Dec 28, 2015
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I feel like a newbie for asking this, but I'm having a disagreement with someone. What better people to ask then the Local Search Forum experts?

We all know some keywords trigger localized results, while others do not. The question is: Why?

What I Think: Google's algorithm, in and of itself, has the intelligence to know what is and isn't local keywords.

What He Thinks: Google uses on-page signals to determine whether or not a search phrase is localized.

In case that's unclear, let me give you an example . . .

Someone Googles the phrase "how to dribble a basketball."

I think that search results will never bring up localized results, as Google won't deem it a query that warrants any type of localization.

My friend seems to disagree. He thinks that if someone writes a page on how to dribble a basketball, and fills that page with strong local signals (mentioning the city of Chicago, having a Chicago NAP, etc.), that page will see a huge bump for anyone in Chicago who Googles for how to dribble a basketball.

So, who's right?

Colan Nielsen

LocalU Faculty
Jul 19, 2012
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Hi Jared, from my experience, whether or not a local pack displays is mainly based on whether or not the search has local intent, how many businesses are in that local area that are relevant to the search query, what the industry is, and throw in some Google randomness for good measure.

Sent from my Nexus 6 using Tapatalk


Dec 12, 2013
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I would agree with Colan. . . and there are two examples:

1. There are many terms that don't trigger the local pack, but, if you add "near me" or "near <city>" to the term, then a local pack shows up (I can't think of an example, but, there are many)

2. Google interprets search terms for lots of things. It knows when to show you travel results, drive time, stock prices, etc, all based on the term itself, not the content on the page.

Linda Buquet

Local Search Expert
Jun 28, 2012
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I think another factor is search volume.

If you take a niche term like laser dentist or sedation dentist, some small towns won't show a pack and others will. (Even though both have providers.)

A dramatic example, I did consulting for a consultant and discovered one of his main keywords, something to do with leaking roofs, showed a pack 6 months previous, but didn't at the time of my consult with him. It was a smallish town and we realized 6 months ago was the rainy season so there were likely a lot more searches for that term but at the time of our consult it was the dry season, so that pack for that KW dried up as well. :p

Eric Rohrback

Oct 3, 2012
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I agree with everyone else here. It's definitely in the algorithm (you're right), and it's also about on page factors (your friend is right), but what ties it all together is what Colan and Linda said - intent and volume. Basically you guys are looking at the same answer from two disjointed sides. Intent of the search is one of the most difficult, but important aspects of keyword research because it's what search engines care about. Why do search engines care? Because the user cares about getting a relevant answer to the question or query the asked the engine.

I think your answer of "the algorithm" is correct, but you would need to elaborate your argument by saying it would know to show localized results due to intent of search, IP address of user, and would only show map results if demand (search volume) was high enough.

Now if we're talking about how to rank in a localized result, then your friend would also be right because onsite factors are very important to showing up well in local results. On-page is the foundation of all online marketing efforts. However in the example used, "how to dribble a basketball," I really could care less if i'm learning from someone in my city; I just want to know how to do it. I'd rather learn from a well known expert than some random guy across town, but hey that's why YouTube exists (everyone can be an expert).

You know what a better response to this debate would be? Prove your position. Just because it hasn't been done before, doesn't mean you can't do it. So if you're so sure about your argument, and they're so sure about their position, create an experiment and test. For all we know you could theoretically rank a page how to dribble a basketball higher in Chicago just because you're in Chicago. Google is weird like that because of personalization and adjusting SERPs based on past searches. Get your hands dirty and see what's possible. I've learned some really unexpected things can happen when you dive in and test theories... and every scenario is different so the same advice that applies to one situation may return completely different results in another. :) It's half the fun of the job


LocalU Faculty
Top Poster Of Month
Jul 18, 2012
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You're both right.

Mike Blumenthal did a test over at the Local University forum that made Google create a 3-pack where it wasn't there before (there was no Google Maps results previously) and it was definitely based on on-page signals and links and the text around them that showed local intent.

So yes, I would say onsite has a lot to do with it. A way to test it would be to pick some obscure random keyword that has no 3-pack and see if you can get Google to create one. I don't think I've seen someone try that other than Mike's test.

Louis Nava

Aug 10, 2013
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I have an example of a keyword that brings up local and all sort of other stuff...


Here in San Diego it's a Restaurant and a Real Estate Agency but it also shows a bunch of different things in organic.

Another one is TASTE OF THAI this one brings up 3 different places with those keywords in it.

Then I've seen the local results disappear for a particular keyword if a business is out of it's normal season or does low volume in a certain time of the year. Which would indicate that volume for a keyword(s) is a factor.
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