Which Is The Most “Generous” Search Engine To Local Businesses?
Earlier this month, one of our customers asked an interesting question in a training workshop. They wanted to know which search engine displayed the most local results for different types of search terms. Google gets the lion’s share of focus in the SEO world, particularly in Local. They also have the most developed local search product (vs. Bing and Yahoo), but does this mean that they present more local results to searchers?
We discussed our own assumptions on this matter and did some digging online but couldn’t find any research that compared the display of results on Google vs. Bing vs. Yahoo. This got our research juices flowing and so we decided to conduct a study ourselves to find out which search engine is the most generous to local businesses.
We decided to expand the study to try and answer 3 specific questions:
- Which search engine gives more page 1 space to local businesses?
- How does the split of search results vary by keyword type?
- How does the split of search results vary for geo-modified vs. non-geo modified keywords?
We (BrightLocal) conducted the study across three days in early March (2014). We focused solely on US results, using US versions of search engines and US locations.
We looked at three different types of keywords:
- Generic (e.g., [plumber])
- Service (e.g., [radiator repair])
- Long tail (e.g., [emergency 24hr plumber])
And we also looked at geo-modified versions of these terms:
- Generic + Location (e.g., [plumber in Phoenix AZ])
- Service + Location (e.g., [radiator repair in Phoenix AZ])
- Long tail + Location (e.g., [emergency 24hr plumber in Phoenix AZ])
We used three different locations, which we set in our browser settings or using local proxy servers. We picked the three locations based on their population sizes, selecting cities of varying scale:
- Phoenix, AZ – 1.5m pop (large)
- Albuquerque, NM – 560k pop (medium)
- Salt Lake City, UT – 190k pop (small)
We picked seven local industry sectors: plumber, dentist, hairdresser, accountant, attorney, insurance agent and builder.
In total, we used 126 combinations of search terms: 6 search term types x 7 sectors x 3 locations.
Analyzing The Result Types
We ran these same sets of 126 searches across Google, Yahoo and Bing. We then analysed by hand the mix of results returned and categorized them into three Result Types:
- Local Results – these are local business listings on Google+, Bing Places or Yahoo Local
- Large Websites – results for sites such as Yelp, Wikipedia, DemandForce, government or trade bodies
- Local Business Sites – results for websites belonging to a local business/multi-location business
The following charts represent some of the main findings of the study. A full set of charts and analysis can be found on BrightLocal.com.
1. Which Search Engine Gives More Page 1 Space To Local Businesses?
- Google is most generous — it gives more space to both Local Results (40%) and Local Business Sites (19%)
- Bing and Yahoo give more space to larger websites (65% and 58%, respectively)
With generic keywords (e.g., Plumber, Accountant), Google gives more space on page 1 to local results. In addition to this, Google hands more space to local business websites, as well. Google obviously believes that local results and local business sites provide the best “answers” and user experiences for these searches.
This is positive news for local business owners; they may not have the scale and domain authority to match larger sites; but, Google gives them greater prominence based on their local relevance.
On the subject of “larger sites,” over the last two to three years, there has been a marked fall in the user volumes of IYPs and directories, so it’s not surprising to find that they get less page 1 real estate. We recently published an updated piece of research which shows a 22% decline in traffic to IYP/directory sites in 2013.
2. How Does The Split Of Search Results Vary By Keyword Type?
- Google and Yahoo give more prominence to local results than Bing
- Generic terms deliver the greatest percentage of local results compared with other term types
- Long-tail terms result in the fewest local results being displayed
Again, Google proves to be the most generous engine. Overall, it displays the greatest percentage of local results on page 1 (although Yahoo returns more local results for long-tail terms).
This puts even more emphasis on Google Places optimization as there is greater traffic and greater chance of appearing prominently for key search terms. Generic terms have the highest volume of searches (more than long-tail, certainly), so there is a lot to be gained by focusing optimization on generic terms and ensuring things such as Category selection in your Places for Business dashboard are done correctly.
3. How Does The Split Of Search Results Vary For Geo-Modified Vs. Non Geo-Modified Keywords?
- Google returns more local results for keywords that do not contain a geo-modifier
- Bing/Yahoo show more local results for keywords that do contain a geo-modifier
When a searcher does not use a location term, Google returns more local results than either Bing or Yahoo. There are two likely factors driving this:
- Google is more confident in its local product and results than either Bing or Yahoo, so is prepared to give more results for non-geo-specific terms
- Google uses other location factors (such as IP address) to determine location, and uses these more aggressively as a factor in determining what results to display
There isn’t any extensive, published analysis of local searcher behaviour and the keywords they use (sounds like a good idea – ahem, BrightLocal research team!). But some recent evidence and discussion (see post by Linda Buquet on Local Search Forum) assumes that most searchers do not add a location term to their search query. This makes Google the more valuable search engine for local businesses, given that it gives more first-page space to local results for non-geo-modified terms.
Focus On Google
Given the size of the shadow that Google casts on our search lives, we thought it would be useful to show the percentage of local results Google displays for all types of terms.
- Generic keywords result in highest percentage of local results displayed
- Long-tail keywords trigger fewest local results
Google displays significantly more local results when a generic term is used over a long-tail search term. Whether a long-tail keyword is used on its own or with a geo-location, it is still the least likely search “type” to trigger local results.
So, Google Places+Local optimization should focus more on generic and service terms. Factors such as correct category selection and providing a list of services are very important to get right.
It appears that Google is fully deserving of the focus that search marketers give it. They have the highest search volumes, best local product and give the greatest share of voice to local businesses.
Of course, we shouldn’t stop using Bing and Yahoo as they also represent good, free marketing channels. But when clients ask, “Why the focus on Google?” Well, now we have another reason to support our actions.
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