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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google changes Local OneBox Ranking algo! Or do they?

With the recent upgrade to the Google Local Onebox, Google has introduced a significant change to their main search engine result ranking of these local results.

I have previously noted that there was a discrepancy between the Local Onebox rankings and the ranking results in Google Maps. With this update, it appeared at first glance that the rankings of the Onebox results were closer to the results in Google Maps. Based on this very small sample below I concluded that Google Local OneBox was now returning the same results as Google Maps.

Here are the comparative results the main results page Local Onebox vs Google Maps ranking from December 17, 2006

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

Here are to current results from February 3, 2007:

Google Organic Onebox Local Results Google Maps Results
1)Hyatt Regency Buffalo A.Hyatt Regency Buffalo
(716) 856-1234
2)Adam’s Mark Hotels & Resorts B.Adam’s Mark Hotels & Resorts
(716) 845-5100
3)Sheraton C.Sheraton
(716) 681-2400

Matt McGee from Small Business SEM was kind enough to point out that this was not universally true (ah, the benefit of peer review). But Matt contended that more Local OneBox results were unlike their Google Maps counterpart than were similar.

I immediately withdrew my hasty conclusion and went back to the drawing board. Was Matt correct or was I?

It was obvious that there were still differences between the results. For example, on the search restaurants Pittsburgh Pa you see different results between the Local OneBox Results and the Google Maps Results:

Google Local OneBox Results Google Maps Results
A. Omni William Penn Hotel www.omnihotels.com530 William Penn pl, Pittsburgh, 15219 –(412) 281-7100 201 reviews – Get directions – More information A. Omni William Penn Hotel – more info »530 William Penn pl, Pittsburgh, PA(412) 281-7100 – call –
B. Primanti Brothers www.primantibros.com46 18th St, Pittsburgh, 15222 –(412) 263-2142 76 reviews – Get directions – More information B. Hilton Hotels – more info »600 Commonwealth Place, Pittsburgh, PA(412) 391-4600 – call –
C. Mallorca Restaurant www.mallorcarestaurant.com2228 E Carson St, Pittsburgh, 15203 –(412) 488-1818 33 reviews – Get directions – More information C. Wyndham Garden Hotel University Pl – more info »3454 Forbes Ave. University Place, Pittsburgh, PA(412) 683-2040 – call –
D. Primanti Brothers – more info »46 18th St, Pittsburgh, PA(412) 263-2142 – call –
K. Mallorca Restaurant – more info »2228 E Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA(412) 488-1818 – call –

To attempt to establish an answer, I sampled 10 additional cities to determine if there was a large scale trend in the results indicating that there was greater similarity between the Local OneBox and the Maps results than in the past (although I have little baseline data).

After my first three samples I was feeling pretty good about my conclusions. But the results soon started shifting towards Matt’s conclusion. In the end? Of the 12, 6 results were exactly the same between the Local Onebox and Google Maps, 6 results were different.

Here are the results:

Google Search Local OneBox Results Google Maps Results using Local results for restaurant near link Amount of Difference
san francisco restaurant san francisco ca restaurant Same
chicago IL restaurant chicago IL restaurant Same
dallas tx restaurants dallas tx restaurants Same
atlanta restaurant atlanta restaurant Much Different Local F, C & G were A, B, C on OneBox
knoxville restaurants knoxville restaurants Much Different Local L, G & J were A, B, C on OneBox
rochester ny restaurants rochester ny restaurants Same
cleveland restaurants cleveland restaurants Same
olean ny restaurants olean ny restaurants Mostly Same Local A, C, B were A, B, C in OneBox
restaurant Minneapolis MN restaurant Minneapolis MN Much different Local L, F & A were A, B, C in OneBox
restaurant Detroit Mi restaurant Detroit Mi Much Different Local B, L & E were A, B, C in OneBox

Certainly, it is strange that Google still offers up different top 3 results on their main search results page than on Google Maps results. It is also interesting (although perhaps not important) that they do it roughly half of the time. The question is why?

It is possible that two distinct algorithms are at work and switch between cities periodically. That seems complicated to me. Perhaps they are testing to see which generates the least complaints or perhaps they are trying to overcome the inherent unfairness of only listing 3.

Another possibility is that Google Organic calculates the results slightly differently and uses ratings and other indicators of relevancy. One way to test that would be to evaluate a different industry that has no reviews on-line and see if they still present results differently.

Certainly, if Google is presenting “the most relevant results” it is hard to argue that different results are equally relevant.

Update 2/8/07: I think that Bill Slawski has identified the nature of the problem in his recent post on Location Prominence.

Update 2/9/07: Matt asks the Big Why question about this in his recent post: Why Does the Same Local Search Produce Different Results?