Google Boosts the Importance of Local Search

I had the pleasure of talking with Anita Campbell a couple of weeks back, for an article published today on the Technology portal web pages of Inc. Magazine – Local Search — How Do I Use it for My Business? If you don’t know Anita, or her writings, I heartily recommend that you visit her Small Business Trends site, which is filled with useful and usable information about small businesses.

We didn’t know when we were discussing local search then that Google would make a change that would make local searches even more prominent, which they announced this morning.

You can find local search information on Google’s Local Search pages, but they also will sometimes show information in a regular Google Web search in a section above their Web search results about local businesses when they think that a search is intended to be a local search. See the post I made about Google OneBox Results at Search Engine Land if you want a technical explanation about how they might decide to show those results.

In the past, these “OneBox” local results were just links that people might skim past quickly to see the Web search results. But, there’s a new format for those local results, and they have added a map and fuller descriptions for them, which makes them much more visible, and less likely to be something you would skim past, as you can see in the image below.

New format for Google Search Results, showing a tighter integration of local results

The other thing about these that is interesting is that there really isn’t much of a gap between the local search results and the Web search results in Google, like there was in previously. Presenting them this way makes them look a lot more like they are part of the Web search results.

I suspect that this will be a real boon to businesses that are listed in those top local results. Interestingly, you don’t even need to have a web site to rank well in local search.

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14 thoughts on “Google Boosts the Importance of Local Search”

  1. Bill I just noticed this earlier today while doing a couple of searches helping someone on a forum. I think it’s a great idea and hopefully will lead to more awareness of local search. For some small business the best way to compete is going to be local search so it’s nice to see.

    I tried a few searches and it seems for most places you’ll start seeing the local results when searching at the city level. Naturally there needs to be enough results in local search before you see it in the general search results.

    I’m also seeing some instances where the local onebox results are completely different from the top three results in both the general the local search at Google Maps, which surprised me

  2. I think it will arouse more interest in local search for businesses where location is important, too.

    For some small business the best way to compete is going to be local search so it’s nice to see.

    Imagine a searcher being shown in a local paid ad, a one box local result, and an organic result all on the same page? That would be interesting.

    I’m not sure exactly why the local onebox results don’t match up with the local results. I think either Dave (earlpearl) or Mike Blumenthal mentioned that a couple of months ago, and I had noticed it, too.

    There are a number of different possible ranking algorithms, and one of them is influenced some by location within the boundaries of the map being displayed. Since the old onebox results didn’t show a map, and the new one show an abbreviated map, that’s one difference that could be making a difference. But there are other possible factors that could be influencing the order of listings.

  3. Excellent point, Jonathan.

    I think one of the biggest impacts this move might have is open the eyes of some small business owners as they search, to the possibilities of appearing in Google, even if they don’t have a web site.

    I think that this will create an increase in referrals from Google which may just inspire an increase in paid search revenues from small businesses.

  4. Interesting point Bill. A nice self referencing way for Google to grab more advertising dollars.

    One thing with local search is I wonder how many end users go to local search. I know I don’t. I tend to add a location to the end of the general search. Maybe Google has noticed more people doing the same instead of heading over to Maps.

    I also think having local search on Maps hurts the adoption of local search. If you see a link called Maps would you automatically think a search there will return local retailers.

    If search engines branded their local search more as the Yellow Pages of search they might see more adoption by the average user.

  5. I’m not sure how many people go to local search either.

    I think that Google wants Maps to stand for a lot more than just a business search, though. In addition to yellow page type activities, you can or may be able to (in the future based upon some of the patent filings):

    1. Perform a geographic search, and learn about an area.
    2. Get driving directions
    3. Get walking directions, and public and private transportation information
    4. Find nonbusiness locations and information about them, such as parks and other points of attraction.
    5. Plan trips, customize maps, and find interesting stopping points along the way.
    6. Learn about traffic in real time.
    7. Find the location of nearby cabs, and fleet and delivery vehicles.
    8. Learn about shops, restaurants and other merchants in resort and commercial areas.
    9. Provide more human-centric directions, including landmarks along the way.

    I’m not sure how much of those features will be integrated into maps, but it’s possible that a lot of them may.

    The enhanced local onebox results may get more people looking at the local results. I’d imagine that they are – be interesting to be looking at the effect on Google’s user stats.

    I can imagine this conversation:

    “Hey, Joe, your business is listed in Google.”

    “But I don’t have a web site.”

    “Well, it’s there anyway.”

    “Hmmm. Wonder how that happened.”

    Now that the onebox local results show more than just a link, include colorful maps that draw people’s eyes to them, have less of a visible gap between those results and web results, and are the same length as the web results, I think a lot more attention will be paid to them.

  6. I can see the differences and impacts already. This will have dramatic effects for local business/services on the web.

    Dave

  7. Bill:

    I rigorously check my biz long tail searches with local phrases and I can see where this is going to be detrimental to me immediately. A short while ago my biz google local listings went south. I haven’t had time to check it and wasn’t too concerned…but now it will have dramatic impact. My guess is it will negatively impact 1/3 of my best leads based on this latest series of changes.

    If people focused on local business sites are following this I’d look at this real hard.

    This site and mike blumenthal’s blog at blumenthals.com/blog are great resources for looking at what is going on with regard to G maps.

    I’d check it immediately.

    Dave

  8. I’ve checked with a couple of people who are showing in those enhanced onebox local results, and we’re seeing traffic up because of them.

    Since they are in the new format, people may be clicking on them based upon their novelty. But since there’s not a lot of distinction between them and organic results (same width and not much of a gap between them and the organic results), I think they may continue to draw traffic.

    They may have an impact upon your longtail terms. I agree with you on the importance of folks taking a close look at their traffic stats.

  9. One other side comment. I thought the Gord Hotchkiss interview w/Melissa Mayer of Google at Searchengineland on 1/26 was very revealing with regard to user activity vis a vis application of the onebox.

    She noted its usage, fluctuation of usage, and that Google keeps it when there is significant visitor clickthroughs on the onebox and eliminates when it doesn’t draw visitor action.

    Clearly Google monitors, evaluates and has a better read on visitor usage of all aspects of its pages than any of us and it clearly has a tight read on onebox effectiveness.

    Over the long term I’d bet they’ll monetise this.

    In the meantime It’s a potential seachange for local entities.

  10. Hello Bill -
    Thank you for the link to the Anita Campbell article. Her name is new to me, but her article was really an excellent primer and her site looks very useful. Congratulations on being her inside source for that article.

    I thought I’d mention, I tried your ‘pizza search’ for the largest town in my county, and rather than getting the type of results for this that you did for Newark, I got three phone numbers for people whose last name was Pizza! How whacky! John and Lynne Pizza may be getting some unwanted phone calls…

    Why would Google not have pizza shops in my area for this new local search function? Haven’t gotten around to finding them yet? What do you think? I’d be interested to know.

    Mirian

  11. I was excited to see Marissa Mayer’s statement on the OneBox, because it was pretty consistent with my reading of the OneBox Patent filing from around a week ago. User click throughs and other activities determine which database shows up as a onebox, if any at all.

    Though I think that there are times when that might be trumped, like in Miriam’s example of the Pizza family. :)

    I suspect that Google might be prioritizing people’s phone numbers over onebox results, purposefully.

    You’re welcome, Miriam. Anita’s been coming out with some great stuff for a few years, but this was the first time we had ever really had worked together in some way, which was nice.

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