Google Local Search Results Where None Have Gone Before

At a recent Local University, Googler Joel Headley indicated that Google desired to increasingly show local results whenever pinned results were appropriate and Google was able to show them. One area where this has become apparent is in Real Estate which are once again showing a broad range of pinned blended and pack results.

In 2009 Google rolled out an expanded real estate listing product. However that product was dropped in January of 2011. Before that period and until very recently, Google did not return any blended results for most real estate searches and the only local search in real estate that returned pack results was the very specific “realtors + city” search. Searches like homes for sale + city and houses for rent + city did not return 7 packs. Even the search real estate + city did not return pinned results.

However, at least since August, these searches are once again returning local real estate firms in the results. When Google does not have strong web + local inventory but thinks that there should be a local result, they will return a three pack. When there is solid inventory of local business listings that are doing well on both organic and local, Google is now consistently returning blended results.

Other searches that historically did not return local blended results were job related searches like “jobs + city” and “employment + city” that are now also returning blended results. One market segment that still does not show blended or pack results are web designers, advertising agencies, SEO Firms and graphic designers. These categories of businesses were removed from local search results in December, 2009 and have yet to return. At the time Google noted:

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 am curious if you seeing other local categories that previously did not show blended results now showing them?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Local Search Results Where None Have Gone Before by

16 thoughts on “Google Local Search Results Where None Have Gone Before”

  1. I’d speculate that this change could have something to do with a few of the recent algorithm changes Google announced:

    - “nearby”
    - #83377
    - #83406

    Apparently, these are mostly related to recognizing the local intent of the query, so I’d assume local results are now available for a large set of queries they haven’t been prior to these changes. Have you had the chance to speak with someone who is tracking large number of keywords?

  2. Nyag

    The link didn’t make it… could you provide?

    I have not spoken with anyone tracking the relative increase of blended results against total results nor against specific keyword searches. Would love to hear from someone.

  3. Thanks. That certainly seems to be the case.

    I think you are absolutely right. One search:houses for sale in buffalo ny showed this alternative results:
    Including results for homes for sale in buffalo ny
    Search only for houses for sale in buffalo ny

    For reference here are the points noted in the update:
    nearby. [project “User Context”] We improved the precision and coverage of our system to help you find more relevant local web results. Now we’re better able to identify web results that are local to the user, and rank them appropriately.’

    #83377. [project “User Context”] We made improvements to show more relevant local results.

    #83406. [project “Query Understanding”] We improved our ability to show relevant Universal Search results by better understanding when a search has strong image intent, local intent, video intent, etc.

  4. They’re going to have to strengthen their local algo before opening it up to SEO and web folks. If you manually look through maps results for those queries, many of the top results are pretty crap.

  5. @Mike

    I’ve found the local results on SEO/Web phrases to be lower quality than the standard organic results. Which to me, might help explain why map results aren’t frequently shown in those categories.

  6. @Adriel
    More and more the first two local results are also the first organic results (or rather were…now they are mixed).

    As to what is better that seems a subjective POV. A bricks and mortar shop they would probably disagree with you. :)

    What are examples of lower quality results that you speak of? And when you said “opening it up to SEO and web folks” what did you mean.

  7. I definitely noticed this changing with real estate searches recently. Interesting that you mention web/graphic design, SEO, etc…. They must still periodically test these, because there was a day/week sometime within the last 18 months where I saw the keyword “graphic design” triggering a local/pinned/map result simply based on our “Burlington, VT” location… It was especially cool because it was our firm!… but then disappointing when it disappeared within a few days.

  8. @Mike
    I’m talking about having map/blended results in the SERP results for web/seo related queries. Unless I’m misunderstanding the italicized quote from the article, Google felt in late ’09 that users didn’t want those kinds of results for the web/seo category, so they show blended or map pack results sparingly. I’m not saying organic is better in general or for other categories, just that it looked better for web/seo companies.

    2 months ago, I searched through some other Canadian cities to find how common a particular SEO service was among other SEO providers. Top results on organic were generally OK, but often the local map results had companies that didn’t really look like they belonged where they were, some jamming + in their business title. Maybe it was a fluke, or maybe I was using the wrong keywords, but at the time it looked like organic was better at separating decent companies from the others. It wasn’t really scientific on my part and it seems like it’d be something Google’s fixing in the short term anyways.

  9. Mike: As to the final paragraph with regard to advertisers, web designers, seo firms, etc.; my gut is that back in 2009 certain firms discovered how to spam maps and obtain high rankings. If some had figured it out, others would have followed through shortly, especially in those categories, where there are smarts with regard to various algo’s including the local algo’s.

    Around that time I saw some other local listings dropped and they were specifically dropped b/c they were doing things that did “spam” the Places algo(s).

    The Places algo’s have undergone a lot of changes between then and now….

    But its only gut I can’t prove that.

    As your article references the real estate issue, it made me think about a separate but somewhat connected issue:

    Google is being evaluated with regard to certain a”anti-trust” issues. Its an on going evaluation. Google knows it. They don’t deny in total they have this massive impact. Its the interpretation etc.

    Suppose there was some kind of anti trust effort to split google into some different parts or impact competition in some way.

    If that was a possibility it could make sense for a business like google to keep expanding its potential money making ventures and possibilities as much as possible. Essentially get as many of them out there as possible before a split up….so however a chopped up google proceeds its different parts have ways to make money.

    Real estate is one of those huge industries like selling cars, something where we have already seen google experimenting to get some “skin in the game” as you referenced a little while ago.

    Just an idea….just my mind wandering and adding my $0.02 :D

  10. @ Adriel

    I’d have to agree with you on this front. Many brick and mortar businesses who simply have a physical location with no onsite optimization, nor a Google+ business page can outrank companies who have invested in holistic SEO for years. Over optimization … maybe? However, it’s likely that the algo for local listings is still broken and still in the works.

    What’s even more interesting, is that some clients can rank higher (above the local pack) if they didn’t have a claimed Google Places listing, or there was an issue where there listing was ‘pending’ and their SERP was plucked out of the local pack, and listed above it in the organic SERP’s.

    As I said in a comment a while back, it wasn’t that long ago that Google was ranking businesses based on their proximity to the center of the city… oh, good times!

  11. I find it interesting that SEO and web design shops don’t rank locally. I, for one, would be very interested to know about local web marketers and, if all other things were equal, would give a preference to the local talent. There is something comforting about the idea of actually meeting the people working on my web presence. And it is nice if they are local so that if you need to work out a disagreement, they are physically available.

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