Anatomy of a Personalized Search Result: Interesting Localized SERPs & Google Bidding on the Term "SEO"!

September 19, 2017

The evolution of Google's search engine results page is pretty well documented in the search engine marketing space. The reality is getting a clean, pure, consistent ranking in organic search is nearly impossible because of:

Recently when I Googled the term "SEO" I saw a number of things I found interesting (DISCLAIMER: these are my personalized SERPs, your mileage may vary and the same query may be doing something different for you):


(Click the image to enlarge.)

Specifically I think the things of interest here are:

  • PPC is taking up a lot of this SERP, and we see a service that really can't (or at least shouldn't) be sold with a simple credit card swipe using the Google Checkout icon to grab some of the searcher's attention.
  • Google is pushing their place pages in an SEO SERP!
  • Since this is a broad subject and a not a trending query we see Google news featured prominently, but not above the organic listings.
  • There are two interesting localized SERPs -- we'll come back to these.
  • Google reminds me of how often I've logged into SEO Book.
  • There are some nice keyword ideas surrounding the SERP (for both depth and breadth) and the vertical search options, despite the icons, still blend in with the background because they look like navigation.

Now while the non-bolded items are important for SEOs and PPC managers to take note of, they've been fairly well talked about other places. The two items I thought were of particular interest here were the bolded pieces: Google's use of this SERP to push their place page listing and the localized search listings.

Localized Search Listings ...That Aren't At All Local

The interesting thing about the two SERP results highlighted in red in the image above is that they don't live on a local domain. One is sitting on a YouTube URL (not a universal listing, but a static listing from YouTube.com) and the other doesn't seem to have a physical address on the site, and only mentions the term SEO on their home page once (and not at all in the title tag).

So What in the World is Going On Here?

Obviously these results have been personalized. Some information worth noting:

  • I live near Lowell, MA, and am logged in as having Lowell for my location.
  • I have, believe it or not, visited YouTube.com before. I haven't ever visited that particular page of the site.
  • I've never been to the Promoter Local site before, but again as you might imagine I frequent a number of SEO/SEM/marketing sites.

It's obvious Google is treating SEO as a semi-local query. Let's take a quick peek at what happens if I tell G that I'm located elsewhere. First let's try nearby Boston: 


If we look for major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. we see similar SERPs to this second screenshot. But what about small towns? My home town of Billerica didn't show any local listings in the SEO SERP when I changed my search location to that town.

So let's recap:

  • Big Cities - Plenty of listings for domains with a local focus.
  • Smaller Cities - Some listings for weaker results on non-locally focused domains.
  • Small Towns - Not at all localized.

The question now becomes what is triggering these listings? It's worth noting that Google is showing an ad for Google places through all of these SERPs.

It seems as though, at a high level, there are two likely culprits for the bigger cities getting better local results:

  • Query Demand & Volume of Searches from the IP - More people look for Boston SEO than Billerica SEO, I would guess, and a greater number of people searching for SEO do so from the city than Billerica. Google could be seeing that a lot of people search for "Boston SEO" and when people perform a Boston search, blend in some of the results from their Boston SEO SERP.
  • Lack of Results - Largely because of the lack of query demand, there aren't a lot of pages optimized for Lowell SEO or Billerica SEO (effectively none).

It's likely impossible to tell which of these is actually driving the results displayed (and quite possibly it's a combination), and the fact that the YouTube listing is shown here likely means they are starving for content in the locales that don't have any, and subsequently are willing to take a very thin page on a domain that isn't local (but is very trusted...wink wink) to offer some localized content.

Why is Google Places All Over These SERPs?

Since Google is blending in local results AND has decided this term is prime inventory to push their local search services they clearly view this as a local query. If you look at the "something different" and related searches suggestions you don't see any geo-modifiers. That's because while they know that in aggregate a lot of people are searching for {town name} SEO, they also know that geo recommendations would create a bad experience for people in different locations. 

But the fact that they are pushing places so aggressively into *all* of these SERPs that I checked likely means that Google percieves a lot of local intent attached to that query (and who would know better, right?).

OK: So What Do I Do With All This if I Have an SEO Company?

The point here isn't really that some SEO company should be doing something in response to all of this. The point is that by really analyzing our SERP here and digging in to try to understand not only who ranks for SEO according to rank checkers or clean browsers but also how people actually see the SERP (because after all: we're optimizing to get people to our site, not to rank as high as possible in an abandoned SERP) we've identified:

  • A high volume opportunity - It certainly appears lots of people are looking for SEO locally.
  • A content gap - Google is gobbling up some pretty weak local results where it can find them here, and in some instances when it would be logical that they would want to return a result, they're punting altogether and no one is pushing content into the SERP.

You probably have some ideas for how you might exploit this, but the point here is mainly that SERPs are very fluid -- you have to try to understand how your query space is actually being seen by searchers so you can find weaknesses and opportunities.

Tom Demers

Tom Demers

Tom Demers is Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Measured SEM and Cornerstone Content.

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