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Local Search's Google 10 Pack

  |  May 21, 2009   |  Comments

Some local business owners rank well in Google's Universal Search results, but cannot crack into the local business results, a.k.a., the Google 10 pack.

Even newcomers to local search recognize the Google 10 pack. When a searcher types in a query that Google interprets as a quest for something nearby, Google returns 10 very obvious Local Business Listings (listed as A through J) in the results. These appear adjacent to an eye-catching map and are usually just beneath the sponsored ads at the top of the page and above the organic Universal Search results.

The 10 pack doesn't always push the top organic listing beneath the fold, but it does essentially push it into the 11th spot on the results pages. It's no wonder, then, that local businesses often covet a spot in the Google 10 pack over the number one organic spot.

Another interesting feature of the listings in the 10 pack is the way they are displayed. The business name is hot linked to the Web site, the URL is given and the contact phone number is shown. This makes it unnecessary for the searcher to go any further in her quest before contacting the business. While this makes viewing the content within a Local Business Listing optional, Google also offers a link to reviews in the listing or, if the listing has no reviews, there's a "more" link to it anyway. While this can get an interested customer on the telephone with a business very quickly, it eliminates the ability to track the Internet's influence on the ringing phone by bypassing clicks to the Web site.

Here are the Universal Search and local business, or 10 pack, results for "Boulder plumbing."

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At first glance, the 10 pack often looks like a replica of the top listings in Google Maps. More careful study shows that is not usually the case. Depending upon the niche, you can sometimes see wide variations in the two sets of results. Here are the first seven results for same search for "boulder plumbing" within Maps itself:

click to enlarge

It's frustrating to business owners when they rank well in the Universal Results but can't seem to crack into the 10 pack. And business owners often have a difficult time trying to figure out why. The Google Maps results are from the Maps own Local Search algorithm. While the authority of the Web site associated with the business influences that algorithm, the Maps results are very much about local business information and not about Web sites. In fact, it's possible for a business to rank well in Maps without even having a Web site.

The Google 10 pack algorithm appears to begin with the Maps results and then overlays other filters and influences onto it. The authority of the Web site is given more weight in the algorithm for the 10 pack than in that of Google Maps. So, ranking well in one of the results does not necessarily carry over to the other set of results.

If you rank well in the Maps results, but not in the 10 pack or Universal Search, then concentrate on optimizing your Web site for the location and keyword combination for which you feel it is most important to rank. Base this on actual search numbers and not on vanity. Ranking for what you think people should use to search for you is certainly not as good for your business as ranking for what they actually use to searcher for your goods and services.

If your business enjoys a good ranking in Universal Search, then concentrate on improving your listing in Maps. Optimize your descriptions to include your best keyword phrase terms, including your location terms. Get plenty of supporting citations from trusted local sources, such as Superpages, Yelp, City Search, Insider Pages, and the like.

The actual physical location of a business is a powerful influence in Maps. Consider yourself as doing well if you can rank for a competitive terms and good keyword term combinations for your own city or town. However, don't expect to rank well for towns and cities where you don't have a physical presence, unless you are very close to them and/or unless there are few businesses in your niche in the place where you wish to rank in the real world, on the Web or both.

As of early April 2009, Google began displaying the 10 pack for a broader range of search terms and for searches made without geo-identifiers. This is all a progression in Google's ability to interpret local intent from the search query. A little later in the month, eagle-eyed Jason Burby pointed out that it is now possible -- by checking the referring URLs -- to tell which clicks come from the 10 pack and which come from Universal Results. Once we have enough data to tell how much of an impact the Google 10 pack really has, it may become even more important in the world of local search.


Mary Bowling

Mary Bowling has been involved in all aspects of online marketing since 2003. She has a special interest in Web site usability and in search engine optimization, including optimizing all types of media for search engines. Mary has also developed specialized expertise in promoting brick-and-mortar businesses on the Internet through local search marketing. She is currently doing independent consulting and working with seOverflow and Maia Internet Consulting in Denver, CO, optimizing and marketing a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits online.

Her accomplishments include speaking at Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences on a variety of topics, conducting trainings and webinars for Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Workshops, authoring popular white papers on local search and SEO for WordPress Blogs and speaking at SEMpx' s Searchfest.

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