Local Traffic “Diversion” — Google Claims It’s A Bug, Yelp Says It’s Intentional

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Local search represents between 30 and 40 percent of mobile search results. Local is critical for consumers and represents billions in annual ad spending. And it’s a high-stakes area for all the companies involved in serving or selling to local businesses.

Over the weekend, the following exchange took place on Twitter regarding Google’s local search results:

Twitter Google Local Results

The problem identified in the above Twitter conversion is that for some local navigational searches (e.g., “TripAdvisor, Hilton”) on mobile devices, Google is not showing the “intended result” and instead is showing its Local OneBox at the top of results.

After this exchange and a subsequent article, Google described what happened as a “bug.” Yelp, by contrast, sees intentional behavior. I spoke to Yelp at some length about this today.

Yelp asserts that one of the ways that Google identifies local-intent searches is through so-called “co-occurrence signals” (Google’s term) — essentially searches that yield Yelp or ZocDoc or TripAdvisor or other local results. Yelp claims that in such situations, Google increasingly tries to usurp traffic that would otherwise go to third-party sites.

Claims like this are at the heart of the antitrust action in Europe. According to a comment Google provided to Re/Code, the issues were reportedly caused by a “recent code push, which we’re working to fix.”

I’ll be following up with Google and with Yelp to more completely understand what may have happened. Yelp sees a pattern of deceptive, self-interested behavior by Google. But Google says this is simply a temporary problem awaiting a fix.

I suppose who you believe depends on how you see Google and its motivations.

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