There are a couple of mysteries associated with Google’s local search. One of them is, “How does the search engine decide which web pages should be associated with a specific business and location?” The second is, “What location should be associated with a business?”
If you’ve tried to get a page to rank well in local search, some of the details of this post may not surprise you. If you’ve tried to unravel the mystery of why a business is associated with an old address, and noticed that the old address still appears all over the pages of the business web site, some of the details won’t come as a shock.
Google introduced some new ideas on what it means to be an authoritative source for local search in a patent application that was published this week.
Some Local Optimization Tips Pre-Patent
If you asked me a week ago, how might a site rank well in local search, and show the proper address, I would have a list of things for you to look at, and possibly some suggestions on how to go about improving the local ranking of a page. They would include:
- Checking to make sure that all mentions of the address on the site point to the current address, even on old documents.
- Trying to make sure that mentions of the address and business on other sites that can be changed, are changed.
- Listing the site, with a link to it, from directories that include the business name and address information, and updating old listings.
- Finding or building some links, or encouraging people to link to the site, on pages that include the business name, and street address or telephone information or both.
- Hosting some type of event at the business location, that many people might be interested in attending, and letting newspapers and other sites that might be interested in listing or writing about the event know the time and location, and a link to the web page.
- Providing some other reasons for people to write online about the business and the business address.
Of course, there are other things that you can do, pretty much limited by your own imagination and marketing skills.
With this patent application from Google, there are some other insights that may be gleaned on how the search engine might decide which sites are authoritative.
Authoritative document identification
Assigned to Google
Inventors: Daniel Egnor and Geeta Chaudhry
US Patent Application 20060149800
Published July 6, 2006
Filed: December 30, 2004
A system determines documents that are associated with a location, identifies a group of signals associated with each of the documents, and determines authoritativeness of the documents for the location based on the signals.
Here’s an example that was included at the end of the patent filing.
What signals are looked for when trying to identify the authoritativeness of a page under the process in this patent filing?
An example authoritative page for a location associated with Big Nick’s Pizza Joint located at 123 Main Street, Oakmont, Pa. 15302, might have the following combination of signals which could be used to identify it as authoritative for that location:
- The page is the destination for outlinks from a number of documents that mention all or part of the location or the business name.
- The page is also the destination for outlinks whose anchor text matches all or part of the business name (e.g., Big Nick’s Pizza Joint, Big Nick’s Pizza, Big Nick’s, Big Nick’s Pizza Restaurant, Big Nicks Pizza, and Big Nick Pizza Joint).
- It has a title that matches all or part of the business name (e.g., Big Nick’s Pizza Joint).
- The domain name matches all or part of the name of the business name (e.g., www.bignicks.com).
- It is associated with a single location (e.g., 123 Main St., Oakmont, Pa.).
When all the signals are weighted and combined, this particular page may receive a high authoritative score for the location associated with the business Big Nick’s Pizza Joint at the address of 123 Main Street, Oakmont, Pa. 15302.
The Problem This Patent Solves
Most patent filings start off with an introduction that attempts to explain what problem they are solving. Here’s a rough paraphrase of the issue that this one addresses:
When someone wants to find information related to a specific location, they may have difficulties locating the most authoritative documents about the location. There are a few reasons, such as the fact that the most authoritative documents:
- Don’t include the address for the location, or;
- Include the address in a sub-document on the same site, or;
- Include the address in text within an image that a search engine can’t spider and index.
Regardless of what the patent says, for a site that is tied to a physical location, a location that you want people to visit in person, it’s often not a bad idea to include the address on every page, and to do so in text rather than an image. Not only does that make it easier for a search engine to recognize where the business is located, but it also helps people who may want to visit, and it adds some credibility to the site by making it easy for people to recognize that there is a real location associated with the web site.
Unfortunately, not as many people do that as could, so the search engine needs to find a way that can help them find the best address for a business.
Signals of Location and Authority
Here are some of the things that the search engine will look for.
1. A local document – one associated with particular geographic area, which can be associated with a location, by one of the following means:
- A document may mention a business at the location,
- The address of the business, and/or;
- A telephone number associated with a business.
2. Number of links between pages that are associated with a specific location.
3. Anchor text of links between pages associated with a location.
4. The frequency of occurrence of words and/or bigrams associated with a geographic area in each of the documents.
5. Titles of documents (do they match all or part of the name of the business associated with the location).
6. Domain Names (do they match all or part of the name of the business associated with the location).
These types of signals can be given weights, and not necessarily the same amount of weight for each of them, and the weights can then be used to generate an authoritativeness score.
One variation of the process would give more weight to a document that only refers to one location.
I think that some of the implications from the patent filing work well with a number of the suggestions above about optimizing a business for a location, for local search.
I didn’t go into much detail regarding businesses that are associated with more than one location, though the patent application talks about those a little. The document also doesn’t provide many tips for businesses that may supply goods or services for a fairly broad geographic region.
But it’s good to see some of the considerations that Google may take into account when determining which pages it should show first for a local search.