Google Venice Update – How Local are Local Results?

Since Google released details of 40 algorithm changes in February, there have been two main talking points: a change to the link evaluation method and a change in the way local search results work. The effect of the link evaluation changes are unclear at the moment but speculation is that Google are increasingly moving away from the use of links as a ranking factor.

massachusetts-not-very-local

This post was originally going to be about how default search has become more local, however, when putting together some sample searches I noticed something a lot more interesting: US results appearing for UK queries. In Google’s pursuit of relevancy, have results become less relevant?

If you do want to read more about how the Venice update has affected local results then I recommend reading SEOptimise‘s summary which looks at how Vision Express is able to rank for a number of locations.

Local SEO is covered on our SEO training course. Social media training also teaches you how to connect with your local community and Google Analytics training is ideal for monitoring local traffic and conversions.

Since Google’s Venice update, when searching on google.co.uk (I believe this is the same for .com) Google detects locations based on IP addresses and filters results accordingly.

Personal results have always been seen as linked to web history and Google accounts but for location specific results such as ‘post office’ where the searcher is presumably looking for the nearest place to send a letter, Google uses your location to determine the most relevant results:

post-office-serp

As you can see, Google has rightly guessed that we are in Brighton, and so has provided us with a map showing the nearest post offices and picked out some listings from Google Places. Alongside this there are results from the brand ‘Post Office’ and Royal Mail (who own Post Office), both to be expected. This is good, just by searching for ‘post office’ I can immediately find the nearest one, I don’t have to trawl through the Post Office website and the results are tailored to my location. Or are they?

What wasn’t expected was the bottom result, a Yelp review for a post office in Brighton, Massachusetts.

wrong-country-google

I can’t begin to describe how irrelevant this result is to a Brighton, UK query.

How did Google choose the wrong Brighton?

This is a tricky question to answer. If I had searched specifically for ‘Post Office Brighton’ then I would forgive the results, the page is heavily optimised as a post office in Brighton, but that was not my query. I just asked for post offices, and Google’s latest update was supposed to give me the most relevant results based on where I was searching from.

However, Google picked the wrong Brighton. You may wonder how the algorithm is supposed to pick between two places with the same name, well the website makes it quite clear:

brighton,-ma-yelp-review

As you can see, the page is optimised for Brighton, Massachusetts with a reference to the address in the URL, Page Title, body title, body text, linked address, reviews and relevant pages. There are even two Google products in place that both recognise the page as linked to America – Maps and Ads.

The result itself even shows that the post office is in the wrong country in the rich snippets:

google-local-search

This shows that Google’s local update still needs a bit of work. I can only guess that ‘US Post Office’ appears because it meets the search query for a ‘place’ in ‘Brighton’ that is a ‘post office’.

What is strange is that Google ranks the US version of Yelp and not the British version (.co.uk) which is not short of Brighton post offices -

brighton-yelp-post-office

Other posts on the local update have highlighted how global brands (which don’t have a specific location) have been displaced on the first page of results by local places, therefore giving an advantage to small businesses or at least forcing multi-location businesses to create separate pages for each location.

This strange US post office result does not really give anyone an advantage or disadvantage (perhaps the one result pushed off first page won’t be happy) as it’s unlikely that somebody looking for a post office in Brighton, UK is going to travel to Brighton, MA because it appeared in their search results.

If this result does anything, it proves the fact that all a business needs to do to rank for a location is to heavily optimise a page for that location, in the same way Vision Express has separate pages for each opticians. This prompts a question, should Silicon Beach Training, who are based in Brighton but train businesses around the world, start setting up virtual locations or should we hope that our clients continue to find us?

I also wonder what is to become of online stores who compete against physical shops? Will they now have to set up individual pages for the places they delivery to?

You may be interested to hear about the last big change to search from Google: personal search based on Google+ interactions. Find out how Google defended themselves against the Search plus Your World backlash.

Social, local and personal results (the three directions most search engines are aiming for) are all placed under the relevancy umbrella. According to Google, searchers want to know what their friends recommend, location specific results and results based on previous history. That’s great, but I would rather narrow results myself than receive bad results based on Google’s guesses.

Have you found any anomalies in your search results? Let us know in the comments below.

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2 Comments

eBrandz Blogs » Blog Archive » Google’s ‘Going Local’ attempt can be effective says:

[...] is an example noted by seotraininguk. In there, a search was made for ‘post office’ with location set at Brighton, UK. [...]

John of LocalBug.co.uk - Local Bug Business Directory says:

Google’s algorithm is certainly far from perfect. That’s why the never-ending tweaks and updates that drive business owners crazy lol.

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