I’ve been analyzing some of the results in Google Maps and by using Google Local Business Center (GLBC) I’ve found that a business can rank:
1) first, infact better than that, it can have an authoritative listing without even having a website. Not all businesses have a website, but I have to question the priority of signals that it uses to provide an authoritative listing. In this day and age, how can a company be classified as an authority on a subject if it does not have a website?
2) in a category which doesn’t even exist from within GLBC. This is because Google is using Acxiom data which is the database behind many of the phone company directories. They have their own category listings, which are different than what is shown within GLBC. They’re aren’t even merged and my request for adding a corresponding category was ignored.
3) in a location even when other companies are geographically closer to the search criteria. If I am looking for a company in a certain town, it is not relevant to show me an authoritative listing of another company in a different location. Above the other points I think this is the most important. In many search queries the user rarely qualifies their location, intention or purpose. As experienced SEO’s are aware, there’s a lot of search volume for short generic terms like [airline tickets], and much less where the searcher is further qualifying their search, for example: [airline tickets to london england]. So in the case of a local search where the location is specified, it surely must be very important for the user to see results exactly in that location.
When I asked Google about the importance of location, they responded with:
“As with all Google search results, Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, and geographic distance is only one of the factors we consider. Sometimes our search technology decides that a business that’s farther away is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer.”
I actually had to read that twice to believe what I was seeing. How can a business located in a different town be more relevant and receive an authoritative onebox listing? In the listings I was tracking, these aren’t adjoining towns (19.2 miles away according to Google Maps).
Google still obviously has a way to go with local search and mixing data sources with what it finds organically and through user submitted listings (GLBC). I’m confident that this situation will improve, until then I’ll keep hammering away.