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:

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.


About The Author

Matt McGee
Matt McGee joined Third Door Media as a writer/reporter/editor in September 2008. He served as Editor-In-Chief from January 2013 until his departure in July 2017. He can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee.