“The most relevant results” sort of…

One of the interesting results that I covered in previous posts ( here and here ) was the occasional and glaring difference (using the same data set) of the results in the Google Onebox Local Listing and the Maps top results.

In a recent NY Times article (reg. req’d) and often in the past a Google spokesman has said “We will continue to innovate our search technology to provide users with the fastest and most relevant search experience on the Web.” Which is the most authoritative? Which is the most relevant?

It is hard to have two “most relevant” results to the same query (Restaurant Buffalo, NY) from the same search engine. It certainly leaves one wondering why Google can’t really decide.

Google Organic Onebox Local Results Google Maps Results
1)Anchor Bar – A.Hyatt Hotels & Resorts: Hyatt Regency Buffalo
2)Kuni’s Sushi Bar B.Adam’s Mark Hotels & Resorts
3)Hyatt Hotels & Resorts: Hyatt Regency Buffalo C.Buffalo Marriott Niagara
D.Anchor Bar
I. Kuni’s Sushi Bar

From a technical point of view, in this particular search, it appears that Google Organic weights star rating more highly than Google Maps. If one were to give Google the benefit of the doubt, one could argue that the purpose of the two searches was different…

In that vein, perhaps Google Maps is looking for a proximal answer based on your location and that Google Organic was looking for the authoritative answer regardless of location. That however assumes that Google Maps is still heavily weighting distance. (I will explore this but it is getting harder in that in Maps modern browsers now show the “click to call” button rather than the distance value).

If one assumes that in the future Google Maps results will be presented primarily on mobile devices that are location aware then this makes all kinds of sense.

In the meantime I am not so sure. It looks more like a spat between different departments

Note: It does appear (after digging out IE 5 on my old Mac) that there is no correlation between distance and ranking)

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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12 thoughts on ““The most relevant results” sort of…”

  1. Mike: Nice analysis. You may be aware that I’ve commented a bit on new algo’s from G maps at seobythesea.

    I agree, though, with what Greg Sterling mentioned, and which comes from several sources of research; that usage of google maps is minimal. I’ve been tracking visits to my site and several other local businesses for about 3 years and traffic from any variation of local (or G maps) is minimal.

    BUT….with Google pulling aspects of Google Maps into its organic serps it is critical to enter a business into G maps…and it looks like getting a lot of “references” or ratings is valuable.

    Bill Slawski has written and mentioned to me that G and MSN have published in patent work about the ability to switch algos. Recently I did 2 tests on G maps over 5 days and found different results; one where # of references pushed my biz to #1 in G maps even as the business was not only further from the starting point than was a competitor….but the competitor was between the starting point and my business (my biz had about 8 x the number of references.

    5 days later the same starting point showed the competitor as ranked higher.

    G could be experimenting with the algos at this time.

    Without a doubt though, it is far more important to be visably and easily found through long tail organic search.

    In my mind the best description of the process that I’ve
    seen was by Jake Baille at Pubcon this past November. DazzlinDonna reviewed it through SEroundtable and we further discussed it at this thread at serefugee; http://www.seorefugee.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4093

    Expansive usage of keywords with anchor text bls does the trick to generate organic search traffic.


  2. Thanks for your great input. I would agree wholeheartedly that Google Maps doesn’t generate significant traffic and that organic work does generate significant local value.

    I don’t think that local focused SEM should ever be the primary marketing tool unless someone doesn’t have a website…

    I also ask myself on a regular basis “Now, why am I doing this, again?” given that Maps is 1% (or whatever).

    So here are some of the reasons (let me know if you think they hold water):

    As you also noted, as Google includes more Maps results in their organic results pages it certainly has merit. The more ways you are on the first page the better.

    My anecdotal experience and a recent posting by Greg Sterling at Search Engine Watch ( http://searchenginewatch.com/showPage.html?page=3624135 ) indicate that large numbers of searchers are picking up the phone as their contact method of choice and the Onebox and the PlusBox are good ways to get your phone number in front of them. These results just aren’t going to show up in the stats.

    While optimizing for Google Maps or Yahoo local probably isn’t for every local business, I do think it helps certain businesses, particularly those that experience significant local searches like restaurants, hotels, etc. on the types of phrases that do well with the Onebox (ie service type + location, st)

    Looking to the future, both Directory Assistance (877-520-Find), SMS & Maps (Google Mobile Maps) demonstrate ways that Local Data will be pushed out in new and compelling ways to let the customer get in touch with you.

    Perhaps by the time those technologies are widely used we will have more precise ways (Click to Call data) to track how customers get in touch us but in the meantime it is still happening and Maps seems to provide one of the ways to impact the outcome.

  3. Wow: Mike, I gotta look harder at your research. Your efforts with town names and the volume and types of searches they generate is priceless and insightful.

    When I focus on the 1% element, I slack off looking at G maps. When I focus on the many values, primarily relating back to how they can enhance marketing in organic searches I realize the value.

    Of anecdotal evidence. Three businesses of which I’m aware have the maps showing for a search for a business/city. City and state names dominate in searches for urban areas. In each of the examples, since the map started to show in conjunction with a #1 ranking calls into the business have surged.

    Its a very powerful marketing tool.


  4. Mike:

    I was looking through your posts about Google maps and local search…and I thought I’d comment a bit more.

    In doing a search in google for Buffalo restaurants I noted how the onebox listed a several restaurants and then…..every listing in the organic searches was some kind of directory with nothing in the top ten or twenty representing a particular restaurant.

    Clearly that doesn’t satisfy a normal response for a search….unless one is satisfied with further listings and directories.–a list within googles list of restuarants.

    Use google maps and there is a specific list of resturants–in some kind of order contingent on G Maps algo.

    Then I checked backlinks for anchorbar, ranked highly in the onebox and w/in google maps–and I was amazed–over 1200 backlinks to the restaurant per msn.

    That is a fairly high number for a restaurant. In fact I’d suggest a very high number for a regional restaurant–and yet it doesn’t rank high for a normal search for restaurants buffalo new york or any such search phrase.

    That is a real break down within long tail google search. Directories are dramatically outranking the actual listings–even when there is reasonably strong back link action and a specific restaurant with address information.

    I didn’t check bls at the competing directories, nor did I check the anchor text for bls to anchor bar, nor did I look at the site–but that # of bls surprised me relative to their relatively poor ranking for the phrase buffalo new york restaurants.

    Even as g maps has a logic to it that lists only restaurants and not directories–and in that regard is more logically local–THERE Just isn’t traffic directly on G maps, typically about 1% of search.

    Its more frustrating in that using your research method and looking up buffalo new york in overture–buffalo new york restaurants is a fairly popular long tail search for phrases that include Buffalo (or Buffalo New York)

    So even as the effort to fully understand G maps–I’d similarly suggest that the effort be made to better understand how a restaurant with reasonably good number of bls cannot rank for the phrase restaurants in buffalo new york.

    In fact I’m gonna do a bit of investigating to see how and why they are so off for organic search.

    Its another boggling mystery for local search.

    happy holidays..and keep up the good work.


  5. Mike:

    I did quick further research, using Jim Boykins competitive analysis tool. I ran anchorbar for the phrase buffalo restaurants and frankly I thought that if the site had pages correctly optimized for this and other related terms it should show reasonably high for these long tail search terms-which would generate more traffic than google maps.

    Anchor bar doesn’t show in the top 100 in G for the phrase buffalo restaurants. (a reasonably active long tail search phrase connected with buffalo). Yet Its number of pages, backlinks, edu backlinks and age of website compare favorably with some of the sites ranked in the top ten for the phrase.

    With some rework the site should be first page competitive for organic phrases that would drive traffic let alone for the maps search…and do dramatically better off the web. In fact if that was the approach I’d bet it would gain more bang for the buck with regard to local seo marketing.


  6. Mike:

    I hate being a pain in the neck w/multiple posts but I further looked at the code on the anchorbar website and there isn’t a page dedicated to restaurant(s) Buffalo. What a waste for large volume long tail searches.

    Overture showed about 200+ searches for that phrase for the last month. By comparison my business located in the DC area shows no searches for its business type for DC but about 180 searches for the generic business term with either Virginia or Maryland.

    On the average we generate about 1,000 long tail searches from the SE’s for my bus/ terms and a logical geo description (Maryland, MD, Virginia, VA, DC, etc etc etc.). We have about 12 variations on the business terms that work.

    I’d suggest that businesses like this would be smart to optimize for the business and geo descriptions and could generate a lot of activity off of long tail search


  7. Dave-

    Your points are well taken (and I really appreciate the time and energy you have put into to thinking about this).

    You are absolutely right that Google shouldn’t be listing directories of restaurant sites instead of directories. It demonstrates the weird outcomes when the “rules” (defined by Google) are well known by some but not all webmasters.

    And you are right again that Google Maps data is not victim of that same arbitrary context and in the form of the onebox top local 3 provides some relief (when it doesn’t fall prey to its own algorithm).

    As for the Anchor Bar…one doesn’t really know their goals and objectives nor their business plan. but heck …:)

    They have clearly optimized for “Chicken Wings” and “Buffalo Chicken Wings” and do well on those searches. It appears that one of the their objectives might be to sell their sauce nationwide. While I haven’t looked in Overture I would venture to guess that they generate significant traffic from those searches.

    One could take the alternative hypothetical view that the Local OneBox has provided visibility in a secondary (to them) search phrase that compliments their main search objectives and thus there is no need for them to further optimize their site for multi phrase local searches(although you are right that it would be a trivial matter to do so).

    I would suggest that given Google’s current methods of utilizing local data on their main search results page that this is might be the strategy that a site might want to take….. Optimize the site for some primary key phrases and use the Onebox (like Adwords) to fill in around those phrases or to reinforce those phrases. This complimentary strategy probably has the potential to generate site visits AND phone calls more effectively than either strategy by itself. For the restaurant side of the house the phone call is the desired outcome. For the Wing Sauce it would be the website order.

    It remains to be seen but this approach might be more time & cost effective strategy (this requires some further exploration) for overall optimization of a regional or local business.

  8. Mike: choosing Anchor bar was pure coincidence. Further distorting the analysis is that this is a business/restaurant that has a history with a unique product and is selling it across the country (Buffalo Chicken Wings).

    Still I’d look at the other restaurants. While Anchor Inn has the history and volume of links to show for phrases like Buffalo restaurants…its made no effort to do so. Are the other restaurants even making an effort. If any were, I’m confident they could crack the better rankings for what should be a basic restaurant marketing effort.

    My own experience gives me no confidence that being in the top 3 for onebox listings are not a big advantage. I simply don’t get a feel for it.

    On the other hand I have the hard evidence that top rankings draw lots of traffic as do top ppc rankings.


  9. It certainly looks like none of them worked very hard at it, thats for sure.

    While we don’t have hard numbers on the Onebox results, we get a regular number of callers to our business that when asked, say they looked us up on the Internet. In many instances, it is for a service that we do not promote or even cover on our website and only market via Google and Yahoo Local. That is why I would love to see “click to call” make it out of the wilderness and onto the front page.

    I also think that dominating the space above the fold with a Onebox, an organic presence and possible PPC is the best way to get a call…

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