Google: Location a “Hugely Important” Signal

By: Chris Crum - March 25, 2010

Google made a couple of interesting comments at a mobile marketing and advertising event in Vegas. Michael at Mobile Marketing Watch reports that Diana Pouliot – Director of Mobile Advertising at Google says a third of all Google searches via the mobile web pertain to some aspect of the searcher’s local environment.

In addition, Google Mobile Ads Group Product Manager Paul Feng reportedly said, "We think of location as a hugely important signal."

How important is location to relevance? Discuss here.

So just how important of a signal is location to Google? Feng may have been talking about ad relevance specifically, but we know it plays some role in organic search. Otherwise, people would not get different search results based on where they are, which has been the case for some time. Perhaps the real question is whether location will start carrying more weight as searchers increasingly turn to their mobile devices for a greater percentage of their queries.

Location is already playing a significant role in the way people are searching on their mobile devices, and not just with search engines. WebProNews had an interesting discussion with RateItAll President Lawrence Coburn at the Online Marketing Summit last month about how consumers sharing their location has in essence become a new way of sending out a generic query, one that is becoming more prevalent with the growing popularity of location-sharing services like Gowalla and Foursquare.

"The thing about Foursquare and Gowalla, and these check-in apps, is like, a single tap of your phone is a powerful piece of data. It creates a connection with the merchant (with a bar or a restaurant) that you’re at," explains Coburn. "It tells your friends where you are, and then in the aggregate, it tells the services like Foursquare and Gowalla what places are hot. And then you can imagine, like a local coupon or a local ad network overlaid on top, where a business is having a slow Tuesday, and they can blast out to everybody in their neighborhood, and say ‘hey, we’re doing half off beers in our place RIGHT NOW,’ and they can decide that on the fly, and reach a community that’s right around them."

Despite apps like these, Twitter now has location features, and Facebook is expected to have some very soon. That has to be considered a whole new ballgame, not only because of the popularity of these social networks, but their relationships with the search engines. The social networks are already becoming more integrated into search results through real-time search, as well as social search (not to mention the web in general through Facebook Connect, APIs, etc.). Given Google’s fondness for delivering relevant results and an increased rate of user location sharing, it’s hard not to imagine location becoming more of a factor in search than ever.

In recent months, Google has already begun placing a great deal more emphasis on location than it has in the past. For example, last month, the search engine added a new search option to its list, called "nearby." This lets users filter their results based on either their default location or a custom one.

Google adds Nearby as an option for search results

"Location has become an important part of the way we search. If you’re a foodie looking for restaurant details, food blogs or the closest farmer’s market, location can be vital to helping you find the right information," said Product Manager Jackie Bavaro of the feature. "One of the really helpful things about this tool is that it works geographically — not just with keywords — so you don’t have to worry about adding ‘Minneapolis’ to your query and missing webpages that only say ‘St. Paul" or "Twin Cities.’"

Another example of Google’s recent emphasis on location would be the tailoring of search suggestions to user location, a feature introduced in January.

Geo Suggestions on Google

On the advertising side of things, Google is already targeting ads based on location. The company even released ads with click-to-call phone numbers recently.

Google is optimistic that ad rates may beat the desktop standard in time. "We hope and believe that there’s even a chance that we could exceed desktop in the future," Google’s Vic Gundotra reportedly said last week. Location information will no doubt play a significant role in the quest for achieving such a goal. The fact of the matter is that location makes targeting easier in many cases, and location is much more of a factor when it comes to mobile. Back to Google’s comments in Vegas, Feng is said to have hinted at Google working on improving ad formats soon, with features that would include "new forms of user interaction," including navigation.

Regardless of location’s role in search, businesses are already finding great benefits from users sharing their location information. Here are some things I mentioned in a previous article that you can do as a small business to stay ahead of the curve with regards to user-location sharing:

1. Keep up with what mobile apps are popular on the most popular devices

2. Study what makes these apps and their respective users tick.

3. Determine which of these has a functionality that your business can directly take advantage of

4. Verify your business at Google’s Local Business Center

5. Keep a close eye on what Google is doing in the local search space (there are frequent announcements that directly relate to this)

6. Keep a close eye on how Twitter users interact with geo features, particularly those who follow you

7. Definitely keep a close eye on Facebook announcements, looking for geo-related tidbits to drop

8. When using social media, include your business location in updates when appropriate, and promote offers (time-sensitive perhaps) that encourage nearby people to stop in (if you have a brick and mortar store) or meet for a quote at a nearby restaurant for example (be creative…without being too stalkerish)

Share other ideas here.

Is location part of your strategy for reaching customers through search? If you run an online business (as opposed to brick and mortar) do you think this will affect you? Share your thoughts on the subject.

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Bhawna

    So does that mean location of server where the website is hosted will also be given more importance now?

    Suppose I have a website in UK but hosted on server in US, will it effect my rankings even more?

  • Rob

    The dynamic component tools in SketchUp provide enormous possibilities for interacting in combined environments.
    These are exciting times and the real/virtual properties are exposing a new layer of Web/real world experiences and possibly a new dimension.

  • Linda

    There are many marketing opportunities for small businesses with sites like FourSquare and Gowalla, as well as with the upcoming location aware features planned for Twitter and Facebook. Small businesses owners will have many opportunities for instantly interacting with their customers and getting to know and interact with them, not just trying to sell to them.

  • Crystal Coleman

    Placing more emphasis on location is going to be an interesting element for my online business. I serve a target market that is not based on location; I serve online entrepreneurs. My business model is based almost entirely on an online environment, partly because the local businesses (in large part) do not have a need for my services.

    My concern is that while my listing may be relevant to a business owner searching for online office support, that I’ll lose out on relevancy due to my physical location -a factor that is irrelevant to many online professional service businesses, like mine.

    Will be interesting to watch the development!

    • start a janitorial office cleaning business

      I too do roughly the same type of business as Crystal, although in a very narrow field. Don’t worry, Crystal, no competition here! But it will be very interesting, and probably a little unnerving at first, in trying to keep up with this and learning how to tailor things to work with the new systems. Sometimes I wish Google would just take a year off! :)

  • joy

    As an artist who lives in regional Australia and a very sparse population density, location will impact seriously on my ability to connect with the rest of the world.

    I already know what’s in my area and it isn’t much.

    Having developed an international reputation for my art and attended exhibitions in overseas countries, all opportunities that came from being online, I can see that location will seriously impact on my business……

    I hate the idea! The web is about connecting with the world, not being put back in ‘our boxes’!

    Come on Google, what happened to that awesome place called the internet that connected us all as human beings and didn’t discriminate! What is happening to the level playing field?

  • Clinton Cimring

    Google may be ruining the name of the game for SEOs but we have proxy IPs…

  • nomansland

    Google is google and not a locational fad like the Facebook or twitter. Whatever Google does is fairplay. Look at all google products. Simplest possible technology which even a baby can use. I don’t buy the idea that google has locational hangups.

  • Saxon

    I run an international reference site. Whilst it is not unique, it is of value to any English speaker in the world (and non-English with page translation). I have seen my visitors’ location become steadily more localised as Google’s skewing of SER bites. And conversely, I am finding it harder to get the international search results that I want!

    But Google is a business, every bit as money-grabbing as Microsoft. They want the Advertising revenue, and the better they serve their paying customers the more they make.

    I can readily appreciate that if I want a pizza (urgh!), then I want to see local search results. Fine (except that us UK citizens are typically bombed with US results as well, for some reason). But what if I *want* truly international results, based strictly on relevance and not on location?

    I have the sense to go elsewhere for my search engine, but it seems the greater majority do not.

    • Saxon

      …and another thing! Location. No, not the location of your business, stupid! Google chooses to skew their SER based on where your site is hosted. They now *force* us to host our sites ‘locally’ in order for their search algorithms to work.

      And even that is not as simple as it appears. My own hosting provider is UK-based, no problem (except that it *is* a problem because I want to list in US searches). But I recently discovered that they house their servers in Holland, using Dutch IP ranges! So that’s me screwed then.

      Google is a fantastic search engine. But when they start to believe that they can dictate to the world how it must be arranged in order for their search to work better (and make them more money!), I think they will find that the world bites back. People like having things handed to them on a plate, so long as that plate is brought to them, but they strongly resent being herded into corrals to make plate distribution easier.

  • Mark – Dallas SEO

    This announcement doesn’t surprise me considering how many signals Google as put out on mobile search (think the recent click to call feature in AdWords) however like all things Google I think it’s a bit too early to talk about what the final impact will be for those who don’t have a need to be relevant in local search and those who do.

  • Binging

    That’s the main problem with Google. They can’t keep they mouth shut. Now a ton of black hat marketers will create havoc on the engines. No wonder their search results are crap.

  • Free iPad Movies Download

    I think it will based on your location on what google shows you an information of what you’ve been search for.