When you think about how Google counts it’s search results, you may think it’s pretty simply (1, 2, 3….10). But, if you add in seven result SERPS, and mixed local results, simply counting from 1 to 10 isn’t so easy anymore. To help show what we mean, here is an example of a localized, but de-personalized SERP for the keyword, “orthodontist.” The only things that are there are titles, display URLS, and pins, only in the interest of making it easier to parse:
On the graphic, the two sets of numbers on the left represent the two ways most people without any local SEO expertise would count these results. In other words, it could be either six “pure” organic results, or a total of 13 results. The only issue is that most, if not all, page 1 Google SERPs have either seven or ten organic results. Another interpretation is that this is a ten result SERP, but some of the local seven must be “blended” results. This means that the local pack contains both real, true local results, and organ results are being mixed in and treated as local.
The start= parameter
How do we know which four are the blended results? Some of you might be familiar with Google’s “start=” URL parameter. Whether you use it manually or not, you actually use it all the time. It is the parameter that separates Google’s search results pages.
Basically, if a simple query looks like this:
…Then the query to reach page two of search results will look like this:
As it turns out, the “start=10” is a little bit of a cheat. What this parameter means is “jump to page 2” even if page one is a seven result SERP. Google thinks in terms of starting at zero when it comes to coding. For a traditional SERP “10”, will actually mean the 11th search results page.
Here’s the interesting thing, what if you changed the “start=” parameter to be something other than a multiple of ten? Well, it all ends up working just fine if that’s the case. It will give you a stripped-down organic result page starting with the absolute position specified. This means that if you use the setting “start=9”, than you are given a page that has no local results that begins at the 10th organic ranking.
Counting Backwards to Destiny
As things turn out, you can, in fact, use this technique to count backwards and determine “true” organic results, as if the local search pack never even appeared in the first place. You can even skip to “start=1”, which will show you the second ranking forward. Remember, “start=0” is the Google code for “starting from the beginning.”
Using this trick (“&start=1”) for the “orthodontist” query, we will end up with these results:
By changing up the parameter, we are starting with #2, and the page will actually represent the organic results 2-11. Could be a little odd, but perhaps, it could make some sense. Why are we doing all of this? Well, there is a point to all of these queries and parameter changes.
If we compared the URLS from the first and second SERP, we will find that not only find which results were blended, but also which order they would’ve appeared in without the influence of the local 7-pack. It will look something like this (The organic results are green, and the local results are counted with “L” in the number:
In this scenario, the first four local results in this pack are the blended results. But, the fourth result in the list is actually ranking as 9th in the original organic results. Like the old indented results, is that the local pack pulls any organic result that gets promoted up (to keep the pack contiguous), so in this case, number 9 is actually outranking the original 7th and 8th ranking results.
Being able to understand how the local and organic blend in the SERP above, as an example, can tell us a couple different things. Google will back fill the 7 pack with three purely local results, which means there is an opportunity for sites that will probably have weak organic ranking factors are decently optimized for local.
The lower ranking organic results have a potential opportunity to get promoted above other organic results by improving their local ranking factors. So, as an example, #10 would be able to jump above #7 and #8 using the organic counting method, with some solid local SEO efforts. Overall, #10 could jump just behind #9, which would help it gain five spots.
There are two different algorithms in play on Google, and they both overlap each other. Local is no longer a purely independent consideration, and “blending” is a dynamic process that can give new possibilities to other sites that would fit the search query. We could be seeing more “verticals”, including Knowledge Graph – these features will begin crossing over into the organic results, effectively modifying them with specialized sub-algorithms.