Google Showing Local Results On Non-Local Queries

Google is rewriting the local search space. They’re now showing local search results — a map, business listings, and more — even when searchers use generic terms that don’t include a local word. This was spotted in London last week, written about on Saturday by a California florist, and spread widely yesterday when Mike Blumenthal wrote it up on his blog.

This has potentially huge implications for searchers, local business owners, big businesses with a local presence, and search marketers, too. As I wrote on my own blog yesterday, Google is changing the game where local search is concerned. As Andrew Shotland asked, is every search local now? No, but we’re getting there. Google must be very confident in its ability to identify local intent, and its ability to minimize the ongoing map spam problem.

An explanation below of how it seems to work and thoughts on what it means, but first try it yourself: Do a Google search for pizza, and you should see something like this, only tailored to your area:

Pizza - new local results on Google

Even though I didn’t add a city name to my query, Google is recognizing that my search probably has local intent and shows me the “10-pack” of local results with a corresponding map. The results appear to be IP-based; the image above focuses on Kennewick, WA — it’s not my hometown, but is where my ISP is located, about 10 miles away.

How It Works

1.) Singularity / Plurality sometimes matters

Local results will show on a search for “attorneys”, but not “attorney.” Ditto for “real estate agents,” but not the singular version of that. In other cases, local results show for both — “plumber” and “plumbers,” for example.

2.) It’s not always the 10-pack

On some generic searches, you may get the older “three-pack” that just shows three matching businesses. In my area, searches for “bowling” and “ford dealer” only show three matching local results and a map. Makes sense, because I live in a smaller area and we don’t have 10 Ford dealers here.

3.) It’s not just commercial terms

The search marketer in me focuses on business-related queries, but this extends to non-commercial terms, too. A search for “parks” brings up a mix of listings — some community parks, local government listings, mobile home parks, and even a funeral home.

Parks - new local results on Google

4.) Google’s local targeting is debatable

A search for “restaurants” or “italian restaurants” probably has local intent, and both of those generic terms show the local 10-pack for my area. But I also get local results on a similar, but not necessarily local search for “italian food.” I get local results on generic words like “liquor” and “burgers,” both of which might — or might not — mean I’m looking for something local. It’ll be interesting to watch if/how Google tweaks its algorithm to perfect its local targeting on generic terms.

5.) The local results are never the best match for a generic term

In all the searches I’ve done — as well as all the searches done by a half-dozen friends in the local SEO/SEM field — these local results never appear at the top of the results for a generic term. At best, they’re showing up in the fourth spot — and sometimes further down the page.

6.) Local results show internationally

Fellow search marketers have reported seeing the local results on non-local keywords in London, Canada, and all around the world. After I wrote about this on my own blog, Pieter van Schalkwyk from FlowCentric Australia said he also sees local Sydney results on a Google search for “attorneys.”

Australia - new local results on Google

What it means

1.) This is great news for small/local businesses

With this change, small/local businesses will now be getting exposure on at least hundreds, and probably thousands of prime keywords. As search marketers, we often tell our small business clients that they don’t want to rank for terms like “lawyer” or “doctor” because they’re too generic, and the competition for those prime terms would be beyond their reach. But, with Google showing local results on this prime real estate, a big door of opportunity has just opened up. A doctor in Topeka can get visibility on the term “doctor,” but only when local folks type it in.

Likewise, this should be good news for local search marketers who understand the ins and outs of optimizing local business profiles and web sites and can get their clients listed in the 10-pack or 3-pack. It also further kills the value of ranking reports, because rankings are now even more tied to geography and even your choice of ISP (see below for more).

2.) Searcher behavior may change

We recently reported that search queries are getting longer, and these generic, 1- and 2-word queries are declining. Perhaps some of that is due to searchers not being happy with the results after using a generic term like “restaurants” or “real estate agents.” All of that might be out the window now. Google’s AdWords keyword tool says there were about 6 million searches for “restaurants” in February. How many of those searchers will be happy now that they’ll get local results for such a broad term? Enough to influence the overall searcher behavior? Possibly.

3.) Suddenly, your choice of ISP matters

With the results based on the searcher’s IP, it now matters who your ISP is — and more importantly, who your customers use as their ISP. Here are the results I get from home on a search for “lawyer.”

Lawyer - new local results on Google

Meanwhile, my wife’s office about 10 miles away uses a different ISP. They’re also based in Kennewick, but here’s what she sees on the same search from her office.

Lawyer - new local results on Google

Notice that the order is slightly different: results B & C are switched, as are I & J. What would happen if one of us was using an ISP based in Pasco or Richland? We’d probably see an entirely different set of results because the IP address would point to a different city. How different will results be if your ISP is in Minneapolis, but you’re living in St. Paul? One Chicago-based search marketer told me on Twitter that he was getting pizza results for North Carolina! (His IP is based off a corporate server.)

4.) Google Maps will be a big winner

The added exposure of Google Maps and its local business listings will surely increase traffic to Google Maps. As of last January, Google Maps only got one visit for every 45 visits to a Google property. That should start to increase dramatically in the coming months.

The losers are likely to be companies like MapQuest, whose traffic will probably decline as even more searchers are exposed to Google Maps. And city guides / Internet Yellow Pages sites (like Citysearch, Yelp, Superpages.com, and so forth) may also see a loss of traffic, because their pages often ranked highly for some of these generic terms.

We have an email in to Google with some questions and requests for more information. We’ll update this post or publish a new one if/when we hear back.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: General | Google: Maps & Local | Google: SEO | Google: Universal Search | Google: Web Search | SEO: Local | Top News

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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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  • http://www.planetc1.com/ chiropractic

    Hmm, I tried searching some of those terms and I’m getting local results “near San Jose, CA 95134″ (I’m in Los Angeles) although there is an option to change location. Interestingly, the ads are localized correctly, just the organic results are off.

  • http://devbasu.com devbasu

    Hey Matt,

    Great coverage! I believe I was the first to report this happening way back in December ’08. Check out http://devbasu.com/google-suggest-local-search-keywords-generic-searches/ for my coverage on Google localizing search and thus changing user behaviour. As a result, I’m making sure all my clients have local keywords as part of their optimization program.

  • Matt McGee

    Dev – this is different. This isn’t Google offering a local search bar, this is flat out putting local listings on the page on non-local searches. Look at the screenshots. Do a search for “pizza” and you should see business listings and a map, not just a “did you want to give us a location?” search bar. :-)

  • http://www.bluelynxmarketing.com bluelynxmarketing

    Matt,

    Good article. I focus most of my efforts on the local business community and feel that this is great news. I did notice this in January when I wrote an internal article to show potential small business clients how changes have leveled the playing field. As a matter of fact I used the same example “Pizza” to prove the point.

    Well done in putting this together.

  • http://www.bluelynxmarketing.com bluelynxmarketing

    Edit – I double checked and noticed I wrote the article on Feb 5th.

  • AngieL3M

    Great post, Matt. That’s big news for consumers and search marketers alike. We noticed it on MSN as well, and found the singular/plural phenomenon to be true there too. Nothing happening with Yahoo! though (see our report from Monday here: http://www.expertsem.com/2009/03/30/new-format-local-map-listings/). I think the “Change Location” button will be big for travel/tourism businesses. If you’re searching for hotels, you usually don’t want something in your area (unless…well…I’ll pass no judgment!). But if you click “Change Location,” you can modify your results to match a location you will be visiting. Definitely makes it a bit more challenging for some companies and us search marketers, but it’s great for small businesses.

  • http://www.pixelsilk.com MarkKnowles

    Another oddity is if you google for “local pizza” you don’t get the “10 Pack” / map. Also, the top 10 organic results don’t know where I am. (seems odd)

  • http://ItsTheROI.com Jonahstein

    Repeating Andrew’s test for “burger”, I get the worst of two worlds. The big brand bailout effect lists 9 Burger Kings out of 10 results AND google geo locates me in San Francisco, even though I live across the bay in San Francisco.

    Overall, I would rank the first implementation as FAIL

  • http://ItsTheROI.com Jonahstein

    I meant to say across the bay in Berkeley.

  • ablears

    Interesting. I don’t think Google is determining location by IP though.

    Why? Well, I’m based in London, UK, and when I do a search on google.co.uk for ‘pizza’ I don’t get any local business listings. If I repeat the search on google.com I DO get what Google thinks are local results inserted into the page… unfortunately the results are local to Auckland, New Zealand. This is because I have my UK Google Maps (http://maps.google.co.uk/) starting location set to Auckland.

    It’s reading that rather than looking at my IP address.

    Anthony

  • MercruyWilly

    Now the question is how is the 10 pack list determined? It does not appear to be based on a central location. There must be other factors.

  • stefanw

    Stefan from @Live_search here. You know we also do something similar to this today in many cases. Example – enter “traffic” on live.com – we will try to detect your physical location and provide you a real-time map of your city’s traffic (sorry – it prob wont work for Kennewick :)). Same with “weather” or “movies” (altho those should work in kennewick). Additionally, we will pull up local biz listings if you type something like “sushi new york” or “austin bbq”. Just a heads up!

  • KenOConnor

    Hi Matt,
    Great article – well done.
    The comments from around the world are fascinating also, especially those that throw light on whether Google is basing results on IP address or something else.

    I am based in Dublin Ireland. As yet, Google does not include Local Business Results on Google Page One for the Republic of Ireland. Google does include Local Results for Northern Ireland.

    Mark, perhaps you or one of the people following your articles could explain the following for me:
    A search for “Dentist Belfast Northern Ireland” includes Local Business Results.
    A search for “Dentist Belfast Ireland” DOES NOT includes Local Business Results.

    Rgds Ken

  • http://www.contentwriter.com.au contentwriter

    Hi,

    Thanks for the insightful article. Here are a few observations from Coffs Harbour, which is 540km north of Sydney in NSW, Australia.

    1. “The pizza search”
    When I type in “pizza” I get the three largest chains first and then the 10-pack – with pizza places in Sydney. I get the option to change my location but don’t dare, as I don’t want to only see local results from now on!

    2. Search results debatable.
    I agree with observation 5) in your post that the first three or so so-called local search results are very debatable. In the queries I tried, the results towards the top were not helpful at all.

    3. Local, regional businesses targeting customers countrywide or internationally lose out big time!
    Your statement under What it means #1) that this is great news for small/local businesses is ONLY true for small businesses targeting LOCAL customers. But what about small businesses targeting regional, national and international customers? I am a content writer / web copywriter and rank #1 or at least very high in Google Australia on those and several related terms. This is how I my business works and how I get work. However, I am not in Sydney or Melbourne, but most of my clients come from the big cities and from all around the country & the world. Will these people still see my website come up in their search results, wherever they are? I sure hope so, otherwise I may as well give up now.

    I’ve got one glimmer of hope and that is that I don’t see local results pop up when I search for the terms I target. I sincerely hope that Google is smart enough to ONLY serve up local results for retail and food outlets and other businesses that are more likely to target LOCAL customers only.

    Do we know how Google decides for which terms to serve up local results?

    Content Writer Micky
    Coffs Harbour, Australia

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