Local Search 2015

I wrote about an experiment we did in local search a while back. We had three team members in different parts of town search for a local bakery. With 9 trials, we  found these results:

  • Out of nine trials, Rick’s Bakery was #1 in eight.
  • Bliss Cupcakes was #2 in five of nine trials — and not even above the fold in the other four.
  • Stone Mill was #2 twice and #3 twice, and showed up below the local results twice, but was invisible in the other two trials.

From this data, we were able to conclude that Rick’s Bakery ranked above the others, and we also drew these conclusions:

  • Personalized search doesn’t change rankings.
  • Personalized search doesn’t matter much if you’re #1, but it matters a lot if you’re lower than #1.
  • Personalized search is affected by so many different factors that it’s hard to predict results.

Our conclusions about how to do well in local search?

  • Have the best bakery (or whatever your business is) possible.
  • Have the best website possible.
  • Make sure the search engines know exactly where you are.
  • Use social media.

So here we are, three years later, repeating the experiment. The big question: how much has local search changed?


For me, as a logged-in user, not much. The layout of the page is different, but I’m seeing Rick’s Bakery in my local results followed by Stone Mill, and then Little Bread Company. These are the three physically closest bakeries, in the order we saw in our previous experiment. Below the local listings, Rick’s owns the page. Little Bread Company didn’t have a website last time we ran this experiment; simply having a website has made a difference for them.

Logged out and using a browser I don’t normally use, my results are just slightly different — I’ve lost Stone Mill and I’m seeing Little Bread Company and then Bliss Cupcake Cafe, which are slightly closer to me.The rest of the page is all about Rick’s.

Rosie, logged in, sees Rick’s in local results, then Little Bread Company above Bliss Cupcake Cafe. Rosie has moved north since we last did this experiment, but that doesn’t have much of an effect on her local results. Little Bread Company is slightly closer to her than Bliss.


Signed out, Rosie sees the bakeries that are physically closer to her. Rick’s, Fayetteville’s top bakery in Google’s rankings, still shows above the fold, but her computer is no longer in Fayetteville, so she’s getting different local results even though she searched for Fayetteville.


Julianne, signed in at Google and using her phone, sees much the same results — but they are in geographical order.


Finally, our social media girl Brittany, who lives in Louisiana but is up for WordCamp and at Rosie’s place, got the same geography-driven results as Rosie got when she was signed out — whether she is signed in or not.

It looks as though rankings haven’t changed much since last time — though Little Bread Company’s website and Bliss Cupcake Cafe’s expansion into multiple locations have put them ahead of Stone Mill, which has made no real changes. However, we see that geography has more of an influence, especially for mobile searches. Personalization for logged-in users can overcome geography, but searching for results in a nearby town still gives hyper-local results for people who are not logged in. Local search has changed. What should you do to get the best results in local search? That hasn’t changed.

  • Have the best bakery (or whatever your business is) possible.
  • Have the best website possible.
  • Make sure the search engines know exactly where you are.
  • Use social media.






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