While the concept of local search is obviously important, Google does not promote its local search features as stand-alone products. Google Maps is the primary interface for local search at Google but there are few prompts or cues on search results page directing users to try local search.
Unlike Yahoo, Google does not push or promote its local results as a direct service for a couple of reasons. First, Google mergers local results in with increasingly personalized or regionalised results. Second, general search results from Google Maps are not always as accurate as its general web search results.
Search results at Google that include city or place names will often include a map showing businesses related to the search query. For example, the search query “Hotel Seattle” brings up this result set. Clicking on the map takes users to a Google Maps search. Above the map a text link reads, “Local business results for hotel near Seattle WA” which leads to a set of local results. A similar search for “museum Seattle” produces similar results, as does “restaurant Seattle”
A problem with Google Maps is the accuracy of its results. While it has been easy to find automotive care, home repair and equity financing (home loans) using Google Maps, errors creep into results sets when searching for web services, housing, or other less popular query sets. For instance, check out a Google Map search for “SEO Seattle“. While the first result would be considered very accurate, subsequent references to the Watertown Hotel or Ivar’s Salmon House are not necessarily the results a searcher would be looking for.
Google is able to spider sites, pull relevant keywords and apply them against geographic information. The Watertown Hotel and Ivar’s Salmon House appear as #2 and #3 in the SEO Seattle query because SEO events or dinners have been held in those locations and those events were blogged about on a SEO site. The references to the Watertown and Ivan’s come from a post made to HighRankings.com in the spring of 2005.
To improve Google’s chances of placing your site or a client’s site properly through Google Map (local) search, the establishment of a Google user account is required at the Google Local Business Center. When signed in, a page asking for information on the business comes up. Required information includes, the business name, street, city, state/province and zip/postal code, country, phone, email, URL and a 200 character description of the business. Businesses with more than 10 locations are asked to submit a simple bulk business data file.
A completed registration will place your business on a Google Map and help insure it comes up correctly under relevant keyword phrases in general web searches. There are too many reasons to outline why a site needs to be listed in Google Maps aside from bettering their chances of coming up in a general web search.
The most compelling reason is that users are increasingly expecting personalized and localized data and are seeking it from smaller and smaller devices. It is only a matter of time before the majority of shopping and daily task searches are conducted from a mobile or other handheld or vehicle related device. Making sure you and your clients are well represented in Google Maps is an important step to take today because when thinking about Google and web search in general, tomorrow is merely moments away.