Google More Generous to Local Businesses than Other Engines

Google More Generous to Local Businesses than Other Engines
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Key 'Takeaways' From This Post
  • IMPORTANT UPDATE: As of 8/7/15, Google's local pack now shows fewer businesses
  • IMPORTANT UPDATE: Google's 7-pack is now a 3-pack
  • Google displays more local pack results vs Yahoo or Bing
  • Google is most confident in the quality of it's local data set vs Yahoo or Bing
  • Local businesses being squeezed out of organic positions by large websites
  • Google gives less p1 positions to 'Leisure' businesses than Yahoo or Bing
  • Search terms with 'Geo-modifier' return much more local results

Last year we carried out some research on which of the 3 main Search Engines gave most space on their 1st page of results to local businesses; Google, Bing or Yahoo (see post). Now, 16 months later, we have revisited the question & refreshed the results in an all new local ‘Local SERPs showdown for 2015’.

3 Important questions to answer

In conducting & publishing this research we wanted to answer these 3 questions:

  • Which Search Engine gives more 1st page space to local businesses?
  • How does the split of search results vary by keyword type?
  • How does the split of search results vary for geo-modified vs non-geo modified keywords?

Results explained

We carried out a series of searches on Google, Bing & Yahoo for a range of keywords covering 7 different types of local businesses in a variety of locations.

The research is split into three parts – the first examines results from keywords without a location included, the second part looks at keywords with a location & the third looks at leisure keywords (eg, restaurants, bars). The charts display how many different types of results each search engine included – and also a comparison to last year (in brackets).

A full run-down of the methodology is available in the Appendix, but here are the highlights:

Result Types (we analysed 3 common result types)

  • Local results (‘Pack’)
  • Large Websites results (‘Organic’)
  • Local Business website results (‘Organic’)

Location Intent (we analysed both Geo-Modified Terms vs Non-Geo Terms)

  • e.g. “plumber chicago” vs “plumber”

Term Types – Generic Terms vs Longtail Terms vs Product / Service Terms

  • e.g. “plumber” vs “emergency 24hr plumber” vs “radiator repair”

For a full description of how the research was conducted please see the appendix at the bottom of the page.

Important Update (August 2015):

Since this post was published, Google has rolled out a new local search result to show fewer local organic results on the first page. Where previously 7 local results were shown, we now only see 3 local results. Read more on this update below:


Non Geo-Modified Keywords

Generic Search Terms

e.g. Plumber, Accountant, Florist

The average no. of results for ‘local/ pack’, ‘large websites’ & ‘local business websites’ are shown below – with a comparison to the same amount from 2014 shown in brackets.

Generic Search Terms on Google

Google gives more space to local results than either Bing or Yahoo

Note – search engines often displayed more than 10 results on 1st page.

Key Findings:

  • Google displays the highest amount of local results (6) vs Bing (3) & Yahoo (4)
  • ‘Large websites’ receive as-much, or more p1 real-estate as local business

Analysis:

Similar to last year, Google certainly appears to champion local businesses more than other engines & continues to give more p1 space to local results for generic keyword searches.

However, overall large websites (i.e. non-local, non-SMB) get the lion’s share of results on p1. Large sites (e.g. Yelp, Wikipedia, YouTube, Merriam-Webster, etc…) are given 50-65% of p1 space which limits the space for local businesses to gain visibility.

Of the 10 organic results that Google displays, only 2 were given to local business websites. This is relatively similar to both Bing & Yahoo – who actually show less organic results overall (8 & 9 respectively). We expect these similarities as Bing serves ‘most‘ organic results within Yahoo main search.

So, for local businesses wanting to gain visibility on high traffic generic searches there isn’t much organic ranking opportunity. The local pack results offer their best shot at p1 rankings, which highlights the importance of a well optimized local presence.

 


Long Tail Search Terms

Long Tail Search Terms on Google

Google displays 50% fewer local results vs 2014 for long tail keywords

Key Findings:

  • Google displays 50% fewer local results vs 2014 for long tail keywords
  • Yahoo displays most local results vs Google & Bing
  • Google & Bing both display more ‘large websites’ vs 2014

Analysis:

Since 2014 we can see that Google & Yahoo now display fewer local pack results for long tail terms (whilst Bing still only shows 1). Not great news for local business owners.

However local businesses get more of a shout in the organic results with 50% more organic places being given over to local business results. The ‘long tail’ is viewed as an opportunity for smaller businesses to compete more equally vs larger sites, as they can be very specific with their content & searcher intent is much clearer with long tail terms than with generic terms.

High-intent searchers are typically higher converting users so this is just the sort of traffic that businesses owners want!

Yahoo is Stagnant Consistent

On average, Yahoo displayed the highest amount of local results for long tail searches (4), whilst both Google & Bing reduced their local offering to 1 or 2 results.

Yahoo is the only Search Engine to show the same amount of local results for longtail keywords, as it does for generic keywords. And interestingly, throughout this experiment, Yahoo’s local offering rarely changes to much degree – whilst Google & Bing show a varying amount of local result based on the type of search.


Service / Product Search Terms

Product or Services keyword SERPs

Google displays more Local Pack results than Bing or Yahoo

Key Findings:

  • Google displays the most local pack results for product / service keywords
  • Large websites feature prominently for service / product terms
  • Much fewer organic places given to local business websites vs 2014

Analysis:

For service/product terms the Local Pack offers local businesses the greatest opportunity to appear on p1. Google is more generous with it’s park places than either Bing or Yahoo.

Conversely for local/SMB businesses, organic results are harder to gain visibility in, as all 3 Search Engines give a lot more page 1 positions to large websites (8 positions) and very few to local businesses (1 position). 

Local Results Summary

So, for non geo-modified terms, Google will display the most local pack results. Yahoo is likely to return its standard 4, whilst Bing will show even less. Google is far more confident about its local offering  – even without the user entering a location based search term.


Geo-Modified Keywords

In the second section, we looked at the same keywords as above, but added a specific location (a ‘Geo-Modifier’) to the search term, e.g. “Plumber in Albuquerque”.

The 3 charts below all show a recurring trend. Rather than analyze each one individually, we’ve summarized them all below.

Generic Keyword + Location

Long tail keyword SERPs

A ‘keyword + location’ search term returns a high amount of local results across all 3 Search Engines


Long Tail + Location Search Term

longtail + Location SERPs

‘long tail + location’ search terms are much more local business friendly in organic results


Product + Location Search Term

Product + Location SERPs

Yahoo returns its lowest amount of local results for ‘service + location’ search terms

Key Findings:

  • Search terms that include a Geo-modified Keyword return more local results overall
  • Local/SMB businesses get much more organic positions vs. Large websites
  • Large websites get fewer organic positions when the search term contains a Geo-Modifier

Analysis:

As mentioned earlier, Yahoo returns a similar amount of local results no matter what search term we entered, however Google & Bing clearly believe that searches with a Geo-modifier have a clearer local intent and are best served by showing more local results.

However it isn’t just the local ‘pack’ results that gain prominence. All 3 search engines show a higher proportion of local business websites in organic results at the expense of ‘large websites’.

Long tail + Location = highest % of local business websites in organic

Searching with a long tail keyword + a location is about as strong an indication you can give, that you are looking for a business in the local area – so it’s of little surprise that all 3 returned the highest amount of organic local business results for this type of term.

So Geo-modified keywords offer the greatest visibility for local businesses. The results show the importance of using location terms in website content, page titles & alt tags – as well as off-site optimization in links & citations etc.


What about Restaurants, bars, etc?

The types of terms we have looked at above are typically for local businesses that offer a functional service. Plumbers, dentists, attorneys & accountants, are all popular businesses types but they are treated slightly different in search results than restaurants, bars & cafes for example.

Google recently rolled out a new ‘snack pack’ format which displays 3 local results for ‘leisure’ or ‘entertainment’ businesses. So so we’ve split these types of businesses out and analysed them separately to see if Google is more or less generous to these business than Bing or Yahoo.

Leisure Keyword only

Generic keywords for local business

Key Findings:

  • Google shows its typical 3 pack whilst Bing & Yahoo return 5 local results
  • Only Google shows a good amount of organic local business websites for these generic ‘leisure’ keywords

Analysis:

Although all 3 Search Engines return a good amount of purely local results, only Google dedicates a reasonable amount of page 1 space to local businesses in organic.

For those small, independent restaurants trying to rank organically; neither Yahoo or Bing offer much opportunity. They both return almost entirely large websites (such as directories) – in addition to their 5 local results.

So, Bing & Yahoo offer a good opportunity for local SEO, whilst Google is clearly the better option for individual businesses – offering opportunities in both local & organic search.


Leisure Keyword + Location

Generic keyword + Localtion for local business

Key Findings:

  • Bing returns the most local results for a leisure keyword + location search term
  • Local business websites feature more prominently in organic for these type of terms

Analysis:

Google again shows the 3 pack, whilst its organic results do not vary that much to a search without a location.

However, both Yahoo & Bing do show different organic results. Both show less ‘large websites’ such as directories & review sites, in favour of local area businesses. Bing also returns 7 purely local results, compared to the 5 without a location.

So, Google doesn’t necessarily need a geo-modifier to deliver local restaurant / cafe results in organic – whereas both Bing & Yahoo do.

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Appendix:

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”

To get the fairest set of results, we’ve searched from over 15 different locations in the US. We picked a selection based which were picked due to their varying population size; here are 3 of the locations & their population sizes:

  • Phoenix, AZ – 1.5m pop
  • Albuquerque, NM – 560k pop
  • Salt Lake City, UT – 190k pop

(*population estimate from latest census)

For Google & Bing we set a specific search location in the browser. Yahoo doesn’t offer this control so we used different proxy servers to anchor our search to the locations tested.


Charts explained

The image below is a mockup of a SERP in its most simplest form, with 3 colors representing the different types of results; local results, large websites & local business websites – as explained below:

Local Results – local business listings for local businesses (e.g. Places/+Local) on Google, Bing & Yahoo. These typically take the format of a ‘pack’ of results within the SERP (or in some cases a carousel for ‘leisure’ terms).SERP graphic

Large Websites – organic results for non-local websites including national businesses, directories & review sites, government / local authority sites (e.g. Wikipedia, Yelp, YouTube, Tripadvisor, NYTimes)

Local Business Websites – organic results for websites of local business – either independent SMBs or multi-location/franchise businesses. Typically these are located within the area we are searching from.

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7 thoughts on “Google More Generous to Local Businesses than Other Engines”

  1. Hi.
    I am a big fan of your blog. I had read many of your great articles and learn great techniques and methods to do proper research. This information again is very interesting and all case studies are very inspiring.

  2. I’ve been considering this to be a moderate trickle for a moment. Be that as it may, my customers and I saw a noteworthy positioning effect that hit around June of a year ago. As Google keeps on adjusting Local SEO and Traditional SEO, the little person needs to work substantially harder.

    Indeed, even in Local pack comes about the greater players in the neighborhood business that is your concentration have been the significant recipients of the nearby changes over the most recent quite a long while. Littler organizations with less assets are being harmed.

  3. I’ve been seeing this as a slow drip for awhile. But my clients and I saw a major ranking impact that hit around June of last year. As Google continues to align Local SEO and Traditional SEO, the little guy has to work much harder.

    Even in Local pack results the bigger players in the local industry that is your focus have been the major beneficiaries of the local changes in the last several years. Smaller businesses with less resources are being hurt.

    One thing that irks me is it seems that the bigger local companies that utilize the more expensive traditional media have gotten a major local boost. They spend money for advertising and then in addition they get several deep links back to their website from the media company. Or they pay big bucks to be a lead sponsor for a charitable event and they get a ton of link juice. I kind of wish that Google would keep Local SEO and Traditional SEO separate instead of aligning them.

  4. Amazing Study, really a great post.

    Here after am going to focus my website on local searches. Let’s test the study & hope it helps me to improve my conversion.

  5. Wow! What a great study.

    I thought it was just my perception that local businesses where getting the squeeze by Google, but you just verified my thoughts.

    While competition is fierce amongst the local business, having to compete with high authority sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Thumbtack is just a pain in the you know what.

    A bit of a rhetorical question, but returning results that are weighted more towards large site, is that what a the user really wants? I guess the average use doesn’t understand the business models of Yelp and Thumbtack.

    For my personal searches, the most annoying is when Angie’s List shows up. Come on really? I can’t access it since I’m not a member. I just wish someone would just buy them.

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