How much do local package results depend on location?
It’s no secret that SEO professionals spend a lot of time looking at search results and map packages. So much time, in fact, that we sometimes start to notice patterns. When Mordy Oberstein spotted that 2-1 ranking pattern on the map, you knew we had to investigate.
“So the question is, will Google show me the best local results or the best results near my location…” – Mordy Oberstein
Google’s 2:1 ranking pattern
In the map, Google always selects two companies that are next to each other and one that is further away, thus creating a triangle in the immediate vicinity of the searcher’s location. The results are consistently within several kilometers of each other, with two results close to each other and one slightly further apart, in an isosceles triangle pattern.
This is particularly interesting in locations that span hundreds of square miles, such as Los Angeles or Houston. While the distance between points is slightly larger in larger cities, Google always displays results within a narrow radius and groups its Local Pack results near the search location.
Google’s Local Pack clustering pattern
Regardless of the size or density of a location, Google consistently groups map results according to this 2:1 pattern. From small towns to large cities, from sparsely populated areas to densely populated cities, this pattern remains consistent even if the searcher is not physically near the area being searched. Even when searches are conducted at the country level, the 2:1 clustering pattern remains consistent, but over a greater geographic distance.
Why is that important?
How does Google decide to design the 2:1 ranking pattern in an area as large as a state? We know that when Google ranks locally for a location, it considers the center of a location, whether at the city, zip code, or state level. It makes sense for them to use a point as close to the center of the site as possible when determining where to place the clustered results.
“If you search from California, Google drops the location somewhere near Long Beach because Google considers that the center of California.” -Joy Hawkins
This proximity clustering makes more sense at the city level or to someone conducting a search from the location they are looking for. However, it may not be particularly helpful for someone looking for attractions in another state. Is it better to send someone to the center of a state or to prime locations? This could really backfire somewhere like Nevada, where not much happens in the middle of the state. Some of the best restaurants in the world are located in Las Vegas, and a search for “restaurants in Nevada” did not turn up any Las Vegas restaurants in the 2:1 cluster.
Do better, Google. Local searches aren’t always done by local people, and we know Google can tell the difference. Why not provide different results to those who are not in or near the area you are looking for? In this case, a more dynamic local packing algorithm would be far more helpful for most users.