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Google ’10 Pack Map’ Got You Down? or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Local Search

By Max Thomas

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.

Google Local Search 'pizza restaurant'

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.

Google local search 'Looking for local results for pizza' prompt

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’.

Google local search 10 Pack Map for 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):

Google local search results 'plastic surgery'

There’s no ’10 Pack Map’ – mostly ‘traditional’ organic listings and sponsored ads. Now, search for ‘plastic surgery san diego’:

Google local search 10 Pack Map 'plastic surgery san deigo'

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:

Google local search 'Looking for local results for pizza' prompt

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.

Max Thomas

Max Thomas is ThunderActive’s founder. He loves new ideas, laughing, shoes, personal style, and art.

Wanna connect? See you on Twitter or Foursquare.

  • http://www.McLaughlinwindows.com Patrick Hegarty

    Thanks for the information on this topic. It helped us enormously. We have one specific question around the 10-pack and maybe you can answer it.

    We just recently put up a web site and at the same time we updated our Google Local Business Center listing with key information about the business as well as details of our new website. Almost immediately we appeared in the 10-pack for ‘window replacement san francisco’ – see ‘Kevin McLaughlin Custom Windows and Doors’. We appear at the end (J). That 10 pack display does not display our website for some reason. If we drill down – either by clicking ‘more’ or even ‘more results near san francisco’ – then Google Maps opens up and if you scroll a page you will see our listing – complete with the website details!! Also, I would have expected us to appear on that first Google Maps page as entry J but instead you have to go the the second page and we are the fourth entry. Again, this does not match the 10-pack position.

    We would be grateful if you can explain these two discrepancies.

  • http://www.thunderseo.com/team/max-thomas/ Max Thomas

    To Patrick Hegarty:

    Thanks for your post. This is a great question.

    The skinny is that the ’10 pack’ map results are actually blended (or universal) search results – and not specifically Google Map results. That is why the ‘Kevin McLaughlin Custom Windows and Doors’ listing on the ’10 pack’ still shows the maps.google.com url. Hence, once ‘more’ is clicked, the user is then directed to Google Maps where the full details of your local business listing (including correct url) are listed.

    Isn’t this frustrating? (I think so.) According to the GoogleMaps Help Blog (see details below) this is a problem that Google is aware of. We’ve had this happen with several clients. Primarily it’s been a matter of time (few weeks in most cases) for Google to update the url in the ’10 pack’ map results. I suggest doing all the local search and seo optimization you can to help speed the process — including, at minimum, listing in major directories and review sites, upload xml and kml sitemaps to Google, optimize internal links on site for target keyword(s), encourage reviews, etc. (Side note: I’ll be posting our ‘SEO Local Search [Ongoing] Checklist’ shortly.)

    Lastly, because the ’10 pack’ map is a blended search result while Google Maps is separate, that is why you are listed ‘J’ on the ’10 pack’ map and #14 on Google Maps.

    Following is the excerpt from the GoogleMaps Help Blog referenced earlier:

    “You said that the results happen when doing a map search. However, you are actually doing a google search; You aren’t searching Google Maps, you are searching Google the web search engine.

    This isn’t a major issue. But a proper explanation will help corrections to be made faster. And I’m sure you want this corrected as fast as possible! ;-)

    The results on google dot com that you see are the results of a feature that Google refers to as “universal search”. With it, Google attempts to combine the search results of their many search locations into one result – which you see on google dot com.

    Google has had problems with universal search from the moment they first put it into place. Google has acknowledged it, and said that they are working it. However, they said this some 2 months ago, and have not given an update.

    The Google User Guides have said that you can report these errors here, which you have done. I am not aware of another reporting method for problems with universal search. The only thing remaining is to wait for them to notice and correct it.”

  • http://www.moniquethegeek.com/local-search/ GeekSqueak | Local search

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