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A local problem for Google?

I went looking for he phone number for our local bike shop this morning. I know where the shop is but never can find the number when I need to call. (BTW – what’s a phone ‘book’?)

Google search = Merrimack bicycle shop Luckily for the owner that generic search is also the exact name of his store. Great SEO for someone who has been in business for 20 years.

First result = Google Maps Fair enough – I did search in Google. But, I wonder why we do not hear more concern about that? Local directories can be a significant source of revenue and here Google has gone and given itself the market. Business-wise that worries me more then them linking to us in Google News. Where is the moral outrage people?! WIN for Google.

Second and third results = which appears to be a cycling enthusiasts site with reader contributed reviews. Interesting – unfortunately the location and photo in the listing is two locations ago. (The owner has moved several times in the past few years.) FAIL.

Fourth result = The shop I was looking for was 9th on a list of apparently sponsored and featured links. At least it was listed – but unfortunately the location is a year out of date. FAIL.

Fifth result = (disclaimer: we own This is the first genuinely ‘local’ result on the page. The Telegraph has actual real live people who maintain the site, update phone numbers and addresses, sell enhanced listings and so on. And of course the info is accurate in this case! WIN for

Results six though 100 (no I did not look at every one) seem to be the usual mix of empty SEO-grabbing directories with a few reader contributed sites in the mix. Almost none of them had the correct address (416 DW Highway) and none I saw had anything approximating business hours. Overall Web FAIL.

So, I guess the question is really about Google. How useful are it’s vaunted algorithms when dealing at the local level? Yes, Google itself got the listing correct – and that should be a concern. But, 99% of the rest of the results were garbage and there was really no way to judge right from wrong, good from bad.

PageRank works wonders on non-geographic-relevant content. When I want to know the name of the character actor in the episode of STNG that is on right now (Ray Wise) I really do want to see the result that the greatest number of people found relevant.

But, when I am searching for the address of a local business I want to see the result that has the most authority. In this case accuracy is not a popularity contest.

This would seem to be a kink in the armor and we see the same problem in Google News. Large media sites get a high ranking for nothing more than reprinting an AP pick-up of a ‘local’ story. Meanwhile the source newspaper that is providing updates, context, documents and maybe multimedia is stuck lower in the results.

If newspaper executives want to make a career out of bashing Google for having a popular product – they should at least frame the argument in reality. The problem is not that Google indexes our stories and content – it is that really they don’t do such a great job in providing ‘credit’ to the local sources that are likely to also be the most authoritative.

Google News itself is an attempt to remedy this problem. By segmenting and indexing media outlets the results can be assumed to be more recent and more relevant then a random search of the entire Web. But, as with directory listings the system still breaks down at the hyper-local level.

Newspapers should be going after Google to make their searches (for news and business directories especially) more geo-friendly. Just add source location as a factor in the PageRank calculation and see if we can not start driving traffic to the sources that are actually paying to create the content in the first place.