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What In The **?

Over the last few days this query has been making it’s rounds as something of a hot mystery:

https://www.google.com/search?q=**

If you haven’t gotten to see/play around with it yet, go ahead and do it. I will still be here when you get back. Honestly, my interest in the query has been slim. Until I was wasting some time on Twitter and saw this exchange:

If Mike's interested, I'm interested

If Mike’s interested, them I’m interested. And then I took a second to think about Cyrus’ response. Seems pretty obvious that it is a list of locations (in some way), but are they ranked by authority and based off your city? I just had to know!

So I scraped a 100 result SERP for the query, and put some of those killer Majestic proprietary metrics to the domains. You can check that out over in this Google Doc here (no you can’t get edit access, just make a copy!)

And I think the results are pretty interesting (damnit Andrew, you were right).

  • It doesn’t appear that it’s easy to understand the ordering based on applying link metrics.
  • Not all of the results are physical locations (like the first result for my city, Costa Mesa, that is United’s flight booking app)
  • Not all of the results are physically in the city Google locates you in (more on that later)

Here is the real kicker, the order of the results doesn’t seem to be based on authority. Or at least the way Google would rate them based on authority for a normal web query.

Not Physically In The City

In addition to the United example I gave above, check out Houlihan Lokey at #20 in my spreadsheet. They are most assuredly not based in Costa Mesa:
Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.23.21 PM

Also, their location page doesn’t target Costa Mesa (and no, it’s not in the <title>)

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.23.34 PM

Wanting to take it one step deeper, I wanted to see if there address was considered by Google within the borders of Costa Mesa. Here is where Google draws the border in Maps:

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.32.11 PM

And here is where Houlihan Lokey is located:

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 1.31.55 PM

Close to the city limits, but clearly outside them. Does that mean that ** holds the secret to gaining local organic relevance for cities your aren’t physically located in? Can you use it to break into packs where you aren’t physically located? Who know! But it’s definitely worth more research.

Here is another question that it brings up related to location, there are several websites for national to local chains that both showed up in the query, and are located in the city of Costa Mesa. But the website URLs go to the home page and not a location page. Does that mean this query is showing the interconnectedness of Google My Business system and organic search system? Seems likely, if inconclusive!

Not Based On Authority

So the assumption that they are based on authority is a good one, since authority/prominence and relevance are how Google orders SERPs in general. However, something about the businesses made me suspicious. Take the second URL that ** returned for me, Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery. I have what you might call a sweet tooth, and am also somewhat of a hipster, so am intimately familiar with the hottest bakeries in Costa Mesa and sorry Specialty’s but you aren’t on the list. So I did some searching:

“bakery” Local

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 12.35.28 PM

“bakery” Organic

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 12.36.37 PM

“costa mesa bakery” Local

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 12.36.07 PM

“costa mesa bakery” Organic

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 2.26.21 PM

“bakery costa mesa” Local

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 2.27.25 PM

“bakery costa Mesa Organic

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 12.35.09 PM

Specialty’s isn’t anywhere to be seen in the top results. And Black Market Bakery is dominant in these searches (and also in baking, seriously they sell out of cookies so fast.) In the interest of brevity, I did the same thing for “cafe” and the results were the same, Specialty’s is striking absent from the top local and organic results. Just to put icing on the cake I did a search for “hotels” and here are first actual hotel businesses in the organic part of the SERP

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 12.38.45 PM

in the ** SERP, BLVD is ahead of Hilton but in an actual commercial search it is not. So if this ordering is based on authority/prominence then it’s a different type of authority and prominence that would lead to a high ranking in a local or local organic search result.

So to answer the initial question:

what in the **?

I have no &&!


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