So, today Google began launching their new “Place Search” feature, as reported by Greg Sterling. For those of us keeping a finger on the pulse of local search marketing, the change was not a huge surprise, since we’ve been watching the testing for quite a while and could predict in advance that it might impact some online directories and small-to-medium businesses negatively.
Place Search is Google’s name for the new interface and layout of local search listings within their regular keyword search results page. If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a screengrab for “florists, los angeles, ca”:
As you can see, the change involves the map moving into the right sidebar. The top local business listings which accompany the map are no longer to the right of the map, but are now integrated into the search results page and occupy roughly the same amount of room as the other listings. Those business listings which coordinate with the map have a lettered pink pushpin icon and some have thumbnail icons which come from their Place Page information. The big impact of the change is that these listings are now counted as part of the number of listings on the search results page, so they seem to have effectively pushed a number of the organic search results down lower and off the page.
Somewhat ironically, the new design moves Google’s local search results into a more traditionally “yellow pages style” design of listing out local businesses within a category.
A number of us local search marketers have been chatting about this sea change via email — early tipster hat-doff goes to Andrew Shotland who first began reporting it to us yesterday.
As changes go, this one will be quite disruptive, particularly to online business directories. Will Google Place Search be “game over” for online yellow pages? It’s early yet to tell, but it certainly scoops up a lot of the lower-hanging fruit where local business queries are concerned. I continue to see referral traffic potential for those companies which are savvy enough to see where there remain good opportunities. However, I’ve had a few online yellow pages companies tell me privately that they are figuring there to be insufficient ROI for them to continue to consider SEO as a major/viable source of revenue.
Some people have commented along the lines of “this removes most of the organic results” from the first page. I want to clarify, since people could have gotten an unclear picture due to how we’ve all been referring to different search result page elements. Up until now, everyone’s colloquially referred to the listings which have appeared below the 7-pack map results as the “organic” results. Actually, these are all “organic” — they’re all appearing due to Google’s algorithmic determination of relevancy and importance ranking criteria as opposed to paid search ads. Perhaps we should now refer to the different results as “local organic” listings versus “non-local organic” listings.
There’s some thought that there could have been some ranking algorithm tweaks for the local results in parallel to these display changes. Steve Hatcher of Axemedia suggested that unclaimed Places may be showing up less:
While I’ve previously noted that claiming your business in Google Places is beneficial, I have found some instances of unclaimed business places in these new results pages while testing today. However, I think Steve could be on to something — it may be that claimed Places may be slightly more preferred in the new design of search results pages.
For small-to-medium local businesses, the major takeaway in these changes is that it’s now much more obvious and critical to bring your “A-game” to your online promotional efforts and ignoring your information appearing in Google Maps is not really an option any longer (if it was prior to this). Your website should be optimized for local search, and you should be familiar with the concepts behind the local search ranking factors. Your website, your presence within multiple other online directories, and your overall online promotion efforts — all of these combined will help to decide if you appear on the first page of search results.
For online business directories and yellow pages, I’m sure this change likely will make you feel some sense of foreboding. However, I still see multiple opportunities even if the complexity and challenges with online SEO are increasing with the introduction of Place Search.
I expect we’ll all have more information and suggestions once the dust has had a chance to settle.