The Local Pack for Desktop Searches: Yes, It Can Matter!

I recently attended “LocalU” virtually, and it was a great conference.  If you’re a local business, or you’re “into” Local SEO, I highly recommend it. But… (there’s always a but).

The conference suffers a bit from what I call the “smarty pants” syndrome. Most of the speakers are local SEO experts, and they live, breathe, and do local SEO 24/7 (which is great). But… they’re in a bit of an echo chamber, in which they tend to talk tech to each other and are very focused on big corporations and the needs of companies that are hyper-focused on local / mobile SEO.

Mobile, mobile, mobile goes the mantra!  The desktop is dead goes the mantra!  Or at least the desktop isn’t cool, so they don’t really focus on it. The devil is ALWAYS in the details, so you have to figure out how YOUR customers search. Namely –

  1. Short tail searches on the phone, where Google knows the location precisely because it’s a mobile search.
  2. Short tail searches on the desktop, where Google is often WRONG about the location.
  3. Keyword plus City searches on the desktop, where the city name overrides the user location.

Let’s investigate!



The local pack appears, of course, on “local” searches like “pizza” or “divorce lawyer” or “plumber.” Google has figured out that these searches are “local” in nature, and so it implicitly adds your location to the search. As if you were searching for “plumbers in Tulsa” or “plumbers 74135” or something like that, even when you are on a desktop. But on your desktop, Google might not know your location as accurately on the phone (first problem). To figure out where Google thinks I am on the desktop, I just search for “pizza,” the universal search. Then, look at the local pack and see if the nearby pizza joints are actually nearby. You can also scroll to the bottom and see what it thinks. Also try it in “incognito mode.” You may find

  • On personalized, “signed in” results Google is pretty good at knowing your location.
  • At incognito, “signed out” results, Google isn’t necessarily so good.

Google thinks I’m in Pawnee, Oklahoma, for example, when I am actually in Tulsa / Jenks. Try this on your laptop at a convention center or a Starbucks or a McDonald’s, and you’ll be surprised how off Google can be. I’ve been at Javits Convention Center in New York City, and it thinks I am in Queens, or in a McDonald’s in Dallas and it thinks I’m in Houston.

So a “local” customer who happens to stop into McDonald’s or Starbucks and searches for “plumber” might not see relevant plumbers who are actually nearby. So what will he do?


Many desktop searchers (and a lot of mobile ones, too), won’t just search by short tails. They won’t just type in “plumber” or “pizza” but will type in “Plumber Tulsa” or “Pizza Tulsa.” That is {keyword} plus city. Here Google will often prioritize businesses either a) in the downtown or local business area, or b) businesses nearby where “most” businesses of this type cluster. So if all the “good” pizza restaurants are not downtown but on Cherry Street, then that’s what will show. You can see this very clearly with a search like “divorce lawyer NYC” which prioritizes Manhattan (Midtown) vs. “artisan coffee NYC” which prioritize Greenwich Village. In other words, the bigger the city and the more competitive your category, the more of a problem this can be.


So now we know the problem. Local search isn’t at all the same on the desktop as on the phone, yet many customers will still be searching on tablets and desktops. The bigger the city, the bigger this is a problem. The more competitive the category, the more this is a problem. And the more your customers search on desktop, the more this is a problem. The solution? Better local SEO, and especially better SEO and even advertising on those KEYWORD + CITY searches. In this short video, I’m not going to dive into the solutions, but you can check out the Local SEO chapter in my SEO Fitness Workbook, or the “Local SEO” resources in my free dashboard, here.



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About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.