Google continues to force more and more search categories to local search results. I realize ‘forcing’ may seem a bit strong, but Google’s recent addition of the ‘Looking for local results’ prompt has the net effect of pushing geographic searches to the top of the results page vis a vis the ’10 Pack Map’ and A thru J listings. While this is groundbreaking for local companies trying to get to the top of Page 1 on Google, it poses an interesting challenge for companies that rely on national search results.
As pointed out earlier by David Mihm (“What Google’s ZIP code Targeting Means for Local Businesses “) and Greg Sterling (“Google’s Local Ad Targeting Strategies “), Google started serving geographic-specific search results for ‘pizza’ in the Bay Area back in January 08. It seems Google is gradually expanding local search results category and geography.
Before I go further, I’d like to clarify what I mean by ‘local search results’ with the following exercise:
1) Do a search for ‘pizza restaurant’ – be sure to log out of any Google account (including gmail) and clear your cache/cookies. Below is the result for ‘pizza restaurant’ as of 7/5/08. Basically national organic search results…dir.yahoo.com, wikipedia.com, papajohns.com, etc.
2) Now, do a search for ‘pizza’. Ah, notice the ‘Looking for local search results for pizza?’ prompt asking for your zip or location? Google’s been serving various organic results for a while now based on IP address and user history, but this is new for Google to ask the surfer to enter a location.
Following is the result for zip 92104 – the ’10 pack’ map with 10 local pizza listings. This is what I consider ‘local search results’. The big deal here is that we didn’t have to search for ‘pizza san diego’. We’re getting local results with a map based on just ‘pizza’.
Notice that under the previous ‘Looking for local results for pizza?’ prompt, there’s the option to ‘Remember this location’ – which is already checked. Chances are most users will eagerly enter their geographic location (after all, it’s local) and probably won’t notice that they’ve unwittingly told Google to serve only local results for all future searches.3) Now, do a search for another category, such as ‘plastic surgery’, ‘rehab’, ‘italian restaurant’, etc. Play around. You’ll see that, based on geographic location, different categories serve the local search ’10 Pack Map’ while other categories don’t. In fact, take it a step further, and clear out your cache again. Notice which categories automatically pull up the ‘Looking for local results?’ prompt while others require a geographic term in the search phrase.
For example, following is the search results for ‘plastic surgery’ (cache is clean and signed-out of Google):
There’s no ’10 Pack Map’ – mostly ‘traditional’ organic listings and sponsored ads. Now, search for ‘plastic surgery san diego’:
With the geographic modifier in the search phrase, we get the ’10 Pack Map’ showing San Diego specific results for plastic surgery. To take it just a step further, following is the result for searching ‘pizza’ again:
We’re back to our original search result page showing the ‘Looking for local results?’ prompt. When I first saw this I was intrigued because I expected to get the local ’10 Pack Map’ for pizza restaurants in San Diego automatically; however, the zip/geographic location prompt came up. This seems to indicate that for Google to continue to serve local results (by zip or location) the user has to enter their zip/city into the local search prompt, be logged into to Google or have their zip code already cached from a previous search. Like all of the changes that Google is implementing with ‘local search’ this will be interesting to watch.
In the end, while this is all a boom to local companies, it poses an interesting challenge for national companies. For example, do a search for ‘lawyer’ and up pops the ‘Looking for local results?’ prompt. Most surfers will enter their zip code info which will serve up the ’10 Pack Map’ for lawyers in their area. This is great for the local law firms, but the national law directories and lead-generation sites like www.lawyers.com , www.findlaw.com and www.martindale.com are now pushed down the page – they’re still in the Top 10 organic rankings, but they’ve been pushed down below local lawyer listings, which is most likely what the surfer is looking for anyway. What’s more, the more reviews a listing has, the higher it tends to rank in the ’10 Pack Map’, which is another reason why a surfer may not need to visit a national directory site.
Given this change in search results, coupled with Google’s struggling stock price, it’s plausible that perhaps this is Google’s way to force the larger national companies with deeper pockets to spend more on sponsored listings to stay at the top of page 1. That’s probably a short-term reaction. Google’s constantly tweaking their search landscape so it’s more likely that they’re laying the groundwork for a new paid-search channel – perhaps GoogleMap ads are about to take off. It’s all very interesting and something to watch closely because I suspect this is only the beginning of local search.