Aug 152012
 

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.

  12 Responses to “The Two Types of Local Search and How Local SEO Should Reflect Them”

Comments (12)
  1. Nyagoslav:

    You mention using Schema for the NAP on every page of the website. I’ve always used Hcard. Does it matter or does Schema have some kind of advantage over Hcard?

    Travis Van Slooten

    • Travis, Google recognizes microdata, microformats (hCard is one of them), RDFa, and schema.org, so this is not a general problem. However, schema.org is most probably the future of structured data, as it is being recognized by all the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex).

  2. I think instant search plays a big role in the downtick of kw+geo search phrases.

    Before I can finish typing the geo-modifier, Google has already served up the local results. Because I never finish my query, it looks like I only searched for kw-only.

  3. Great article
    I think you should change the name of the third group from
    [keyword + "non-local" location]
    to
    [keyword + "distant-local" location]

  4. Nice article, Nyagoslav and excellent writing. The website that I linked my name to http://bartending-school.com is an example of a site that ranks highly for the industry term, bartending school and also for a variety of terms with local intent. Our analytics have a long history on capturing traffic for the industry term, without geo modifiers going back about 8 or 9 years. For a lot of those years we were #1 in yahoo for the phrase when Y had a lot more traffic and have probably been in the top 5 in google serps for the phrase for 6 or 7 years. We have others with some of those attributes.

    A couple of things.

    1. Its reasonably possible for what I would describe as yellow page sites, ie local smb’s that used to get their leads from print yellow pages, to be ranked highly for the industry term, let alone with local geo modifiers. I believe the somewhat infamous topic of “garage door opener/springs/repair is one of them.

    Typically they would be smb’s whose topics simply don’t get a lot of content written about them outside of the businesses themselves. (What is fascinating, interesting, or sexy about a garage door spring???).

    The reason one can rank highly is primarily b/c of lack of contribution….or the SEO is a GREAT!!!!

    2. Ranking highly for the industry phrase doesn’t mean the site is going to rank toward the top for the industry phrase (the one w/out geo modifier) in different cities, wherein there is significant competition for the phrase w/ geo modifier.

    Currently and recently google will tend to push up the sites that have put more emphasis on the industry phrase w/ geo modifiers.

    so I’d say….put emphasis on the industry phrase w/ the geo modifiers.

    3. Most metro regions/ city and suburbs, within the US are not NYC. Business can come from the suburbs and city. The visibility of a search phrase w/out geo modifier will vary depending on where the searcher is looking and of course the strength of the seo for various phrases.

    Pizza is an extremely local phrase in most cases (except for pizza fanatics) but motorcycles or motorcycle dealers is a far more regional phrase with far fewer locations in a metro area than pizza. So motorcycle dealers will compete for visibility on a more significant basis for users, based on where w/in a region the users are searching from. I think that is where smb’s and their sites can gain advantages with specific seo that focuses on the industry term with specific geo modifiers.

    4. I think the challenge is for sites with a more regional following. Its an opportunity but also includes significant effort.

    Dave

    • Thanks for the detailed comment, Dave!

      I am mostly focusing in this article on the general difference between the two types of search, and I also wanted to showcase that everything begins with research. One cannot simply assume that something is correct in all situations especially when local search is involved. That is why “template-like” SEO tactics are about to die. That is why people cry more often then ever that “SEO” is dead. It is not. Bad SEO is dying. Good SEO is the one that personalizes the strategy and tailors it to each particular case. Research, research, research – this is the keyword here :)

  5. Nyagoslav: Its a good topic and one rich with opportunities for smbs. Research is key. I agree with you. IMHO an even better tool with regard to this issue (and I use insights) is running a ppc campaign on a regional basis. Even if the smb bids low and gets very few hits…what it will get is incredible data…data I think is even better than insights and currently better than Analytics because of the volume of NOT PROVIDED data.

    With regard to the question of industry phrase (pizza) versus industry phrase with geo modifier (Baltimore Pizza, Pizza in Baltimore, etc.). if you run regional campaigns you’ll see exactly what impressions are for different phrases. (OKAY–maybe not exact…but seriously better data than anywhere else.

    Once you have that data you have tremendous insights into how to push your seo.

    Great topic, Nyagoslav. Its a key to driving a lot of traffic to an smb, IMHO.

    • Indeed AdWords could be an incredible source of data in this sense. The problem is that especially in more competitive niches an SMB would have to make a significant investment to obtain it :) I’d rather not advice publicly that SMBs use this method to obtain insights on local users behavior specifically related to keyword usage, because it is very possible it could backfire on me if you know what I mean ;)

      • Nyagoslav: Here is my experience:

        If you work on it and bid low, so that you are showing about 7,8,9,10 you get very few clicks. OTH, when you are bidding that low and ranking that low, you will still get “recovery clicks” people searching for your business by name/or who recognize your url. They might search w/ a discovery phrase; “dog walking service Philadelphia” but they are really searching for MY Dog Walking service, say http: // davesdogwalkingservice….com They might be vendors or existing customers.

        If its not that competitive…and the competition is low…that is usually okay. won’t cost a lot. If it is a competitive area…yes…those bids that fall at 7-10 could cost. Still in those industries where competition is high…there usually is a threshold to handle that cost.

        The power and value is in identifying possibly the best hard data on actual volume of impressions for a certain phrase.

        I’ll go back and reference keywords for the above referenced bartending school. We run campaigns for a bunch of them in different markets.

        Take the phrase w/out geo modifier and then take the phrase and some variations w/ geo modifiers.

        1. In some cases the phrase w/ out geo modifier is VERY BUSY. In others it tails searches w/ geo modifiers. Which is which. Actually In my experience the adwords data is better than Insights.

        2. What goes first? business service or geo modifier? Which is more popular and used more often?

        That is actually very important. for that industry and some different industries we see some wide variations.

        In some cases geo modifier first or not might be pretty close in usage. In other cases we see LARGE differences with, lets say the GEO modifier used first: 3, 4, or 5 times more than frequently than the business service used first w/ geo modifier 2nd.

        I can tell you from experience it makes a big difference. When you guess wrong….and you need to change things or update things to move your site up in serps for the phrase w/ far more impressions….well you have lost LOTS of leads and SALES.

        The whole issue is grey in my eyes. Running a ppc campaign for tight testing can cost you money. On the other hand it can help you improve your results much faster than otherwise.

        Its an adjunct to research. If you get it down faster you can see far better results more quickly.

        At least that is my $0.02 :D

  6. HI Nyagoslav,

    Is one of the best Local SEO articles I’ve ever read.

    One thing to be mentioned is that google seems to rank “keyword + location” most of the time the same regardless the location ( US city ) user is searching from, but it tanks usually different results for “Keyword” only , depending on the user GeoLocation

    Sergiu

    • Thanks for the kind comment, Sergiu!

      What you are saying is generally true, but it also depends. For instance, if you search for “restaurant San Francisco” via your mobile phone and you ARE actually located somewhere in San Francisco, this will most probably affect the results based on your Geo-location. But in the general case, when doing a search from a random location for “keyword + location” the results are indeed same (with other things being equal).

  7. Excellent post on local seo Nyagoslav : ) This post leads me to a question I have on URL structure pertaining to local seo, and I hope you could help.

    Since the Venice update, some have suggested creating local landing pages for the types of services and service areas you provide.

    Would you suggest this type of approach as others have mentioned:
    domain.com/city-keyword/ OR
    domain.com/city/keyword

    Would it create more authority for that given city having a few pages offering different services under that one city category?

    It’s much like how servicemagic . com does there url structure.

    So basically for the same city:

    domain.com/city/service-1
    domain.com/city/service-2
    domain.com/city/service-3
    domain.com/city/service-4

    Instead of the random:

    domain.com/city-service-1/
    domain.com/city-service-2/
    domain.com/city-service-3/

    I would rinse and repeat this strategy for each town/city I offer services in. What are your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

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