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Distance and Proximity not always the best factor in local?

[ Edited ]
Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 1
Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭

Hello all, 

 

This is for any influential local SEO/GMB expert: Do you know if Google is working to solve the issue of distance to the searcher not always being one of the best ways to determine which local results are shown in the 3-pack and finder?

 

Examples: SABs that travel to the customer like electricians, plumbers, home inspectors, etc.

 

From years of watching local results, this seems to favor lower quality businesses around the corner over the higher quality businesses that people would be willing to drive to/have drive to them. 

 

 

Distance and Proximity not always the best factor in local?

[ Edited ]
Participant ✭ ✭ ☆
# 2
Participant ✭ ✭ ☆

It's only been a bigger factor since last September (Possum update) . If you go back even farther (2014-ish if I remember right) distance to the searcher wasn't a factor at all, it was all about distance to where Google thought the center of the city was for that industry. Back then, a few businesses could take the whole pie for that industry. 

Right now, Google's main 3 factors they're moving towards for local is distance, relevance, and prominence. I think distance is probably never going to stop being a factor entirely (better to show someone a nearby plumber, so long as they're good and appropriate for the problem at hand) than to show someone from the next town or two over. 

If you want my opinion, Google recently announced their primary focus for the company is on AI. I won't claim to be an expert in the area, but my original occupation was as a programmer, and while I focused mostly on physics and the graphics pipeline, AI and GPU optimization schemes were an interest, so I think I have a little bit of a sense at least of what modern neural nets look like, and why Google's TPU chips and cloud computing approach are so revolutionary. I won't bore you with the details, but the most interesting recent story in my mind, Google's deep mind division created a system that was able to teach itself how to play old Atari games using nothing but pixel input from the screen. In other words, it learned by watching the game, trying inputs, playing around until it found optimal strategies for maximizing the in-game score (the only piece of the game they directly taught it to understand). They've moved onto more modern 3D-games apparently now even. Might seem unrelated, but the crux... they're building systems capable of taking in large amounts of information, and learning on it's own how to create a solution for a given goal. It might sound simple, but I think that's going to be at the heart of some wild changes we're going to see hitting local in the next few years. They already completely revamped Google Translate (hundreds of coders over a decade originally) with a new system that was built from the ground up in 9 months with a few dozen coders, and it works radically better than any other machine translation system ever built, in spite of the fact that it wasn't really 'built' in the normal sense of the word at all. I'd even bet there aren't any engineers that have a really solid understanding of how it even truly works.

I know some people are thinking the danger in local search is that organic will disappear in favor of nothing but pay to play ads, but I think that's an overly simplistic projection. I think the bigger issue, we're going to have an algorithm tailored to serve businesses up to customers that are so complex, so opaque that it's going to be very challenging for those of us on the ground helping business owners to figure out how to get their share of the pie. In the near future, I wouldn't expect location to start being less of a factor, you'll just have to settle for the fact that the available organic traffic for any one company is smaller on Google than it used to be. You should focus on local landing pages for outlying areas to expand that reach. In the medium term future though, who knows? If the new local algorithm that's going to be here in the next year or two decides that local as a heavy metric leads to poor results in those industries, you can expect it to change I suppose. I'll be as interested as you in seeing what's coming. 

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