Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search

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:

  1. Checking to make sure that all mentions of the address on the site point to the current address, even on old documents.
  2. Trying to make sure that mentions of the address and business on other sites that can be changed, are changed.
  3. Listing the site, with a link to it, from directories that include the business name and address information, and updating old listings.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Abstract

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.

Example

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:

  1. The page is the destination for outlinks from a number of documents that mention all or part of the location or the business name.
  2. 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).
  3. It has a title that matches all or part of the business name (e.g., Big Nick’s Pizza Joint).
  4. The domain name matches all or part of the name of the business name (e.g., www.bignicks.com).
  5. 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.

Conclusion

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.

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36 thoughts on “Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search”

  1. Hi David,

    Looking at the patents and papers from the search engines can provide us with information about some of the theories and assumptions that search engineers may make as they go about their business of providing search, but sometimes the theory doesn’t work out so well in actual practice. :(

    That search for the Google phone number mentioned in your blog post does now return Google as a result. Good for them. Hopefully, they are getting those right for other businesses, too.

  2. I know this is an old post, but I was doing some research on local search and found this information very interesting. Just wondering how relevant it is today with regards to local search. With the issue about businesses not having a physical location, I read about how it might be possible to get a hold of a PO Box and use that as the address so that you can get listed in the local search engines.

  3. Hi

    Thank you. I think that many of the ideas expressed in the patent filing are relevant to what is going on today.

    The Google Maps group has some discussion of the use of PO Boxes for Google Maps.

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  5. Hey Bill, was searching through Google for articles about Google Local and came about this post. At first I didn’t realize that you wrote it back in 2006, which in Internet years are like centuries ago :)

    Anyway, I just wanted to comment because it continues to amaze me how much can happen online in so few years. Sure 5 years is a decent amount of time, but I assume that neither of us feel much older than we did 5 years ago, but in terms of Google, Local searches and the Internet in general, it is hard to grasp the changes. It is a infinite race we’re participating in.

    Thanks
    Mikael

  6. Hi Mikael,

    Funny thing about this patent is that I still think the process it describes is as valid today as it was when I first wrote about it.

    Many of the changes to Google Local have been more cosmetic than involving some of the core aspects of what it aims to do, and how it works.

  7. Bill what a fantastic article on local search. I have been reading a number of different articles tonight on local SEO and came across this old post of yours. It was a link in a very long article about ranking factors. I always learn a trick or two when I visit:)

  8. Hi Bill,

    Thanks. This has been one of those patents I’ve written about that keeps my searching through and writing about patents, because it described some very important aspects behind Google’s local search.

  9. Hi Bill
    First of all, what a great article.

    I haven’t spent to much time thinking on Google’s local search, but after reading your article I think I have to give it some more thoughts.
    Actually it’s pretty cool that this post is more than five years old, I found it searching through google if your want to know :)

    Again thanks for sharing your thought.

    /Kim

  10. Hi Kim,

    Thanks. I think the processes described in the patent I wrote about in this post are still in use today, and have guided the development of some of the other approaches that Google uses outside of local search, such as Google coming up with authority documents for other types of entities, such as specific people or things as well.

  11. Greeting Bill, I just ran across your post as I was searching about Google Local Searches and your post was listed. I have a question for you. When setting your business up as a local search is there anyway to get an address that is yours? the situation is that there was a different business at our address and we want to be able to have the proper address for our business. Thank you for any insights you might have.

  12. Hi Charles,

    Have you actualy tried to verify your business as being at that address, and report that the business that was previously at that address is now closed? Those are probably the first steps I would take. I’d also recommend taking other steps on the Web to claim the address there, like making sure it is properly listed on telecom directories, business profiles for many sites, and so on.

    If you have trouble verifying your address at Google Local, and removing the business that is no longer there, I would recommend pursuing it in Google’s help forum for Places:

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places?hl=en

  13. I’ve honed my SEO skills very well, enough that Local Businesses have been contacting me for help through people they know that knows me etc. Anyway, now that I’m getting more into “Local SEO”, this is stuff that helps bunches and bunches!

    Thanks!

    Gary.

  14. Hi Gary,

    Local search does have its own unique challenges and approaches, and it can be just as challenging as other aspects of SEO, especially in highly competitive areas and markets, but there’s something really enjoyable about learning that you’ve cause a phone to start ringing more frequently, or more visitors to walk through the doors into a shop or office. Good to hear that this post is helping.

  15. Hi Bill,

    My chin dropped when I read your reply to my comment. You said, “…there’s something really enjoyable about learning that you’ve cause a phone to start ringing more frequently…”

    I wonder if you’ve read some of my comments in other places before, or do we just think alike because that is soooo True! I love it when a client says “Hey! I’m getting phone calls from my website for the first time!”

    Yup! That is a good feeling! ;)

    Gary.

  16. Hi Gary,

    I guess we both enjoy that a lot. When you do local for SEO for someone, and they move into higher rankings for local search, and call you and tell you that their phone is ringing 3X as much as it normally has in the past, that really is a great feeling.

  17. Hi Bill,
    I am a Licensed Professional Counselor who has 15 years experience in small business marketing. In April 2011 I opened my own Private Practice so obviously my business is very new. However, I know nothing about marketing my small business “online!”

    Lucky for me I met and became friends with a young Man, Gary, a couple years ago who is helping me to get my local business / private practice website ranked on page-1 of Google in our local area, and he’s not charging me. Lucky me! In fact, I’m on his Laptop writing this comment per his “teaching me how to do this stuff”. I hope you don’t mind that I comment here. He showed me this site because you teach good stuff about local business seo and that “It’s All Greek To Me” type of stuff ;)

    Gary says he’s been reading a lot of blogs that have helped him improve my sites ranking from Page-15 (yes, “page” not “position” 15!) to page one including reading this / your blog, seobythesea. I would like to extend folks like you guys much gratitude!

    Gary is showing me how and why it is good to read, learn and comment on relevant blogs, so I hope you don’t mind!

    I will be looking forward to reading and learning more local searching stuff and information here.
    Thanks Bill!

    Doug.

  18. Hi Doug,

    Good to hear that you’re getting help from someone who has an idea of what they are doing. Happy to learn that Gary is getting a lot out of my blog as well. It’s people like Gary, who are reaching out to the people in their communities and helping them that increases the visibility and popularity of the SEO industry.

    Thanks.

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