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Is Ranking Number One in Google Losing Its Significance?

If You're Not Thinking Local, You May Be Losing Clicks

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As you may have noticed, Google has been putting a great deal more emphasis on local these days than in years past. That includes everything from the introduction of Google Places and Place Pages to automatically showing more local results for certain searches, as well as various other solutions offered to businesses at the local level, such as product inventory or tag advertising. Google caters much more to location-based search and local business search than ever before, and that trend is likely to continue. 

Do you think classic organic search is losing importance? Share your thoughts.

Local Rises to the Top

WebProNews spoke with well-known SEO industry analyst Bruce Clay of Bruce Clay Inc. at PubCon about search trends and where the search industry is headed. Local is only one facet of this, but it’s a big facet.  "Certainly the enhancements have been gradual…now, anybody that has a local result, the first organic link is down below the fold," says Clay. "I never expected that to happen…the organic links, they’re gone. For the last four or five months, I’ve been saying that the new page one in the search results is really positions one, two, and three. That is page one. And I think Google agrees."

"If you look at some of the results, our benchmarks have shown that commonly, there will be seven organic results on the first page, and sometimes as few as four results that are organic on the first page of the Google results set – right now," he says. "So does Google owe any loyalty to what is traditional organic? Of course not. Now, the argument I would say for Google, is that if they’re gonna throw up some local results, they’re gonna argue that those are organic, and that they’re more targeted to location, and therefore that they’re more relevant to the normal organic results, in which case they’re carrying forward with organic results. It’s just that they’re not organic like anybody in the SEO space has ever thought of before."

So SEOs, webmasters and businesses really have to consider how the SEO game has changed in this way. You can’t expect people to go past the first page of results. It happens, but I’m guessing it happens less and less as people adjust their queries to find what they’re looking for when the results don’t provide it. The addition of Google Instant has only fueled this.

Cracking the Local Code

"It [local] has its own algorithm," says Clay. "It’s based on certain kinds of voting systems. We’ve been able to effectively get people into the seven-pack almost all the time. The difference is that the placement within the seven pack hasn’t been deciphered yet. It seems to be random. It is to some degree an accuracy of data factor, and to some degree it’s a review factor. So both of those will play."

"I think that 30% (I think is the number right now) of all results show some sort of local flavor," Clay continues. "What we’re seeing is not so much that 30% have maps, but that the actual body of the search results change to have local sites intermixed. So if you look at a set of results and find positions one through ten, they’re all laid out. If I change my location (in the column, you can change where you’re at)…if I change it from California to New York, I get an entirely different set."

"I noticed just going from my office in California to Las Vegas I got different results, even for terms like ‘search engine optimization’ which is not a shopping term per se, I had a different sequence in the top ten," he explains. "So clearly Google is using geo-location of the searcher to bias the search results. That’s happening in almost everything I see."

The breadth of terms that Google thinks users want local results for seems to be expanding, or at least has expanded from years past. Google has an opportunity to increase its revenue significantly because of this, the way Clay sees it. 

"We’re also seeing that local’s showing up more for short terms like one-word phrases like ‘shoes’," Clay points out. "You search for ‘shoes,’ you get a map. That’s just the way it is. And you search for ‘tools’ and you get a map. And things that used to just be ‘what is it?’ are no longer ‘what is it?’. They’re considered to be…if you’re looking for shoes, you’re obviously looking for a shoe store, and they’re sort of assuming that as they go. That kind of a behavior when you see it in search results is really what we’re facing."

Bruce Clay Talks Google Going LocalGoogle’s Motivation? 

"We’re facing a general shift towards local results, and Google is clearly motivated," he adds. "You would think, using shoes as an example, that there are only so many people that can bid on the word shoes. It’s a national term. If I go local, I have a hundred thousand different opportunities to sell shoes. Every region can have their own bidding on shoes, and people can make money and bid…it’s like local phone books. And it is. And everybody can participate and bid and get on the web."

"And if I do geo-targeted then the return-on-investment’s gonna go up," he continues. "As I make more money, I’m more willing to spend more on my pay-per-click. So on a per-click basis, Google has an opportunity to make 50% more doing nothing more than allowing it to be targeted by location. So Google, perhaps at a greed level or a business level or a democratic level is actually able to make more money the more they promote it."

What’s good for Google is also good for users though. The fact of the matter is that location does matter a lot, when you’re talking about relevancy. It’s one of many factors, much like social (which we’ll no doubt see a great deal of emphasis from Google on as well, going forward) that caters to the individuals searcher, and as location tracking is becoming the norm, these results can get pretty fine-tuned to where the user is at any given time. 

Moving Forward

"I think that local is here to stay," says Clay. "I think it’s big, and I think you either play in the local space and either figure out how to get into the seven-pack or you’re not gonna get the clicks, even if you’re number one."

While there is no question that SEOs and marketers are going to have to continue to adapt to this ever-changing landscape, it may actually mean great things for people working on the web including SEOs, but also designers, developers, etc. 

"It turns out that 92% of all businesses in the United States – serve a 50 mile radius from where they’re physically located, and that hardly any of these…are on the Internet," says Clay. "That means, especially when you couple it with the emphasis of Google to start doing local kinds of results, that means we’re going to see a massive influx of websites. Brand new websites are going to enter…they’re going to star showing up, they’re going to start ranking, they’re going to start competing. These are sites that have never been here before."

"There’s going to be a multitude of web designers now getting involved, a lot of SEOs or wannabe SEOs are going to be getting involved," he adds. "We’re going to see a lot of people wanting a quick hit – ‘Hi, I built my site, how come nobody’s beating my door down?’ There’s going to be a little bit of a two steps back approach to SEOs – a bunch of people ripping us off. There may be some attempts at spam, although I think Google’s going to be fighting that."

There will likely be new kinds of spam, as he suggests. 

Read this for more interesting commentary from Clay regarding the search market in general. 

Do you think this shift towards local is a good thing for Google? For users? Tell us what you think.

Is Ranking Number One in Google Losing Its Significance?
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  • http://www.kkominc.com Cathy Dunham

    Due to the sluggish uplift in the economy, I think localizing searches is a great response to help businesses that are within a customer’s geographical area. Many of these will be smaller businesses that have smaller marketing budgets and who may be less SEO savvy than their national and global competition.

    The majority of our SEO clients are B2B (a mix of global, national and regional). Regionalized targeting can tremendously benefit our smaller B2B companies, as well as our B2C clients. Although PPC is another excellent solution for geo-targeting, many businesses are still turning pale at the costs associated with even a “small” AdWords budget.

    On behalf of Local Merchants and their patrons, thanks, Google Local… You rock (again)!

  • http://www.nPromote.com nNew York Search Engine Optimization Company

    And that is how the non-Google media are going to fight back. If only 3 companies can get local on Google for the search term “shoes Reading” then it means the other companies that sell shoes will have to market offline.

  • http://www.sparshemarketing.com Kuldip Vyas

    your are right, i m doing work on google search from last 4 years and i saw many changes in google, i have some websites and that on google ranking on google classic search and had good visitor on that site from google search but after google start local search i lost my 20% of visitors.

  • Stupidscript

    The impact on AdWords has been HUGE, too.

    Can the top 3 AdWords ads compete with the immediately following Places listings, with tabs and photos and whatnot? It’s quite a challenge … a headshot next to a listing is extremely compelling.

    And the map in the right column commands a lot more attention than the text ads, below it.

    Compound that with a shorter time on-screen for the top-placing ads … as the user scrolls, the ads in the right column are obscured immediately by the fixed position map, rather than enjoying a few ore inches of screen real estate.

    We have seen a tremendous drop in PPC traffic, as a result. We do place well in the organics, and we have several local presences, too, but in our business, people don’t convert through organics … they convert through PPC when they have finished researching, so we are impacted quite heavily with this new focus on local.

    My own opinion is that the current configuration will be short-lived … it seems to me to be more of a “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” kind of experiment than a focused roll out. While I agree that the local focus will increase as time goes on, this permutation will not last long, as it is too “clunky” and seems like not a lot of thought has been put into it.

    • Chris Crum

      The impact on paid search is certainly a point worth bringing up as well.

  • http://www.midlandslimos.com/ Limo Hire

    google listing have gone mad. we are a limo company based in the midlands (nottingham) and offer our service nationwide.
    so when you put in google limo hire nottingham we come come up on google maps 1st place, so when you put in google limo hire lincoln, leeds, sheffield we still come up on google 1st or 2nd higer than local listings in leeds lincoln or sheffield, its crazy.

    google is trying to make more alot more more on adwords.
    its ashame.

  • Str82u

    Watching the local results, we can see basically the same numbers mentioned by Bruce. The difference in location physically is different than just changing your location, but for SERPs I’ve been using one browser set to US (United States) as the location rather than where Google thinks I am. and that seems to show consistent results.

    Using certain terminology and conversational grammer in both content and meta tags is what I think causes the better results locally. When aiming for position (number one of course) the considerations for what might be showing up locally for users isn’t much different than before, with the first three results usually being common everywhere, getting the number 3 or 4 position with a map listing is just as good.

  • http://www.LocalAdzZooLink.com Guest

    All year long I’ve been pounding the streets of Main Street in my local market
    telling the story of Local Search for local businesses and many times a business
    owner goes glazed over when I speak too technical and rightly so.

    The bottom line is why does a local business need to get its business listing into
    Google’s local search and have it done right without the local business owner
    spending thousands more then they have too. “Just let me compete” is what
    most ask for. That response from a local business owner is enough for me to
    identify someone who gets it. They get it because they too see how the Internet
    and Google are something businesses big and small must learn how to make it
    work for their individual business.

    The big “but” here is that these owners don’t have the time to learn this stuff
    and too impatient to sit down with a SEO guy or website designer to implement
    changes to their site or to set one up . And they are not for sure which one they
    need to get the desired results.

    Personally biased, I look towards a Search Engine Management (SEM) specialist to
    get to the heart of getting a business found on the Internet in order to get more
    local customers coming through the front door of a local business.

    A good SEM knows how to get Google compliant links working for a local business
    owner and this in turn helps in getting the business website and listing ranked high into
    the search engines. Using “black hat” tactics are too temporary. Save money
    and time and consult with a pro and don’t buy til you trust your local SEM guy is out for
    your best interest.

  • http://www.cvscreen.co.uk IT Recruitment Agency

    Interesting that many people think that this shift could assist the smaller business.

    I would think that businesses will continue to find ways to get in to the local search by such means as taking on mail addresses or virtual offices in towns and cities where they require a presence. It will be those businesses who have developed their online presence over time and fundamentally those with the largest budgets who will end up gaining from this shift.

  • http://www.kneeindia.com akvenkat

    Google is constantly innovating to stay ahead of the competition.

  • http://www.bestseorankings.com/SEO_NY/ New York SEO Services

    Google, an amazing company that keeps all of us thinking. This is an industry that will only get larger and more competitive. Don’t allow anyone to tell you otherwise. Good luck to everyone.

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