Google rolled out a huge change to their local search results. The Google Place Search represents a total rethinking of Google’s local user interface, as well as Google’s local ranking algorithms.
The most obvious visual change is the absence of the famous “7-pack” of local results – while the 7-pack used to be hugely important to local SEO, the entire local “one box” is now gone, replaced with integrated place pages and web results. Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land outlines many of the interface changes – it really is a huge overhaul.
Less obvious, but even more important for marketers, is the change to Google’s local ranking process. Previously, local rankings and general rankings were determined by separate algorithm. Under the new place search, local and general ranking systems have been merged.
With the new blended local results, Google places pages take on an even greater importance – Places pages are displayed prominently in the SERPs, basically guaranteeing increased traffic and usage. Hover, purely organic ranking signals, which used to have little impact on the 7-0pack, have now become much more important. Local businesses can no longer ignore on-page SEO in favor of local SEO. The classic SEO factors – title tags and inbound links, are now local factors too.
Ranking for local searches now requires a more complete strategy – you need a solid Google Places page, with as much information as possible, as well as (hopefully positive!) user reviews. but you also need a well SEO’d website, solid inbound links and strong keyword targeting.
Although the change seems to bring in additional complexity, local businesses who’ve been working on best-practice SEO shouldn’t be negatively affected. In fact, the increased SERP real estate, a reduction of “MapSpam”, and a more comprehensive local algorithm should actually offer greater opportunities for savvy local businesses and marketers.
What about AdWords?
AdWords advertisers seem to have simultaneously gained some and lost some with the new Google Place Search. with the loss of the 7-pack, the top 3 AdWords results gain some additional prominence – Matt McGee of smallbusinessem.com says “Google will compensate by showing more paid ads in the middle column above the local listings…AdWords visibility is, to some degree, replacing local listing visibility”.
However, those AdWords advertisers who can’t get in the top 3 positions have definitely lost some visibility – not only are the AdWords side links dropped down hundreds of pixels (under the map), the map continues to move down as users scroll. David Mihm noted, “It seems to be that by far the biggest losers (other than the spammers) in this new interface are AdWords advertisers from position four on down…”
Although local businesses using proper web marketing should welcome the new local search, some other websites and businesses definitely got the short end of the local stick. The future of Internet Yellow Pages seems shaky – although the current place search doesn’t eliminate IYPs, it seems clear that Google wants to send more traffic to AdWords and Place pages, and less to Yellow pages. In his post Dead Fingers Walking, Andrew Shotland points to the crux of the issue – Google wants IYPs local data – reviews, addresses, hours of operation, but Google wants that content on Place pages, without having to send traffic outside of Google.
Whatever your stance on Internet yellow pages, clearly some of Google’s local partners will benefit from place search. Google approved sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and CitySearch get “reviews” links straight from Goiole SERPs – but as David Naylor points out, “Where does that leave sites like Simon Seeks or Holiday Check? They’re not bad sites by any means, but they’re suddenly standing outside the charmed circle that Google has drawn…” In this case, Google’s actually choosing which sites appear in the SERPs, rather than just algorithmically crunching data – this is a huge shift sway from the standard crawling and ranking.Practically Speaking…
The SEO community will no doubt soon have figured out more comprehensive details on the specifics of place search rankings – smart marketers are paying attention. Local businesses should do fine with place search, they may even do better.
If you’re running a small business, the same white-hat best practices for local SEO should win out. If you’re involved with Internet Yellow Pages, keep in mind that Google might be getting ready to steal your lunch.