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Local Pack Header Specificity Vanishes while Local Packs Downtrend

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9 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About from Q3 2022

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

In July of this year, Dr. Peter J. Meyers and I published a report analyzing an element of Google’s local results we termed “local pack headers”. About a month after publication, members of the local SEO community, like Colan Nielsen, began noticing that the extraordinary diversity of headings we had captured had suddenly diminished:

Today, I’m doing a quick follow-up to the manual portion of our earlier study in an effort to quantify and illustrate this abrupt alteration.

A total sea change in local pack headers

Between July and November of 2022, 83% of our previously-queried local pack headers underwent a complete transformation of nomenclature. Only 17% of the local pack headers were still worded the same way in autumn as they had been in the summertime. Here is a small set of examples:

In our manual analysis of 60 queries in July, we encountered 40 unique local pack headers – a tremendous variety. Now, all specificity is gone. For all of our queries, headings have been reduced to just 3 types: in-store availability, places, and businesses.

Entity relationships remain mysterious

What hasn’t changed is my sense that the logic underpinning which businesses receive which local pack header remains rather odd. In the original study, we noted the mystery of why a query like “karate” fell under the heading of “martial arts school” but a query for “tai chi” got a unique “tai chi heading”, or why “adopt dog” results were headed “animal rescue services” but “adopt bunny” got a pack labeled “adopt bunny”. The curious entity relationships continue on, even in this new, genericized local pack header scenario. For example, why is my search for “tacos” (which formerly brought up a pack labeled “Mexican restaurants”, now labeled this:

But my search for “oil change” gets this header:

Is there something about a Mexican restaurant that makes it more of a “place” and an oil change spot that makes it more of a “business”? I don’t follow the logic. Meanwhile, why are service area businesses, as shown in my search for “high weed mowing” being labeled “places”?

Surely high weed mowing is not a place…unless it is a philosophical one. Yet I saw many SABs labeled this way instead of as “businesses”, which would seem a more rational label, given Google’s historic distinction between physical premises and go-to-client models. There are many instances like this of the labeling not making much horse sense, and with the new absence of more specific wording, it feels like local pack headers are likely to convey less meaning and be more easily overlooked now.

Why has Google done this and does it matter to your local search marketing?

Clearly, Google decided to streamline their classifications. There may be more than three total local pack header types, but I have yet to see them. Hotel packs continue to have their own headings, but they have always been a different animal:

In general, Google experiments with whatever they think will move users about within their system, and perhaps they felt the varied local pack headers were more of a distraction than an aid to interactivity with the local packs. We can’t know for sure, nor can we say how long this change will remain in place, because Google could bring back the diverse headings the day after I publish this column!

As to whether this matters to your local search campaigns, unfortunately, the generic headers do obscure former clues to the mind of Google that might have been useful in your SEO. I previously suggested that local businesses might want to incorporate the varied local pack terms into the optimization of the website tags and text, but in the new scenario, it is likely to be pointless to optimize anything for “places”, “businesses”, or “in-store availability”. It’s a given that your company is some kind of place or business if you’re creating a Google Business Profile for it. And, your best bet for featuring that you carry certain products is to publish them on your listing and consider whether you want to opt into programs like Pointy.

In sum, this change is not a huge deal, but I’m a bit sorry to see the little clues of the diversified headers vanish from sight. Meanwhile, there’s another local pack trend going on right now that you should definitely be paying attention to…

A precipitous drop in overall local pack presence

In our original study, Google did not return a local pack for 18% of our manual July queries. By November, the picture had significantly changed. A startling 42% of our queries suddenly no longer displayed a local pack. This is right in line with Andrew Shotland’s documentation of a 42.3% drop from peak local pack display between August and October. Mozcast, pictured above, captured a drop from 39.6% of queries returning local packs on October 24th to just 25.1% on October 25th. The number has remained in the low-to-mid 20s in the ensuing weeks. It’s enough of a downward slope to give one pause.

Because I’m convinced of the need for economic localism as critical to healing the climate and society, I would personally like Google to return local packs for all commercial queries so that searchers can always see the nearest resource for purchasing whatever they need, but if Google is reducing the number of queries for which they deliver local results, I have to try to understand their thinking.

To do that, I have to remember that the presence of a local pack is a signal that Google believes a query has a local intent. Likely, they often get this right, but I can think of times when a local result has appeared for a search term that doesn’t seem to me to be obviously, inherently local. For example, in the study Dr. Pete and I conducted, we saw Google not just returning a local pack for the keyword “pickles” but even giving it its own local pack header:

If I search for pickles, am I definitely looking for pickles near me, or could I be looking for recipes, articles about the nutritional value of pickles, the history of pickles, something else? How high is Google’s confidence that vague searches like these should be fulfilled with a local result?

After looking at a number of searches like these in the context of intent, my current thinking is this: for some reason unknown to us, Google is dialing back presumed local intent. Ever since Google made the user the centroid of search and began showing us nearby results almost by default for countless queries, we users became trained not to have to add many (or any) modifiers to our search language to prompt Google to lay out our local options for us. We could be quite lazy in our searches and still get local results.

In the new context of a reduced number of searches generating local packs, though, we will have to rehabituate ourselves to writing more detailed queries to get to what we want if Google no longer thinks our simple search for “pickles” implies “pickles near me”. I almost get the feeling that Google wants us to start being more specific again because its confidence level about what constitutes a local search has suffered some kind of unknown challenge.

It’s also worth throwing into our thinking what our friends over at NearMedia.co have pointed out:

“The Local Pack’s future is unclear. EU’s no “self-preferencing” DMA takes effect in 2023. The pending AICOA has a similar language.”

It could be that Google’s confidence is being shaken in a variety of ways, including by regulatory rulings, and local SEOs should always expect change. For now, though, local businesses may be experiencing some drop in their local pack traffic and CTR. On the other hand, if Google is getting it right, there may be no significant loss. If your business was formerly showing up in a local pack for a query that didn’t actually have a local intent, you likely weren’t getting those clicks anyway because a local result wasn’t what the searcher was looking for to begin with.

That being said, I am seeing examples in which I feel Google is definitely getting it wrong. For instance, my former searches for articles of furniture all brought up local packs with headings like “accent chairs” or “lamps”. Now, Google is returning no local pack for some of these searches and is instead plugging an enormous display of remote, corporate shopping options. There are still furniture stores near me, but Google is now hiding them, and that disappoints me greatly:

So here’s today’s word to the wise: keep working on the organic optimization of your website and the publication of helpful content. Both will underpin your key local pack rankings, and as we learned from our recent large-scale local business review survey, 51% of consumers are going to end up on your site as their next step after reading reviews on your listings. 2023 will be a good year to invest in the warm and inclusive welcome your site is offering people, and the investment will also stand you in good stead however local pack elements like headers, or even local packs, themselves, wax and wane.



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Alternative Search Engines: Why They Matter and How to Rank on Them

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Alternative Search Engines: Why They Matter and How to Rank on Them

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

12 billion, 3 billion, 1 billion. That’s the number of searches made in some of the top alternative search engines monthly.

While Google still holds more than 80% of the market share, ignoring search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo can make you lose out on relevant traffic. So don’t limit yourself to Google’s algorithm as you plan the next year’s SEO strategy.

In order to grow in the digital economy, we have to diversify our efforts. What better way to do that than by making sure that you rank on all the top search engines relevant for your audience?

Generally, there’s two reasons why your audience would choose an alternative search engine over Google: geopolitical reasons and/or privacy concerns.

As such, I’ve categorized the search engines below by global market share and by data privacy.

Top alternative search engines by global market share

When analyzing the global desktop market share of search engines throughout the last decade, there are a few small but mighty search engines that stand out. These are:

1) Bing

2) Yahoo

3) Yandex

4) DuckDuckGo

5) Baidu

These are the engines you want to give extra consideration if you intend to expand internationally. They all have their own unique search algorithms that are in many ways as complex and developed as Google’s.

Why they matter and how to rank on them

If you’re like me a few years ago, a die-hard Apple fan remarkably repulsed by Microsoft’s products (I’ve now converted to the seamless team of PC), you might think prioritizing resources to optimize content for Bing or other engines is a waste of time. What I failed to consider then, and what you might be overlooking, is geographic segmentation.

Do you want to reach the American audience using voice search? Consider Bing.

Are you expanding into China? Check out Baidu.

Each search engine matters because of its unique user types. Regardless of how small that market share might look on a global scale, if there’s regional search volume from your target audience, it’s worth the optimization.

Let’s go through them one by one.

Bing and Yahoo

Screenshot of bing.com, November 2022

Since 2018, Yahoo is exclusively powered by Bing Search. So as long as you rank in Bing, you’ll rank in Yahoo.

Bing Search, in combination with Yahoo, is without a doubt the strongest player after Google. Together, they have more than 10% of the global market share for desktop.

Now, some say that Bing’s market share will increase due to mergers and acquisitions, while others argue for its decline due to the death of Internet Explorer.

Still, all Microsoft browsers, such as Microsoft Edge Legacy and Chromium-based Microsoft Edge, have Bing as the default search engine, making Bing Search the natural choice for Microsoft product users. Yahoo, which is powered by Bing Search, is the default search engine for Mozilla’s browser Firefox, adding billions of impressions to Bing’s search results each year.

If we look at the United States alone, Microsoft sites own over 18% of the market share.

This is much due to their partnership with Amazon, where all voice-activated searches on Amazon Echo and Alexa are made with Bing Search.

Microsoft also pushes Bing further by offering easy rewards for searches and more advanced image search capabilities than Google.

Although the algorithms differ, optimizing for Bing search results is not much different than optimizing for Google. With a bit of fine tuning, it’s more than possible to come up with a strategy that allows for high rankings on both.

To rank on Bing, and thus Yahoo, make sure to do the following:

Infographic by AS Marketing, December 2022


1. List your business on Bing Places

Bing Places is the equivalent of Google My Business and is the fastest way to get your business ranking for local seo. Many even consider Bing Places to favor small business owners as Bing puts their information more prominently on display.

2. Upload an XML Sitemap using Bing’s Webmaster Tools

While the debate on how much sitemaps really do matter for Google SEO continues, uploading one with Bing’s Webmaster Tool for XML Sitemaps allows the algorithm to better categorize and manage your content, making it more visible and relevant to the search audience.

3. Match keywords in your content

Check that the exact keyword match can be found in your page titles, meta descriptions and overall content. It’s known that the impact of on-page tactics as a ranking factor is much greater in Bing than Google.

4. Keep your social media profiles up to date

Go social! Bing considers your social media presence more than any other search engine. The Webmaster Guidelines specifically states that Bing considers social signals from third-party platforms to rank your content. Bing might even extract certain information directly from your Facebook company page to your Bing Places display.

5. Use high-quality images to enhance your content

Bing’s image search is much more advanced than Google’s. If you want your landing page to rank, add high-quality design assets to showcase your offerings. If you want your blog to rank, attach too-long-to-read infographics to highlight your points. Like the one above.

Yandex

Screenshot of yandex.com, November 2022

Second to Bing is Yandex, having a total of 1.5% of the market share in global desktop search.

While it looks a lot like Google, its algorithm is different in many ways. Most prominent is the way Yandex indexes pages. Unlike Google’s almost continuous indexation, Yandex indexes pages sporadically. That means that you might have to wait around for a while before your site shows up on Yandex.

Despite this, it is still possible to rank on Yandex. You just need to have a bit more patience.

While waiting for your site to be indexed, take a look at the following:

1. Focus on tags over internal site structure

According to The Ultimate Guide to Yandex SEO, your header tag, title tag and slug are way more important than your internal site structure. In fact, it was only recently that Yandex started to support hreflang tags. Before that, Yandex only allowed the <head> hreflang implementation.

2. Consider search intent to rank

Some argue that Yandex meets search intent better than Google. The modern ICS score, which replaced the Thematic Index Citation, is determined by how relevant a site is to the query. Yandex uses its own version of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) test to determine relevance.

3. Eliminate toxic links

Many do not know this, but Yandex was actually the first search engine to roll out a link-based algorithm. Already in 2005, 7 years before Google’s Penguin algorithm, Yandex introduced the Nepot filter, which specifically looked at the impact of toxic link exchanges and spam links.

Baidu

Screenshot of baidu.com, November 2022

With over 3 billion searches daily, Baidu is the Google of China. If you want to do business in China, it’s the place to be.

While the site is available worldwide, the site predominantly favors simplified Chinese. So before taking any other steps, hire a native speaker to help you along the way. To win at global, you have to ditch translations.

Here’s a few steps to get your content ranking.

1. Localize your keywords and content appropriately

As with all multilingual SEO, you need to work with a native language expert to ensure proper keyword localization and content optimization. If your site experiences high bounce rates, Baidu will tank your rankings immediately. As with any search experience, localization matters.

2. Position relevant content and keywords to the top of the page

Baidu favors a completely opposite layout than the Westernized one. The sooner you get to the point the better. Therefore, it is important to position your keywords as early as possible in the text and introduce all relevant content already in the top of the page to rank.

3. Obtain a verification level and get certified

By registering and paying a small fee you can obtain a verification level to improve your domain authority and rankings on Baidu. If you want to secure top ratings, you can get certified and obtain an ICP license, which is much more difficult than getting verified.

Top alternative search engines by data privacy

While most of the search engines mentioned above are tied to big corporations or political forces, global initiatives are setting the stage for more privacy-focused search engines. Among these is DuckDuckGo, the forefront runner with over 130 billion searches processed since launch.

Why they matter and how to rank on them

In many ways, the movement is a response to Google’s invasiveness on privacy. Many are fed up with how they are capitalizing on personal data and controlling the narrative with targeted search.

On a macro scale, the European Union continues to protect data privacy with strict GDPR regulations and the California Consumer Privacy Act indicates similar trends for Americans.

From a micro perspective, documentaries such as The Great Hack shine a light on how global companies monetize on personal data. As a result, privacy-safe search engines continue to rise.

If you’re working for an innovative SaaS startup, there’s a high chance your ideal customer persona is using one of these search engines.

Let’s go through how you rank on DuckDuckGo and two alternative equivalents.

DuckDuckGo

Screenshot of duckduckgo.com, November 2022

Screenshot of duckduckgo.com, November 2022

DuckDuckGo aims to make your search experience as simple and true to its cause as possible, i.e. no tracking for personalized search results and filter bubbles. Instead it uses semantic search to determine search intent for your queries from over 400 sources.

Consequently, this attracts tech-savvy experts with a lower bounce rate. Once they commit to a search, they stay.

Here’s how to optimize for it:

1. Sharpen Your User Experience

UX continues to make an impact on SEO, not to mention for DuckDuckGo. Make your content easily scannable and stay away from intrusive pop ups that harm your users’ experience and ease of navigation.

2. Focus on High-Quality Backlinks

As with any SEO, high-quality backlinks play a huge role for ranking. If you already have a solid backlink profile from your Google strategy, you should be good to go. If your backlink profile has a high level of toxicity, do some cleansing.

3. Rethink Local SEO

Since there’s no location tracking available for searches, location-specific searches such as “services near me” don’t work. If you like to rank for these types of searches, include a specific location in your keyword strategy. Otherwise, you won’t be able to optimize for local seo.

Startpage

Screenshot of startpage.com, November 2022

Startpage could be my personal favorite among the alternative search engines. It basically is Google without the tracking.

And while many consider DuckDuckGo to be the forefront runner of the privacy-focused search movement, many forget how Startpage ‘blazed the trail in 2006’. Offering a search experience without IP recording or tracking back when it was more or less unheard of. Now, it is the common denominator among all privacy-safe search engines.

So, how do you rank in Startpage? Simple. You rank in Google.

SwissCows

Screenshot of swisscows.com, November 2022

There are many more privacy-safe alternatives to search engines than the two mentioned above. Perhaps one without equal is SwissCows – a search engine that prides itself on being the only family-friendly, privacy-safe semantic search engine available on the web.

This means that any intrusive search results, like adult entertainment or offensive content, is naturally censored from the search results. At the same time, they never store any data nor track user specific information.

SwissCows SERPs bring up organic results and paid ads directly from Bing so in order to rank in SwissCows, you need to rank in Bing. Just make sure to omit any content that’s not PG-13.

What do they all have in common?

In the end, none of these alternative search engines can replace Google. As an SEO, I’ll never advise starting out with anything other than a Google strategy.

But when you are ready to branch out and extend your reach, give these alternatives a try. Analyze where your target audience hangs out and optimize thereafter.

Many of the privacy-focused search engines require little optimization as they pull their search results directly from other sources anyways. Simply do a quick check to see how you rank on each one.

And who knows, perhaps Microsoft will continue to steal more of the global search landscape. If that happens, you’ll be there — ranking in first position, ready to reap the rewards of your diversified efforts in an ever-changing search landscape.

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14 Best Screen Recorders to Use for Collaboration

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14 Best Screen Recorders to Use for Collaboration

For your team, screen recorders can be used for several reasons — from creating tutorials for your website to recording a recurring tech issue to sending your marketing team a quick note instead of an email.

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Master the CX trifecta: Data, content and tech

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Shutterstock 2227781509 800x450

Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, businesses worldwide face lots of uncertainty.

One thing will remain constant throughout this period — customers expect excellent experiences when interacting with a brand. According to Acquia’s latest CX Report, businesses plan to prioritize customer retention over the next 12 months: 56% plan to improve customer experience, and 58% will focus more on customer service.

This should be a common goal. To weather a potential storm, businesses must keep customers by meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

Register today for “Master the CX Trifecta in 2023: Data, Content & Tech,” presented by Acquia,  and create the foundation for CX success this year and beyond.


Click here to view more MarTech webinars.


About the author

Cynthia Ramsaran

Cynthia Ramsaran is director of custom content at Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land and MarTech. A multi-channel storyteller with over two decades of editorial/content marketing experience, Cynthia’s expertise spans the marketing, technology, finance, manufacturing and gaming industries. She was a writer/producer for CNBC.com and produced thought leadership for KPMG. Cynthia hails from Queens, NY and earned her Bachelor’s and MBA from St. John’s University.

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