Since 2009 the search results across the big three have become increasingly localized and personalized. Both regionalized queries and global queries will deliver localized results in a variety of different formats, but they are localized nonetheless. So when it comes to optimizing for and navigating the local search space, how is one to distinguish the difference between a search like "flowers" and a search like "flowers Boston?"

Identifying Searcher Intent

One of the first things search engines look at when it comes to localizing search results is searcher intent. Is the query a regional sensitive query that pertains to a specific geographic location, or is it more broad? If a search has clear localized intent then it will deliver localized results. Otherwise the search engines can use a number of factors to determine if they are dealing with a regional sensitive query or a global query by referencing:

  • A users search history
  • Aggregated data from other users
  • The frequency a term is searched with the addition of a geographic location
  • The frequency of clicks on localized results by the user
  • The location information associated with the logged in user

If the factors cross referenced lead the search engine to believe that the search has possible localized intent it will deliver some form of localized results. I personally feel that the search engines are referencing aggregated data more than anything since localized searches appear to be showing up for more and more queries even if my personal intent isnt localized. Furthermore there are a large number of low volume localized terms that have no local results integrated.

Location, Location, Location

Once the search engines have identified whether or not your search has any sort of local intent it will deliver its results based on your location of search. For mobile search this data has the potential to be much more precise depending on your GPS settings. Another thing to consider, especially with Google, is the location your search results are set to. I personally run my location in Google as the United States, which gives me much different results for an otherwise localized search like "pizza" in comparison to when my search results are set to my hometown of Corona, CA.

Competing For Traffic In Localized Search Results

The local search game has changed greatly over the last couple of years. Large players who used to dominate for otherwise global queries have seen themselves nudged down in the SERPs thanks to localization, and in many cases there aren't a lot of ways to combat it. As Matt Cutts pointed out earlier this year in a webmaster help video on the topic of showing up in localized results when you're not a local business, ... there's not really a way where if you're out of town, you can sort of show up (within our guidelines), and show up as a local business." So if you're a big fish from upstream trying to make it in the small pond, you're going to have to really assess your strategy to be successful.

When Google launched blended Places results in 2010 this was something my team and I at Plastic Surgery Studios recognized as a threat immediately. Our bread and butter in Google for our directories were terms like plastic surgeon or plastic surgery, and at the time we dominated the results. But after the introduction of blended results we were quickly pushed down the page by local doctors. To combat this we had to change our strategy. We began seeking out localized terms that were relevant to our site and our niche, but were not not dominated by localized search results. In doing so we were able to target and dominate a number of lesser searched local terms to make up for the losses of some of our larger global terms.

Another thing we considered were means of showing up in the top local search results indirectly. One way I proposed we do this was to become a citation source for local doctors featured on our directories. For at least one of our directories we began using semantic markup to strengthen our local SEO strategy, this game has changed a bit recently with Google killing off citation information, but there is still an opportunity to do this if you are a larger site that features reviews of local businesses since reviews still appear in Places instant previews and on Places pages.

On the other hand if you are a local business and youre trying to stand out amongst the competition there are a number of things you can do:

  • Optimize your website for localized search terms
  • Make sure your NAP information appears on your site
  • Claim and optimize your local listings on the big three
  • Submit your business to local citation sites

Remember, in the case of Google, blended results rely heavily on both strong on page SEO as well as local search ranking factors. So whether you rank for flowers or flowers Boston now is a better time than ever to reassess your strategy to make sure you are getting the most from your efforts and are being found where you want to be.

See also: