The Regional Factor

So by now you should know how the search industry landscape completely changed overnight with the integration of Place Page results into the organic results for local search.  If you don’t think the change is that radical, I suggest you pause and really comprehend the possibilities.  Just one issue that’s being talked about is how it is possibly going to hurt businesses with multiple locations.

There have been a flurry of articles on the issue – from “Google Place Page how to guides“, to prognostications on how this impacts Local Link Building, and every other possible thing to consider.  But what all of these fail to discuss to any depth, if at all, is how Local search isn’t always “Local”, and in fact, what’s local to one area of the country isn’t local to others.  And that in turn puts a whole new spin on whether these changes are as straight forward as some might think, or they’ve made this an exponentially more challenging factor for SEO.

Logic only Google Understands

When I started my own testing just for local results, I got quite confused at first.  Just conduct a multi-phrase test for the seemingly same phrase target.   You’ll see what I mean.  For example – do a search for Dentist in San Francisco and then Dentists in San Francisco.  Why they’re presenting radically different results for what should be the same market, I have no idea.  But okay – just that alone makes things a lot more complicated.  I can deal with that though.

When Local Isn’t Local

Where things begin to get fuzzy is in how they determine what “local” even means.  For example, try searching for “consumer bank Marin“.  Right now, what comes up is just two entries – only one of which is even in Marin County, (and read on – it’s not even a bank!) where I currently live.  The other?  Yeah, it’s all the way across the Golden Gate bridge, in San Francisco!

consumer bank Marin Google Search 1289289123518 When Local SEO is not Local   The Regional FactorNow, I don’t know about you, but if I’m looking for a bank that offers consumer banking services in my back yard, I may be okay driving up to fifteen or even twenty minutes away, and for some searches, I want to consider my options where I live vs. where I work, two towns over.  But I’m NEVER going to be okay with driving an HOUR.  Sure, when traffic is really light, that distance could take as little as 45 minutes.  It’s usually at least an hour though.

And if I look at the “organic” results on that page (or what USED to be the organic results, the first two entries are the A/B match for the map. Except that first entry?  Yeah – it’s for an AIRPORT.  Isn’t that helpful?  I guess there might be an ATM there or something…

After that, there’s three entries talking about consumer complaints against two different local banks.  And then what do I get?  Actual organic results for those two banks!

Listings for consumer bank Marin Google Search 1289289280491 When Local SEO is not Local   The Regional Factor

Okay so the reason this mess happened is because none of the banks in Marin have optimized their web sites for that phrase.  Nor have they taken the time to obtain a Google Place page yet.  So clearly there’s a potential opportunity for those banks to reach new eyeballs.  But they’re better off focusing on higher value phrases.  Which I see is already the case when searching for the generic “bank Marin”.

bank Marin Google Search 1289289705249 When Local SEO is not Local   The Regional Factor

Be Careful The Phrase You Optimize For

That craziness got me thinking.  Sure, more people search for “bank” than those who search for “consumer bank”.  Yet there are a lot of searches going on every day.  Longer tail now than ever before.  So the first suggestion I have is, before you lock in the phrases you THINK you want to optimize for, you now better consider checking what it will mean in the age of floater optimization®.

Yeah – you heard that right.  Floater. Optimization.  It’s a new term I coined the day this was all announced.  Because you’re now going to have to optimize location based sites to adapt to that wild and crazy floating map over there on the right side of the organic page.  You know – the one that stays on-screen as you scroll down…

A Little Effort For A Decent Return

So let’s say you do some fancy footwork and discover that a really high volume search exists related to local that gets a 2 pack map. Like the one I got.  It may not be the highest volume search out there.  But it just might be.  Or enough so that you can devote just one or two pages properly optimized, and a couple inbound links strategically placed.  All of a sudden, you’re the dominant player in that aspect of the new face of local…

Getting Complicated with the Regional Factor

Let’s go further though.  To something that could have a much more serious impact.  Here in this neck of the woods, just as many people search for Marin used car dealerships, or Day Spa in Marin as they do for town specific results.  Which means you really need to consider how you’re going to optimize for local on that web site, and how to optimize Place pages. Because local, in this case, isn’t town specific.  It’s county-specific.

Turning Up The Complication Factor Even Further

And in this neck of the woods, we are even more complex.  Because we often look for bay area museums.  And at that regional level, look – we get the new “local” results!  But if you were to do a similar search for Philadelphia area museums, or New York area museums, you don’t get that.  You get the old-school organic results!  The same for twin cities museums, though you do get the messy new version if you search for New York City museums.

So this really reinforces the need to check what ends up happening in the organic results before you go optimize for a particular “local” phrase.  Because the results you get will make a huge impact on the work that goes into optimization now, more than ever…

Much More To Understand

Clearly there’s going to be much more that we’ll need to understand about this mess.  And in the coming days, weeks and months, there will be plenty of articles, opinions, and fly-by-night “guaranteed placement in Google Local” offers.  In fact, I’ve already got two additional articles I could write about this topic, on different aspects.  Like – “How to optimize for locations when you don’t have an office in that location…”

But for now, I’ll leave you to ponder these particular issues.  And hope that you’ll get your brain working overdrive to understand how this impacts your work.  If I accomplish that, my work here is done for the moment icon smile When Local SEO is not Local   The Regional Factor and yours, well, it’s just begun icon wink When Local SEO is not Local   The Regional Factor

 When Local SEO is not Local   The Regional Factor
Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and tens of millions of visitors a month. A noted industry speaker, author and blogger, his posts are quite often as much controversial as they are thought provoking.
 When Local SEO is not Local   The Regional Factor

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30 thoughts on “When Local SEO is not Local – The Regional Factor

  1. Great stuff, Alan! As has always been the case, it’s crucial to not approach this brave new world of SEO with a cookie-cutter, one size fits all approach.

    And frankly, Kudos to Google for setting up a system that rewards marketers who pay attention to detail (and data).

  2. #LocalisntLocal “Be Careful The Phrase You Optimize For” – what use to be lower hanging fruit for “Phoenix Pest Control” may now be even more difficult than local hanging fruit for “pest control”. Plus, the implementation of this local easy to reach for consumer/searcher search result will over time devalue longer tail search terms.

  3. Thomas, Hugo, thanks for the comments.I’m excited to see how this all plays out but yes – people still need to think. They need to test. They need to consider all the issues. Low hanging fruit should be part of the mix. Keyword research for different concepts of “local” needs to be conducted. Long term impact needs to be a factor as well…

    We live in exciting times!

  4. for a beginner , i can guess this is very important to know and discovering these new informations will be important for me later ; thank You a lot , pictures and link you used did help a lot :)

  5. I’ve noticed a lot of changes lately in the display of local results. Sometimes the changes aren’t there, though. Maybe Google is testing things? I only get the floating map in Internet Explorer but not in Firefox. How will this impact their sales of paid ads on the right-hand side of the page?

    1. Kyle,

      There’s some cross-browser issues still for sure. I think that’s a coding issue more than anything. Sadly Google does not properly QA test their offerings. The issue of how it will affect paid ads on the right side is still up in the air. I think it will drive clicks on lower displayed ads down. But who knows…

      1. Hi Alan,
        I can only envision that the average user (who I believe generates the most clicks on paid ads) will click less if there is a map taking up such a large portion of that column. I guess I’m a little confused why Google would choose to cover up its bread & butter in terms of revenue. Are they going to roll out a new product for local listings? I noticed that they are really pushing the “tags” for local listings as well. I got something in the mail from Google and a personal phone call asking our business to try it out for the free trial period. Maybe there are more things to come.

      2. Kyle,

        It’s clear that by forcing businesses to get Place pages, they can push all these new products – Boost, Tags… and AdWords that’s displayed on Place pages may also be a profit point already for the existing 2 million Place pages. If that’s the case, they may think they can get more revenue that way than with the existing right-column AdWords on the main SERP. I’m confident the right column has previously generated a lot less revenue than the ads in the top of the left column. So now they have new revenue streams and several of us are in agreement that all of these changes will drive up the cost to lock that #1 or #2 left column PPC spot as well…

      3. Alan,
        I agree that those #1 and #2 spots will start becoming more expensive. I just read an article that talked about Google planning for the future and that many of the changes we are experiencing right now are to plan for what is to come. The article states that in this case Google is adapting to the increase in mobile web users and doing so at a time when they can afford to take a hit since AdWords is still very successful.

  6. And then take into account that the number, order, and makeup of local results can change simply by increasing the number of results requested, with local sites falling off the first page altogether as you increase the number then later reappearing as local results as you increase it more…

  7. I know Mr. Google update local listing and organic listing merged and show both according to google local and organic position. I am sure local business effect this algo. Now local listing system change if your google organic position is good then your site listing first page otherwise your site position down.

  8. It is difficult to keep track of keyword rankings and SEO is a very competitive industry so a high position takes work to maintain. – However it can be done.

    Thanks for the post. I found it very insightful as you share some good information. I agree that people need to test and take these things into consideration. Drayton bird’s words are ‘test, test and test again’. Testing really does help in terms of SEO, why wouldn’t you want to keep a track on things and improve?

  9. Keyword startegy has ALWAYS been important. The problem is some of the SEO’s out there have gotten lazy. This changes practicly FORCES the SEO to rethink and strategize on a much more focused level. Without it, the results…well, they will be buried on page 12!

    Great article Alan! Thanks for sharing!

  10. I am surprised about how many people support this change. It really is a mess and devalues organic results. I get that some people want to search local, but why not make that an option like a news or image search? Or keep the seven pack they had before? But when you are looking for a Mexican restaurant in San Francicso, local results are a lot of clutter. Maybe it works in a small city, but they are treating it as if everything is equal. Personally I think it’s a gamble and could increase Bing’s share.

  11. I am surprised about how many people support this change. It really is a mess and devalues organic results. I get that some people want to search local, but why not make that an option like a news or image search? Or keep the seven pack they had before? But when you are looking for a Mexican restaurant in San Francicso, local results are a lot of clutter. Maybe it works in a small city, but they are treating it as if everything is equal. Personally I think it’s a gamble and could increase Bing’s share.

    1. SF Baker,

      I don’t see it as too many people supporting the Google change. Instead, I think it’s a matter of reality that for the moment, Google’s in the drivers seat, and those who don’t participate suffer. Ultimately, time will tell however. If there’s not enough companies jumping on board, Google may scrap it.

    2. SF Baker,

      I don’t see it as too many people supporting the Google change. Instead, I think it’s a matter of reality that for the moment, Google’s in the drivers seat, and those who don’t participate suffer. Ultimately, time will tell however. If there’s not enough companies jumping on board, Google may scrap it.

  12. So let’s say you do some fancy footwork and discover that a really high volume search exists related to local that gets a 2 pack map . Like the one I got. It may not be the highest volume search out there. But it just might be. …

    1. Clickprefect

      And even if it’s not the highest volume, it could be enough additional volume to justify the effort. Multiply that my X number of phrase variations, and it can add up.

    2. Clickprefect

      And even if it’s not the highest volume, it could be enough additional volume to justify the effort. Multiply that my X number of phrase variations, and it can add up.

  13. I don’t see lots of big local companies optimizing their sites. They don’t see it as they need optimizing their website for local audience as they are already known locally and people knows where they are. I think that it is more useful for startup companies.

    1. Steve,

      That’s true – many big companies don’t optimize for local because they’re not paying attention to the people who are looking for those services but either don’t know that company or are looking to compare. It’s a major mis-step that I see often. Yet once I show clients what they’re missing out on, those who take the plunge do so without ever looking back.

  14. Hello, Alan,
    Thanks so much for your kind mention of my Search Engine Guide post, and, yes, I know all about the difficulties of searching for local stuff in Marin. We must be neighbors!

    Would love to see you or the other talented authors at SEJ tackle the subject you mention at the close of this post – rankings in cities outside of physical location. I am getting so many questions about this via SEG, SEOmoz, Cre8asite, etc. It’s crazy…this has suddenly become such an important question and I am eagerly looking out for anyone who publishes on this specific topic.

    Really enjoyable post,
    Miriam

    1. You’re welcome Miriam – you brought up some important things to consider, and that motivated me to write this article. Yes – my next article (or one of the next) will definitely be on how to optimize for local when you don’t have a physical address in that location.

  15. Hi Alan, an interesting article. We’ve seen some strange results for Google Places recently and so there’s clearly much more going on that we know about. The simple factors still apply though…good keyword research, good on-page optimisation and links to reinforce those landing pages.

  16. Interesting post. I suppose however, due to Google’s Mobile First proclamation, the regional designation will not be that significant. Remember, local search is driven by the development of the smartphone. Your gps location will tell Google what museums you could be possible looking for. Let’s see how this plays out.

  17. but i found few listings without any address. also sometime i see double listing of a same website. what is that ? can anybody please make me explain ? because today google is giving high importance to its services like google local, google plus and all.