Is Ranking Number One in Google Losing Its Significance?

    November 17, 2010
    Chris Crum

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.


Chris Crum
Chris 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.