Over the last few days this query has been making it’s rounds as something of a hot mystery:
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, 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:
Also, their location page doesn’t target Costa Mesa (and no, it’s not in the <title>)
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:
And here is where Houlihan Lokey is located:
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:
“costa mesa bakery” Local
“costa mesa bakery” Organic
“bakery costa mesa” Local
“bakery costa Mesa Organic
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
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 &&!
10 Response Comments
Want to make things even crazier? Search for *** and **** and *****. The results and order changes slightly.
Around Burley it is clearly a list of very prominent local businesses but order changes on each search. There is definitely some type of local authoritative score but not tied to domain signals. Or something. So confusing. Probably an engineer messing with us.
And if you want to kick that up a notch add in a category like “** restaurant” and you get weird regional results that are different then any of the variations on “***”
Also, results are different for me incognito or not so there is some level of personalization in the query and it’s different on mobile.
Just how deep does the rabbit hole go Neo?
Is it more plain than that? Alot of the domains have the location’s name in their domain? http://www.blvdcostamesa.com/
Same thing with my search in Chattanooga.
Actually, 8/10 of the first page serp have “chattanooga” in their domain.
If you check out the spreadsheet I link to, a significant portion of them don’t have “Costa Mesa” in the domain. Here is are some of the top rankers:
I’m too afraid to put more than a toe in the water — I’m going to follow along and dive in once I have the courage. I’m interested in looking at home service companies, it doesn’t seem to affect maps at all. I set aside 15 minutes and noticed the library foundation and humane society ranking high in my area…link building opps?
If anyone is seeing Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery in their ** results, please share in the comments + your location.
Nope. Just Starbucks, but there are 6 within a 3.1 mile radius to me in Orlando.
I’m getting a lot of local businesses, along with Pizza Hut and Starbucks!
Haha, my ** SERPS are the best. I get a Pumpkin Patch (with corn maze!) Ah, the bucolic life I lead.