Google Changes the Local Game (again)

Filed in Google, Local Search by Matt McGee on March 31, 2009 18 Comments

It was huge news two years ago when Google first started showing maps and local listings in search results. It was even bigger news when that display went from a max of three business to up to 10 (the “10-pack” as we’ve all been calling it).

And I think today Google’s changing the local game again. You can now get local search results — a map, business listings, and all — even when you don’t do a typical local search. Mike Blumenthal discovered this today, and there’s already a good discussion started there.

Basically, there are a variety of terms (like “restaurants” or “plumbers” or “doctors”) that will produce a Google Maps/Local result even if you don’t include a city name or other geographical term in your query. Here’s a search I just did for “attorneys” —


As you can see, I’m getting local search results that appear to be based on my IP address. I’ve done a couple dozen generic searches and the map never shows at the top of the page; it’s always at the 4th spot or lower.

There are all kinds of implications here. I have an email in to Google for more information and am planning a more detailed write-up over on Search Engine Land. I’ll update this post when it’s live, which may or may not be today. Update: My article on Search Engine Land is live, and with much more detail: Google Showing Local Results On Non-Local Queries

Comments are open if you want to mess around with this and share what you discover!

Comments (18)

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  1. Pieter says:


    I am based in Sydney and did a search for “attorneys” here. I got the same localized results as you. All of the first page organic listings are local to Syndeu as well as the 10 entries on the Google Map.


  2. phaithful says:

    It’s really interesting that Google is showing the 10 pack to everyone for broad terms. The product manager must feel fairly comfortable that the 10 pack results are relevant for the selected terms and not spammy as demonstrated in the whole locksmith fiasco.

  3. David says:

    i think showing it below the first few results, is better for those taking time to build a decent seo strategy. I find that the 3 pack results looks better from a visual design point, when placed below the first few results.

    The only annoying element regarding that locksmith issue, is when their is only one company that looks after everything shows in almost every result for “brisbane car parks” its NOT spam but its really annoying if u have a client trying to get shown in results, people will see wilson parking as major result and will likely pick them just because they are featured so many times. If they own all the parking structures in cbd it means this local results may not be as useful to others.

  4. It happens in the Netherlands as well. Unfortunately results are not always that accurate as most of the ISP hand out IP addresses that are not specifically fixed to a geolocation or don’t open up their database. That’s why geotargeting in general is a problem in this tiny country.
    Most of the dutch IP addresses seem to originate from Amsterdam. But to order a pizza 120KM from home?

    Nonetheless I see this as a great new feature (and new clients 😉 )

  5. Seo4ok says:

    Just tried to search some special words. Supposed to see the picture like your screenshot, but Google gave me plain list of results, just suggested to make “local search”. It was a little button on the top.
    Hm… Have you ever seen the same?

  6. Matt: This has been in effect for several months. I think it is the great seo equalizer. I’ve experimented with it a bit. Try out a couple of different zip codes in a major metropolitan market for a variety of phrases and see how the 10 pac changes. It appears to put a primacy on location. I have yet to find an example where a business w/ a power packed lbc listing is showing well across zip codes in a metro region. (hmmm…just thought of a category w/potentially very different potential levels of maps ranking power….gotta test it).

    It takes us back to data Greg Sterling presented about 2 years ago referencing how about 1/2 of all logically local searches were made without geo modifiers….ie dentist instead of Dallas dentist.

    I guess Google acknowledged that this was very prominent in search….and validates Greg’s comments.

  7. Matt McGee says:

    Dave – two things:

    1) If this has been in effect for several months, how come no one else saw it or wrote about it or told anyone about it? 🙂 Seriously, if you saw local results on non-local searches, why didn’t you speak up?

    2) I’m not sure what you’re talking about re: zip codes. The searches I’m writing about don’t include zip codes or any other location. It’s generic terms like “pizza” and “lawyers.” Can you clarify what you’re saying? Thanks.

    Seo4ok – where are you located, and which version of Google are you using?

  8. @Matt: hmmm. awww…..sorry about not reporting. My memory on this is that David Mihm referenced it to me. I guess he didn’t publish it. I do believe we spoke about it last November (could have the date wrong though). I’ve definitely seen it for several months and focused on it after he and I had spoken.

    As to different zip codes. Try this example. Search for a generic industry phrase….say restaurants. As the 10 pac shows on the top of the map where it says….local business results for restaurants …there is an adjacent link that says something like “change location”.

    Click on the change location link.

    Take your area or any area around you…and punch in a couple of different zip codes around the metropolitan region.

    With restaurants you will see different sets of restaurants showing in the 10 pack. They are very geo focused, probably, of course, w/ a centroid on that zip code.

    Now, I was thinking about this. Google has a great data base as a result of years of interaction w/ users, wherein its able to identify many users location. It could be a city/town/county/state. It could be a zip code. Who knows how tightly they are identified to various geographical descriptions?

    In any case, within a metro area, if you try out different zip codes you will see different restaurants for each zip code.

    I suppose that w/in metro regions users could still see different versions of the generic industry 10 pack…based on exactly how the user/and google have defined the user’s location.

    (anyways I think the finger of blame on not widely reporting this earlier should fall on Mihm….he writes so eloquently ….and I’m a slug.)(maybe he was too busy bracketizing?) 😀

  9. Matt:

    I checked my email. David Mihm referenced this to me as of the end of January this year. I did notice it at that time. I’m not aware of how much earlier he first noticed the phenomena.

  10. Kelly Thomas says:

    How do I increase my chances of coming up on a Google search? I am a small local busines, a travel clinic, and donotcome up on the Google search at this point.

  11. Kelly Thomas says:

    Sorry for the typos in the previous email.

  12. Matt McGee says:

    Hi Kelly — your question isn’t easily answered in a blog post comment. I (and others) spend months answering that question with our clients. 🙂

    However, you should read the Local Search Ranking Factors that David Mihm put together: It has contributions from many local SEO folks (myself included).

    If you’re not familiar with the basics of SEO, I’d recommend spending $25 on my SEO e-book here:

    And you could also read through the MY BEST POSTS and the Local Search category here on this blog to learn more about SEO and local search. Categories are on the upper left. Hope this helps!

  13. Sharon Hill says:

    When I searched for orthodontist, yes, I got the Phoenix-area 10 pack. When I searched for “call center” I thought I would as well, this area being a huge call center locale – but no local results. When I searched for “coffee” I got three local coffee houses, two of which were Starbucks. Interesting, as there are easily 20-30 Starbucks considered local.

  14. Dani.G says:

    The worst thing about google maps at least for the locksmith industry is that if you are not cheating the system there is no way to be on the first page.I am a legitimate locksmith and i went on google places to register my business.its now been more than 2 months and still i am on page 6!
    all the locksmith listings on the first 5 pages do not exist!
    what can i do?

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