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If You’re Not Local, How Can You Compete in an Increasingly Local Google?

Online Businesses Concerned with Local Advantage in Search

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Update: Looks like there is likely to be a lot more local action coming Google’s way soon. 

Original Article: There’s no question that Google has been putting a lot of focus on local results lately – from the release of products like Google Places and Hotpot (the company’s personalized and social recommendation engine) to an increasing amount of queries simply retrieving local results – often above other organic listings. 

We had an extensive conversation about this with industry veteran Bruce Clay at PubCon a couple months ago, and webmasters and SEOs have been stressing about it all over the web. In fact, just today, one consulting firm ran a press release talking about the competitive advantages local business owners have as a result of recent changes with Google. 

Do local businesses have the upper hand in Google? Tell us what you think

Consultant (and founder of the firm, LocalMarketingProfitFaucet says there’s a new type of Google Gold Rush. He’s referring to getting the prime listings from Google Places, which Google will often place at the top of the SERPs. 

"This change is having an immediate and positive impact on the local businesses shown in these Page 1 listings," says Adams. "The Internet-savvy business owners who understand how to take advantage of this are generating new customers for next-to-nothing. Meanwhile, a surprising number are still oblivious to the significance of this change. In fact, Google has revealed that only a tiny percentage of local businesses have even claimed their Google Places listing, let alone optimize it."

"From our experience," Adams continues, "Google has always given preferential treatment to unique, multimedia content that is kept fresh and up to date. And of course, stay away from any black hat tactics that try to game the system. Google always catches up to these shenanigans. When they do, your listing could be banned with no warning and no second chances."

If local businesses have the competitive advantage now, then some non-local businesses are wondering how they’re supposed to compete with that. After all, the far reach of the web has historically been an attractive reason to start a business in the first place. 

In a new video uploaded to Google’s Webmaster YouTube channel, Matt Cutts (head of the company’s webspam team) addressed a user-submitted question: "In a search environment where local is becoming increasingly important (and more full on the SERP), how can an out of town company compete with the local based (and locally housed) competition without lying to show up in these results?"

Cutts responded by saying, "The entire page of web rankings is there that out of town people can compete on, so the idea of the local universal results is to show local businesses, so in some sense, there’s not really a way where if you’re out of town, you can sort of show up (within our guidelines), and show up as a local business."

"Now, if you are a mobile business – so for example, maybe you’re a plumber, and you get into your pickup truck, and you drive around in a particular area – so if you’re a mobile business, then in Google Places you can specify a service area, which is roughly 50 miles around where you’re based, but that’s only if you actually have some base of operations there," he continues. "You can’t be based in Topeka and claim that you have a service area in Wyoming if you have no physical presence there."

"I think that that’s a good idea. You do want to have local businesses show up, and I know that the team has really been paying a lot of attention to try and improve Maps quality, make it more robust, check on the authenticity of businesses, and that will only continue," adds Cutts.  

In other words, if you’re not a local business, there’s nothing much you can do about getting the kind of visibility the local businesses are getting, should Google deem the user’s query worthy of the local results. I might suggest finding queries related to your business that aren’t returning local results and giving these some more attention, and of course there’s always AdWords. 

If there’s a particular geographic market that you’re after, but you’re not based there, you may want to consider setting up shop. In the end, Google is just going to do what it thinks will help users. Whether or not you buy that is up to you, but they’re not going to deviate from that stance, and if it encourages more people to buy AdWords ads, then so be it.   

You can expect there to be a great amount of focus continued to be placed on local. The company even moved former VP of Search products, Marissa Mayer, to this area of focus, and with mobile becoming such a big part of the way people search, local is by default going to be a bigger part of what people are actually looking for. 

Has Google’s increased focus on local hurt your search rankings and visibility? Let us know in the comments.

If You’re Not Local, How Can You Compete in an Increasingly Local Google?
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  • http://www.GooglePlacesHelp.blogspot.com Randy Kirk

    There are many black hat ways to get the job done, but there are also 100% white hat methods using legitimate local addresses. Want to learn more. Call 310-910-1848.

  • http://www.jumbocdinvestments.com/ ChrisCD

    Sure there are ways around the system, but then all it takes is a few “friendly” complaints and you are done.

    Frankly, I think it is about time that small local businesses get some attention over the big boys. Instead of looking for ways around it, maybe you should help other local businesses do well in their local markets.

    If you have the skills, you could probably do really well just helping people, help themselves.

    cd :O)

    • Chris Crum

      I don’t know that it’s really a question of big vs. small. There are plenty of small online businesses that wish to compete, and there are plenty of large companies appearing in local results.

  • http://www.jbcr-virtualsolutions.com Bill

    Google should add a local search option. When I search online I don’t want my search results to be weighted toward local options unless I am looking for a ‘brick and mortar’ solution.

    • Chris Crum

      There is an option, but they apparently think most people prefer local from the get go for a lot of queries.

      • http://www.jbcr-virtualsolutions.com Bill

        Yes there is an option but how many typical searchers tune their options past the default?

        Our experience from working with small business tuning their sites for search is not many. They just type in a word or term and that’s it. They don’t change options or install Google toolbars or even choose the entire Internet over Canada [in my case]. So when Google starts [as you say] ‘thinking’ for us, unless you are using advanced searches, options are few and may not be yielding the best result.

        This scenario is typical of most people that are not advanced users like us who make it their business to know all the bells and whistles.

        So Google should think in terms of offering ‘where’ options as soon as someone hits enter/submit. Example… I type in a search term and hit enter. Google renders a select option ‘Where?, local, Canada, Everywhere. Sort of like what they are doing with ‘Instant’.

  • http://www.jsiwebtools.com Ken Conrad

    I believe that Google local should be given preference where the consumer is looking for a local business. For example, if some one is searching for a lawnmower, they obviouly don’t want to see a site that is 1000 miles away. However, is someone is looking for a website then the physical location is irrelevant.

    What Google should be doing is to make sure that when some searches for used cars Toronto, that only sites with used cars in Toronto actually show up.

    This would make the whole process for everyone easier.

    In effect, with Google local, Google is deciding for the client what they should see. Is this good? probaly not for the general public, but maybe google adwords.

    Ken

  • http://computerdesigngraphics.com Valerie

    As a web designer I can work with any business anywhere, but in reality there’s plenty of business in my local area, so I don’t feel the need to rank for towns on the opposite side of the country.

    As a consumer, I’m thrilled that Google feeds true local results for categories of services and businesses that tend to have a local audience. I don’t need or want to see restaurants, repairmen, or other businesses that aren’t in my local area.

    I guess the conflict, for me, is when shopping for products or services that are available both locally and online. Sometimes I really want to see both, so I can compare apples to apples.

    • Chris Crum

      Of course the regular organic results are never too far away, and the local results are marked pretty clearly as such.

  • Guest

    Google by emphasizing local is not understanding how this world is developing – into a NON LOCAL, networked world.

    If this is driving GOOGLE its time to sell their shares, they are on the way out.

    Dieter

  • http://www.urbaninsuranceagency.com Larry Lubell

    Googles reason for placing Local companies higher in their search results, It what most Google users are looking for when they go online. Who really want to order Pizza from a place 1,600 miles from their home, or find a plumber in New Zealand when your clogged sink is in Chicago?

    We are an Insurance agency in Chicago, most of the people searching online for Car Insurance want an agent that is near, and is licensed to do business in Illinois. Google is sending people to companies on greater interest to customers.
    We find that so many of the “National” companies are just aggregators and not actually companies selling the product. Google is trying to avoid that all together.

    www.urbaninsuranceagency.com is local to Chicago, and people in Chicago find that to be a benefit.
    A bigger problem are all of the Sites using black hat ways to FAKE local addresses.

  • http://elkrivermastermind.ocm Henry Griner

    This is another confirmation that the goal I set for myself for 2011 is Right On!

    In 1995 I built the first website for my local bank in Elk River, Minnesota. Since then I’ve done lots of other websites as well as working in the IT departments of a couple large Minnesota corporations. I now run my own consulting business full-time, since 2008, working as an Online Business Developer.

    Google is doing what is right in my book, helping the local business owners get people in the door and make the phone ring. Why should someone with only an online bike store in St. Louis out rank a local store here in Elk River selling bikes? It makes since to me that my local guy should show up on page one in Google if I type in bike shop.

    My goal for 2011 is to get more of my local “brick and mortar” business owners on page one and help them to be more successful because of the technology of online marketing. Google Places and the focus they have can help me to that.

  • http://motelwebsitedesign.com.au Mark Oliver

    Google looks a little different in every country, but yes I would say that Google has certainly tilted the tables to favour local physical business for some search results. I deal with accommodation and in the pre-maps phase local business had a hard time competing with portals. So, they all had to market their business thru intermediaries. That will still happen because the Priceline’s and Wotif’s have created great brands, but now they no longer dominate the organic search.

    I think that is good. Selling direct is better for the business and customer. Yes, Places will heat up as everyone optimizes for the top 10 spots, but at least these will be sellers vs. resellers. I guess this will win for Google because they will sell ad spots at a higher premium and the aggregate portals will have to pay because they’re going to see a huge drop in visitors and sales with the shift to second page or results.

  • http://www.KO-websites.com KO-Websites

    We have a physical address and a PO box due to mail theft issues. Google recently moved our tag to the PO Box a few miles a way (same city). That was a bummer and causes some confusion. We noticed that clients that have mutable phone numbers (Area codes) can gain multiple locations at Google places. We like that. Funny how you can get a phone number from Google at another Area code. Anyone try this to setup multiple place accounts?

  • http://www.bigears.net.au Big Ears

    I myself have already seen what type of impact this is going to have this is why I am incorporating Print back into my marketing strategies.

    The benefits are Google has made it easy for its users to locate their local business but, not all businesses want to just target locally. Restaurants, takeaway stores, plumbers, electricians, hair dressers etc are generally businesses that have a very low marketing budget and would unlikely advertise on a Google Adword Campaign. Of course there are exceptions Franchises etc.

    Business with high marketing budgets that look further from their local demographic are the cream for Google Adword Campaigns. I believe Google is doing this to force everyone to Adwords, increase the competition which will increase the pay per click costs.

    Mike Cutts tells us that we should target our websites to non locality key-phrases but what he doesn’t mention is that when they have finished their rollout of the local maps they will then have the data in place to place the local map on all searches whether they are a local search or not, by reading people’s locality direct from their computer.

    Eventually Google will only place two to four organic results at the bottom of the page of every key-phrase that people search for.

    It all makes perfect sense to control the platform and monetise as much as possible by creating more competition for Googles Paid Links.

    They do all this under the disguise of helping small local business, love the public relations:).

    Google also knows that people are finicky and need change to happen gradually as humankind cannot handle constant dramatic changes and would look for another alternative that was more similar to what they were use to.

    Google knows that without the masses other search engines are unable to properly refine their search results so can never really be a threat to them so long as they are seen to be doing everything right by the user and making it even more easier for them to find what they are looking for in the shortest space of time.

    Pretty much, if you are in the SEO industry, you wont have an industry in two to three years. Once again these SEO people will be knocking on the door of Google for a job which is what Google wants due to massive staff losses to facebook etc. Personally I wouldn’t go and work for someone that put me out of business.

    With saying all this I have taken steps to changing my marketing strategies to pro active marketing utilising print platforms to capture prospects before they reach for the buying guides. I have decided to also put my focus into Bing as I really do like their site. the problem is that their search results are nowhere near as good as Googles.

    My longterm forecast is that Bing will capture the market in around five years. If you think about it Google will become too expensive to do an adword campaign so business will look for other alternatives. If they go to Bing it will allow Bing to refine their search engine with the help of business who will, in effect, be showing Bing how people search for their products or services when they refine their key words to what they want to target with their Bing Sponsored link Program (Adwords Equivalent).

    It may not be Bing that everyone moves to but currently it does look like the best option (to me).

    Only the big budget companies will be able to afford to be on any first page result for peoples searches. The message users will get will be, use Google if you want to find a big company, use another search engine if you want a better range of choice.

    I am fortunate as, being a b2b company, I have a large database of previous users of my site which allows me to directly market to my demographic or target segment and bypass Google completely. Email Campaigns, Fax Campaigns and pro active print campaigns, catalogues, flyers. brochures etc will be my focus and everything else will be considered edge marketing. Even though, it is always good to have a presence in the buying guides to take advantage of the trust factor that other marketing has created. For example, if you go to a buying guide and you have a selection of ten companies to choose from it is more likely the user will contact your company due to the familiarity factor. People have more confidence and trust when dealing with a known brand.

    Good luck everyone and I do hope I have made you all think about your direction over the next five years.

  • Guest

    Maybe there is a huge market for another corporation to protect territory by country wise, something like prohibiting Google out of the USA. In other words Google only is allowed to search in the US and each country should have their own search engine, how is that? ” Protected Local Territory”.

    • http://www.bigears.net.au Big Ears

      Humans put governments in place to protect their ways of life. The government needs to act before it is too late. people are very gullible and will put their own personal information on the net without realising how unsafe this is. However, on saying this, the government could manipulate all this data to control mankind through propaganda. They will know pretty much what buttons they can press to manipulate every election in the country, what buttons to press to increase public opinions when they want. Too much information in the hands of the wrong entity can be very dangerous.

      Collation of any type of data garnished from the internet should be ilegal. That is the only solution that we can use to protect mankind.

      Before you can launch a website you must be registered with the Internet Police Department and only search listings registered with this department can be shown. This will reduce websites that are really information gathering sites, hacking sites etc.

  • http://www.nevadawebsitedesign.com Frank Okun

    I actually received a call from a member of the Google Places team the other day, responding to my inquiry for a listing that was “rejected” in my Google Places Dashboard. I thought it may have been rejected due to a Google Voice number I had listed as a secondary number, but no, it was not the reason. The rep said the word SEO in the title was the culprit, and the “robots” flagged it. After removing the “SEO” the rep said the listing would be reactivated, but to date, it shows “Under Review”.
    He went on to explain that the “team” is going through thousands of listings that are being reviewed for non-conformance of guidelines.
    I agree it is fair to get the listings corrected, as I have seen multiple listings for businesses trying to “game” the system with fake titles, addresses and phone numbers that are not part of the buisnesses’ public records. In fact, I might suggest Google compare the listings against the Secretary of State records to make sure the information in the Google Places listings match that of the public records.

  • http://www.simple-elegant-websites.com Oiseaux

    In the UK and France, there has been fierce debate for many years about supermarkets smothering small local business by lower prices and “all under one roof”. Before Google Places supermarkets with their big budgets could presumably dominate page 1 for any search connected with local suppliers of goods and services. Now with Google Places, a small budget, even dare I say it, a DIY website, and a small local business can be top of the pile on page 1, with unlimited space to get their message over about personal service, attention to customer satisfaction etc. The same applies to one man suppliers of services. To my mind anything which helps small business resist and compete with supermarkets and big business is a good thing.

  • http://www.marketingrecruitmentagency.com Marketing Recruitment Agency

    I am interested by Dieter’s comments that by emphasising local, Google is missing the point that the world (and the web) are developing into a non local networked world. This is true to an extent but the alternative for Google is to continue to allow companies to dominate the rankings through SEO techniques, I think the shift to Local on balance does make things more equal.

  • http://www.website-consultancy.com Web Usability

    At last someone’s outed the elephant in the room.

    It is becoming ridiculous of late when carrying out a search on Google. Firstly you need to switch ‘instant’ off, so you get a proper result, then you’ve got to ensure your results are not configured around your local area – as mentioned in the article, the whole reason of the web is that it is world wide.

    If I search for a book now, it’s a waste of time trying Google Search, instead I have to go to Abe or Amazon – but what about web users who haven’t heard of or don’t know how to search for these specific sites.

    Google was great – not so any longer and the sad thing is neither is their competition, and why, they’re just playing follow my leader.

    Thanks again for the article

    • http://str82u.co Str82u

      Come on, how can we knock something like that? I’m not local to most people and have found a way to get listed with locals, Matt Cutts even hinted how in a past video. Not all businesses should be treated as local and if an SEO is trying to do it for someone it might be suspicious. All these years of SEOing with users in mind and getting allot of mediocre results is now paying off. THANKS GOOGLE.

      This feature could be beneficial to a local economy too; a listing for the ever popular “SEO in Seatle” or SEattle SEO would also be looking for a person in Seattle that has a place to meet customers. It gives local business the chance that SEO experts take away and it certainly is a decent fix for sites that have no business being ranked as high as they are for local searches.

      And this dead horse “…Google is just going to do what it thinks will help users. Whether or not you buy that is up to you, but they’re not going to deviate from that stance, …” Buy it or don’t, this further demonstrates the importance that Google has increasingly put on doing what’s best for web users in several ways, like PageSpeed, so that serving users is, and should have been, SEO the same as the rest. One thing that “Local” doesn’t seem to be doing is taking out sites that are overwealmingly relevant, local or not. Why are so many folks having trouble with that? On the whole, are we mad that “Local” SERPs tell us our sites aren’t as relevant anymore or that the system has outsmarted us?

  • Guest

    I MET WITH GOOGLE SOME TIME AGO

    LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE TAKING UP MY VIRTUAL LOCAL MODEL!

    KEN GROGAN

  • http://www.bluelightit.com Amir

    Interesting comments from all. But I have to stress that change is good. Change creates opportunities. I for one like the local results. If I want to buy perfume, then I don’t really care where the seller is located. So I use the shopping tab. But for the majority of my searches like electrician, auto repair shop, ac repair I would like to get local results without the need to specify my location.
    And for all those looking to get localized, all I can recommend is getting a virtual office from companies like Opus Virtual Offices or Regus.

  • http://www.sytecweb.co.uk Roger

    There are ways of getting to the top of the local listings if your business is not actually local but whereas this may bring traffic to your web site it probably won’t convert very well. Let’s face it if someone is searching for a plumber in Chicago that is what they expect to find. If they are taken to a website belonging to a Plumber who is not in Chicago they will fell cheated and hit the back button.

  • http://www.BethKPhoto.com Beth Kukucka

    Getting recognized by Google is truly an ongoing effort. Just when I think my rankings are getting closer to page one, they change their layout, it seems, and I’m lost again. Connecting with other vendors is way more effective, I think.

  • http://zygella.com Joe

    It has been the case almost since the internet started, that big companies are still getting visibility the small and local business can only dream about.

    However sites like Zygella treat small, medium or big business the same when it comes to displaying search results. The criteria are rather simple and obvious.

  • http://www.fmconsulting.net Jim Thomas

    Of course, as a consulting firm, we have a “local” office, but much, if not all of our business is done on a national basis. Local for us is the USA. Any solutions for us? Thanks.

  • http://www.hedgehogdigital.co.uk/ SEO Bedford

    Local is the way to go specially for small businesses like mine. We have been focusing on local search results to try and get new clients and so far results are coming in. As an small sized SEO and Web Design company going local is very cost effective in numerous ways. First we can visit our clients or they can visit us without having to drive hundreds of miles. Second we rank at Google’s first page without much hassle which increases our ROI.

  • http://greensboro-nc.com/ Greensboro NC

    I am as local as it gets. I hope what I have done works.
    Thanks

  • http://www.addiply.com RickWaghorn

    All very interesting; which is why we run a very simple mash-up between Google Maps and Addiply data…

    www.addiply.com

    Now ‘out-of-towners’ and locals can compete on a level and transparent playing field…

    A top down *and* bottom up network; that should work to the local publishers advantage; and has the added benefit of not requiring the magic of an algorithm to get you and your brand to where you want to go…

    best etc

    r

  • http://www.studiojeroen.com Guest

    How is this going to work if you are european en host your site on an american server? Will it top rank euro results above mine?
    And what if the hosting comapny is in my country, but on the other side of the country, do I get visitors for that area? They will leave as soon as they notice I am a 2 hours drive away and bail. Which will give me a high bounce rate.

  • http://www.katandmouse.com Kathy

    Frankly, I’m not happy with the way Google handles this.

    I understand they are trying to return local results, and I totally understand the need to exclude spammers and scammers out there trying to parade as local. But there are many, many, many types of businesses that happily service a very large radius and should be included in searches for as far away as they are willing to travel. My son’s cabinet shop, for example, serves communities 90 miles away.

    So Google’s attempt at providing the best results is backfiring because what difference does it make to the customer if their service provider has to travel 90 miles to get to them. The customer doesn’t care. They don’t have to leave their home. So excluding these businesses in the results is a DISSERVICE because then the customer has a much smaller pool of service providers to choose from, meaning they may be missing out on the best.

    I’d really like Google to not give extra points for proximity to city center when businesses say they serve clients at their location. And if that’s not too much to ask, at least eliminate it within a certain, reasonable radius such as 10 miles, even if the business place of location is technically a different town. That makes more sense for both the consumer and the business.

    Does anyone agree?

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