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November 2010 - Google's New Focus On Local + Mobile


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#1 Michael Martinez

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 02:22 PM

Most people don't yet seem to realize that Google's Place Page Update was only the most recent step in a process that began last year.

In October 2009 someone asked Matt Cutts if Google was experimenting with customizing search results on the basis of user IP location (Cf. ) and Matt confirmed that the test was real. Since then Mike Blumenthal and several other people (such as Bruce Clay in this WebPro News interview) have been pointing to changes in the way Google handles queries.

Google now forces users (in the U.S., at least) to search from a specific geographic location. You cannot disable or turn off location-based search. At best you can scale your search out to a location of "United States" but most users will never do that.

Any query that may be interpreted as having a local interest will now show the integrated Google Places content that has so bemused people. But this means that if you are using rank-checking software you may be looking at rankings that are only relevant to a specific geographic location.

At PubCon Matt Cutts made it pretty clear that Google sees mobile as the new frontier. That is probably why Marissa Mayer was moved from Websearch over to develop mobile search (and related tools) earlier this year. She is still guiding the future of Google's marketing platforms, it seems.

Speaking at PubCon, Greg Boser mentioned that he had a client who ran into a brick wall when Google rolled out location-based SERPs. By helping that client differentiate content for regions, Boser was able to help them recover much of their lost traffic.

Of course, not everyone is going to be able to do this. And, ironically, this location-based searching means that more Websites than ever will have to turn to the long tail of search in order to build up their traffic again. And yet, most people believe that the 2010 MayDay Update adjusted Google's handling of long tail traffic in a way that is unfavorable to non-geographically-based businesses.

Affiliate sites, for example, reportedly took a huge hit from MayDay. Now some of them may have taken another hit from Google's August 2010 "Brand Update" (where they started showing more pages from one site for brand-specific queries) and from the October Place Pages Update.

Although some people won't shed any tears over the suffering of affiliate marketers, local businesses that were hoping to build up national mail-order traffic will now have to turn to paid advertising until they can create content that is relevant and useful to the regions where they want to break into -- but good luck to them if they have to compete with local vendors in the organic SERPs.

I think that Google will seek to localize more search traffic. Among other things, this trend may help them fight a lot of Webspam. Web spammers haven't really done much to target local search traffic, but they typically have the resources to adjust to major algorithmic changes that local businesses don't have. I would not be surprised to see a dramatic increase in localized spam content over the next few months as spammers experiment with the new Google direction.

I do believe, however, that location-based search may drive many users to qualify their queries even further, to avoid local results after they reach a dissatisfaction level that almost always sets in. And, who knows? Perhaps this forced location-based search will drive more people to try Bing or other search engines.

And though I could toss out a few more facts and thoughts, I think I'll leave it there for now.

#2 PatrickGer

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 02:43 PM

very interesting stuff - thanks for sharing.

Completely forgot about this - I know links arent your favorite topic biggrin.gif, but have you made any observations (that youre willing to share) as to...how link building for ranking in g places is different from the way it was before?

the same? or have they shifted the focus towards links from local sites + with local anchor text?

I realize links arent everything ;-), and when it comes to local (& g places) their importance might have further declined even...?

#3 Michael Martinez

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 07:34 PM

QUOTE(PatrickGer @ Nov 18 2010, 11:43 AM) View Post
very interesting stuff - thanks for sharing.

Completely forgot about this - I know links arent your favorite topic biggrin.gif, but have you made any observations (that youre willing to share) as to...how link building for ranking in g places is different from the way it was before?


Too soon to tell.

QUOTE
I realize links arent everything ;-), and when it comes to local (& g places) their importance might have further declined even...?


Actually, you're asking a great question. I wish I had an answer but I don't.

BTW -- I ran into an issue on the user side with Google's latest algorithm. Apparently when you're connecting to the Internet through WiFi, Google cannot figure out where you are. It keeps changing the default location on me. Your mileage may vary.



#4 scouseflip

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Posted 19 November 2010 - 08:21 AM

QUOTE
BTW -- I ran into an issue on the user side with Google's latest algorithm. Apparently when you're connecting to the Internet through WiFi, Google cannot figure out where you are. It keeps changing the default location on me. Your mileage may vary.


I am a fan of localised search in certain situations - on the smart phone for example makes loads of sense as the technology in there can report you location with accuracy and it is a moblile technology so there is a higher likelihood that you will want localised results (only basing this on my own usage to be honest - I reckon at least 80% of the searches I do via mobile are looking for in the local area... and the other 20% is probably searching for Quiz answers when I'm having my mid week pub visit

On the main version of the website however (via a desktop) its a different thing imo. If I want localised results based around a specific place, I'll go to maps. I don't want localised results forced down my throat, with no option to turn it off, ESPECIALLY when they have no way of pinpointing your actual location with ANY degree of accuracy.

Apparantly I'm in Newbald today... yesterday I was is York and I'm pretty sure I was in Norwich earlier in the week... strange, I was sure I have not left Deeside all week?!? huh.gif

I realise that you can manually set the location but I don't get the logic in this - if I have to set the location manually then its really no different to going into maps and doing a proper local search, without cluttering up the main SERP's with this nonsense.

Fair enough, this is just my opinion and other may disagree, but it's odd that you can not turn it off. And I'm sorry but the following quote frrom Google (in the article that you provided the link to)...

QUOTE
The customization of search results based on location is an important component of a consistent, high-quality search experience. Therefore, we haven't provided a way to turn off location customisation


... is it just me or is that somewhat vague as an explanation as to why it can not be disabled? And how can they claim it leads to consistency when every day I'm getting localised results for places I have never been and have no immediate plans to visit (though that's not meant as a comment of the appeal of Newbald of course, it's probably a lovely place!)

It's hard to argue against mobile being the 'new frontier' but statcounter are still reporting that mobile is just 3.8% against 96.2% desktop, so should Google really be so heavily geared towards mobile technology right now?


#5 qwerty

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Posted 20 November 2010 - 02:32 PM

Thanks for bringing this up, Michael.

I've been talking with a prospect who already do fine on local search, but want to improve on national e-com searches. Some of their products are unique and others are just fairly difficult to find, but happily, they don't sell stuff you can find anywhere, so if I end up working with them I guess I'll be counting on the long-tail searches from consumers with a good idea of what they're looking for and won't even concern myself with the more generic searches.

#6 Michael Martinez

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 01:57 AM

QUOTE(scouseflip @ Nov 19 2010, 05:21 AM) View Post
... is it just me or is that somewhat vague as an explanation as to why it can not be disabled? And how can they claim it leads to consistency when every day I'm getting localised results for places I have never been and have no immediate plans to visit (though that's not meant as a comment of the appeal of Newbald of course, it's probably a lovely place!)

It's hard to argue against mobile being the 'new frontier' but statcounter are still reporting that mobile is just 3.8% against 96.2% desktop, so should Google really be so heavily geared towards mobile technology right now?


In my speculative mood I can suggest that Google may have been aiming toward this kind of stringency for some time. I suspect it would be difficult for them to go back.

#7 PatrickGer

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 10:08 AM

thanks for the replies, MM.

#8 diannetrussell

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Posted 28 December 2010 - 07:44 PM

The local thing has me and many global business colleagues very concerned. I sent the following query to Google Webmaster Central on the Crawling, Indexing and Ranking forum (and it will be interesting to see if they reply):

"In this thread it is said: "So google try to serve the most relevant content based on location, search history, language and other factors" - this has me concerned. Reason: I heard a few weeks ago from a colleague who is very, very internet savvy, that Google will be down-ranking people who do not have Locations on their websites. But what if my business is global online and not physically-based and not relevant to a particular location?

The place I live and work at home IS TOTALLY IRRELEVANT to my customers as my shop is all online for digital products or small items via affiliate programs like Amazon and Clickbank, and most customers will be on another continent. Not only that, the place I live and work is a tiny, rural, cyber-over-saturated, underpaid, low-consumer area with few potential customers, so having my location on my website, and having people's search results skewed accordingly, would be UTTER DEATH for my "global" online business!!

What should I do about this? How can I work on getting good rankings without having a business location? Am I pushing the proverbial uphill? In a global networking world, it sounds like Google is opening the door for a competing search engine to come along for all the truly global, location-irrelevant businesses like mine!"

Anyone shed any further light on this problem? Thanks

#9 qwerty

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Posted 28 December 2010 - 10:14 PM

Your location may be irrelevant to your business, but you still have to have a location -- not because Google says so, but because people need to know that you exist and can be reached somewhere if they have a problem. There's no way I'd buy anything from a business that's so nebulous it won't tell me where it's located. I may not care what that location might be, but I'll certainly care if it looks like they're trying to hide from me. You don't have to put your location on every page of the site, but it ought to be easy to find if someone looks for it.

And I wouldn't be too concerned about your location locking you into only showing up on local searches. Unless your business is one that concentrates on a local area (and it clearly isn't), then it shouldn't matter.

#10 Jill

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Posted 29 December 2010 - 03:22 PM

Google won't "down rank" you if you don't have an address.

But as Qwerty said, you should have it anyway. And I'd even get a Google Places page as well, even if you don't do any local business.

#11 Michael Martinez

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Posted 30 December 2010 - 04:30 AM

Some queries will be more dependent upon location than others. I believe Google is trying to help users find content that is relevant to their physical location. That doesn't necessarily mean users won't be able to find businesses that are important to them. I think, however, that it means that Websites will have to show that they are relevant to the localized queries.




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