When a local search is made on Google the page below is displayed. This is a different search result page from the standard Google search page. Local search results have 3 specific sections;
Paid Search - also known as Google Ads,
Google PlacesResults - , which Google reserves for businesses located in the area and
Organic Search - , which includes results based on the best match to the query based on Google's ranking algorithms. Organic Search results display a wider range of results including individual businesses, directories, and even results from Wikipedia.
The three sections of Google local search results are highlighted in the diagram below. This diagram is typical of what a user would see when they make a query in Google for a local business as viewed on a standard wide screen laptop or desktop. The bottom of the screen is referred to as the "fold". Note that there are 5 Paid Search listings, 3 Google Places and 1 Organic listing above the fold. The positions for Google Places and Organic Search Results vary immensely per query as we'll show in the examples to follow.
How Google Determines a Local Search: Local search results are displayed when the search query contains a city or city + state in combination with a keyword associated in a search for a business product or service. As well, Google will display a local search page when keyword only business search terms are queried, such as "plumber" or "roofer". In this case Google will display results for the area where they believe the user located. They determine the user's location using their IP address, or if the user signs up with Google for a product or service and gives their address, and recently, Google has added a spot in the left hand of the screen for the user to identify their location (note: Tustin, CA in the screen above).
How the Queries Vary for Google Places and Google Organic Search: As you can see from the 2 screen shots below, Google Places and Google Organic Search move around significantly, often such that one or the other is not showing at all. The results within each section change for each query. These areas provide local customers with very limited exposure and provide only part time coverage on Google.
Note: Each search result that Google sends to a user is unique. Google watches what each user does and provides a unique result. This technique is referred to as behavioral modeling.
Being on Google is critical to maximizing your
94% of all potential new customers begin their search for local business products and services with a search engine, so you definitely need to be on this page.
Google dominates over 80% of paid search
Thus, 94% x 80% = 75% of potential new customers can come from Google
You must be on the 1st page of Google as much as possible. This can be achieved with Google Ads (paid placement), but not with Google Places or Google Organic Search which are very part time.
Further analysis below shows our analysis of some high value local keywords. This analysis shows what appeared on the page above the fold. 80% of all users never go below the fold.
Not only is it nearly impossible to achieve significant presence in Google Places, but a recent articleby the New York Times stated that thousands of spam sites for designed for lead gen have taken many of the dominate positions in Google Places.
Organic Search vs. Google Ads Click Through (CTR): Many studies show that for a national search, (where Google Places is not shown in the search) indicate a slightly higher click rate for Organic Search than Google Ads. However, based on the table above only modest presence can be achieved for any business in the combination of Google Places and Google Organic Search.
Google Statistics:Google researchers conducted more than 400 studies on the effect of “search ad pauses.” We found:
Over 89% of traffic generated by search ads is not replaced by organic search results when ads are paused.
Results are similar across verticals, among the broadest sample of consumers, and regardless of industry.
9 out of 10 visits to advertiser sites would never happen in the absence of related search ad campaigns.
Users Search on a
Page: On the right is a conventional heat map showing where users focus their attention on the screen (red being given the most attention and blue the least). Users typically look across the screen and down to the left, half way down the screen. Thus, the optimal position for ads is near the top of the page. Studies have shown that the top 4 ads in Google Ads garnish significantly more traffic than the rest. Well written ads which closely match the query can easily be the major factor over any specific position in the top 4.
The screen shots above shows what a user would see with a standard wide screen display. Typically only 5 Google Ads are displayed above the fold. Over 80% of users will re-query to find the information they are looking for before scrolling below the fold.
Where Local SEO is Headed: Today, focus has been on links, keyword loading and even reviews to bring strong presence in Google Places and Google Organic Search. Recent patents by Google indicate that additional focus is being made in inter-page relevance. However, with the recent addition of Google +1, more focus is being placed on Facebook Likes, Tweets, and other social indicators. Local SEO is rapidly changing. In 2010 Google stated that they had changed their search algorithms over 400 times (more than once a day). Google now utilizes over 200 factors to determine placement per query.
Our position on Local SEO: As you can see from the data above, you should strive to get as much presence as possible, but we caution that paying for a local SEO person may not yield a positive ROI.
Below are screen shots of the queries used to create the table above.