Understanding mobile search: differences in ‘local intent’ Google SERPs
NB: This is a guest article by Stephen Massart, Ryan Huser and Adam Whittles of Ayima.
Here at Ayima, we’re always knee-deep in all things search, so when we received a tip from a helpful Tnooz reader noting an interesting search inconsistency with Google handsets running the newest version of Android, Jelly Bean, we decided it was a great opportunity to tear open the world of mobile search; and more specifically, the results users were getting when they searched with ‘Local Intent.’
Before we get into the meat of it, let’s get our terminology clear. The phrase ‘Local Intent’ refers to any query in which Google assumes the user is looking for a local result – so someone who lives in Chicago, searching for Restaurants in Seattle is still executing a query with Local Intent.
Let’s take a look at a typical Desktop Google SERP for the query: “Los Angeles Hotels.”
Being that this is a query with a high Local Intent, we see the Local Listings pack (or Google+ Local listings) high up on the page, after only three standard organically ranked results. Google has determined users are probably searching for hotels in the area of Los Angeles, so it displays these local listings prominently (along with a Google Maps reference box) in order to satisfy this query.
If you’re in the travel or hospitality space, we’re willing to bet you’re already very familiar with the Google+ Local listing system and that particular ranking algorithm.
Google’s version of their search engine on mobile browsers has always had specific ways of handling queries with Local Intent, with good reason: Google has operated under the assumption that mobile users were searching on the go, therefore Local Results appear much higher in their SERPs, and websites with local intent are much more prone to make an appearance on the first couple of SERPs of any given query as well.
Let’s take a look at what this same query looks like in a standard Android/iPhone mobile browser:
Now as you can see, the SERPs are laid out a bit differently than the desktop version in this case.
After the paid advertisements, we can see only one organic result before being carried straight to the Local Listings, which have now also been supplemented with large buttons representing integrated phone functions, such as the option to call the listing, route directions to their location, and to visit the website of the local listing.
This might already be old news for you, but here’s where things start to get interesting. In the past, all versions of Google’s Search app, which is standard on Android handsets and an optional download on iOS devices, have displayed results more or less in line with traditional Mobile Browser searches. This all changed with the introduction of the newest version of the app in Jelly Bean devices, which has been integrated with ‘Google Now’.
Pictured above, this feature is built into the home screen of many stock Android devices, as well as a few third party manufacturer’s variations on Jelly Bean. Up until Jelly Bean, this search bar delivered results almost identical to your mobile browser.
Now, if you type in our query “Los Angeles Hotels”, you get something very different:
With this new search function, Google has arranged the local results in a Google Now style card format featuring prominently up top, before any of the paid or organic listings.
“Big deal,” you might say. “This is just Google Now doing its personal assistant thing, like Tnooz told us about here.” But we have actually confirmed that these results are identical whether you have enabled or refused Google Now, so this is not actually a Google Now related action.
It’s clear to us that Google is moving in a bold direction to push the priority of local listings to mobile users, above paid listings and organic results. What is unclear at this point is whether this behavior will translate to other OS’ versions of the Google Search app, such as iOS or older versions of Android, or whether this behavior will perhaps be implemented in mobile browser Google results entirely.
What’s the take away?
As a hospitality or tourism based business owner, you’re likely already aware of the importance of optimizing for Google+ Local listings and local search. But it seems that Google may be slowly headed in a direction that, on mobile devices, Google prioritizes these above more traditional organic results and even their gravy, the paid results.
However, current adoption rates of Jelly Bean are still relatively low in comparison to other versions of the Android operating system. Google has released figures that show only 6% of Android users had installed the Jelly Bean operating system on their device as of December 3, 2012.
As Jelly Bean becomes more and more common on handsets during the coming year, more users will be using this built in search bar to perform their searches, and there’s no telling how far Google plans to implement this new behavior in the future.
NB: This was a guest article by SEO Consultant Stephen Massart, with SEO Apprentices Ryan Huser and Adam Whittles of Ayima.
Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.