When Local SEO is not Local – The Regional Factor

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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!

Now, 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!

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”.

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 🙂 and yours, well, it’s just begun 😉

Alan Bleiweiss
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... Read Full Bio
Alan Bleiweiss
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