Search intent has changed with the abundance of metadata available for Google to use in its algorithm. This is evident in the rise of implicit keyword phrases. The search engines know enough background information that the end user does not need to specify certain descriptive keywords. The emerging trend of implicit keywords is most visible within locally minded searches that often trigger the Knowledge Graph and/or Local Carousel.
Implicit Search Explained
Whenever a search query is made, there is a lot of information sent to the search engine besides the specific keyword phrase. This information is implicit keyword data. The early search engines were not equipped to process the implicit data and provide meaningful results. Today, the search engines, primarily Google, are constantly developing new ways to make use of rich implicit keyword data.
There is a great Moz Whiteboard Friday by Will Critchlow that describes the Future of User Behavior. According to Will, while end users may become less explicit in their search queries, the overall volume of keyword information is on the rise. This type of information includes, time of search, location, browser, search history, etc.
How to Win: Use Google+
Where does Google+ come into play? The SERP is changing. A standard web result is not always the norm. For implicit searches, a brand will often manifest as a local listing, Local Carousel result, or Knowledge Graph entity instead of a standard web result of ten links on a SERP.
What is the most accurate indicator of hyper-local proximity? With city names, and even local neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, there are still unknowns. Location information is a standard component of the implicit keyword information sent to the search engines.
It wasn’t until about 2010 that Will’s theory begin to manifest according to Google Trends. If you lived in the UES, there was no need to use the keyword phrase “upper east side new york city pizza”. Now, one needs only to type in the implicit keyword “pizza” or “pizza near me”.
The phenomena is obvious. Using Google Trends, an extremely insightful Google product, one can view an index on the relative popularity of a search term. It’s interesting to speculate on what has specifically influenced the above trend. There is an initial surge, stabilization, and then another surge. Mobile has taken off, however I suspect the release of a new Google Search App for IOS and Siri’s incorporation in all Apple devices in late 2012 to have some impact on the second surge.
The Perfect Hypothetical to Explain
Suppose you work in Soho, but commute from Connecticut. It’s a weekday evening, and you want to look for someplace to go to lunch by your office.
Before you even enter any keywords in the search box (or voice), Google is doing EVERYTHING in its power to know where you live, where you work, how often you leave the office for lunch, where you go for lunch, how much you spend (Google Wallet), & if you even enjoyed lunch (Google+ Reviews). If you have Google Wallet and are active leaving reviews, Google definitely knows all of the aforementioned data. There are probably many more data points in play.
Any type of search query related to lunch may be personalized for the Soho location unless specified with a conflicting local modifier. Google is making a judgement after it realizes that the only time you visit and spend money on food during the lunch hour is in Soho.
All Local is Not Created Equal
Another interesting observation involves the different verticals where implicit searches are trending higher. Clearly people need food and it is extremely convenient if the food is within walking distance. For hotels & banks there is a different story. This speaks to how brands can leverage themselves to surface in early discovery.
There is an upward trend visible for “bank near me”. However, this is not as explosive as the others. Are people interested in spending time searching for banks? I’m sure there is a lot interactive and fun content…or they just wait until they walk by one.
The same is true for “hotel near me”. This in now way diminishes the importance of Google+ Local for hotels. Most people want to stay at a hotel away from them. The trend is better explained with the rise of a search like “places near me”. This speaks to to the inquisitive nature of an end user and how they are in prime position to enter someone’s conversion funnel.
Desktop SERP Results:
Here we see the following searches as they appear on desktop.
The only way to surface here is to have an optimized Google+ Local listing, build a multi-million dollar directory site, or pay for placement via Google AdWords.
Which Local Carousel result stands out the most? The visible thumbnail image is critical for capturing clicks. Claiming the Google+ local listing it the first step in controlling this imagery although it is still ultimately in the hands of Google.
On a side note, local citation building is extremely important for Local SEO. One method involves looking for the outlier entities and then taking a look at their citation profile. Entities with prime visibility on the outskirts are likely utilizing SEO.
This is the one search that does not trigger the Local Carousel. It’s interesting to see Chase’s visibility in this non-branded search. I’m guessing this is the result of a successful local listing reclamation enterprise-style.
I view “places near me” as the most interesting of all the search queries mentioned in this article. The trend exceeds “hotel near me” and highlights the inquisitive nature of the average end user. They are interacting with the search engine for an extended period of time vs. pure information retrieval. One can scroll through the carousel and click on a result that will display the entity’s Knowledge Graph. The map widget is also interactive. New Local Carousel results are dynamically generated based off what is in view within the map widget.
End of Long Tail Keywords? Hell No!
Even though short, implicit search queries are on the rise, by no means do I perceive this as decline in long tail queries. Genuine long tail keywords are on the rise. Think of this trend as a standardization. Many years ago, the end user needed to be extremely descriptive because relying on the implicit information would provide a poor search result. Now they only need to be descriptive when necessary because the implicit data will fill in the gaps.
With the advent of the Google Hummingbird update and the increasingly interactive Google Instant, long tail keyword insights are even more descriptive.
If you do not utilize Google+ appropriately, you are not optimizing for implicit search queries and stand to loose a significant amount of traffic from early stage searches.