Local Search Rankings in Small Markets Can Prove Arbitrary

By On 7, May, 2008 |  In: Search Engine Optimization | Tags: , , ,  | 0

Chris Silver Smith at Search Engine Land put out a great piece on May 5th regarding what seems to be a disconnect between Google’s current page ranking method for local search terms outside of the major markets and what is, essentially, Google’s basic business model. If the internet is, as I understand it to be, a user-driven, ‘digital democracy’ – that is, the end-users (you, us) will migrate to using the hardware platforms and software programs that best enable them to get the information that they want, be it product information, entertainment, news, how-to tips, or whatever with the least effort and hassle – then Google and the other search engine players have a vested interest in ensuring that the person entering their search query, using the words they think will in fact get them the information they are seeking, the information that is most relevant to them.

Curious then, isn’t it, that the typical page rankings that come out of Google when you type in a specific place name for a locale that is not one of the major urban centres still come out in a most arbitrary fashion? As Mr. Silversmith observes in his Search Engine Land article, punch in the name of a town, smaller city or suburban area where most of us live after all, and Google will typically spit out what it sees as being most relevant to that locale in the following order: Local/CityGovernment websites, Chamber of Commerce/Local tourist bureau/visitors’ bureau, local Wikipedia articles, local newspaper websites, etc. This order of page rankings or search results really doesn’t seem to have much to do with what information most users are likely to be searching for. It’s arbitrary, as Mr. Silver Smith says.

Optimizing a website for the search engines – SEO at its best and most effective – is really all about ensuring that Google’s web crawling “spider” program finds your website and indexes the website and its content as being relevant to end-users who type in certain specific search queries. At its best, your website and its content will help your targeted audience self-select your web pages with the help of the search engines. The job of Google, Yahoo! MSN and the others is to figure out how to monetize this process, so that they can make money while helping your potential customers find you.

Mr. Silver Smith suggests overriding Google’s current arbitrary system for ranking locale-specific search terms by doing an end-around and posting material that will get Google to override the priority of local search terms in favour of universal search terms. Probably “grey hat”, but it seems to be effective. He suggests that an interim strategy which will help you get around the current glitch or arbitrariness in Google’s local search page ranking methodology, and get your local business site optimum ranking for a locale-specific query, is to put up a YouTube piece that for whatever Google-logic it deems to be more relevant than its current default ranking according to dry Gov’t websites, Chamber of Commerce websites etc. (Could it be that one of Google’s current top priorities according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, in his recent sit-down interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiroma, is figuring out how to best monetize the surging popularity of its YouTube subsidiary ?)

While this is a good short-term fix – it will work for now – you can bet that in the not-too short term Google will be rolling out local search and mobile search products that will fill in this gap and it will be back to SEO 101 – making sure that your website has the content and links to the information, products and service that your local customer is searching for with his laptop or, increasingly, her mobile phone.

After all, Dr. Schmidt noted how great it was when he was on the road in a major centre and he wanted a cup of coffee to be able to pull out his phone, key in “Starbucks” and have Google Maps show him the nearest outlet where he could get his Grande Sumatran bold, double non-fat latte or Chai tea. You can be sure that Google’s CEO would quickly recognize a lost opportunity and be miffed if he googled in “Starbucks” in Ottomwa, Iowa instead of Ottawa, Orlando or Osaka (should he ever find himself in Radar O’Reilly’s hometown on business) and all he got was a bunch of local Government web sites and Chamber of Commerce balderdash instead of convenient Google Map directions to a hot cup of joe!

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