Local SEO guru Andrew Shotland just alerted me to the fact that Google is now serving the local “10 pack” in searches that don’t include geographic modifiers (original discovery by Google Maps expert Mike Blumenthal).
For those unfamiliar, the 10 pack is the block of 10 local results that occupies the top results in searches where Google has a high degree of confidence in local intent. Until today, that confidence was based on explicit geographic modifiers (i.e., Pizza, San Francisco). It has now been broadened to include search terms that have more implied local intent.
I imagine Google is algorithmically deriving levels of confidence based on different categories or terms where there is higher likelihood of local conversions (i.e., plumber, pizza, flat screen television). Under the previous method, the 10 pack was limited to the amount of searches that included geographic modifiers (less than 10 percent of overall searches). Now its impact will be felt much wider.
This has rather large implications for anyone in the local search space that depends on traffic from Google, including vertical search plays, city guides, IYPs, etc. When the 10 pack first came out about a year ago, many such entities felt the pinch because they were essentially pushed down (or off) the first page of listings. That effect will be greater going forward.
This is something we’ve seen coming, but we haven’t been quite sure what form it would take. The premise was that the 10 pack would get served with greater frequency as:
1. Users get more sophisticated by knowing to include geographic modifiers with local queries. This will happen through positive reinforcement of search behavior and increasing volumes of local content online.
2. Google gets better at recognizing local intent in the many places it occurs outside the limited use of geographic modifiers.
Today’s development falls into the second bucket. But what this really shows is Google’s affirmation of what we’ve been saying for years: Lots of searches have varying degrees of local intent, though they may be at various stages of the typical purchase funnel. Locally relevant content should be much more saturated than it currently is if it’s to truly match user intent.
This is a big development, the real impact of which will be shown in the coming weeks. I’ll continue to examine what it means and huddle with my SEO friendlies (Shotland et al). More to come.