There is a major misconception in the Internet marketing world that local search means “pizza New York” (sorry), when in fact local search might very well mean “pizza”. This is, of course, an over-simplification of the things, but I hope you get the point (check here for a “scientific” explanation). Assuming that each of these is “local search”, is not incorrect, but assuming that only one of them is local search – is. I have previously written about these two types of local search (and other types) in a comment I gave for this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors edition. As my thoughts were buried between an enormous amount of other information, I am copying what I wrote, here:
Local search can very simply be defined as “search with local intent”. However, there are many different types of search with local intent:
- [keyword]-only search with local intent – it relies significantly on Google’s ability to associate particular content with particular location; it also relies on Google’s ability to recognize the local intent of the search, i.e. is this query really “local”; it also relies on Google’s ability to recognize the location to which this search is related (example: “towing” – you’d rarely, if ever, need towing service far away from the physical location you are at).
- [keyword + "local" location] search with local intent – it gives all the information the search engine needs; the search is performed via the physical location it is intended for + the searcher specifically adds the location keyword to the query (example: “car repair NYC” if you are located in the NYC area).
- [keyword + "non-local" location] search with local intent - it gives mixed signals to the search engine; Google can see that the physical location through which the search is performed does not match the location for which the query is intended (example: search for “car rental Las Vegas” if you are going on a holiday to Las Vegas, but you live in NYC).
Google arguably uses different signals to determine the particular intent for each of these types of local search. It would definitely put much more value on the location keyword specified in the [keyword + "non-local" location] type query, than it would put in any of the other types. At the same time it would put much more value in the searcher’s physical location, and the proximity of the potentially relevant results to the searcher’s location, in the [keyword]-only query. Therefore, the ranking factors might vary based on the query type and it is difficult to generalize them.
For the purposes of this article, I will discuss in more detail only the first two types.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Internet marketers put a lot of attention to keywords that include location modifier. If you’d look into the search results for [Seattle personal injury], you’d understand what I mean. But is that really what users are searching for? It usually depends both on the industry and on your business’s location.
How to check what search terms are being used by potential local clients? Use Google Insights.
Google Insights, unlike the AdWords Keyword Tool, can help you drill down to very specific location area. It doesn’t show you the absolute number of searches for particular queries, but it shows you what users in an area are relatively more likely to search for. If you look at the graph below, you will see that [personal injury] is a much more searched for term in the area of Seattle-Tacoma, than the terms [personal injury Seattle] or [Seattle personal injury]:
This is just an example. It is very possible that users in other areas use mostly search terms that do include location marker.
What is the trend? The trend is that more and more people skip specifying location in their queries and rely more on the search engines to “assume” it. Mobile usage has also been increasing steadily, and it is a natural contributor to implicit local search. A recent study by GoLocal proves this. In February, I wrote about its first issue, but it is now more interesting to see the trends they reported in June. According to GoLocal’s data, overall geo-targeted search decreased by 10% in the first quarter of 2012 quarter, and the geo-targeted search on PC decreased by 15% during the same period.
More granular insights from the survey
The top verticals for geo-targeted search on mobile devices (including tablets) were hotels, car dealers, lawyers, restaurants, pest control, bars motels, and others. These are very similar to the top verticals on PC devices with just slight variations in their order. At the same time, from the researched cities, the top ones for geo-targeted searches were Austin (first by a large margin), Las Vegas, Nashville, Tuscon, and others. These are again consistent across devices. Unfortunately, they do not share data on which are the lowest ranking cities and verticals in terms of geo-targeted search relative volumes. However, they did so in the first issue of the survey. According to it, users in Detroit, Los Angeles, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and San Francisco are least likely to specify location in their search queries. Maid, loan, insurance, banks, golf, are some of the categories, which users search for without geo-location specified. It should be mentioned here that the survey considers “geo-specified searches” only these that contain city name in the query, i.e. [dentist 92563] is not regarded as a geo-local query.
Why should you care? As I mentioned above, the factors the search engines use might vary, and the value distribution might also vary, based on the type of local search. A simple example could be given with the search results for two similar intent queries: [restaurants San Francisco] and [restaurants] (with location set to San Francisco). There are a few general major differences in the results: – The Google+ Local results are displayed higher in the non-specified location search results. – Results that have location in their titles are displayed higher in the specified location search results. – Websites of local businesses are more likely to rank higher in the non-specified location search results. – Business directory websites are more likely to rank higher in the specified location search results.
So what should you do? First of all – research. Do not do something based on a template strategy, or because you purchased a “WSO” that says you should. You should build your local SEO strategy based on what your research discovers. Some tips on the two scenarios I am discussing in this article:
Scenario 1: Targeting keywords with location modifier.
- Add location keyword(s) (state, city, ZIP code, neighborhood, etc.) to your landing pages’ title tags at prominent positions an near your main target keywords.
- Add location keyword(s) to your content’s title.
- Add location keyword(s) to your content body.
- Add your physical address, if you are located in the same area you target.
- Link your internal pages with geo-identifiers in the anchor texts and in the anchor text’s title attribute.
- If your REAL business name does not include the city/area, which you are targeting (this is the case most of the times), stress more on your website’s optimization rather than on pure Google+ Local optimization.
- As directory websites rank higher for these searches, it might be a good idea to invest time and money into figuring out how to get more visibility on these websites.
A small note here – sentences such as “We are Chicago plumbers servicing the Chicago plumbing needs of the Chicago residents” do not bring you any positives. Sentences such as “We are the top plumbing contractor in Chicago. We service residential and commercial clients in North West and North Shore Chicagoland” would be much more useful both in term of organic rankings and conversions.
Scenario 2: Targeting keywords without location modifier, but with local intent – the main goal is to make Google aware of what location your website is related to.
- Focus on Google+ Local.
- Add your physical address to each page of your website and mark it up with schema.org.
- Add an embedded interactive map.
- Add directions to your location.
- Add your local telephone number.
- Create About Us and Contact Us pages with location information in them.
- Create a KML file for your business location.
- Mention surrounding areas and local landmarks in your site’s content.
- Use local-specific terms and slang (especially in blog posts) whenever appropriate.
The bottom line is – you do not necessarily need to have the targeted location mentioned everywhere across the site.
In both scenarios, getting links from websites that are specific to the locality, and being mentioned/reviewed across social networks (especially Google+ and Yelp) by people relevant to the location (born or living there), could help significantly.
I believe Google is going towards more “intuitive” search, as their goal has always been to save as much time as possible of their users. Guessing the location their search is intended for is a good step towards better search experience. That is why I’d speculate that in future we would be seeing higher ranking local results that do not include any direct location markers in their “top” attributes (business name, title tag) or even in the page’s content. Having strong online brand will be getting more important than ever in local search.