Google Doesn’t Want Searchers To Find SEOs & Web Designers

If you go to and type “hamburgers,” “shoes,” “candy,” “grills,” “beer,” and hundreds of other terms of ambiguous local intent, Google will almost always show you local results on a map that’s tied to your IP address.

But type in “seo,” “seo company,” “web design company” and several terms related to these two types of businesses — heck, go ahead and specifically add in a city name like “seattle” or “houston” or wherever, and even include the state abbreviation like “wa” or “tx” — and Google will almost never show you local results on a map.

Why does Google have it out for web designers and SEOs? That question has been going around for nearly two months, particularly in this thread in the Google Maps Help Forum. And, as Barry Schwartz reported on Search Engine Roundtable, Google employee “Joel H” (likely Joel Headley) posted an update today saying that it’s not a bug (as originally said to be), but a specific, conscious decision on Google’s part not to show these types of businesses on a map.

“Today, we’re intentionally showing less local results for web design / SEO queries. For example, [web design sacramento] doesn’t display local listings today. We believe this is an accurate representation of user intent. In some cases, we do show local listings, however (as NSNA/php-er noted) [web design in bellingham]. I’m sure some of you feel we should be displaying local results for queries like [Web Design Vancouver]. I understand that concern, but based on our understanding of our users, we feel this is the right decision for now.

“I’ll give the usual disclaimer that we’re constantly working on improving the user experience and results will vary over time. So, this could change in the future, but I wanted to be explicit about what we’re doing today.”

What Joel H. is saying is that certain industries won’t get local business listings even with a city name included in the query, but they might get a 7-pack if the query includes a word like “in.” So, for example, queries like “seo seattle wa” (even with the state abbreviation!) and “web design seattle” don’t show local listings with a map:

Google search: seo seattle wa

Google search: web-design-seattle

But if you search for “seo in seattle” or “web design in seattle,” you’ll get local business listings.

Google search: seo-in-seattle

Google search: web-design-in-seattle

This doesn’t just affect SEO and web design companies; the results are similar for queries such as “ad agency seattle,” “advertising agency seattle,” “graphic design company seattle,” and “logo design company seattle.” These aren’t local searches to Google. (But “candy” is very local, even without a city name included. Riiiight.)

Joel H.’s statement only says, “We believe this is an accurate representation of user intent” and “based on our understanding of our users,” but offers no details beyond that. There doesn’t seem to be any logic behind why this group of companies isn’t considered to be local without the word “in” as part of the query. And vague statements about “user intent” don’t seem to fit the openness ideal, either.

Until these search results change, or until there’s a better explanation from Google, expect to see plenty of comments and posts about Google profiling SEOs in 2010.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Maps & Local | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • the_gman

    I have noticed this and I was wondering what the hell the deal was. I find it amazing that Google has done this as a conscious decision.

  • garg.pankaj

    The local data is very much licensed and is in a really bad shape because it is manually edited by the companies who own it (e.g. axiom).

    Local search terms mentioned are typically mapped manually (partially) to the relevant places (?) and since this is not exhaustive you will always find such cases.
    e.g. “tennis shoes boston” gives me good results but not “tennis strings boston” or “racquet string boston”.

  • contentwriter

    Interesting. I agree that if people just type in “web designer” or “seo company” (or in my case “content writer” or “seo copywriter”) they should NOT get the map with local results. I want to be found by people everywhere, not just in the small city I happen to live in at the moment.

    But you would think that if people typed in a city name or other location, they are actually looking for local results and the maps could be useful. Although if you have optimized your website for your location, you should get found anyway. And I do all my work online, people don’t need to visit me or even know where I am located so in that sense the maps aren’t always useful or necessary.

    If Google says this is how it interprets “user intent” – I’m wondering if they only claim to understand the intent of users in a few countries. Because if you type in “web designer Sydney” (or Auckland, Tokyo, Singapore etc.) you DO get the map with local results. What’s the rationale behind that then?

  • garg.pankaj

    Sorry, I forgot to mention that since I am in India I had to type city name to get the boston local results. Otherwise the intent is understood by the queries only. Maybe you can try “tennis shoes” vs “tennis strings” to see the local results in your area. For me “tennis shoes” queries do not give me local results. Because local data in India is pathetic.

    There will be several queries working in US which donot work in Sydney. If not, Sydney has got very good local data licensing company :-). But this does not mean google is doing something different for Sydney.

    Typically Yellow Pages (local) data will have a business (e.g. Sportsline in Boston) along with few tags (like “tennis”, “shoes”, “racquets” etc..), which is how the “intent” is understood. e.g. “tennis clothing boston” gets me local results on map, however “tennis apparel boston” does not which means there are only handpicked (by the data owners and not google) keywords where google throws local results.

  • Brian Lewis

    There were a number of Google modifications that coincided with this rather dramatic and very significant modification. I want to say that these
    changes initiated about 10 weeks ago. I know because I had initiated the original post about the “one box” issue where searching “dodge orlando”, resulted in a one box for Orlando Dodge dealership and not all relevant dodge dealers in Orlando. Well, they improved those types of results however, my belief with regard to their elimination of a broader category of marketing agencies in a 7 pack and even as a one box for a specific business name search is absolutely egregious. I believe this was a deliberate business decision on Google’s part and not a decision based on improved relevancy. Are you kidding me? Say I am a business owner expanding into a new market and I am looking for an ad agency. I want to see listings not just those that have the highest ranking websites. To be continued!

  • sdefrawi

    This is ridiculous. Everyone thought it was a glitch for the past several months and now they reveal that it was no accident. Couple this opacity with the senseless AdWords suspensions and you’ve got a company that is, by all standards, evil.

  • garg.pankaj

    I am trying to explain the reason for the business decision. Most of the blogs have the inherent feeling that google has control over everything and they just take decisions whether they want to release it for the public or not :).

    In this case I think the decision is whether to release something that works 50% of the times.

  • abfabmedia

    I find this a nice move on Google’s part. It has been quite tiresome searching and find all the fake addresses and mobile phone numbers all over the UK and USA.

    Some people make boatloads out of SEO so what’s up with having a pay per click campaign in your locale?

    We all know how to work the system but, personally, my wife and I operate a small honest business and don’t want to stoop low and have crap listings everywhere.

    The more sensible of us know that Google are going to catch you so from a business standpoint it’s great that Google have made the naughty boys and girls “knock it off”

    Nice one Google ;)

    Plymouth, Devon

  • http://incrediblehelp incrediblehelp

    This makes sense to me. Why Should Google show local results when it is not necessary to be local to conduct a SEO, PPC or web design service for a client?

  • terrydunn

    I think google are being less than honest here, particularly as their mantra is relevance. Their comments are wishy-washy and they are hiding behind ‘in the interests of the user’. I think there is a not so hidden agenda.

  • seo4hire

    hmmm.. i don’t know what’s their reason for those results but for the interest of the user.. one doesn’t type the specific location if he/she doesn’t want localized results.

  • Chotrul

    It’s pretty hard to imagine why Google thinks that users *do not* want local results with a ‘SEO Colchester’ type query. That has a location and an activity …. what else could you possibly be looking for?

  • http://seobuilders seobuilders

    Ladies, gentlemen, this has nothing to do with Google not displaying the results because SEO services can be served worldwide.

    This has to do with what David from Plymouth touched on.

    Basically SEO is not a proven service – not just yet.
    Thousands of un-ethical companies tout and claim they offer SEO services when if fact they don’t know what they are doing. Hundreds claim to be experts but there is no proof and no guarantee in the service.

    Saying you offer SEO services is like saying you know Google.

    Here is an example of what is going on in the world of SEO.

    We can’t expect Google to gamble user satisfaction with a service that has no standards yet.

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