Google to SEO’s, Designers & Advertising Agents: You are Off the Map!

Yesterday, Google’s Joel H has definitively confirmed that, at least in the whole of the US, Canada & the UK, they are no longer showing the 7 Pack on queries for Web Designers, Graphic Design, SEOs or Advertising Agents when paired with the City & ST.

According to Google, the searches lack sufficient local intent and their being missing is by design not by mistake. What strikes an odd chord for me though is that these very same queries, when paired with cities in Australia, China, Russia, Mexico and Hong Kong, do return the 7-Pack.

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.

The issue has been in evidence since early November and had been noted in both the map and webmaster forums (here, here, here & here) as well as in a previous post on this blog.

On November 11, when Google initially responded publicly to the issue, they indicated that the missing 7 Paks was the flip side of the OneBox frequency problem that they had just fixed. Google employee Brian B posted:

This looks like it’s closely related to the issue going on at the thread I’ve linked below. We realize there’s something going on here, and we initially pushed out a fix a while back. There was a little hiccup with the fix, which is probably why the results in Fresno may have gone back up and then back down as addoctane mentioned above.

The team is working on this issue. Stay tuned to the thread below where I will post an update as soon as I hear one.

However, on 12/14 Google Employee Brian noted in a different thread than above:

That said, it looks like a lot of the recent search examples on this thread have to do with web design, SEO, and other services of that sort. It’s possible that instead of being related to the original issue, Google.com doesn’t bring up map results for these types of searches because the search term doesn’t show much local intent. In other words, there’s not enough local information in the query for Google to trigger maps results on Google.com. Searches for the same terms on maps.google.com, however, do bring up results.

The situation brings up more than one question…

1-Is it conceivable that there is local intent for the search “Advertsing Agency Hong Kong” but not in the search “Advertising Agency NY, NY”
2-Why are these types of searches not showing results in the US, Canada & England but are showing 7 pack in most other countries including (but not limited to) Mexico, Australia, Russia, Germany & Chins.
3-One presumes that Google has the ability to ascertain searcher intent on a city by city, search by search basis. Is that not the case? Is it really possible that there would be no cases of measurable local searcher intent for phrases like graphic designer, web designer, seo, advertising agent & marketing firm in any US city?

And on the PR side, one has to ask:

5-Why does Google take so long to respond to these sorts of issues?
6- And when they do finally respond, why do they provide such a limited answer that seems contradictory?

One supposes that Google has the right to show what they want, when the want on their search engine. That being said, do they not owe the SEO, design and advertising communities both more timely and more thorough answers to these sorts of questions?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google to SEO's, Designers & Advertising Agents: You are Off the Map! by

29 thoughts on “Google to SEO’s, Designers & Advertising Agents: You are Off the Map!”

  1. Mike,

    “Do they not owe the SEO, design and advertising communities both more timely and more thorough answers to these sorts of questions?”

    No, and if anything, they are more hesitant to reveal info to the SEO community. With some reason, in my opinion. There are a lot of spammers out there who aren’t among the core group that hangs out on your blog.

    That said, their answer about “not having local intent” is just BS. The real answer is that the business titles for SEO / web design Maps results look too spammy for their taste because by now most SEO companies who read your blog know to register their company’s DBA with a couple keywords. I certainly did.

    As I commented in your last post about this topic, though, I think that by-and-large the organic results for this group tend to be better-ranked by relevance…at least in Portland, the web design results tend to be more established companies whose business practices I would trust.

    My short response: Google is not being truthful about the reason in this case (at least when it comes to results shown for KW’s with geo’s in them) but the end result is the right decision.

  2. @David

    Yes there is a certain level of BS about the answer. So let me rephrase the “Do they not owe the SEO, design and advertising communities both more timely and more thorough answers to these sorts of questions?”

    Does Google not owe their constituencies logically coherent and observationally consistent answers? They after all are driven by the fierce logic of their craft yet they place these illogical answers out for public consumption. If they don’t owe it to the marketers they certainly owe it to themselves to come up with “better narratives” if for no other reason than PR.

  3. At the risk of getting pots and pans thrown at me, I have no problem with these results. Others have pointed out if you put a “in” or “near” the local pack will show up. To me this seems like more of a natural query. When looking at analytics on a couple sites people do in fact use these words… although I only checked a couple sites.

    I do kind of have the “search online, buy offline” mentality. If that’s Google’s approach, (who knows what their approach is) I don’t see people typing in “web marketing yourcity” and then driving to a location to get some marketing. For a hotel, lawyer, restaurant, etc. I suppose that’s a different story.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. Thanks for the post, Mike!

  4. Mike, Time after time we hear one thing from Google and know the opposite. You can only pull the wool over so many times.

    I just do not get how there is no local intent if I am searching for Orlando Web Design. We find a lot of companies want to work locally with a design or SEO company because they can visit the office and meet face to face. So the whole thing about not havinf local intent in rubbish.

  5. The not having local intent is rubbish, many of my new customers & leads came from keyword phrases like “SEO Toronto” where they would find me in Google Maps. Local Business want to deal with local companies. I know I do it too. Yes, you can get these services anywhere, but there is something to community and be loyal locally that people can’t resist. Do they owe it to us “no.”, but there does seem to be a double standard here.

  6. @Paul

    I am not sure that I disagree. I don’t have access to the information that Google has to know what is the appropriate search answer. I do however find fault with their illogical answers.

    They have long been lacking in the local space in presenting a consistent, authoritative person to answer these sorts of queries in a timely and appropriate fashion.

    @Brent

    Either the query has local intent in the outback of Australia and in the outback of the US or it doesn’t. Seem hard to wash both ways.

  7. I think the seo’s and web designers can and have already answered the question. If they are getting business queries from potential customers based on searches such as web designer Kansas City, St Louis SEO, etc. than clearly there is plenty of local intent.

    The businessses at the end of the searches are seeing the traffic and they are getting emails, web forms or calls based on how they are ranked either in organic results or via a 7pack. It appears some above have already answered the question. On top of that web designers in Hong Kong, Moscow, and elsewhere are seeing the 7pack.

    Something is going on. Google isn’t telling us. The rest of us can come up with ideas and theories. I think the response citing the engineers reasoning is a bunch of bunk.

    btw: Happy New Year :D

  8. Gee….last day of the year and I didn’t know that I had a “target” on my back as an SEO practitioner…least that’s how I’m taking this news ie off on a tangent perhaps….

    Still, I wonder tho….what 2010 will bring for us SEO types….and this isn’t IMHO, good news….sigh….

    Best to you Mike and all for the Happy New Year about to start tho, eh!

    ;-)

    Jim

  9. Just my two cents – I think Google prefers to answer questions with it’s web index rather than it’s business listing index, one of the reasons that Google has to rely on a business listing index is that “all” businesses do not have a web site. Maybe Google finds that it’s fair to assume that enough or all of the

    Web Designers, Graphic Design, SEOs or Advertising Agents

    Have a website and Google wants to rely on their ability to accurately rank those websites.

    I think David has a point about the purity of the business listings for those types of businesses as well. As the ability to attract traffic in a 7 and 10 pack first appeared SEO’s and such were the first to alter their business listings to maximize their exposure and by doing so have unintentionally created a bit of a listing reputation / fragmentation problem for their listings, by stuffing keywords into the business name title, utilizing tracking numbers and creating PO BOX addressing out of market or just butchering the sanctity of their NAP.

    Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone made these changes maliciously, they just made them to figure out how to gain the traffic that they thought they deserved,( typical early adopter) now Google may be saying that they think their version of “spam” detecting is stronger on websites and want to rely on those, and their own user data tells them that they won’t hurt the “user experience” by doing so allowing them to devalue the business listing index for this specific category…

    But hey we all know how I look at the world, I’ve been accused of being the guy who carries a hammer so everything must be fixed with a hammer…… Happy new year, thanks for all your work on this blog, Mike. It’s a tremendous resource for our community.

  10. @Gib this is certainly an interesting (and valid) point that I had not thought about before —

    “Maybe Google finds that it’s fair to assume that enough or all of the Web Designers, Graphic Design, SEOs or Advertising Agents have a website and Google wants to rely on their ability to accurately rank those websites.”

    –but if that is the case, what is the harm in telling that reasoning to the SEO community or general public? It is a) not embarrassing and b) not giving away any secrets that would negatively impact competitive advantage?

    And I second your thanks for Mike’s hard work in maintaining this blog to the degree he does!

  11. and just let me add a Canuck thank you too along with Gib and David, Mike for keeping on top of this and maintaining the overview of G! well and muchly appreciated it is!

    :-)

    Jim

  12. @David & Gib

    While I agree that SEOs may have peed in their own bed, a cursory glance at advertising agents shows them not to have done so thus not explaining the action particularly well.

    It would be interesting to look at web penetration amongst the affected industries to attempt to verify Gib’s thesis.

    And to all, it has been a pleasure this past year learning with you and from you.

    May your listings always be shown in (next year’s) 5 pack.

  13. I agree with those of you that feel the local intent answer from Google is BS. I am, however, in complete disagreement that their decision is the right one as David suggests above.

    Did Google take this drastic and punitive action when infamous locksmiths were running around stealing each others listings and spamming the Google Map world with fake listings? Nope. They took forever to address it and when they did they certainly didn’t remove their listings for most reasonable searches.

    Google doesn’t owe small businesses anything and they do have the right to run their search engine however they want. That said, a little honesty and an explanation from someone in Google who has been there more than a year would go a lot further towards building goodwill with small business owners than these half baked explanations dribbled out in the forums.

  14. I find it interesting that the very people that have the ability to improve local search methods are targeted and removed from testing on anything that could provide a potential gain in traffic. The 7 packs would be a natural mode to deliver the localized results with the business name/city name/State Name. The only reason why I ever put city and state down at the same time in a search is if I’m looking for something locally or on a map site. There’s not a possible way to get those confused when the business type is inputted. It’s their decision, but everyone loses with their method.
    My Two Cents! :)

  15. @David

    I am with you that Google should hold to a standard of honest communication. These explanations weren’t just dribbled out, they were dragged as well. It is the height of PR madness and/or puerile behavior to think that they can build trust by acting in an untrustworthy way.

    It is conceivable to me that they find themselves in situations when they might not be able to communicate certain issues completely but if they, for tactical or strategic reasons, have made that decision then they should just say: “It is what it is and we will let you know when it is otherwise”.

    BS never sits well and most folks can detect at 10 paces with little effort.

    Your point on the Locksmith issue is very well taken.

  16. This is super absurd, I think! What are the differences between an SEO firm that going with a Google Maps campaign to a restaurant that doing the same?

    I mean, the restaurant can be one of the SEO firm’s customers. Of course that the SEO firm that doing Local campaigns to its customer will use the same tactics its using to promote itself with their customers.

    Maybe Google should take off the Maps from all queries, as it “lack sufficient local intent “.
    I think it’s a joke.
    Hope I made myself clear..

    Oh, by the way, I’m sending a great welcome greeting to all of you SEOers from us Locksmiths. Now we are all flagged by Google.

    One more thing. What is this ‘local intent’? if my company servicing the S.F metro area & my site has sub-domain for Daly City which ranks 1st organically for the search ‘**** Daly City’. Is it ‘lack of local intent’ as well? So why is it ranked 1st for this query?
    Something is fishy..

  17. Super post and comments on this issue. The point being made, above, by James Stratford, is one that has struck me as well. Because SEOs/Web Designers so often act as the intro to Local for local businesses, giving these businesses a pain in the neck is perhaps not in the best interests of Google. Because of the on-going experiences of randomness and oddities with Google’s index and historical accountability, I make sure to give new Local clients the most accurate picture I can of what to expect with Google.

    You may be #1 today and nowhere tomorrow with no explanation because this is how Google does business in Local. I have no malicious intent in painting this picture for new clients…I’m doing it to set their expectations correctly, based upon what I have observed in this field. This latest change further cements my sense of Google as having a somewhat irresponsible and freewheeling way of ‘handling’ public good. I’ve never attributed their actions to anything sinister…rather, their decisions sometimes appear to me to be undisciplined and poorly-thought-out. Very evidently from the collective experience being reported here, declaring that people searching for web design/SEO have no local intent is incorrect. So, what are the ramifications of this latest Google choice?

    1. A further erosion of trust, comfort and goodwill between Google and the very business people who are most likely to act as liaisons between Google and local businesses.

    2. Frustrated user intent for searchers who very much do want to work with a local designer or SEO.

    3. A lessening of opportunities for SEOs to become intimately acquainted with how Google Maps work by being able to experiment with their own business listings.

    4. A less accurate index of real businesses in these fields on a city-by-city basis.

    That’s how I’m seeing this.

  18. Mike, Time after time we hear one thing from Google and know the opposite. You can only pull the wool over so many times.

    I am not sure that I disagree. I don’t have access to the information that Google has to know what is the appropriate search answer. I do however find fault with their illogical answers.

  19. I can understand it being done for seo companies because most seo customer deals originate online and are done over the phone. I Don’t think advertising agents should be cut off though because that usually involves face to face contact.

  20. As a late-ish followup to this issue – I’ve been checking this from a local seo POV and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in my market (Ontario, Canada) the missing 7 pack allows a lot more space for Google’s own adwords promotion.
    This has also coincided with almost 80% of my clients receiving $200 of adwords/lbc coupons in the mail. I’m not a tinfoil hat kinda guy but that’s a fairly clear pattern to me.

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