Objective of Research
NB: To read the 2015 update, click here.
We know that Google dominates the search market and represents the biggest opportunity for local businesses to acquire new customers.
The objective of this study is to understand how generous Google, Bing and Yahoo are to local businesses by analysing the mix of search result types, and seeing which engine gives the most ‘real estate’ (aka ‘space’) to results for local businesses.
Despite its undoubted dominance in overall search, are we justified in giving Google our all-consuming focus? Or are we better off diverting more of our local SEO efforts towards Bing and Yahoo if they give local businesses more prominence in results?
We set out to answer 3 important questions:
Methodology of research:
The research was carried out over 3 days in March 2014.
Below is a quick run through of the main points; please see the ‘Appendix’ below for full rundown of the methodology.
6 Types of Keyword
We analysed 6 different Types of Keyword:
- 3 keyword variations: Generic keyword, service keyword, long tail keyword
- e.g. Accountant, Tax Return, Personal Tax Accountant
- 3 keyword variations + location: Generic keyword + location, service + location, long tail + location
- e.g. Accountant in Phoenix AZ, Tax Return in Phoenix AZ, Personal Tax Accountant in Phoenix AZ
We used 7 different business categories across 3 locations of varying population size (Small/Medium/Large)
In total, we analysed a combination of 42 keywords x 3 locations = 126 localised keywords.
Setting search location:
For Google & Bing we set a specific search location in the browser. Yahoo doesn’t offer this control so we used 3 different proxy servers to anchor our search to the 3 locations tested.
Search result types:
We split the search results into 3 main types:
- Local Results – these are local business listings on Google+, Bing Places or Yahoo Local. These typically take the format of a ‘pack’ of results.
- Large Websites – these are results for sites such as Yelp, CitySearch, Wikipedia, DemandForce, local government sites, industry trade bodies etc.
- Local business sites – these are results for websites which belong to a local business or multi-location/franchise business. These are direct local service/product providers.
Key Findings & Take-aways
- Google returns greatest % of local results for all types of search term
- Search engines display more local results for geo-modified search terms vs non-geo
- To dominate Generic terms, SMBs should focus on optimizing their local search listings
- To dominate Long Tail terms, SMBs should build out service & long-tail content on their own sites
1. Which search engine gives more page 1 space to local businesses?
Chart: Generic keywords – % of results by result type
- With generic keywords, Google is more generous to local businesses
- Google gives greater % of space to both Local Results (40%) & Local Business Sites (19%)
- Bing & Yahoo give more space to larger websites (65% & 58% respectively)
With generic keywords (e.g. Plumber, Accountant), Google gives more space on page 1 to local results. In addition to this, Google hands more space to local business websites as well. Google obviously believes that local results and local websites are the best possible ‘answers’ for a generic search term – something which is actually very positive for small businesses, who can better compete against larger sites on generic terms.
On the flip side, from the perspective of a larger site and with Google’s dominance in search; does the lack of space given to larger websites push more of them towards paid advertising?
Bing & Yahoo give much more space to larger websites. Given that Bing powers Yahoo’s organic results it’s not surprising that the results for both are very similar. However Yahoo is more generous with local results than Bing appears to be.
Chart: Service keywords – % of results by result type
- Fewer local results are displayed for Service Terms vs Generic Terms – larger websites benefit
- Google displays highest % of Local Results (32%)
- Bing displays highest % of Local Business Sites (32%)
- For ‘Service’ terms, Bing is the only search engine to give greater % of page 1 space to local businesses vs larger sites
With service keywords (e.g. “radiator repair”, “divorce lawyer”), is appears that larger websites get more space on page 1 allocated to them.
All 3 engines return a lower % of local results which indicates that they don’t interpret service terms as having as much local intent as generic terms (e.g. ‘radiator repair’ vs. ‘plumber’), and that searchers aren’t necessarily searching for a local business.
However, Local business sites gain prominence for service terms. This is good news for SEOs & SMBs and supports the argument for building out service-based landing pages which can bring in specific traffic.
It’s interesting to see the change in Bing’s results for service keywords. For generic keywords less than 40% of page 1 is given over to results that local businesses can profit directly from. But for service terms they get 55% of page 1 real estate.
Chart: Long tail keywords – % of results by result type
- Yahoo & Google display the most local results for long tail search terms (31% & 28%)
- Bing are much more generous towards local business websites
- Large websites lose out significantly
With long tail search terms, Google & Yahoo are streets ahead of Bing in terms of displaying local results. Long tail is also the only type of search term whereby large websites take on less importance; instead more prominence is given to local business websites across the board.
This shows that small businesses can do well by focusing local SEO efforts on long tail terms; there is far less competition from business directories and more opportunity to gain rankings for their own website (as opposed to local search listings). Searcher intent for long tail terms is also more likely to result in a solid lead – see more on this below.
Where Google gives less prominence to local results, Yahoo steps up and offers far more. It’s interesting that Yahoo offers a similar amount of local results no matter what type of search term is entered. It is only the amount of local business websites and large websites that change significantly. In this respect, Yahoo delivers a consistent amount of local results, while google varies the quantity based on the specific search term.
2. How does the split of search results vary by keyword type?
Chart: All Search Engines – % of Local Results by search engine type:
- Google & Yahoo give more prominence to local results than Bing
- Generic terms deliver the greatest % local results than other terms
- Long tail terms result in the lowest aggregate amount of local results
Google is the winner by a hair! It narrowly gives more real estate on page 1 to local results than Yahoo – and a lot more than Bing. This isn’t surprising given that Google has invested significantly in their local product, and that Google has publicly stated the importance of location as a relevance factor in it’s algorithm. Google is more confident in their local results and so gives them more share of voice within search results.
If any SEOs or SMBs need further evidence to why Google Places /+local is such a critical channel to focus on then here it is. It’s especially important for ranking well for Generic & Service terms, which Google appears to favour large sites within organic results – i.e. there is less opportunity for local business sites to rank highly.
Chart: All Search Engines – % of Local Results by search engine type:
- Long tail search terms return the most local business results
- The trend line remains the same for all 3 search engines
- Bing more generous towards local business websites than Google & Yahoo
All 3 search engines unanimously give more page 1 space to local business websites from long tail search terms. This of course is great for small to medium sized business who can target their SEO towards long tail keywords and gain significant advantage over large websites such as directories. However, the same businesses will struggle to have the same impact with generic terms, where it is harder to compete in organic search. Once again this highlights the importance of local SEO as it gives smaller businesses a chance to compete whereby they wouldn’t be able to do so in organic search.
3. How does split of search results vary for Geo-modified vs Non-Geo modified keywords?
Chart: Local results – Geo vs Non-Geo Keywords
- Google returns more local results for keywords that do not contain a geo-modifier
- Bing / Yahoo show more local results for keywords that do contain a geo-modifier
When a searcher does not use a location term, Google returns more local results than either Bing or Yahoo. There are 2 likely factors driving this –
- Google is more confident in it’s local product & results than either Bing or Yahoo so is prepared to give more results for non-geo-specific terms
- Google uses other location factors such as IP address to determine location and uses these more aggressively as a factor in determining what results to display
However, Bing & Yahoo return more local results than when there is a location in the keyword, whilst Google appears to present fewer local results when there is a location term used. This seems a little counter-intuitive to us, so we ran a further set of keywords to test this and the results came back similar again.
There isn’t any extensive, published analysis of local searcher behaviour and the keywords they use (sounds like a good idea – ahem BrightLocal research team!!) But some recent evidence and discussion (see post by Linda Buquet on Local Search Forum) assumes that most searchers do NOT add a location term to the search terms. So this makes Google the more valuable engine given that it gives more 1st page space to local results for non-geo modified terms.
Of course Google also has much greater search volumes, greater usage of their maps product (mobile & desktop) and a superior local product. Here’s another feather in their cap!
It’s valuable to point out that this shouldn’t affect the location optimization you do for your clients. Google may not rely on geo-terms in keywords to return local results, however they still need to know where your business is located. So keep using location terms in your on-site content, page title, alt text as well as off site optimization in links & citations etc.
Chart: Local Business sites – Geo vs Non-Geo Keywords
- Bing gives more space to Local Business sites than Google or Yahoo
- All 3 search engines display more local business results when a geo-modified search term is used
In general, a geo-modified search term makes little difference to search engines when displaying local business website results. Bing is particularly indifferent about a location being used in these cases.
However, in contrast to local results, Google shows more local business websites when a location is included in a search term.
Google in Focus
Chart: Google – % of Local results by keyword type
- Generic keywords trigger highest % of local results to be displayed
- Long tail keywords trigger fewest local results to be displayed
There is more than twice the number of local results shown in Google when a generic term is used over a long tail search term. Whether or not a long tail keyword is used on its own, or with a geo-location; it is still the least likely search ‘type’ to trigger local results.
So Google Places /+Local optimization should focus more on generic & service terms. Factors such as correct category selection & providing a list of services are very important to get right.
Chart: Google – % of Local business website by keyword type
- Long tail keywords trigger greatest % local business websites to be displayed
- Generic & service type keywords return the fewest local business sites in Google
The results of this chart are the mirror image of those seen for local results in the previous chart above.
For long tail terms, Google gives more prominence to local business websites than for other types of terms.
This evidence supports the theory that local businesses need to develop content rich sites that cover a wide range of long tail service & location terms (as mentioned earlier)
Long tail terms may not deliver the kind of traffic that generic ‘head terms’ can, but the searcher intent is much more defined and so more likely to drive better leads & firmer enquiries to the business.
For a local business or SEO who wants to maximise the potential that Google offers, they need to optimize both their Google Places & their website so they increase their chances of ranking for the widest mix of terms.
Here is some more detail on the methodology used, including the breakdown of search terms & locations
We focused on keywords covering 7 local business categories: Plumber, dentist, hairdresser, accountant, attorney, insurance agent & construction firm.
Examples of the different keywords we used are included below:
- Generic keywords: “plumber”, “dentist”
- Service keywords: “Tax return”, “Haircut”
- Long tail keywords: “Top DUI attorney” “Residential concrete contractor”
- Generic + location: “Plumber Salt Lake City, UT”, “Insurance Agent Albuquerque, NM”
- Service + location: “Divorce lawyer Phoenix, AZ”, “Kitchen installation Albuquerque, NM”
- Long tail + location: “wedding hair stylist Phoenix, AZ”, “Emergency 24hr plumber Salt Lake City, UT”
We focused our local searches on 3 main locations, which were picked due to their varying population size:
- Phoenix, AZ – 1.5m pop*
- Albuquerque, NM – 560k pop
- Salt Lake City, UT – 190k pop
(*population estimate from latest census)
Got a different viewpoint on this subject or some useful insights you want to share? We’re interested in publishing unique content written by smart marketeers on our blog. Contact us with your details & ideas and we’ll get back to you ASAP!