People have reported seeing the “7-pack”, or local integrated listings under Universal/Place Search, in Google SERPs less in the past few days (reported on Search Engine Roundtable and WebmasterWorld). I’m seeing some similar cases where local queries are not invoking the business listings as I would’ve expected previously (such as for “Memphis locksmiths”).
So far, one of the prime theories in the discussion forums is that Google might’ve done that in advance of their antitrust hearings in Washington this week, in order to appear less aggressive by allowing more competitor directory pages to rank higher. I find that theory hard to believe, although it’s possible.
However, another theory is that this could be linked-to the recent rumors I earlier reported upon regarding Google planning to launch some “big changes” to Google Maps on October 1st. I opined that this could tie into their planned release of Google+ pages for businesses, and I think that’s still the case.
If Google were merely showing fewer local listings in the SERPs, I might suspect that they could be planning to start adding in slots for more paid listings (ads), but the test queries I’ve been submitting today are just not invoking local business listings at all.
Of course, this could be preparation for some other, unrelated UI development iteration, or it could be some temporary issue involving syncing up of information between data stores used in composing the search results.
I also earlier reported on how Google Trends was showing a considerable drop in visits for yellow pages sites like Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, Yelp,com, Citysearch.com, and WhitePages.com. Is that somehow related? An SEO at one of those sites I spoke with reported to me that they didn’t see any reduction in their Google referrals lately, and they suggested it could be a lag in Google’s data processing. However, I’d expect many other sites to show the same dip, and it’s notable that Yellowbook.com is not showing the same trend line at all. Conspiracy theorists might suppose that Google saw that their changes were smacking their yellow pages competitors’ traffic, so they throttled back the instances where local results are invoked, allowing the IYP sites to pick up some slack. It will be a while before that data shows up in Google Trends, however, so this all must remain supposition for the time being.
Another, more credible explanation to my mind for some IYP sites tanking in visits would be if they have somehow lost some rankings, perhaps due to one of the Panda Updates. Still, that doesn’t explain the reported discrepancy in what Google Trends is showing, versus what that in-house SEO reported to me. It’s possible that in Google’s chopping-off of many of their experimental projects that Google Trends maintenance is suffering as well.
Whatever the case, all of this adds more credibility to the idea that Google might be planning to roll out some substantial change to the local search results very soon. There may be interesting days ahead…