Whitespark Reports a 24% Decline in Local Packs

Last week I reported that MozCast was showing a decline of over 60% in display of the Local Pack on Google after the recent local algo update. Moz was gracious enough to share their data and it was determined that their search queries had been obsoleted  by the update. So while their data was internally consistent they were likely overstating the drop.

I reached out to Darren Shaw at Whitespark and he agreed to analyze their historical ranking data on any decrease in display of the Local Pack as 1)they have a larger data set and 2)they set location differently (not using the near parameter).

Whitespark’s results? A 24% decline in display of the pack during the two day peak drop (using the same date range as Moz). Not as large of a drop as indicated by Moz but a significant drop none the less.

Like Moz, their data show a small recovery subsequent to the initial multi day drop .

localpackdrop

Terms that appear to have been dropped:

From Darren’s postTerms that appear to no longer be triggering local packs (based on our rank tracker data and some manual testing): 

  • mold removal
  • dui lawyer
  • dui lawyers
  • dui attorney
  • dui attorneys
  • real estate
  • realtors
  • emergency plumber
  • commercial * (painting, construction, remodeling, etc) – anything with commercial preceding it seems to have stopped returning a local pack.

Comments and notes.

What is reality? We won’t ever know exactly how many Local Packs Google has stopped showing nor do we have any way to easily validate any of the methods used.

We have determined that the Moz methodology, while internally consistent, is likely over reporting the drop. Whitespark is setting location differently and is thus able to overcome the limit of the Moz report. Google though, has a great many tools at their disposal and we have no way of knowing how either data set measures up against searcher realities.

Discussion:

Moz’s data are meant as a real time directional view of the data and in that sense served their purpose. Whitespark’s data, on the other hand, is a retrospective review of actual ranking reports.

Whitespark used a search parameter than did not change as much and has a larger data set than Moz. While Whitespark’s sample is larger, it too could deviate from reality as the phrases used are keywords chosen by businesses as “money terms” worth tracking and don’t necessarily reflect the full reality of search.

Moz’s data served it’s intended function of validating observed changes in real time.

That all being said Whitespark’s number is probably closer in size to reality than the Moz data as both anecdote and methodology seem more consistent in their results.

Conclusions:

There was a big drop. Phrases that previously returned a pack do so no more.

We will not ever know the exact size of the drop but it was likely not as large as originally reported. It is still big.

A number of businesses will be affected.

The changes are probably still occurring although at a much slower pace.

 

Crap Google Results & Yelp

Yelp is obviously very, very good with their SEO. They apparently have the ability to sculpt their internal link values to highlight what appear to be the most popular local businesses in the Google local results.

Apparently their ability to do that in their strongest markets is even greater than elsewhere.

These results, first highlighted by Matt Storms on G+ (h/t to Max Minzer)  well before the current local algo update and they are still seen in the SERPS. They reflect on Yelp’s ability to manipulate the search results and reflect poorly on Google’s acceptance of those practices. Yelp, though, needs to be careful of soiling the bed in which they sleep. Although I suppose they could fall back on their all too successful (but BS) cry wolf strategy if Google were to clamp down.

Look at these searches (I am sure you can find more):

Google 7 Packs Dropped But Probably Not as Much as MozCast Indicated

Last week, in the wake of the Google’s Local Algo update, MozCast was showing precipitous decline in their tool that measures visibility of the pack. With the access to the actual queries (thanks to Moz for that transparency), Linda (and to a lesser extent I) noticed anamolies, with totally unpredictable results based on previous searching techniques.

The markets have nothing on our industry.

The other reality is that the search results appear to have been changing on a regular basis over the past 72 hours and appear to have not yet “settled” in.  See today’s chart captured below.

What Moz was tracking did decline precipitously. It appears however that the way that Moz was tracking, using the “near” parameter, has been severely affected by this update.  Bottom line seems to be that while there was a drop in 7-Pack displays in the SERPS, the MozCast is probably overstating what the “average user” (which as Cyrus points out below is a mythical baseline) is seeing. I am embedding below the best discussion of this from G+ started by Enrico Altavilla and highlighting what appear to be the best comments about what is known so far:

Sergiu Draganus Yesterday 1:15 PM

+Moz thanks to +Enrico Altavilla and +Mike Blumenthal report the crawling issue was probably identified.

When crawling Google without using a real Local IP address but only the modified URL with the near tag included, for Chicago for example, google SERPs are delivering Organics results for Chicago but the maps pack for the IP location used for crawling – in the next example I have run the search query with an IP from Philadelphia using your custom URL for Chicago.

Please check the results:

http://files.georanker.com/1406481194.jpg

Organic & Ads results for Chicago ( used in the near tag ), but maps for Philadelphia, because of the IP location.

Not sure where the IP addresses you are using for crawling Google are located, but we now for sure for that for that location the maps pack got a huge drop.

Pete Meyers – Yesterday 3:29 PM

I am very happy to have people validate #MozCast data – this is a real-time system designed to detect changes on the fly, and that can be tricky. If a change is big enough, the system may not be flexible enough to adapt.

In this case, the situation is complicated. Here’s what I know so far:

(1) This is not a system glitch, in the usual sense. MozCast is collecting data normally, and the numbers accurately measure what the system is seeing (more on that in a moment).

(2) The drop coincides almost exactly with the “Pigeon” roll-out, so we know something is happening. People have verified pack drops, although other have verified packs on queries that previously had no packs. All of this information is anecdotal, so it’s hard to sum it up.

(3) I have been able to manually verify some of the pack drops. However, I have also seen queries where I’m still seeing packs, even though MozCast indicates a drop. In other words, the system doesn’t seem to be either completely wrong or completely right.

(4) I have manually verified that our geo-location methods do not seem to be working they way they did previously. In other words, the system isn’t “seeing” what we expect it to see. This change seems to have happened with the Pigeon update. So, I suspect that Google has made some changes to how they handle and support geo-location (which their public comments suggest as well).

As of today (and, unfortunately, this change happened close to a busy weekend), my best guess is that (a) something did happen, but (b) the change is being exaggerated by MozCast. The question is – how much is it being exaggerated? I don’t have that answer yet.

Anecdotal reports were highlighting changes but not as severe as MozCast was reporting.

(Click the comment flag to view all comments)

Note that the MozChart is continuing to show changes:

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 8.39.39 AM

7 Pack Decline of over 60% Reported by MozCast

Update: Moz has provided me with a list of local searches that were returning packs that no longer are. I am sharing this here as a Google Doc. If you draw any conclusions from the data please reshare it.

There has been some discussion at Plus and SearchEngineland about the impact of the recent Local Search algo update on directories and Local Pack results. While the article at SEL was anecdotal this recent data from Moz is less so.

Here is a communication with Cyrus Shepard and Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz about the prevalence of the Pack in results they track:

Out of the 10K keywords MozCast tracks, 5K are localized (to 5 metro areas). On the morning of 7/24, 560/5000 (11.2%) were showing pack results. This morning (7/25), only 212/5000 (4.2%) were showing back results. We saw a 60%+ drop day-over-day.

Local carousels were also down, and one-boxes seems to be up.

When viewing in the context of the Local MozCast the apparent drop in 7-Pack results appears significant. I suppose it is conceivable that they are showing more on searches that Moz isn’t tracking but the Moz sample is large and varied and this is the best overall view so far.

MozCast_Feature_Graph
Click to view larger

Google Updates Local Algo with More Web Based Signals – Turmoil in SERPS

Update: Great tip from Joy Hawkins to get a sense of the changes: In fact, if you search Google.ca for anything you’ll see the results that USED to show in the US yesterday (old algorithm I’m guessing)

Last night just before going to bed reports (h/t to Brian Mayo) started drifting in about missing 7 packs in the real estate results. Map results that had been showing on almost all real estate related searches had disappeared from the results as have DUI lawyers. Around that same time Searchineland reported that Google was reporting a major update to the local ranking algo:

Google has released a new algorithm to provide a more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. The changes will be visible within the Google Maps search results and Google Web search results.

The core changes are behind the scenes, but it does impact local search results rankings and some local businesses may notice an increase or decrease in web site referrals, leads and business from the change.

Google told us that the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.

In addition, Google said that this new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.

The Local Search Weather Report is showing higher volatility today and MozCast Feature Graph for local seems to have captured the loss of the 7 pack on a number of searches where it was previously present (although they are showing no decline in the carousel):

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 2.02.47 AM

In searches I follow there has been both ups, downs and the disappearance of the pack where it was previously prominent. In one case a detached listing which had been doing well both organically and locally but wasn’t in the pack returned to the pack.

There also appears to be less duplication of results in both the 7-Pack and the organic where the order of the organic and local results mirrored each other. And in this search at least, the radius of the search has been reduced significantly. The three organic top results were all located in the suburb to the east of the city.

Screen-Shot-2014-07-25-at-2.11

Google noted in the SEL article that the changes were rolling out in the US. Curious if Canada or Europe is seeing a similar turmoil. Your observations would be welcome.

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

On December 31st, 2009 my headline was:
GOOGLE TO SEO’S, DESIGNERS & ADVERTISING AGENTS: YOU ARE OFF THE MAP!

Well as of last night, after almost 5 years, you (as well as web designers, advertising agencies and marketing firms) are back in the Local results in most markets (thanks to Max Minzer for the tip). It appears to be a function of the new Local algo update that was announced last night. I doubt that SEO’s are now back in Google’s good graces but regardless it reflects the big change in the new algo.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 3.07.03 AM
I wanted to show Andrew’s mug before he did.

In November of 2009 here were examples of searches that had lost their local universal results that I noted in a blog post at the time (those in bold are now again showing pack results):

For example none of the following show a Map or Local listing results:
-Marketing Firms Boston MA
-Local Search Marketing Portland OR
-Web Hosting Denver Co
-Web Design Los Angeles Ca
-Advertising agency NY NY

Google Sends Out Local Sticker with Sophisticated, Personalized AdWords Solicitation

Sticker BackI just received the this Review Us on Google  window sticker enclosed with a very sophisticated and personalized pitch based on the fact that I had a verified Local listing on Google Plus. The sticker was the hook to open the envelope.

Once opened I was presented with a very slick, individualized piece of literature. The flyer showed a localized, personalized Map declaring that blumenthals.com was now on the Map and they embedded our business name front and center.

03-Page 1

As you flipped through to page 2, Google pitched the benefits of showing up for a brand search on “Blumenthals.com” and having our hours and phone show as a mobile knowledge panel. (Unfortunately for Google it doesn’t unless I add a geo-modifier… alas).

From there Google pitches the idea that I can get category level exposure and keyword search results with… (a clue: its not SEO)…. Adwords.

Despite the ironies of our company not showing on a branded search, it is an incredibly effective piece. Even if the stickers are somewhat lame Google has managed to leverage their Adwords budget to highlight their free local offering and tie two historically independent areas of Google together into a package that sells both things.

Too see scans of the complete piece: Continue reading

Authorship Photos – Sayonara, It was nice to know you

In case you are living under an SEO rock or this is the only blog you are reading, John Mueller announced the end of author photos:

We’ve been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices. As a part of this, we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)

For more information on using authorship on pages of your website, check out: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1408986

This

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 4.35.47 PMWill become something like

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 4.35

 

Google Promoting My Business from the Front Page

Phil Rosek pointed out that Google is now promoting, worldwide, My Business to SMBs from the front page of search on both desktop AND mobile devices with a slick campaign to get more locations signed up for….not for Plus page…

… but for My Business benefits:

  • Being found in search
  • Connecting and communicating with customers
  • Ease of Use

They couldn’t be giving it better exposure in their world than a lone link below the search box that’s for sure. And they are emphasizing benefits not features. Their deemphasis of Plus couldn’t be more obvious than this campaign.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 8.00.59 AM

There are still some complex barriers for the SMB to cross to get from here to there like SEO, attracting followers, developing a communication strategy and the somewhat unpredictable nature of local search but this is a great start by Google to get business folks in the front door.

The gloves are off. Well done Google.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 8.01.32 AM

 

Now for the hard part for Google… making the whole world of local social search not just be easy to sign up for but easy to execute in a way that really does bring ALL of these benefits to the SMB.

Man, would I love to know the numbers from this campaign. :)

Google My Business iPhone App Now Available

IMG_0074The last leg of the cross platform rollout of My Business is complete- Google announced that Apple just made the iPhone My Business app available in the App Store. With this release Google now gives the SMB the ability to access My Business from the desktop, Android or iPhone.

The  iOS app (available hereL http://goo.gl/Df7kxX) and the Android app (available here http://goo.gl/i6Yybe) are mostly at parity with the desktop version. They provide the ability for a business to edit the business listing (change hours, description etc.), view (but not add) managers, post to Plus, add photos, view local insights, switch pages and accounts and even change the cover and profile photos. That last one seems a bit odd but its in there even if hard to find.

Each component of the basic listing has its own cardThe interface makes effective use of the card metaphor to allow relatively easy editing and uploading of most things. And it even allows a deep drill into the Local insights with as much detail and as many options as the desktop version.

Missing are the add on applications like reviews, Adwords Express and a summary card of full Google Analytics. A minor annoyance is if you have links in your business introduction, you must know HTML to do the edits. None of these are show stoppers by any means and most of these missing items are hardly noticeable with the exception of review monitoring. Google has indicated that is on the way at some point.

The iPhone product works  well. The interface is accessible and useful.Sharing is front and center

Obviously much of an SMB’s basic information doesn’t change from week to week. There is no review feedback and most don’t yet appreciate the analytics.  With the missing review monitor and the failure of insights as a hook for most SMBS one assumes that Google’s goal in this version is to encourage the SMB to post social content.

Sharing is front and centerMost SMBs don’t have the time or the inclination to post to a social network. Besides adding additional reasons that would attract different types of businesses to this app, getting  those who have claimed their listing with Google to post is really Google’s biggest challenge.

There is not yet a totally compelling reason for most businesses to do so. Google has started to give local businesses a reason – the ability to have recent posts show up on the front page of the search results in a business Knowledge Panel. And certainly it is nice seeing Google increase reach for social postings while Facebook is limiting it.

But Google needs to take this whole project further than that if there is to be a groundswell of adoption. There are still multiple barriers to that need to be removed.

Continue reading

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