Google Place Search and how it affects your SEO efforts

On the 27th October Google updated how it displays local search results. In summary, no longer are local results restricted to a specific section at the top of the page. Instead, they are integrated into the main ‘natural’ listings.

It is clear that this is a major shift for Google and users alike. It is one that some are celebrating as a triumph whilst others condemn as a step too far. So what does it mean for website owners and what will be the impact?

Normal search results are pushed out of the top 10
Firstly, and most importantly, because the local (now known as Google Place results) are integrated into the natural listings, they inevitably push natural search results down the page. Take the screenshot below as an example, searching for “driving instructor Brighton”:

You will notice that the closely packed local search results (known as the ’10 pack’ and then subsequently the ‘7 pack’) traditionally found at the top of the page are gone. Instead, the local (or Google Place) results are now integrated with the normal, natural search results. In essence, there is no immediately obvious distinction between local and the normal search results.

In the example below, the Place results not only dominate the top of the search engine results page (SERP) but they are actually taking the place of “natural” search results that would have traditionally appeared. The result is that just four natural search results actually make it onto page one of the SERP. This is really good news if you have your local search listings in order. However, it is bad bad news if you don’t have a local presence and have instead worked hard to get your site ranking naturally in the main SERP’s.

Adwords ads pushed down and obscured by the new map
You will also notice the map on the right hand side. Not only does this map push ads in the 4th spot further down the page it also obscures them as it moves down the page as you scroll. This makes it much harder for users to notice and access your ads if you are not bidding for a top 3 spot. This will inevitably make it more competitive and expensive for paid search ads to appear in the top 3 in what some consider to be an already over inflated market.

However, its not all doom and gloom for paid search as the new format keeps users on the main SERPS page (previously when clicking on a local result you would be taken to the map page that contained limited real estate for paid ads). This may mean a higher number of ad impressions but only time will tell if this negates the impact of the map.

Customers reviews are more prominent
You will notice that customer reviews are now a more prominent feature with the new listings. These reviews may be pulled from a variety of sites including Yelp, Thomson local and Tripadvisor to name a few.

It is acknowledged by most experts that click through rate is one of the many factors Google adopts in its ranking algorithm. A strong local listing with plenty of positive reviews is therefore likely to attract clicks, highlighting the need to encourage customer reviews on relevant websites (ensuring they are likely to be positive of course!). In theory, positive reviews = more clicks = better click through rate = better rankings.

Local results showing for non local search terms
Google also appears to have a greater understanding of intent. From what we have seen over the last few days Place results are featuring more regularly for searches that do not necessarily contain a location term (even though Google claim this not to be the case).

This will mean that general search results may be cannibalised or improved based on which side of the fence you sit on.

What does this all mean?

Google have confirmed that local and general search algorithms have been merged, which essentially means there is no going back. Google Places, and the change to SERP layout will be here to stay. It is therefore essential that you have your local listings in order as soon as possible. We recommend the following action points:

1. Make sure you have a Google Places listing set up for your business. If you already have a Google Maps / Local listing set up within a Google account you should now notice it is called Google Places – you may need to reclaim it and certainly you’ll be able to add more information about your business, including relevant keywords.

2. Review the placement of your paid ads and adjust your bidding strategy accordingly if you find you are receiving fewer clicks.

3. Ensure you are monitoring your online reputation. With customer reviews being more prominent, you need to both encourage reviews but also monitor what is being said about your products, services or brand.

Have you noticed any changes to your search engine rankings, paid search performance or traffic as a result of this change? Get in touch and let us know.

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