Video Deep Dive: What Triggers Local Packs & Can Penguin Impact Local?

This is installment of our Deep Dive Into Local series for 2015 took for ever to make it out of production and into the world. For the week ending Monday, December 11th, Mary Bowling and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local.

In this discussion, we look at what triggers local packs and whether various Google penalties can impact the Google local search results.

Mary: And for a little while now, we've been wondering, does having a Penguin penalty affect the local packs? And with that, we're going to segue into our Deep Dive about what triggers local packs and what effect does my Penguin have on a website's appearance in the local packs?

Mike: So first, let me just ask you a question on Penguin that I asked you earlier. A Penguin [penalty] can either be page-specific or site-general. Is that correct in terms of quality?

Mary: As far as we can tell, yes. I think that it, in general, it's usually site-specific. But I do think that if you really pounded exact match anchor text towards a particular page, whether it's your home page or an internal page, let's say San Diego Dentist, you keep using that anchor text over and over and over again, that that's exactly what Google is not going to allow you to rank for because you've shown them that you've really tried to manipulate that and tried to rank for it a lot. So that's the thing you want the most, that's the thing that they tend to take from you with Penguin.

Mike: In one example that I saw of a page-specific penalty that correlated very tightly with the timeline of Penguin [actually I meant Panda] was a page that had a lot of content on it. It was just paragraph after paragraph after paragraph with some internal linking, not excessive, right? But that page, which had been generating a lot of hits, literally dropped off the radar one day to the next. And I don't know that the client site, obviously the client noticed the total drop because it's such a big percentage of the total. But in the end, I don't think it mattered much because it was just a single page, and it was probably showing in organic, not in local, and so it wasn't really generating well-qualified leads. But there was an issue that the content quality was low or perceived as low by the algorithm. I didn't know that it wasn't, it just went on ad nauseam, so rather than four, five, six paragraphs linking off to more detail, it just had everything in there.

So the question of whether Penguin can impact pack results relates to the question of what drives pack results, right? You saw this first in 2010, when we started seeing blended results and it became more obvious with Venice that some pack results are triggered by strong, organic local websites. And you can see a strong correlation, and you still can see this, between the pack results and the local websites. Now, I also did some research that I published in the forum about Yelp being able to trigger pack results. So in some markets, where there may not be strong local websites or where perhaps there are strong perMikeent local sites that are pushing local websites out like Yelp or Trip Adviser. I've seen situations where those can trigger pack results. So a 10-best cumulative list at Yelp might trigger a pack result at Google. And then, I think, Google might also perhaps whitelist certain industries to always trigger pack results regardless.

So I think that the question, "Can Penguin impact pack results?" revolves around two issues theoretically and sort of structurally. One is, did the Penguin impact the journal page, which is the authority page in local. It impacted some interior page. It was just a limited Penguin, I think then it's not going to have any impact. And the other is, what kind of pack result is it? What is actually triggering that pack result? Is it being triggered by third-party highly prominent local pages reviews or best 10 list or those type of things, or is it being triggered by the website? If it's being triggered by the website and your homepage is one of those pages nailed, absolutely, in a theoretical sense. I haven't seen a lot of examples of this. I think it can be. I did see...not Panda, the other one.

Mary: Penguin.

Mike: I did see Penguin impacting local pack results and I saw them recover when the Penguin penalties...the links were removed and whatever. So we know that with Penguin, it can impact. If it can impact with Penguin, why wouldn't it with Panda?

Mary: So is there a way that the rest of the world that's not Professor Maps can tell what triggered a local pack?

Mike: Firstly I'm working in a certain amount of abstract here, and I have found strong correlations, and then I've taken the correlations an tested them. I have reasonable confidence that some of the correlations that we're looking at did actually trigger. So the way that got me started looking at this was strictly that, correlations. Rand always said if correlations...and if correlations are important because they do show you packs. So one way to look at the pack results and to look at organic results and see if there is a correlation between the two that's obvious and to see if you can find that across multiple listings.

Now again, correlations are not causations, we know that. We might see patterns that don't really exist. But I feel if you look at it enough, you'll get a sense of what is triggering the pack. If you're seeing the top 10 results are all IYP industry sites, and there's a pack showing, and the highest local site is 24 or something in organic, it's unlikely that that's what's triggering the pack. And so then you want to look at third-party triggers and see if that's what's actually triggering the pack. So I think in that case, if it was third parties, then you're not going to see a penalty of impact to ranking.

Mary: So do you think that when we see practitioners we're always getting people coming to us saying, "Why is this guy in the pack and I'm not?" And you look at them and...

Mike: This is exactly why I'm getting out of the ranking business, because I do not like answering those questions.

Mary: But you look at the pack and you look at this guy and you say, "He's got a domain authority of 10 or 1. Why the heck is he in the pack?" Do you think the fact that what triggered the pack may not be strong organic sites could be what's allowing somebody like that to be in the pack?

Mike: Could be, absolutely. I imagine that Google looks very highly at, say, Supreme Court rulings, authoritative source, right? If you're a lawyer that's been in front of the Supreme Court and you have a lot of references that you were in front of the Supreme Court, why would that not be viewed by Google as a highly authoritative reference to you?

Mary: Right.

Mike: Right? It may not even be a link in that case, we talked about this previously. It could very well just be a highly trusted authoritative reference, Wikipedia article or some other reference. We don't know all the authoritative sources that Google looks at. So absolutely, it could be that. It could also be, proximity is a huge issue on local, and it's very difficult for people to understand the dynamic nature of the algorithm. It's this combination of searching location, distance from some sort of arbitrary centroid defined by the search or combined with relevance, prominence, and now we're seeing click-through and search history. So it's a very dynamic thing. So all that we, as practitioners, can do is go for the meaty part of it, do what we know works. Serves the business whether increases ranking now, which is good marketing, right?

Mary: Right. I know a lot of times I have a hard time beating it into people's brains that we have to do everything that we can do right first before we start worrying about doing some of these other little niceties that may or may not help.

Mike: I imagine you must need a 2x4 by your desk and you pull out and smack them across the head periodically. "Your traffic went up by 35%." "But I'm not number one on this search." All right, get over it. That's Mary, right?

Mary: All right, well, with that, we're going to wrap it up for this week.

Mike: Before we talk too much about what Mary does.

Mary: Great. And we'll talk to you again next week.

Mike: All right, take care.

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