I wanted to pick up on a concept expressed by Ammon Johns in another discussion: the bias of Google toward local businesses for a certain set of queries.
Ammon brought that up to counter a (ridiculous) assertion from a (former) group member that Google’s algorithms are “one size fits all” and so small businesses stand no chance against big brands.
Ammon countered that with a simple example: do a search for something like “plumbing fixtures” and the top of Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) is dominated by local stores (even if in my area some are big box national chains, it’s still the local outlets I get). Amazon can also sell me those fixtures, and deliver them to my door, but they are nowhere on the first page of organic results.
So for a set of queries that might indicate an intent to purchase, Google assumes that I want to know the physical places closest to me where I can purchase those things. In most cases, that’s a good assumption.
But here’s my frustration case with that. For some purchases, particularly for services, the user might really want, and be better served by, national or global providers over local outlets.
I noticed this when I was assigned by my Digital Marketing agency to try to get us ranking high for Search Engine Optimization | “SEO services.” I quickly realized the futility of this venture as Google treats this query as the equivalent of “plumbing fixtures,” assuming that I want local shops for my SEO needs.
However, our target clients are enterprise-level companies, typically Fortune 500. Anyone at those companies searching for “SEO services” isn’t looking (necessarily) for the agency down the street. They want an agency with the expertise and capacity to handle their unique needs, and they don’t give a fig where that agency is located.
So here’s my question: for services such as ours where local is not always the best fit, shouldn’t Google have some kind of disambiguation that allows the searcher to switch between local, national and global results?
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What a deliciously meaty topic. Thank you.
I think Google's rationale and reasoning is that big brands *are* big brands. By very definition, we are fully aware of them. So if we are choosing to search, it is not because we don't know that Amazon or Ebay can sell us just about anything, anywhere, it is because we want alternatives.
I think that Google's unique position to be able to track user interaction with SERPs has affirmed their assumption. This system, while very annoying to the big brands in one way, is what has turned out to be the most effective for the users of search.
It's a finely tuned balance that I see. If I search for a specific product (rather than a service), then Amazon and Ebay often still come out very well, despite Google's obscene amount of knowledge about my locality, and through tracking my phone, exactly where I prefer to shop.
But as soon as we come to services, where supply is usually within a fixed radius, that local bias gets dialled right up (as you noted).
I think this plays quite strongly to Slawski's comment in that same thread – that Google's algorithms have to apply largely to large and small companies alike. Google can use our intent, as determined by our query and search history, to decide which flavour of algorithm to use, which filters to apply to the results, but once that decision is made, it applies that filter to all the results alike.
There are also edge cases to consider. We all naturally want to believe that our client's are among them, and deserve better. But we may have to simply think like marketers more than technical SEO users, and say well, how do I make my brand the first thing they go to, rather than a search engine at all? Amazon do that exceptionally well.
An excellent answer!
And I do realize that my question (and particularly my individual example) is more academic than practical. At the end of the day, even if we were to rank nationally for “SEO services” I doubt that would bring us much business from our target market. The head of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at a Fortune 100 company is unlikely to be searching Google for “SEO services.” By the time he gets to purchasing such services from an agency, he’s probably already well aware of who the major players are, thanks in part to their marketing and branding efforts beyond search.
Ammon Johns 🎓 » Mark
let me go just a little 'above and beyond', as the thinking of any marketer must.
You've blind-sided yourself just a little.
You've accidentally put on blinkers by thinking that you might want to get your *company* listed in regional searches. But how about if you get your peripheral vision back and say "Actually, all I need is to create a *page* that ranks for this search. It could be a specific case study page, or a scholarly article. It doesn't need to be my homepage, or a regional landing page. Any page that can turn up in the results and put my company's brand 'top of mind' does the same job".
I know that's enough of a hint for you to work out all the other details from. 😉
Mark ✍️ » Ammon Johns
well, actually, it’s what we do 😉 As I said in my previous response to you, my question is more academic than practical for me personally. We quickly learned that it was a fools quest for us to put a lot of effort into trying to rank for “SEO services” not only because we couldn’t do it in localized search, but it also really has little business value for us. As I said before, it’s unlikely that the head of SEO for a large company begins the quest that lead to hiring us by searching “SEO services” on Google.
We well know that our marketing investment is much better spent on building our brand reputation, through our in-depth content, our acclamied research studies, our speaking at conferneces, and the word-of-mouth recommendations we get all the time from present and former clients.
But if this was added. How would SEO agencies pretend in local meetings that they rank nationally for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)!
Seriously though, didn't Google used to have an option where you could check a box in your account that would remove all personalisation and licalisation from all your searches? They then removed this feature for some stupid reason.
The problem here is that a normal user does not know the difference. They type in 'SEO Services' and just assume everyone on the first page are ranking nationally. They then think it is a bonus if they are local.
Personally, I really do like the idea of a 'local/national' option next to the search box.
Until that happens, we always need to consider that these local companies are taking the unearned glory and leads.
Good point Mark. I have been asking a e-commerce client of mine with 5-6 retail outlets to let me use their local presence to bump up their rankings/ratings with Google. I will keep pushing…
Refine your query. Instead of plumbing fixtures, search for "plumbing fixtures buy online". Or instead of SEO company, search for "Enterprise SEO company" or "eCommerce SEO company".
Well yes, that works. But my question wasn't about query refining; it was from Google's side. What could they do (or should they do anything) to help users get to what they really want, when national results could be better for them than local. We can't depend on users knowing enough to refine their queries.
Why not? Users learn how to properly interact with platforms to get what they want all the time. 😉
Mark ✍️ » Arsen
I'll answer, but this is taking us off topic. SOME users do sure. But don't forget that we're prejudiced by our experience with search. Most users don't approach the search box the way you or I do. They type in whatever occurs to them as a query (usually in the fewest words if they are typing) and expect that whatever Google shows them are the "best" results.
In the case of my example, they might not even realize that the majority of what they're seeing are localized results, and so wouldn't refine further.
Don't misunderstand me, though. An agency like mine should optimize for longer tail queries that we might actually be able to rank nationally for (such as "enterprise SEO services") that Google doesn't necessarily localize. I'm not arguing we shouldn't. Just wondering if it would be helpful for some queries that do get a local bias to have a disambiguation for non-local.
I'm with you 100%.
This may satisfy you: Conspiracy Theory in SEO: First Page Results May Change Your Mind or Knowledge