Local Search

Video: How Does News Impact Local Rankings?

By September 8, 2015 March 4th, 2022 4 Comments
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Every week Mary Bowling, David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal share their thoughts about the previous week in local. The complete video is posted in the Local U forums. In the second half of that weekly video, they take a deeper strategic and tactical dive into one interesting area that caught their attention during the week. These segments will typically be about seven minutes in length and be posted one to two weeks after their posting in the forum.

In this episode, recorded August 28th, David & Mike take a look at how breaking news seems to quickly impact ranking in Google Maps. They discuss this as it relates to the Google Maps ranking algo in general and what it means from the point of view of the agency and the SMB in terms of the types of marketing activities that are likely to turn the dial. Viewing time is six minutes.

Mike: So let’s move into our second segment of this, which is just a little deeper analysis. We were going to talk about some of the things that I was posting in our private forum, in the Local U private forum, about how breaking news seems to impact Google Maps (paywall). Maybe you could lead off the discussion.

David: Sure, so, Mike posted earlier this week about the fact that, after this terrible shooting in Roanoke, that if you did a search within Google Maps for phrases like “TV murder” and those kinds of things, that the mall where it took place actually popped up as the number one result in Google Maps. And to me, this is part of a broader theme that we’ve seen. Mike’s other example was the dentist in Minnesota who killed Cecil the lion in Africa. His office shows up when you search for Cecil the lion, or lion killer, or anything like that in Google Maps, as the number one result nationwide.

Both of these are part of a continuum, I think, that we’ve seen since April or early May, just before Google shut down Map Maker and the N-word House showing up with the White House as the number one result. I think that people saw that as a malicious spam attempt, which it may have been intentionally positioned there. But I think that showed us that is actually how the algorithm works, is that these references to a particular keyword, if they are also in proximity to a business name that Google has or a point of interest name that Google has in its location database, that is how the algorithm works — is that all of this activity around these keywords in proximity to a named local entity, makes it seem like those entities are popular for those terms or should be popular for those terms. So that’s kind of my reading on how this is working.

Mike: With or without links. In the case of the TV murders, there couldn’t have been any links, right, that Google has picked up yet?

David: Right.

Mike: What’s amazing is also the speed at which it happened. In the case of Roanoke, I didn’t check it early in the day. I should have. I was laying in bed at night thinking, “Gee, I wonder what… [Mike’s phone buzzes] that’s Dave Oremland.”

David: His ears must have been burning.

Mike: I was laying in bed, literally seven or eight hours after it hit the media, and I went to search and it was already in Google Maps, which really says that they are tracking at least certain news sources very closely. Now we don’t know whether it’s all news sources, or every newspaper, or every known newspapers. There are many local newspapers in the country, they could be checking every one of them.

David: Yeah, I think it just has to do with… I don’t think that there’s any sort of special set of sites that they’re tracking for this stuff. I think it’s the sites that they crawl frequently, anyway, and they’ve seen across the board that a lot of these sites that they’re crawling frequently are talking about this thing.

Mike: There could be an element of location prominence in it, i.e. — that local news sites have a lot of local juice, and therefore impact maps on a search term more than they impact organic.

David: Potentially, but I guess the counterpoint to that is that all of these horrible sites that were posting N-Word House in proximity to White House or Barack Obama or whatever, those are very low-quality sites and that tactic still worked. It may not have been there as quickly, to your point, but I think from my standpoint, tactically, that this speaks to something that we’ve been talking about at Local U for a long time, which is, look, you need to be focused much more than on one-off link building or hyper-tactical SEO — that the real success stories, as some of these terrible events have proven, is if you are a very popular business and you are mentioned, even without a link — who cares about links — and you’re mentioned on a lot of high authority locally prominent sites, that can be enough to drive your rankings.

Mike: In relationship to your key… in relationship to your semantic tasks that you do, right?

David: Exactly. Topically relevant references to your business.

Mike: You remember the Union House, right? That negative reviews thing where they had some penalty [in their contract, if you wrote a negative review]. Well, actually when I was doing some searches under the word “negative review” in Google Maps, I saw Outspoken Media and Seer show up on the search results for that, which I thought was interesting as well. And which just goes to your point that they’ve been talking a lot about reputation management, negative reviews impact, and they then do well on it.

So yes, I think it’s absolutely imperative, that people as SEOs, start thinking about themselves as marketers first, helping the business be seen particularly in local media, broadly online and off, and that will — in and of itself — have a benefit and it may also result in links or more structured citations. But that the whole effort should be moving in our industry, once you have your table stakes done of top citations, you need to be moving into a more marketing approach and visibility, right?

David: Absolutely.

Mike: Well, hey, with that, I have another phone call, I’m going to say goodbye. We’ll see you next week.

David: Sorry to leave you so soon, but thanks for listening. Talk to you next week.

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  • Our local school district is an unfortunate illustration of the impact of news stories on local businesses. Over the last several years, there have been two alleged instances of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. The Houston TV stations covered those stories and posted pictures of the teachers online. Now those TV mugshot photos are displayed in the Knowledge Graph whenever someone searches for the school district. Posting lots of positive images to the school district’s Google+ page hasn’t bumped the TV mugshots out of the Knowledge Graph. Do you have any ideas for replacing the mugshots? Perhaps adding structured markup to the school district website would help.

    Search for “Wharton Independent School District” to see what I mean.

    Thanks to you both for sharing your insights here!

  • Nate says:

    It is fascinating how quickly google’s algorithms are able to pick up on place and word associations. It is, however, concerning that even low quality sites are able to affect this with enough prevalence.

    Another … em… academically interesting case that took place a few years ago: Rick Santorum.

  • Mike says:

    The Santorum thing was plain ol’ seo. Embarrassing for Santorum for sure but someone just did a great job of SEOing their description… ie it was linked based. These examples are post knowledge graph and shows how Google, without the aid of links, attached meaning to objects.

  • Dave says:

    Interesting commentary. Some years ago I ran into 2 examples wherein stories with exceedingly large and expansive news coverage were tied to 2 different businesses that had local addresses but were also consultancies with coverage way beyond their local territories.

    In both cases if one were to do local or regional searches for that business “type” the specific smb’s shot up in rankings; both organically and within maps and of course within the pack. In both cases the high rankings within maps (and the pack) lasted for an incredibly long time, far longer than did the high organic rankings. In both cases many of the articles referenced the business name and town name ( a sort of partial unstructured citation as I would describe it).

    The “staying power” of the rankings in maps versus organic (maps.google.com vs google.com) was impressive. As you know there have been some other “experiments” wherein a url was impacted by a test and the impacted higher maps ranking way outlasted the impacted higher organic ranking.

    But those two examples were sort of fluky; hard to imitate. On the other hand horrific news such as with the Minneapolis dentist and/or the Charleston shootings …or even the example above of the Wharton Independent School District can work their way into visual impacts. It all does seem algo driven to me, as you noted above.

    On a more mundane level, over many years every time one of our smb’s gets some kind of news coverage we get spikes in traffic, and not only from the local news source that “breaks” the story.

    And finally as it pertains to maps and to searching within maps I was wondering about the usage of Apple Maps and how much it might impact traffic to sites.

    Yes this is a different topic but it is maps related.

    On an off hour I used apple maps to find one of our smb’s; went to the site on maps, went to the information and clicked on our link. That of course brought up the site.

    Later in checking G Analytics the visit turned up as a direct visit…and I could track it to the Iphone device, browser type and location.

    All of which simply states that if people are using A maps to find a business you can’t get a feel for the volume or frequency. Only apple would know.

    Our conversion rates are danged high with both apple mobile and pc devices.

    Unfortunately in our case, the volume of direct traffic on non apple devices is significantly higher than that of apple devices. After all is said and done I can’t get a feel or a sense at all of how much apple maps is used for search discovery. Do any of you have any sense of that?

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