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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Local Authoritative OneBox = I’m Feeling Lucky; or Not!

The recent posting at SEORefugee about the Denver Florist going broke due to their business being displaced by appearance of a competitor in the OneBox, has brought Google’s Authoritative OneBox into the consciousness of the search community.

The Authoritative OneBox has been the gold standard to measure success in local search marketing. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a singular local listing that shows up at the top of the main Google search results page when Google determines that a certain local listing is the authority for that local search.

It made its first appearance last October. Bill Slawski wrote up a OneBox Patent Summary in January of this year. In that same timeframe (January & February) it became more frequently displayed and there was an increase in use of the Authoritative OneBox. Previously it was shown when there was no competition locally but it started being shown more frequently and for the “dominant” local listing.

In some ways, the Authoritative OneBox is like the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on the Google main search window. It reflects the confidence that Google has in their technology. It reflects that idea that they can determine the single best answer to a query. It is said that Google forgoes $110 million in advertising revenue by keeping the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. At some level the button reflects a certain DNA of Google and their desire to be playful yet confident in their results. It also reflects a certain arrogance: the idea that their algo is so good that it can determine the answer a searcher wants to the exclusion of all others.

The Authoritative OneBox also demonstrates the fundamental difference (and difficulties) between returning relevant results of an abstraction like webpages and returning the real results of a concrete thing like a business. When would a user ever want just one response to the query Denver Flowers?

However it raises more questions than just that.

Why does Google limit the local onebox results to often just three? Why not 5 or 7 or some other prime number? What is Google doing to prevent spam from being in those results? Has Google put in place enough resources to validate that the information is in fact true as opposed to just relevant? Why can’t a business easily contact someone at Google? Why isn’t their any human help or a request form provided in the Local Business Center?

It is possible that Google’s DNA is getting in their way in their efforts to implement Local correctly. Because there is a need to return true results not just relevant ones, the Google confidence (or in this case arrogance) and trust in their algo may not return the desired results….their reliance on machines instead of humans may lead to more than an acceptable error rate.

I have little sympathy for a business whose business plan was predicated on being number one in Google’s results. For him, “I’m feeling lucky” turned out not to be. But I also have little sympathy for Google if they think that they can solve the “problem” of local with just an algorythm and relevant results as opposed to human resources and accurate results.

Google & Google Maps has immense power, the Denver flowers story reflects that. Google needs to use that power judiciously and with reflection and not be too influenced by their genetic predispostion to forget the there are and should be humans involved.