What is Local Search?
Mary Bowling mbowling

Here at LocalU, we breathe, eat and sleep Local Search. But what exactly is Local Search? Here, I’ll go through some of the explanations of Local Search in hopes of making it more understandable for everyone.

When you view Local Search from the perspective of a business owner, it’s all about having their company found whenever people in their area are looking online either specifically for them or for the goods and services they offer.

When we talk about Local Search, we’re mostly referring to getting businesses to rank in the listings that appear in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) accompanied by Map pins. Usually, a map appears on the page, too. These results are displayed with the address and phone number of the company, along with a link to directions to the location, if appropriate, and a link to any reviews Google may have about it.

Sometimes these “pinned” listings are grouped together into what is known as a Local Pack and sometimes they appear by themselves among the organic results on the page.

Example of a Local Pack of search results

Example of a Local Pack of search results

Example of a local listing blended into the organic search results

Example of a local listing blended into the organic search results

When a pinned listing appears at the top of the page, with it’s corresponding Google Plus page shown to the right of the listing, it’s known as a one-box, which indicates that business is THE single best result that Google associates with that query. It ‘s not unusual to see a one-box when a search is made for a specific company by name.

Example of a one-box in Local Search

Example of a one-box in Local Search

What + Where

The definition that’s probably the easiest for most people to visualize is that Local Search = What? + Where? In other words, people are searching online for some thing in some place. This is known as searching with local intent.

There are 2 generally accepted concepts related to local intent. The first is explicit local intent, which means the searcher actually uses a geographic term in his or her query. Examples of this include auto parts downtown Minneapolis, Times Square ATM and happy hour 16th St Mall.

Example of a search made with explicit local intent

Example of a search made with explicit local intent

Implicit local intent means that the Search Engine being used interprets that you are looking for something nearby you through the nature of your query even when it does not include any geographic signals. Examples are auto parts, ATM and happy hour.

Example of a search made with implicit local intent

Example of a search made with implicit local inten

The Search Engines have a really good idea of where the searcher is located and they are getting better at it all the time. For most searches made on mobile devices, the Search Engines can determine the searcher’s location with extreme accuracy. So, explicit Local Search is no longer needed as much by the searcher unless he/she is looking for something that is not nearby them, such as a hotel in a city they may be traveling to in the future or a flower shop near their mother’s home, instead of near their own.

Research Online, Buy Offline

Another explanation of Local Search is that people are researching online before buying offline. Sometimes referred to with the acronym ROBO, this behavior is exactly how searchers are using the internet to facilitate interactions with local businesses.

First, they discover their choices for buying products and services from those nearby them via the internet. Then, they use reviews and ratings to help them decide which businesses to consider and, finally, they make phone calls or visit stores to solidify their buying decisions before actually making a purchase.

Correlation to Yellow Pages

Another way that helps many people to comprehend Local Search  is that just about anything that you would think of as being listed in the nearly-obsolete, printed Yellow Pages phone books is now found online via Local Search.

The Search Engines and Local Search

From Google’s point of view, Local Search is all about the map and only entities that have a physical presence in a real place belong on Google Maps. Bing and Yahoo tend to follow Google’s model this. Online-only businesses and those that market nationally or globally cannot usually get a Google, Bing or Yahoo local listing to rank in the SERPs except in the city(s) where they actually have a physical location.

This concept has tended to favor enterprises with offices and storefronts. But businesses that go to the customer, rather than having the customer come to their location (also known as service area businesses) are now gaining parity in the Local Search results. Examples of service area businesses are carpet cleaners, plumbers, roofers and mobile veterinarians.

Other Local Searches

Not all local searches are performed at the big 3 Search Engines – Google, Bing and Yahoo. Sometimes people are looking on digital maps, GPS systems and in-car navigation systems for local businesses. Sometimes they are looking for business information in online Yellow Page-type directories or on social sites like Yelp, Angie’s List or Facebook.

Nearly every industry also has a set of directories that list that particular type of company. Examples of this are BedandBreakfast.com, Findlaw.com and GunDogBreeders.com.

Example of an industry-specific directory

Example of an industry-specific directory

Hopefully, when you hear or see the term Local Search in the future, you’ll have a better understanding of what it is. If you have any other explanations you’d like to share, we welcome your comments below!

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