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Thursday, February 9, 2023

'Reverse Engineering' Google Local Results

Search engine marketer Mike Blumenthal on his blog, “Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local,” has been doing an interesting investigation to try and understand the Google Maps and local search algorithm and what factors influence those rankings. As a basic matter, Google uses different algorithms for general and local search results.

I spoke with Mike on Friday, and he said that one of the surprising takeaways from his ongoing research is that Google also appeared to be using different factors to determine results in the top three local results that appear on Google.com (“OneBox“) and the rankings of results that appear in Google Maps.


He argues that the Google.com local OneBox results are based chiefly on star ratings and Google Maps uses a range of factors beyond star ratings. Here are a couple of quick examples illustrating the differences:

San Francisco Dentist: Google OneBox results; Google Maps results
New York Hotels: Google OneBox results; Google Maps results

Here are Mike’s (verbatim) conclusions from his investigation to date:

— It appears that the number of local directories in which you are listed does not confer significant ranking value beyond that critical first entry via a directory or directly via the Local Business Center (although there is probably some).
–There is a correlation between local web references, reviews and stars and ranking in Google Maps. Local web references and the total number of reviews seem to have the most impact on your Maps ranking. It is odd to me that total reviews seem to affect ranking more so than the actual star ratings. This could be an aberration of the small sample size or my statistical methodology (or lack there of) but it should be looked at further. One would think that Google Maps would reward the highest rated (on a star basis) with higher rankings. In fact this is what the Google Organic Local Onebox results seem to do…see below
–My guess here is that local web references are very important (given Google’s history). Although it is important to note that these web references typically need to have address information in them for Google to use them in this context.
–It raises the question if there is a Google Maps equivalent of Page Rank that applies to Web References and/or Review sites?
–Google Organic Local Onebox Results on the front page and Google Maps use different ranking algorithms
–In this case I agree with Bill Slawski, how could Google Maps get the top listings so wrong? Maps list 3 Hotels as 1,2 & 3 while the Google Organic local Onebox list has two of Buffalo’s better known restaurants in the 1,2 position and the Hyatt as 3 (which does have a well known restaurant on its premises). The Anchor Bar is, after all, where Buffalo Wings were first created and is a Buffalo landmark (not that I would recommend it for any one trying to eat a little healthier).

Consider that Maps has about 1% of the traffic that Google.com. But it’s curious that the top three OneBox results and the top three Maps results should be different. Mike is eager to get others involved in a dialogue about these findings. You can reach him on his blog.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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