New Place Search Shows Google’s Commitment To Local

Today Google formally rolls out its new presentation of local results, called “Place Search.” It offers a dramatic change to the look and feel of SERPs on Google.com. The first and most obvious change is that the “7 Pack” is gone. And there appear to be some fairly major SEO implications, which should provide many hours of enjoyment for the SEO community as it tries to reverse engineer the algorithm.

The changes won’t come as a surprise to close Google watchers. A number of people previously spotted Google testing these pages in the wild and have written about them in some detail, including Chris Silver Smith, Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm and Andrew Shotland. Google sees the changes as an extension or evolution of universal search in the local context.

Google said that the algorithm has been improved and refined for Place Search. We also shouldn’t see any more of the “mapspam” that has plagued the 7-Pack in the past. Previously the local and general search algorithms were distinct. I asked whether they had now been consolidated or merged in this new release and was told “yes.”

On to the physical SERP changes. The best way to make this concrete is to show the “before” and “after” pages.

Place Search

Immediately below are two screenshots for the results to the query “San Francisco Dentist.” The first page below is an “old” SERP with my annotations. Below AdWords comes the “7 Pack,” which is followed by mostly local web results. This was the “old” arena for third party local SEO.

Here’s the new page for the same local dentist query:

Visually the page has changed quite a bit. The map has been moved to the right column and “floats” or scrolls down the page as users move down results. The 7-Pack is gone, as mentioned, and a richer presentation of local results with images fills the entire SERP.

Selected third party sites referencing the particular dentist are “clustered” with the listing. From my spot checking, these clustered sites appear to be mostly the same sites that appear on Place Pages under “reviews from around the web.”

As mentioned Place Pages now appear with each listing on SERPs. This will raise the profile of Place Pages considerably and increase usage accordingly.

In my quick checking yesterday it seemed that I was seeing the map and local results appear more frequently than I remember for ambiguous or category queries without geo-modifiers. I asked about this and Google said that there should be no more local results and no fewer web results after these changes. However for this particular dentist query some of the general web results in the “before” version appear to be “missing” or replaced by local listings. I clicked through to pages 2 and 3 and didn’t find them.

I did, however, find the same web results continue to show up in response to a query for “sushi.”

Places Mode

In cases of ambiguous queries, if Google isn’t sure whether users are seeking local information, there’s another type of result that will appear, which Google refers to as “Places Mode.” This SERP may show some local information (indicated by the red pushpins) intermixed with general web results. Here’s an example for the query “museums”:

To see just local results, you can now click the “Places” icon in the left vertical nav, which replaces “Maps.” Previously, clicking Maps took users directly into Google Maps. Like the other icons Places is now a filter that triggers new results and keeps users on the Google.com SERP.

Here’s the same “museums” result after being filtered by Places, which brings up the all local Place Search results:

Implications of Place Search

How should we think about Place Search and its impact on users and “the market”? Is it a major change? Is it merely incremental? Beyond the significant visual changes to the page, as I suggested I think there are going to be some fairly major SEO implications flowing out of this.

Local SEO was starting to focus on “getting into the 7 Pack.” That’s all gone now. Now, fully fleshed out Place Pages will assume much greater importance, as will being present and reviewed in the various sites featured in the “clustered” links. I’m sure someone will put together a pretty comprehensive list quickly but Yelp is one of the winners here, as are Citysearch, Insiderpages, Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, Yahoo Local, Judysbook and others depending on the category. I will leave more nuanced SEO discussions to others more knowledgeable than I.

I’ll say one more thing however. Third party publishers (such as local and vertical directories) that had been relying on Google for traffic found some time ago that the available space for their links was diminished by the 7-Pack. Now that the 7-Pack is gone how will they be affected? Unfortunately for them they may be shut out almost entirely unless they’re among the clustered third party links associated with each listing.

Take the following example for “Denver Plumbers.” The first screen is the “old” page, with the highlighted section showing a link to directory Superpages.

The new Place Search features only local businesses on the first page. Again, unless publishers are among the clustered links they will likely have to resort to paid search now to gain exposure on page one of Google. I haven’t had time to do extensive or systematic checking on this, but I would imagine this pattern carries through across all local categories.

Upon further investigation I was able to find a couple of instances where directory sites sill appeared so the impact on local publishers may not be quite as severe as it appears at first blush. In the context of a search for “Chicago Dentists,” for example, I found a Yelp and Superpages link above the local results:

Google’s Commitment to Local (and Mobile)

In the near future these SERPs will also come to mobile search. But more generally the changes reflect Google’s commitment to local and its overall importance in Google’s strategy and product development.

Google began its discussion with us yesterday with a repeat of its previously released statistic: “More than 20 percent of searches on Google are related to location.” The key words in that sentence are “more than.”

By making local results (and Place Pages) more prominent than even they were before, users will likely respond with more local queries and rely on Google more heavily for local information. The overall volume and percentage of queries on Google seeking local information may in turn increase.

Stepping back and looking at the totality of Google’s efforts in local and local-mobile I’m struck by the scope of the commitment that Google has made. From Android and local-mobile search to Place Pages improvements, to the new simplified Boost ads, Click2Call, location extensions and expandable map ads in mobile — and now Place Search — it’s more than impressive, it’s totally comprehensive.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Mobile | Google: Web Search | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://www.Match.ccom simons1321

    Greg, I’m so confused by this post.

    Does Google automatically send a user to the Place SERP when you type in a Geo related query?

    In some of your examples it looks like you’re specifically in the ‘Places’ results and other times your looking at the ‘Everything’ results. It’s like you’re comparing Apples to Oranges.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    simons1321 – Just as Google has done for a while now, for some keyword searches like “pizza” or “auto repair” which are typically going to involve local businesses, Google will display some of the results from Google Maps. Up until now, these were displayed embedded in the regular search results as a map-plus-listings, such as a “7-Pack”.

    WIth the change Greg is showing above, they’re now making these local business listings larger, and they’re taking the place of what were previously the “organic” listings on the page.

    As Greg outlined, in cases where it’s clearly a local query such as “Fresno Florists”, it’ll apparently be a page of almost all local business results. In other cases, where the query may not be clearly local only, such as for “museum”, Google may display fewer local listings interspersed with the regular keyword search organic results.

    I hope this helps clarify!

  • http://kirker.com jkirker

    This is a total game changer…

    Will the SEO/SEM world ever be the same after this? I think not.

    This is great for small local businesses who don’t have the funding to hire in-house online marketing staff. What are the implications to national brands who compete with local businesses?

    Location based directory sites are hosed me thinks – unless reviews are accepted into Google’s fold.

    What do you think? Am I out of line?

  • MarkSchell

    This seems like big time bad news for a lot of 3rd party marketing companies that focus on driving local traffic through high organic results. It seems to me that organic ranking will be obsolete for local searches.

    What happens to the electrician who’s physical address is in Pasadena, but also services Glendale, Los Angeles, and Riverside? His/her 3rd party marketer got him listed for those local searches organically, now he doesn’t have a shot at getting found for any locations outside of the city where he’s physically registered.

    Also, what do you think the fate is for geo-domain owners who count on local organic ranking for lead gen?

  • http://www.simpartners.com phixed

    I miss the days when Google didn’t name major changes to their algorithm or SERPs and we were free to collectively coin them ourselves. It would be more fun to call this something over the top like “The Halloween Nightmare Update” instead of “Place Search.”

  • http://bit.ly/a9JY7e Dennis Brennan

    Sort of kinda figured something was coming down the road about 2 months ago when I was seeing the above layouts in various stages on multiple operating systems and multiple browsers.

    Time to dig in yet again…

  • http://bit.ly/a9JY7e Dennis Brennan

    Also, the tile is coming from the actual website, not the places page name.

    What this means is that those who don’t have a website, are left out in the upcoming cold weather landscape!

    Who needs a website for tomorrow morning? I have all night available…

  • http://bit.ly/a9JY7e Dennis Brennan

    I need to correct myself, as I went to a XP w/Chrome, the places listings are A-G below 3 sponsored & 3 natural listings and a News listing which puts them (dentist search term) below the fold. Map is on the right and floats but covers up the PPC ad’s?

    The titles are NOT coming from the actual website (for the time being)…

  • http://www.enhancementtechnology.co.uk andy1005

    This strikes me as a major change in one way but we’ve been talking to our clients about having as full a listing as possible in their Google local lisitng and getting 3rd party review on local sites.

  • Against Evil

    It’s both a predatory and reprehensible move from Google. I wonder whether Yellow Pages & directory owners realize that aggregating their reviews, (Your current most valuable asset) is only going to offer short term gain until Google gathers enough of it’s own review data?

    Crawling becomes scraping when your monetizing a vertical and closing down the democracy of the web.

    The effects on the search economy at large are going to be great, redundancies and job losses at global Yellow Pages companies will follow shortly after. Business owners who were invested in search marketing are now resigned to ridiculous algorithmic advantages such as centroid.

    Shame on you Google.

  • http://brianjbarron.com brianjbarron

    My thoughts mirror MarkSchell’s exactly.
    “What happens to the electrician who’s physical address is in Pasadena, but also services Glendale, Los Angeles, and Riverside? His/her 3rd party marketer got him listed for those local searches organically, now he doesn’t have a shot at getting found for any locations outside of the city where he’s physically registered. ”
    Can’t wait to find the workaround for that.

  • http://bit.ly/a9JY7e Dennis Brennan

    Local listings are showing the actual website title & description with the associated balloon letter and the places link below the review links or just on it’s own if no reviews.

  • http://www.jeremypost.com/ jeremypost

    As the feature rolls out to all users, SEOs will probably still want access to the old-school version of SERPs for local searches. I found a simple hack to disable Google Place Search: Just add &esrch=LocalMergeImpl to the end of your Google search URL.

  • toptones

    This is my question too: “Also, what do you think the fate is for geo-domain owners who count on local organic ranking for lead gen?”

    Anyone have an answer?

  • ChristinaS

    As a marketer, I’m interested to see how this plays out relatively to the Sponsored Listings. Particularly the Places Mode where the map displaces the top 3 ads on the right-hand side of search results. I tested a number of general searches that didn’t seem to be geo-specific at all to me (eg. shoes, flowers, pets) and the map was there.

    In theory, this makes getting in the top ad positions (showing above the natural results) even more important, since ads that don’t make the cut will be below the fold. That could drive up CPCs on more general terms if advertisers try to be more aggressive outbidding each other for those positions.

  • http://bit.ly/a9JY7e Dennis Brennan

    Could you elaborate a little more toptones with an example: “what do you think the fate is for geo-domain owners who count on local organic ranking for lead gen?” ? A website without a physical location in a community?

    –Dennis

  • http://www.channelford.com channelfordassociates

    Some types of localized businesses are less likely to have websites at all, even in this age. I wondered how it might affect their results with Google Places. Interestingly, when I searched for dry cleaners in my local community of Westlake Village, California, the first page of organic results now includes entries whose only presence is their Google Places listing without a website. These same businesses may have been in the “7 Pack” before, but this is the first time I have seen businesses without websites on the first page of organic results, all by themselves, with no “help” except their name addresses and phone numbers being indexed by Google Places.

    I am glad that I operate a local marketing agency, and do not work for a third party directory publisher. Those folks must have had an “OMG WTF” moment as soon as they saw this. I suspect that their search volumes may have dropped precipitously overnight.

  • RobH

    @Dennis Toptones was refering to sites like http://www.plumberlondon.co.uk for example.

    This is purely anecdotal, but I’m seeing those still rank in the ‘old’ organic rankings. Obviously as they are geographically specific, the owner has tended to put them in Google Local anyway so they turn up in the new maps ‘organic’ listings too. So they end up with the local map organic listing at teh top of teh page and their geospecific domain listing below the fold in the ‘normal’ organic listings

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Since this happened on Halloween weekend, I vote we name this the “BooGoo” update.

    The big winners here are the local business owners and web strategy advisors who will realize this means a local biz no longer needs to be held hostage by third party directories, yellow page publishers, web site creators, etc. Or even Facebook. These could be seen as optional now, rather than mandatory. I love this change. It makes logical sense as well, as why should Google direct the searcher to a third party directory who has crappy content but a huge SEO budget, when Google can simply direct the searcher to where they were headed anyway. Now go ahead and call me a Google kool-aid guzzler, as always, but explain to me how this is a bad thing? This is brilliant.

  • MelaniePPC

    I find it interesting that there has been no mention as to the impact this will also have on PPC. Since the map now covers the PPC ads as a user scrolls down the page there’s a chance that PPC ads are going to be overlooked. Therefore accruing impressions but potentially receiving less clicks, thus lowering the CTR and ultimately the Quality Score. Does this seem like a concern to anyone else?

    Melanie

  • Ryan Lucia

    So what about “Church”. I search “Church” and i don’t get places but as some of you say google is taking searches that would ultimately result in someone looking for a location and offering Places.

    So I did a search for “Churches” I get “churches chicken”, not places and not local churches in my area. Maybe its me because I believe if someone is searching the broad term “Church” they would be looking for a local church or researching the church for a paper or whatever.

    Funny thing is I know its a money keyword because people actually search “Local churches” and that shows of course “Places”.

    Why doesn’t google offer places for people who search “Church” or “Churches”?

    What can I do to help my church rank better with these circumstances?

  • http://www.onemedical.com tmstern

    Interesting to see how Google will serve up results based on the sequence of words or the specific geo-modifier. For example…would a search for “Physician San Francisco” result in similar listings to “San Francisco Physician” and “Bay Area Physician”? Quick checks are that they are very different….

    Curious if anyone knows whether users search [service]-[geo] or [geo]-[service] more frequently. Any idea?

  • http://ariel1022 ariel1022

    There’s no secret to why Google did this redesign of their first page.
    They were losing money. I read somewhere that they are charging $25/month (initially) for the listings in Places Mode. Where this price stops, nobody knows. This will probably be the replacement for Adwords or Adwords pricing model.

    Chitika reported on one of their blogs that the % of clicks on their Google ads was about
    3-5% on the top 3 adwords spots for a search while the Natural search #1 link was getting 35-41% of the search traffic.

    This is their (Google’s) first page & Adwords weren’t getting the clicks & advertisers were going south because of expensive clicks & poor click thrus. So they pushed the natural results to the 2nd page where no one goes. The pages are longer with (sometimes) the natural search scrolled down to the bottom.

    I am a 3rd party local directory advertising provider & I hate to see all my good ranking results in google go down the drain now that our page one of old is now page 2 SERPs

    Watch out!! Here i come Stumble Upon, Facebook, My Space etc

  • toptones

    Dennis, what I was particularly interested in was impact on lead gen sites.

  • http://swanc.com.au matsby

    From a usability point of view I have to say that the new Places Search represents something of a step backwards.

    The 7-Pack listing had it’s draw-backs for sure but at least all the pins were identified right next to the map. The new “bigger” listings make matching “D” with “D” (for example) a much more Scrolly activity.

    To the novice searcher (if such a person still exists) I could see how the correlation between the new map and listings may be missed entirely.

  • http://EvanHinrichsen EvanHinrichsen

    Am i alone in thinking the scrolling map serves no purpose what’s so ever? From what i can tell in IE it doesn’t scroll but in Firefox and Chrome it does.

    I really can’t see why it needs to move.

    Ariel1022. If your stats are right then it would seem like a good move by Google. I’ve been seeing our generic keyword search results drop. The only way now is to use Boost ads to get visiblity i think.

  • Matt McGee

    Ariel — Google is not charging $25 for a listing in Google Places. It’s free. What you may have read about is a product called Google Tags, which lets business owners advertise/promote their Places listing with a yellow-highlighted message that makes it stand out when compared to other listings. Google Tags is $25 per month. You can read about it here:

    http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=171905

    But again, a Google Places listing is free.

  • http://ukcopywriting.com Martin

    Interesting stuff.

    A quick question.

    The Services Area in your Google Places account. Is choosing ‘Yes, this business serves customers at their locations’ and opting for a say…. 50 mile service area from your location the equivalent of being located in these areas? If not does that at least have an influence on your organic placement chances in those places?

    I’m struggling to see how any company that operates in more than one location has a fighting chance of first page placement anywhere other than on its home turf.

    Any input would be much appreciated.

    Best

    Martin

    Source: What Does Google Places SERP Update Mean for Local Search?

  • IvorPPC

    Can anyone tell me how I am going to explain to my AdWords clients that their Paid Ad which normally appears in the top right hand corner of a SERP has been replaced by a map promoting competitive businesses who are paying nothing to be there?

    What was wrong with the previous layout? There’s an old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

  • PatZ

    My first time here. I must say what a convoluted process it was to register and get back to this page to comment. Very unusual.

  • PatZ

    @EvanHinrichsen -

    I concur. Any auto-scrolling on a page is very annoying – peroid. Reminds me of the old frames.

    It doesn’t always scroll – which is weird.

    If I had a paid ad, I would be pissed that a scrolling map covers up my ad so that emphasis is placed on the free local listings. It boggles my mind what Google was thinking here.

  • http://www.revolutionweb.com revolutionweb

    also got the same question as mark.

    What happens to the electrician who’s physical address is in Pasadena, but also services Glendale, Los Angeles, and Riverside? His/her 3rd party marketer got him listed for those local searches organically, now he doesn’t have a shot at getting found for any locations outside of the city where he’s physically registered.

    - what will be alternative to the SEO geo keywords we targeted till now?
    - can we place more then one location listing to Google?
    - what will be the alternative way to appear on first page on Google, when we’re talking on service companies like carpet cleaning, locksmith. etc.. when the service is made on the clients house, property.

    and the provider is providing services to more then 1, 2 locations.
    will appreciate solutions for this.

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