My Ideal Ranking Factors for Web and Local Listings

Something’s playing around my mind while I was on my way home from work. I recalled a search for “web design hong kong” earlier. On top of search results page is a collection of web design businesses, their phone numbers and Google map plotting the approximate location of these businesses.

Unfortunately, the results failed to impress me. It is easy to notice that some businesses listed are based in China, by merely looking at their telephone numbers.

google-local-business

Heck, I was searching for “web design hong kong” and there are sites found within the search results coming from China? That’s how Google sees it (or fails to notice other designers in the neighborhood). Not that Hong Kong had few web design firms, maybe a lot without knowledge about Google Local and their ability to display their businesses on Google Map.

If content is king, where will user experience be?
I was wondering that since Google controls data about real-time queries (and uses this data in tools like Google Trends and Google AdWords Keyword Tool) I am sure there is a way Google can figure out a better way of ranking pages.

Currently, it is widely accepted that optimizing a page, through meta tags, targeted keywords and so on, in addition to external factors, is the reason why it can rank well in search engine results. But what if search engines control their destiny and take charge in evaluating pages based on user experience instead of relying on content provided by webmasters, copywriters and bloggers? And as search engines (at least Google and Yahoo!) are now armed with analytics tools that help evaluate the value of each page, as well as I am sure the idea won’t be far fetched.

Do pages with low bounce rate indicate satisfied visitors?
Not necessarily. But it should be used as a factor when ranking pages. Google, Yahoo! and Bing aim to provide information they need. But they’re also in a difficult position. If our search phrases speak poorly of what we’re really looking for, search engines can only do so much.

However, not all search phrases warrant guesswork. Can search engines look at history of how visitors interact with a page as a landing page off a search engine referral? For example, if I search for “honeymoon in palawan”, Google may want to consider displaying the page that generated lowest bounce rate or whose visitor spent the longest time, in addition to matching keywords in the context of a search query. Low bounce rate could mean the site was able to capture the attention of the searcher and may also provide easy access to relevant pages.

Personalized Search
Try searching for a familiar term while logged in your Google Account. You’ll notice your favored sites are ranked high. You may jump and rejoice for a while, but that result is misleading. Log out and you’ll see the difference. You may only be the one living witness to that lofty ranking, because search results are served using information gathered from your web browsing history, trying to elevate rankings of pages you historically preferred to click, even when they were at rock-bottom when you first made the query.

Business Listings
Rankings of local business listings in Google Maps should no longer be based exclusively on content. It should now be more focused on business reviews and user experience. This is similar to the bounce rate I mentioned above. If one restaurant business has received multiple positive remarks in Open Rice for a Lebanese cuisine, it should appear on a more prominent search results page of Google Maps search for a generic term like “lebanese restaurant hong kong”. Many of us are still obsessed with optimizing the page and gathering links to promote rankings. But what about offline factors such as customer satisfaction and levels of service difficult, if not impossible, to quantify in search engine algorithm?

The way these ranking factors are illustrated makes me think that keyword ranking as a means to measure SEO success becomes more irrelevant.