For this post, we spent some time with Wei Wang, a Senior Program Manager in the Mobile Relevance team here at Bing and asked him to explain some of the basic things they face when answering “local” queries via mobile, and to explain a bit about how Bing fills in the blanks to determine the “best” result for a local-intent query.- Duane
In web search, many queries are associated with location, even when there is no location specified in the query explicitly. For example, with the query local news issued by a user in Seattle, the user expects to get results from Seattle, in most cases. We call these queries Implicit Local queries.
For mobile users, Implicit Local is even more important. Given that typing with a small keyboard in a mobile setting is difficult, it’s more convenient to omit the explicit location in a query; especially if the engine can understand this naturally. On the other hand, mobile users have higher expectations that they will get results close to their current location, because they expect the search engine will know where they are if they have allowed their phone to have access to their location information. You can’t ensure every mobile user’s settings are correct (though we’ll share info on proper settings in a bit to help with your own testing), but you can help make sure we understand your site’s local area focus.
Bing is smart enough to provide search results close to the user’s location for Implicit Local queries. If a mobile user types in the query local news, for example we understand they mean the local news most applicable to themselves. Below you can see examples of the same query term, for two individual locations, where Bing solves for ‘location’ and returns the appropriate results: the top URL is www.king5.com for users from “Seattle, WA”, while it’s www.wtsp.com for users from “Tampa, FL”.
It’s important for Bing to understand whether a query is associated with a location or not. We’re good at this stuff, because if we miss providing local results for an Implicit Local query, that user will not be satisfied. Amplifying the dissatisfaction, they’ll have to issue the query again, appending locations to get a better result. In this next example for a person in Boston, MA, you can see the relevant results for tv guide local listings.
Another challenge for Implicit Local queries is to figure out how to provide the closest relevant result. Here is an example. When a query backpage is issued from “Fort Mitchell, KY”, Bing returns local results for “Cincinnati, OH”. While this might seem like a mistake at first, if we look at it in more detail, we can see that although Cincinnati is in a different state, it is the closest big city around Fort Mitchell. Since there is no local backpage site for Fort Mitchell, the local site for Cincinnati is the best one.
Implicit Local is very important for mobile users. At Bing, we’ve made great progress in serving results, like providing local results to more queries, and improving the relevance of local results step by step. Businesses should always look for ways to more clearly understand their “local” market. In the example above, “backpage” is a common phrase used in this geographic region, but in other areas it may be referenced differently, such as the tried and true “classifieds”. Be sure you’re optimizing your site for the correct, relevant phrases/queries for the region you’re geographically linked to –the area mobile queries will likely result from.
Beyond specific work to create a mobile-friendly website, the best practices for optimization remain useful. The Bing Search Blog’s recent post on Quality Content is also a useful resource.
Testing Your Site
Earlier we mentioned the importance of testing your site. This is important not only across devices, but also within a geographic region, if local queries are your target. Chances are good that within any business there will be a smartphone in more than one pocket. Even better is if you can test across multiple devices, as the browsers on iPhones, Android phones and Windows Phones are each unique. Use this as an opportunity to test things out on your own.
It’s probably worth it to try your testing from the road, too. A bit of a local road trip could prove fun, and educational, as you’ll get a very real sense of how the average searcher in the region will encounter your site in the results. You’ll understand how your site loads, how long it takes to load, how it functions, and if you check your results in search, you’ll see how you rank and what a visitor will see when they click through to your site.
We’ve prepped some quick tips to help you get the settings sorted across three popular Operating Systems. In your phone settings, if you turn location “On” and allow Bing to access your location, it will help to provide a better local search experience for you. Below are examples about how to do it for Windows Phone, iPhone and Android. (left to right)
Because we seek to answer queries as directly and accurately as possible, Webmasters should take advantage of every option to help an engine understand their location. Inside Webmaster Tools the Geo-Targeting option can help with this task at a higher level (think country-level targeting here), and using the Language Tag in your meta data can also be a useful clue. Other useful clues might come from the actual page content, your About Us page, Title Tags and so on. It’s surprising how many businesses assume everyone will know they’re local to a community, and yet not post any location information on their website.
Getting a bit more technical, you can use Schema markup to annotate your address as well. This is, obviously, a preferred solution, though will require some work to implement the markup on your website. This does help us understand clearly the location, and can help when we need to return mobile results to local queries.
With mobile’s growth still continuing upwards, mobile testing remains highly important. By even using just the phones of those in your office, and managing the settings appropriately, you can get a clear indication of what your customers will see.
Investing in the mobile experience is critical today, as consumers shift more and more to mobile for their needs. Don’t miss the opportunity to align with their needs. We are. We recently discussed just this topic in a blog post about mobile relevance and ranking techniques, in fact. And while most consumers won’t really understand the value behind this next tidbit, the Webmaster Blog has a recent post where you can Meet our Mobile Bots to understand when it’s us visiting.
We are on a journey to improve the mobile experience for searchers. Stay tuned for more on this topic!
Wei Wang –
Senior Program Manager, Mobile Relevance