Local SEO & The Attack of the Mega Pack

By this point most search engine users – be they SEO’s or just general folks are aware of the local results that get inserted where the search query is deemed to have a local intent. The more astute may have also noticed the influence of location on many other sets of results and in 2015 and beyond location is just one of many factors used in an ever more dynamic set of search engine results.

The following search for ‘plumber’ is a good example:

Search results in Google for a search for 'plumber'

In this set of results, we can see three different types of results

  • Paid Search Adverts (PPC)
  • A 7 pack of local results with the map top right
  • A standard organic listing

 

Three different results – one common factor: each of these results is influenced by the perceived location that this search is relevant for. We have a paid advert for a plumber in Birmingham (my location), a pack of local results for Birmingham-based plumbing companies and an organic listing from Yell.com showing the plumbers page for Birmingham.

So far so good. These results tend to be useful and on a mobile, they provide a direct link to directions and reviews and other location-based information. Often now whilst bumbling around the city centre I will Google what I need and use local results and Google maps to help guide me in – shopping simplified for the male mind & with some technology added to make it fun (bearable at least).

Attack of the Mega Pack

 

Historically these packs tended only to appear for local search results. What is local can vary from business to business and location to location – certain searches return tight results, others are wider. Some locations have more of the given type of business clustered around a location (or around the searcher) and other locations have businesses more spread out – think of a search for coffee shops in London vs. Lancaster for instance.

Yesterday we saw this result for a search of ‘schools in UK’

Google search results for a search of Schools in UK

 

Now, these results are not exactly local. In fact, they almost span from one end of the country to the other – some 400 miles or so. So, we asked a few other UK local SEO folks we know if they were seeing anything similar and Jo Shaer from Lollipop Local and Nick Rink from Smart Local could both see similar results. Surf Shops, Schools, Universities, Airports – we were all seeing these megapacks.

 

The Incredible Shrinking Pack

 

We continued to experiment to see what other ranges we could generate these kinds of packs for going from larger areas to smaller and all of the following will also generate a map pack of some sort.

  • schools in the midlands
  • schools in the west midlands
  • schools in Birmingham
  • schools in Sutton Coldfield

 

Again, I would expect this for the last two but previously larger areas like counties (West Midlands) or regions (Midlands) did not tend to do so. I say this with some confidence as we have a client who is a school in the West Midlands and our initial surveying of the search landscape drove our initial strategy.

 

Is this useful?

 

So, is this useful for your average search engine user? These are not real queries as such but simply things we were looking at and then stumbled across this new element to the search results. Certainly, it would seem to make the typical local SEO process seem somewhat more important but in practice, I am not sure how useful these kind of metro area searches really are for the user.

As an example consider the following search query: best schools in the west midlands

This returns the following results:

search results for best schools in the west midlands

 

Here we have seven schools returned in a local pack at the top of the page. Below that we have some traditional organic results from www.schoolsnet.com and some school ratings from the Birmingham Mail. In my mind these two organic results (and others below them) that start some 8 positions into the page are the more accurate and useful result – ultimately, what makes Google an authority on who are the best schools? The ones with the best Local SEO? I think not. Schools are possibly an extreme example as they are unlikely to have moved address or changed name too often so they won’t suffer from the traditional citation issues many businesses have. Bowler Hat for example has had around 4 name variations, 5 addresses, 2 phone numbers and a couple of web addresses already in it’s several short years so our possible citation variations are almost 50 or so.

Nick Rink from Smart Local suggested ‘surf shops UK’ which also created a similar huge pack of map results. Again, we can search for ‘best surf shops UK’ and Google attempts to answer this query with a pack of map results and again I am not really sure Google is best qualified to answer this question.

Am I asking the right questions?

 

I think it is clear some of these geographic results are not great but am I asking the right questions? I am acutely aware that it is valentines day and I should be doing something nice for my amazing, beautiful wife rather than geeking out on the twisting and turning off local/geographical search so maybe I am missing something?

If anyone can think of any situations when this would be desirable or useful then I would love to hear about that in the comments. Likewise, if there are any folks outside of the UK who are seeing similar things then I would be interested to hear from you.

Out of curiosity whilst writing this I Googled ‘best schools in America’ and got a frankly more ludicrous pack of map results above the organic listings.

search results for best schools in America

Yeah, good one Google. I think I may have to extend my research beyond your map pack for that one. I tried to take this to the next level and searched for ‘best schools on earth’ and ‘best schools in the universe’ but seemingly Google has a handle on that one and we just get some standard results.

 

What now?

 

Does this change anything? Do you need to drop what you were doing and change direction? I don’t think so. There is potentially a new area to consider when reviewing the opportunities for yourself or for clients but if anything this just underlines the importance of considering local in your overall search strategy.

Certainly, I won’t be radically altering anything we do here and as ever, these wider geographical results may well mature or disappear altogether over time.

Any questions hit me up on Twitter or drop a comment below.

 

 

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2 Responses

  1. My first question on the schools in UK search was whether or not they all had reviews? When I saw the results for best school in Birmingham, I realised that was not the common denominator so my next question was how would Google know – if not through reviews…? Have they all included the word best in their meta or content somewhere…?

    Certainly glad that I am not trying to send my kids to school in the middle of America!

    1. Hey Jo

      Yeah, not really seeing this as a quality result. Even if the schools had reviews that still would not make Google an authority on the topic in my mind. The best and worst schools may have none – reviews from one portal are just not authoritative enough to try and answer a given question of such scale.

      Will be interesting to see what happens with this over the coming weeks and whether this is just a very early stab at using map data on a broader scale.

      All good fun! 🙂

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