How Do the “Other” Search Engines Handle Local Search?
We in the local search industry sometimes need a reminder that there’s a world outside of Google. Though we often preach the importance of listing management on sites that get a significant minority share of consumer traffic, from Yelp to Bing to Apple Maps, we spend very little time tracking the habits of platforms other than Google. Google, by contrast, gets minute attention from those who write, speak, and tweet about local, with every new development, however experimental, receiving attention from the community.
I’m as guilty as anyone of this tendency, and of course it makes sense to spend most of our focus on Google, the platform that 89% of consumers turn to for local search, per a recent Bright Local study. But if other sites and platforms still garner millions of visitors, as most of us agree they do, surely they are worth at least occasional attention.
I wanted to look in particular at search engines other than Google and their treatment of local search. I was intrigued by the recent announcements that Bing was making forays into product inventory as a component of local search as well as the launch of Bing Travel, a Google Travel competitor but with a very different approach to destination-based search and discovery. Similarly, recent news about the exponential growth of Brave and DuckDuckGo in our era of privacy impelled me to find out more about their handling of local results.
A Bing Spin on Local
Looking at Bing search results – or Microsoft Bing, as the search engine is now called after its 2020 rebranding – is kind of like looking at Google in an alternative reality. Bing has liberally borrowed ideas from Google over the years but has applied a Bing spin to each of them, generally offering a more visually rich search experience with results that focus more on editorial curation than on data-driven or semantically linked results. As such, Bing is something of a last bastion of the pre-Google search paradigm of curated links first popularized by Yahoo in the 1990s. For some who prefer a human touch, this approach may still hold an appeal, as evidenced by Bing’s 12.6% share of the desktop search market in the U.S. (as of December 2021).
A search for “sushi san francisco ca” reveals many of these characteristics, from an image-heavy carousel at the top of the screen to top recommendations from trusted sources such as Yelp, Eater, TripAdvisor, Gayot, and Michelin. A carousel layout for local results is sometimes displayed by Google as well — Google has experimented with carousels for many years — but Bing seems to have committed to this layout for restaurants much more consistently, and also displayed carousels in my searches for steakhouses in Chicago, Jamaican food in New York City, and barbecue in Austin.
Bing search for sushi in San Francisco
As for data sources, Bing uses its own native Bing Places solution as a primary data source for listings, TomTom for maps, and various sources such as TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Foursquare for reviews and photos. (Bing made heavy use of Yelp until a couple of years ago when that partnership ended.) As we’ll see with our other search engine examples, there’s an interesting knitting together of non-Google sources in many Google search alternatives that mutually strengthens the reach and importance of a loose network of secondary sites.
Bing uses carousels for most restaurant searches, with a small map underneath on the right. A more familiar local pack layout appears for most other types of searches, such as “dry cleaners near me” shown here. You’ll note that the pack has a different look and feel, of course, though the most notable difference is the inclusion of five results by default, in contrast with Google’s typical three.
“Dry cleaners near me” on Bing
Some searches display storefront photos in a manner reminiscent of Google. Interestingly, the storefront photos for Kohl’s and T.J. Maxx in the screenshot below are both UGC photos sourced from Foursquare, and neither seems to be explicitly tagged as a storefront photo. Bing seems to be using AI similar to Google Vision to understand the content of these photos. Supporting this hypothesis, a search for “handmade jewelry san diego ca” showed photos of jewelry in the same position as the storefront photos here.
“Department store near me” on Bing
Like Google, Bing displays Knowledge Panels when the search is specific to a particular business location. Bing’s Knowledge Panel equivalent is very Google-like, with photos and CTAs at the top, contact information, business description, prominent attributes related to health and safety, reviews, and even questions and answers and product inventory. Like Bing’s reviews, its question and answer content appears to come from external sources. In this Bed Bath & Beyond example, questions and answers are sourced from FAQ content on the company’s website.
Despite these similarities, there are notable differences between Bing’s approach to local search and Google’s. A search for house cleaning in San Diego on Bing, for instance, revealed no first-party organic local results at all, instead giving links to third-party recommendations from sites like Thumbtack, Yelp, and Care.com. In the right rail, a featured snippet type display called out Maggy Maids, a house cleaning referral service — rather than an ad, this appears to be a snippet of structured content that derives from a website tagged with LocalBusiness Schema markup.
Right rail featured snippet on Bing for “house cleaning san diego ca”
Local Search on Brave and DuckDuckGo
As with Bing, the local search experience on both Brave and DuckDuckGo, the two up-and-coming privacy-oriented search engines, relies on a combination of external sources, though in the cases of these two platforms there appears to be no native local search data at the center.
Brave debuted its search engine in 2021 and reached 50 million monthly unique users for its product line, which includes a popular browser and an ad platform, at the end of 2021. Its mobile browser grew by a greater proportion than any competitor last year, reaching 10 million downloads and overtaking Firefox in popularity.
Given its popularity on mobile, I looked at the mobile version of Brave’s local search results. A search for sushi in San Francisco shows a layout that looks like a stripped-down version of Google’s local pack.
“Sushi san francisco ca” on Brave for mobile
The map is derived from a variety of sources including Leaflet, Stadia Maps, OpenMapTiles, and OpenStreetMap, and local listing data is sourced from a variety of places including Yelp, The Infatuation, TripAdvisor, and the website of the listed business. Results load very quickly (a Brave hallmark) but are short on details, many containing no more than a photo, basic contact information, and a link to the business profile on the third-party source site. All the types of searches I tried – for attorneys, house cleaning, retail stores, insurance agencies, and more – returned the same three-pack result.
A repercussion of Brave’s concern with privacy is the response when you try to search using the phrase “near me.” The search engine displays a notice saying that anonymous local results are shown, derived from your IP address. The user can manually adjust their location to make results more precise, with Brave claiming it stores neither the IP address nor the manual geocoordinates.
DuckDuckGo is better known than Brave as a privacy-based search alternative; its daily search volume grew from 64 million in 2020 to nearly 100 million in 2021. DuckDuckGo is already fairly well known for being one of the first to integrate Apple’s MapKit in order to deliver local results as well as mapping and navigation powered by Apple Maps.
Similar to Brave, local results are structured in the form of a three-pack without much variation across categories, and data is derived from sources like TripAdvisor and Yelp, though in DuckDuckGo’s case these third-party sources are all pulled secondhand from Apple Maps.
“Dry cleaners charlotte nc” on DuckDuckGo
Like Brave, DuckDuckGo displays a notice when you use “near me” in a search, but in DuckDuckGo’s case you are prompted to share your location with the claim that you are only doing so anonymously. On the whole, Brave and DuckDuckGo are very similar in their approach to local results – they clearly understand that local is a critical component of any useful search engine, but haven’t done much yet to differentiate themselves.
Why Local Search Alternatives Matter
Google’s hegemony in search may seem unassailable, but paradigms change. In this age of privacy, 80% of consumers say the risks of surrendering their data to big companies may outweigh the benefits of those companies’ free services. The growth rates of Brave and DuckDuckGo show that at minimum, a significant minority of searchers are turning to privacy-based alternatives for their search needs, and we can assume local search is coming along for that ride.
If we assume Bing holds its greatest appeal for older consumers who retain an affinity for curated results – research shows that 70% of Bing users are older than 35 – then we can extrapolate that another segment of the population is using Bing at least some of the time to find and discover local businesses.
Taken together, this equates to a proportion of consumers you won’t be reaching unless you spend at least some of your marketing energy on Google alternatives. Luckily, much of the effort needed to capture consumer attention on Bing, Brave, and DuckDuckGo centers around the platforms that power their local data – platforms like Yelp, Apple Maps, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor, who also generate their own native traffic and who should be considered as integral components of a holistic local marketing strategy.