As part of an ongoing study of why brick-and-mortar businesses or websites get Google rank, we’re going to start looking at individual business sectors to see if we can pick common patterns in the ones that do land on page 1 in Google. It’s something a lot of our clients ask us about: “how come they end up ahead of us?” or “why do they get a map listing when we are closer?” These are great questions and are not always that easy to explain, so this series is about presenting some analysis that makes sense.
Our first test search phrase in Google is “plumber Auckland”.
Here’s what the search results page looks like today:
Click to enlarge the image so that you can see some of the details I am going to describe here:
- Notice in the right hand corner that I am logged in to Google with my Google account.
- There are 11 advertisers (3 at the top plus 8 down the right hand column)
- There is a Google map image dotted full of locations, plus 3 business listings showing in the map block with a ‘more places’ menu at the bottom of the block.
- There are 10 organic Google search results filling the rest of the main column.
- At the bottom of the page there is a greyed-out icon showing the location “Auckland – From your preferences” plus an item that says “Use precise location – Learn more”.
Here’s what these results mean:
Because the search is for a plumber located in Auckland (we presume that’s what “plumber Auckland” means), Google is showing us results based on the location mentioned in the phrase. If we did a similar search but swapped Auckland for Wellington, we’d probably get a map of Wellington’s plumbers. But what happens if we leave out the location? We tried it and guess what? It still gives us a map for plumbers in Auckland, and here’s why:
When making this search, there are two other parameters that tell Google I am most likely to be looking for a plumber in Auckland. The first is the location setting I mentioned in point 5. The second is the fact that my connection to the internet is located in our office in Kingsland, Auckland. Both of these are reported to Google in the instant that I do this search. Google makes a generalised assumption that I am not looking for a plumber in Wellington if I don’t state where, because it’s fairly unlikely I would hire a plumber from Wellington to come and unblock my drain in Auckland.
Just to prove that the search “plumber Wellington” would give me results from Wellington, here’s the search page:
All of the ad listings and the organic results also changed to reflect a Wellington search, despite my Auckland settings and Kingsland IP address. This means that the location setting and IP are overridden by my search word. In other words, when Google detects that I am asking about a plumber in a specific location, it will try to show relevant results from there irrespective of my settings. BUT, take a good look at the advertisers in this image and you’ll see that there is a listing entitled “Your Local Plumber” with a phone number for Laser Plumbing located in Auckland. This means the advertiser probably should adjust settings for their Google AdWords advertising campaign to exclude me from seeing this ad when I am searching for a plumber in Wellington. There’s a chance I will click on their ad and discover they are actually in Auckland and that click will be wasted ad budget to them. The last ad entitled “Just Drain Unblocking $55” is the same and can result in wasted marketing funds as they are also an Auckland-only business.
Just going back to the “plumber Auckland” and “plumber” searches: while I did get a similar map for both of those searches you’ll see that the organic results were different. Here they are side by side:
These two sets of results differ in that the search for “plumber” is more general and may be for information websites rather than solely for plumbing service providers. That’s an assumption, but it’s grounded in experience of observing the differences that Google reflects in our own search data. Take away the location word and you make the search a little less about ‘hiring a plumber’ and a little more about ‘being a plumber’ or ‘stories about plumbers’, hence the News article from Stuff showing in the “plumber” search, and that does provide some evidence to back the assumption. The Stuff website doesn’t provide plumbing services, but it does have an article on it about a plumber. The same story is presented by the Herald too, and ranks in the same search result. From this we can see a broad term like ‘plumber’ isn’t always ideal as a keyword phrase.
Now let’s look for a service that isn’t localized. I’ll use “airline” as an example. Because a single airline doesn’t typically service the needs of any particular city or location alone (they typically fly between cities), it’s a truly national search. Plus, since there are several airlines servicing our global region, there probably would be international airlines in the search results. Not only that, but the generality of the term and the past behavior of Google users showing interest in many international airlines when making a search like this, it’s most likely we might get global results. Don’t forget: “plumper” and “airline” are both service providers. The Google search result should indicate a significant contrast in the localization of the two searches.
Here’s a screen shot of the “airline” search:
The results here have a mix of international airlines in the organic section, and a mix of NZ and international results in the ad slots. There are no Map listings because Google has deemed the search to be global, not local.
Note that for the difference between “plumber” and “airline” to be shown in Google search requires a fundamental understanding of what they mean, so Google is not just taking best guesses at this, it has to both understand the word and understand the intent of the user when searching the word. The keyword phrase “plumber” doesn’t contain the word “local” or “Auckland”, yet from the evidence we have presented here, Google demonstrates that its meaning and intent is clearly linked to location.
So, we’ve learned these things so far:
- Google assumes when you add a location word that you are searching about something in that location (and rightly so)
- Google assumes that when you don’t use a location word for a type of search that’s most likely to be localized, it will show results based on your current physical location and/or location settings in your computer
- Google assumes that when you don’t use a location word in searches related to a localized service, you might be looking for stories or news, not just service providers.
- When Google detects that your search is for a service provider where location may be important, they show a map listing.
- Google understands words based on experience – like a child learning what words mean, and has developed an understanding of what search results are more appropriate for the search phrase based on fairly subtle changes of intent.
Now let’s start looking at the #1 organic result for the “plumber Auckland” search: Plumbquick www.plumbquick.co.nz :
This website isn’t mobile responsive, so there’s a chance that it won’t have the same #1 position when the search is done from a mobile device, but after testing on my Samsung mobile I see it serves a mobile version which Google reports as mobile friendly and using different content display processes instead of being responsive. It’s got a fairly good volume of text on the home page and Google shows there are 25 pages in the search index from this website. That’s pretty good for a plumber’s website! Most sites in this genre are 3-8 pages and seldom more than 10. That is probably what helps this website to #1.
The website is hosted in the USA – not ideal for NZ traffic during high-load times on the internet because offshore hosting can slow down the service to Kiwis.
It looks like someone has performed SEO work on this website and done quite a reasonable job. However, implementation looks a little dated, and with Google changing and updating all the time, the site might need some contemporary SEO services applied to keep it in the current rank position into the future.
The home page features a Page Title element: “Plumbers Auckland | Auckland Plumber | Plumbquick” and also a Meta Description: “Plumber Auckland: Plumbquick’s Superior experience in all types of Plumbing – from large commercial to small 1 hour jobs enable the large pool of skilled servicemen to be dispatched to the jobs best suited to their ability, which provides you with the best value for money.” Which is a bit too long so might not be ideal. You can see that the Meta Description snippet is cut short in the search results page and cuts off everything after “large pool of skilled…”.
Also, notice under this listing that it has blue sitelinks for “Call us”, “Auckland”, “Plumbquick Deals” and “Auckland Toilet Plumbing”. These are a result of having both a good organic position for the home page and also a good volume of relevant content on these other pages. Google thinks this is a good enough example to give the user 5 links to choose from.
Their organic result is also supported by the Map listing at position A. This means the website is verified and linked with the Google Map via a Google+ page. It helps a lot that they have 80 reviews many of which are recent and relevant. That’s awesome for a plumber!
The reviews for this business are feeding from the Google+ page reviews system which no longer directly links to Google+ but businesses can still collect reviews that appear there and in search results. You can view Plumbquick’s Google+ profile here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/106274446117062412159
Plumbquick uses a page by page optimisation for specific keyword phrases which you can see in their site: search result here.
In this set of search results you get to see all of the pages for which Google has a search link to this site. Look carefully at the green text URLs in the search results. You may notice they follow a pattern of optimisation and are targeting searches like: “gasfitters Auckland”; “blocked drains Auckland”; “water heaters Auckland” etc. This is a page optimisation strategy called Exact Match and is leveraging the strength of the URL itself to gain rank. In other words: these pages were probably created for the purpose of gaining rank as their main objective. Exact Match keyword phrase use is becoming less capable of delivering rank as Google becomes more capable of detecting the manipulation. They do have some engagement value in terms of their texts, but that’s probably not the main reason why they are there. In almost every example from this search you can see the META Description snippet is too long and is being cut off at the end. The overall pattern of optimisation is that this site looks like its main keyword phrase is “Auckland plumber(s)”, and hey presto, we have discovered a key reason why it ranks #1 for the same phrase inverted to “plumber Auckland”. It’s clearly working for them, so job well done! There is a chance however that Google may eventually drop the ranking of this website because of over-optimisation or excessive use of keyword phrases. This is where a single keyword phrase or set of related keyword phrases are used too often and make the texts read less than ideally. If we were working on this website as our SEO services client, we would be recommending a stronger future-proof deployment strategy.
The next element I want to discuss in regards to this search result is in relation to off-page SEO work. We use a Google Chrome toolbar extension called MOZBar. This is a great tool for checking links that a web page is getting from elsewhere on the internet. Turning this tool on provides an additional element under the search result:
The PA score indicates how strong this page (the home page) is for this website. It rates at 32% which is actually quite strong for a website in this genre. Alongside the PA score we can see that the page has 299 links pointing to it, plus those links are from 16 other domains (websites). The DA figure of 21% represents how strong the overall domain (www.plumbquick.co.nz) is and sports a total of 1954 links across all of the pages in the website. These are good healthy figures for this website and the figures outscore the same stats for every other website in this same results page with the exception of Yellow Pages.
Finally, using MOZBar to assess social media shares reveals that the home page has been linked to from Facebook 28 times and 7 times from Google+.
So here are a few more things we have learned from the further analysis of the website:
- Having a Google+ profile and collecting reviews on it might help rank and relevance for both the website and the Google Maps listing for a given search phrase you are optimising for.
- Optimising single pages for single search terms could gain rank for those search terms and may even earn you sitelinks so you end up with 5 links in Google search, not just 1.
- Optimising your whole website for a single overall search term might even get you #1 rank for that over very strong sites like Yellow Pages.
- You might need links to your site – and maybe plenty of them.
- Sharing or getting shared on social media platforms may be a good thing for rank too.
I hope you enjoyed discovering some of the key elements of this search phrase, what each of the results meant and how or why they got there. At the very least, you’ve discovered that the anatomy of #1 rank is a complex beast with many factors being considered, including who the user is and where they are located. There are many more subtle elements in each of the websites featured on page 1 that helps place them there – actually around 200 factors that go into determining the final result and subtle changes in meaning of the search phrase make for quite different results in some cases.
If you’re a service provider and need help with a full analysis of your position in search, plus recommendations on what you can do to take the lead position, get in touch, we have the skills and know-how to help get you to #1 for your industry too!