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A History Of Local Search

December 23, 2012

Simon Fryer
Simon
Simon is CandidSky's Search Director, with strong roots in organic SEO and analytics, and a disturbing passion for spreadsheets.

Search engines have revolutionized how we learn, shop, and find what we need. They have helped people all over the world to use the power of the internet to its fullest. During this time, the significance of location based search has grown steadily, enabling people to find the services or places they are looking for in a specific area. Simultaneously the number of requests made on mobile devices has grown enormously as the speed and reliability of mobile information has improved.

Why do I mention these two things together? In the US last year it’s estimated that 20% of all desktop search queries have a local intent, whether its people searching for car dealerships, restaurants, barbers or solicitors, all of these searches return location-based results. What brings mobile into the discussion is that, in comparison, well over 50% of mobile searches have a local intent.

Mobile search is booming. Roughly 1 in 5 searches is performed on a mobile device, and in some countries like Japan this number is even higher. So why is this so important for local search? Because mobile searches pull their results primarily from local search engines. So the potential to gain new business from local/mobile search is massive.

So how and when did local search start?

2004: Google Local is launched

Google Local offers relevant local business listings, maps, and directions. Now local businesses have an opportunity to build a strong web presence

2005: Google Earth is launched

Combining local search with maps and aerial photography, the first virtual earth applications are launched by Google and Yahoo

2005: Google Maps is launched

Google Maps quickly becomes one of the most trusted mapping systems on the internet, featuring satellite imagery and directions. Over 40% of usage is mobile, giving people the information they need on the move

2009: Google Place pages is launched

Google launches place pages in Google Maps, which brings together relevant information about a point of interest, landmark, or business, in any part of the world, in one place.

2012: Google+ Local is Launched

Google+ local helps users to discover and share Google Places, giving users detailed insight into businesses before they visit them, and summaries of user reviews to help people decide where to go.

2012: The Venice organic update

Amid this years’ hubbub over terrifyingly named algorithm updates such as pandas and penguins, the Venice update went unnoticed at first, but went on to deliver one of the most dramatic changes to organic search in the last few years.So what was the Venice update?

Google says:

improvements to ranking for local search results: This update improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal”

Improved local results: We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when queries and documents are local to the user”

But what does this mean?

In the past, if you wanted to find a local service or business, your search needed to include the location you were searching for these results in. This gave users a choice; you could search for ‘hairdressers’ which would return national organic results, or you could search for ‘hairdressers in Manchester’ which would provide normal organic listings for that region, in addition to blended organic/places results (the ones which include a Google Map).

The Venice update, however, changed all this. Google began to return local results for all searches with ‘local intent’, regardless of whether or not you included the location in your search. Now the search engine uses the IP of the searcher to determine where they are, and provide results specific to that location.

Here’s what happens if I search for ‘Hairdressers’ with my location set to Manchester:

(click to enlarge)

Manchester local search results

And now if I change my location settings to Liverpool:

(click to enlarge)

Liverpool Local SearchSufficed to say, this represents a huge opportunity for local businesses to generate leads online. As Google strive to deliver more relevant, personalized results for their users it’s certain that Local search and Google Places is going to be on of their key platforms achieve their goals.

This is the first blog in our SEO mini-series on local search. We’ll include links here to the other articles as they are released. Enjoy!

Part 1 – A history of local search

Part 2 – How local search works

Part 3 – The importance of local search: A case study

Part 4 – What local SEO means for small businesses

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