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?
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:
- SEL: Google Updates The “Local Pack” Showing 3 Results Instead Of 7
- Mike Blumenthal’s thoughts on the new Local Stack
- Bruce Clay: New Organic & Paid Google Local Results Affect Local Businesses
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.
Note – search engines often displayed more than 10 results on 1st page.
- 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
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
- 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
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!
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
- 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
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.
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 + Location Search Term
Product + Location Search Term
- 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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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.
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.
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).
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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