The local search scene has transformed a lot. To give you a sense, back in June 2008, the very first Android mobile phone hadn’t even been introduced yet.
Since that time, we’ve come from a world where local search mostly suggested “ten blue links” for desktop searches and changed to local pack results on mobile phones. Now we’re increasingly going into a world of singular responses from voice-controlled aides.
You might say:
“It’s all Google – how unique could those results be?”
And it’s true, at its root, Google has consistently aimed to provide searchers with the ‘best’ result for a given search. (However that has tweaked somewhat in the last few years as ads have become more common.) But the ‘best result’ is dependent on the context of the question. The sort of search and the location of the individual searching provide Google with two important pieces of context.
Think about a search such as [gain more followers on Instagram] No matter where I’m performing that search – mobile or desktop, home or on the go – I’m looking for a solution to that pain point, anyplace in the world. I’ll largely find the answers on webpages – through the ten blue links – showcasing products, case studies, or posts about ways to do so.
With a search like [coffee shop], though, Google can have very high confidence that I’m searching for a place to grab a latte right that moment. I probably want a place pretty near to me, no matter where I’m performing the search or on what device. Sure, I could browse a magazine article about the best coffee shops in my town or take a look at a full list of coffee shops on a directory page. But it is much more valuable for Google to basically return a list of places, rather than other sites about places.
Google’s webpage-related results [Instagram followers] and its place-related results [coffee shops] are produced by two distinct algorithms. Searches with unique questions like [How do I make chimichurri?] are likely to trigger a third sort of result called a Featured Snippet. But that’s a topic for another day!
As a local business, you’re going to face strong opposition in the webpage-related results. If you deliver services to help get more Instagram followers, you will need to battle with every other provider of this service in the world to get your website ranked.
But in the second case, when Google recognizes a search that has local intent you are only taking on other coffee shops in your area. Note above; I didn’t even specify my city, Google just inferred it. And even though Starbucks has coffee shops in practically every town and city in the world, it’s tougher for them to stand out from local brands in these place-based results. And these results are also presented in Google Maps, mobile GPS devices, Google Home/Assistant searches, and many other media.
Over the last few years, Google has incrementally shown a growing number of these location results for nearby inquiries and fewer website results. Even the webpage results that turn up underneath these place results on a local intent search have been infused with local business websites since early 2012.
Regardless of your search medium (desktop, mobile, or voice), and regardless of the type of result (webpage or place-related), Google remains a significant source of customers for many local companies. So it’s critical to put your best foot forward to entice those buyers in both algorithms.