The Local Search Plus Box

One of the parts of the mix of the marketing strategy called "local SEO" is improving the click-through rate. This can happen in many different ways, but the goal is always the same - to make the search result more appealing. One of the new-old ways to do that is by getting a Plus Box (nothing to do with Google Plus by the way) attached to your organic SERP listings.

Local Search Plus Box

A little history related to this feature:

- 15 November 2006 - "Displaying Compact and Expanded Data Items" patent filed by Google

- 18 November 2006 - the local (because there are others, too, such as Finance, Products, Video, etc) Plus Box first noticed and testing confirmed

- 21 March 2007 - Google announces officially the local Plus Box

- 2007 - 2009 - many reports of erroneous data in the Plus Box, and Mike Blumenthal's article on what the possible causes might be

- October 2009 - last reference of erroneous local Plus Box from 21 October 2009

- 14 February 2012 - the Plus Box noticed again after more than 2 years MIA

Why did the Plus Box reappear after so long time?

The simple answer - because Google once again tweaked the way they think about, look into, and display local information. These changes had some significant influence in general on the organic search, mainly because Google now puts much more focus on the geographically-related intent of the user. In other words, even if you do not specify the location in your search query, for instance search for "Chinese restaurant", Google would still assume you are looking for a Chinese restaurant that is located in your immediate proximity. This has been the case even before February 2012, but not across such a wide variety of terms and locations. Now let's look at how Google decides when to display the local Plus Box.

1) Google should determine whether the search query has location intent.

If it decides it has, it will look at if the relevant pages for this particular search are also geographically relevant. Here is what the "Assigning geographic location identifiers to web pages" patent, filed by Google on 24 November 2004 (that's 1 day before I turned 16), and summarized magnificently by Bill Slawski says about what a geographical location identifier might be:

- a partial or complete postal address
- telephone number (obviously a local area code one)
- area code
- airport codes
- landmark identifiers
- other values tied to physical locations, such as longitude and latitude
- or based upon hyperlinks between pages without geo information that seem related to these pages which do have location information

As the last point suggests even a page that does not contain any of the above mentioned geographical location identifiers might be considered as relevant to a particular location based on the following relevancy factors:

- relative distance to a document that contains some or all of the geographical location identifiers (by "distance" understand the number of hyperlinks through which one should pass to go from one page to the other) - according to the patent "in one exemplary implementation, the number of links may be within the range of 2-5 links", i.e. if the distance between the geographically relevant document (web page) and another linked document is more than 2-5 links, the documents further away would not be considered relevant to that location
- whether these two pages are on the same website
- the anchor text for the link leading from the geographically relevant page to another page should include one (or more) of the following words: location(s), direction(s), find, finder, locate, locater, store(s), branch(es), about, company, contact, information, "a complete or partial postal address"
- the same terms as above should appear in the title attribute of the link
- terminology used (most probably refers to specific dialect words used only at or around the particular geographical area)

2) Google should be given the geo-location information for the business.

In his blog post from 2006, Matt Cutts says: "You can tell us your business address at Google's Local Business Center" (a.k.a. Google Places). He also adds links to three help articles, from which currently only this one is still active. In a summary, here are the tips it gives to the webmasters on how to provide location information to Google:

- add your business to Google Places
- your address information should be clearly available in plain text on your home page or at least one important page on your site
- an interactive map of your location and/or a set of driving directions and/or a personalized map "created by yourself or other users"
- use top-level domains to handle country-specific content
- associate your website with a particular country via Google Webmaster Tools
- creating a KML file for your location and adding it to your Sitemap

Here is what Professor Maps, Mike Blumenthal (who is probably the most experienced with the local Plus Box), gives as example of good practices when trying to trigger the Plus Box:

- KML files
- rich snippet address formatting
- location specific pages
- geo rich contact us and about us pages
- claimed listing

He also mentions the usage of Geo Sitemap, but these are not in use by Google anymore.

3) Google might decide to screw you up.

Even if you've followed every single recommendation listed above, Google might still decide to make fun of you by displaying wrong Plus Box information. The problem usually comes from the fact that Google gets business data from numerous sources, which are sometimes contradicting and erroneous. Very often the information provided by the business owner might be trumped by information coming from other sources, which are considered "more trustworthy", or at least more relevant (don't ask me why Google would consider a third-party source more trustworthy than the business owner themselves). Therefore, even if you claim your listing and make sure all the information there is up-to-date, Google might still not believe you. It might change your business data as appearing on Google Maps and in the organic search results at any given time. And as noted above, the business data from Google Places is a very important factor when Google determines what to display in the local Plus Box. Mike Blumenthal has written about this problem as long ago as March 2008.

So to the tips mentioned in 1) and 2), I'd add the usual "straighten up your N.A.P." (Name, Address, Phone), which should actually be the beginning part of each local SEO campaign.

More on local search:

About the Author: Nyagoslav Zhekov

I believe local-mobile-social is the future of Internet marketing. I specialize in local search marketing. In my daily job I help businesses succeed online.

Local Search Marketing Blog

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