Stop Spraying and Praying – Understanding Local Results

Stop Spraying and Praying - Understanding Local Results

It’s been awhile since our last post, and today we have a special one for you. We are all about taking the waste out of marketing. You and your clients deserve better than a shotgun approach. It may get you by, but take my word for it, in highly competitive niches, you better come with aces up your sleeve. Today I give you your ace of spades.

Did you know that there are different algorithms at play in the local pack? Sure. You know there is blended, local, and organic. Organic is of course governed by a more “organic-centric” algo, and so your time would be better spent focusing on organic ranking factors. Local, as you know, is controlled by a more “local-centric” algo, and thus, conversely, your marketing buck is better spent on local factors, such as citations or reviews. And finally, blended, shares an unknown amount of influence from both algos.

Easy enough. BUT, did you know that result 1 might be blended, 2, 3 and 4 local only, and the rest blended? Ya? You must read Mike’s blog you smart cookie you. Suppose you are in position two, and you are banging your head against the wall, have hundreds of citations, reviews, etc, and are doing a little link building/earning too. If you knew position one was blended, you’d know to perhaps to try and throttle back the local, and punch the organic factors. Imagine the time, money and head banging you’d save yourself. Well, we didn’t know how, and really weren’t even investigating it until Mike’s post. Someone kiss this man right now.

So, we need to figure out what is what. The “how” is pretty simple, and I will get into that. I would like to start by sharing a bit about some interesting research we did. With all the turbulence in the SERPs lately, we wanted to figure out what was the typical pack makeup these days. Perhaps if we could figure this out, we could make assumptions on how we ought to throttle our efforts (as mentioned). Here’s how we did it: First we collected data from almost a thousand search queries. After, Harry, my wonderful programmer, wrote a little script to answer a number of questions we had bouncing around in our heads.

“The first thing I wanted to verify is what Mike wrote about in the post above.  Mike claimed that the searches were transitioning to mostly map based results, and I felt it was important to test that with a larger data set.” – Harry

Here’s what we found!


Mike was definitely right about the packs moving to maps based results. This graph shows a supermajority of pack groups have no non-local results mixed in. Non-local results are any result that does not show up in google maps top 10. So above, we have 868 packs that contained NO results that were un-influenced by google maps.  This does not mean that they had no other factors influencing them as we found out a little bit later.

After checking first for non-local results in the pack we decided to go deeper and see how many organic results were mixed in.  We thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about our “non-local” results.

“When I did this I had two thoughts on my mind.  1) What if some of the results aren’t from google maps or organic? 2) how many results are organic?  #1 turned out to be a rather boring dead end, with almost nothing to it, but #2 (shown in the graph below) got me thinking about something interesting…” – Harry


This shows the number of pack groups containing organic results, and just how many they generally had.  We observed a slight majority of packs that contained a single organic result.


This is my favorite chart that we put together. This graph shows the number of organic, local, and blended results for every position in the pack.  As you can see, blended results are a majority in position 1, but still just slightly over 50%, which tells us that whether local or blended, local factors will have a strong influence over position one.

With this data we wanted a way to try and validate our conclusions.  Our main conclusion was, to get into the pack, do local and to top the pack, do both. However, this isn’t exactly an iron clad statement. There are two possibilities that come to mind, and we aren’t quite sure how we can test for them.  One, that the sites with organic factors are just incidental, and just happen to be doing great organic SEO along with their local marketing. The other possibility, and our main conclusion,  is that the organic SEO they are doing is absolutely essential to ranking high in the pack results. In either case, your ability to crush it with organic SEO, may just make or break your campaign.

Note:  You will notice the total results per position goes down as the position number goes up.  This is because some pack groups are shorter than 7 results.

Harry and I had a lot of fun collecting this data, and wanted to share with you how we went about collecting it, and how you can do it too. However, if you don’t want to do it for yourself, we understand, and would happily let you know the makeup of the pack you’re competing in. Just provide us with a little bit of info below, and we will get it over to you right away.

DIY Pack Makeup

1) Collecting the Pack Information

The discovery process is quick and simple. Just search Google for your keyword as shown:



Highlight each listing URL (eg., copy and paste into a txt doc for reference later on.


2) Collect Google Maps Data


Start by searching google maps.  You will get a list of 10 results on the left side of the page like so…


Scan this list and mark all of the pack results in my txt document with their position in Google maps.


3) Google Top 10 Organic

We like to compare the top organic results to the pack to see how much crossover there is. This helps us get an idea for how important organic ranking factors are to ranking in the pack for a given search term.

Since I know my readers are all academics/ninja SEOs, I will just summarize what I am now coining the “Dr. Pete Method”, and the “AOL Method”, along with their advantages and disadvantages.

Dr. Pete’s Method


Dr Pete’s Method, first described here uses urlhacking to assemble a list of the top 10 organic results.  You can take any Google search string and append &start=1 to the end of the URL, as shown in the screenshot above, and get Google results #2-#11.  If you take those along with Google’s #1 result (as long as the first result isn’t the pack, or news block) then you have a good list of Google’s top 10 organic results.

“The main disadvantage to this method is it can be tricky to use if you are collecting data in bulk.  Appending start=1 to the url is a very quick way to get your ip banned.  I found I was getting banned after just 10 or 20 searches in a row sometimes, which really slowed down data collection at first.“ – Harry

Dr Pete’s method also breaks when the pack results are in position 1.  It makes it impossible to get the #1 organic result.

And so, until we are able to perfect our “pack position” component of our script, we had to find another way.  Naturally, you don’t have to go far when you have people as smart and dedicated as Linda Buquet. In her post below, she explains the “AOL Method,” aka, our saving grace.

The AOL Method


The AOL Method is nice and simple.  All you have to do is head over to AOL search, search, and take the top 10 results.  AOL likes to make their ads look VERY similar to real results so make sure you find where it says “Web Results” and start copying there.  NOTE: I cut the ads out of this screenshot.  Your search will most likely have them on top.

In our manual testing I found the results from the AOL Method were very similar to the results from Dr. Pete’s Method. Not identical though. Sometimes there are 1 or 2 results from’s 2nd page on the first page of AOL. In the end, at least for our automated needs, we opted for the AOL Method.

“The primary reason I chose to use AOL search is the speed I could collect data.  When using Dr. Pete’s method I was getting ip blocked or captchas from Google every few minutes.  With the AOL method I was able to collect all of the necessary data very quickly.” – Harry


Once you have the results, mark what position in AOL the pack results are just like we did with the Google Maps results. We do this of course so as to learn how important organic ranking factors are these pack results. The zeros mean that we did not find an organic placement for the pack result in AOL. And so we would deduce that this search is almost entirely based on local factors.  Now you know that to rank in the pack your effort might be best placed in local ranking factors.  If you are marketing on a thin budget this will theoretically help you get results much faster than you otherwise would, keeping your clients happy.

Quick example: Run a search in Google for Jewelers Bakersfield, CA. What you will see here (or at least at the time of post) is a strong influence organic influence. If it were I trying to rank well in the pack for this term I would know that because of the aforementioned influence, I would be extra aggressive organically, and perhaps not so with my local ranking strategy.

Brain hurt? Mine sure did. Still don’t want to dig around for yourself? Fire us your information below, and I will give you a hand.

In other news, you will be happy to hear that Darren Shaw and Mike Blumenthal have been quietly putting together a tool that will do all this heavy lifting for you. I got a sneak peek the other day and not only will it provide you with more sophisticated data, but it does so in such a sexy way. Way to be awesome guys.

Kind thanks to Darren for helping me edit this post – had nearly decided to shelf it out of frustration.

Update June 8, 2015: While I haven’t played around with this too much lately, the theory still (I believe) stands true. I see it every once in a while when throttling my local/organic efforts. While I still recommend a balanced approach, if you are in those top spots and just can’t get any further, give this a go.


About Adam Steele

A SEO & Local SEO by trade, Adam spends the majority of his time creating new efficiencies through smart processes and the leveraging of technology. He is ruthlessly passionate about building smart, lean businesses, and exploring new, lean, internet marketing techniques. Find him on Twitter @AdamGSteele.

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