Where Are Google Places Pages Going? To the Index?

Last week when Google Map’s new Place’s pages were introduced it was noted that they were not going to be indexed (there is a great discussion going on at Greg’s blog now) leaving the impression amongst many that they would sit, isolated, in the Maps siloh. They would, it was thought, only be seen to users deep inside of Maps.

Google’s plans seem more ambitious and grand than that. Places pages will, over the next 6 months or so, not only appear across all of Google’s mapping platforms (Google Earth, Mobile and perhaps the iPhone) but they are likely to start appearing in the main search engine results. There they will perhaps push less worthy geo & business brand pages off to the second and third pages of the results, affecting traffic results and business plans for a number of playersPlaces-in-serps.

Peter Wypanski, an SEO in Philadelphia, noted that the Google robots.txt shows a nofollow for Places: Disallow: /places/. Technologist Chris Silver Smith though pointed out on Twitter that a no follow in the “robots.txt doesnt mean Google wont index a page- only that they wont crawl it. Link 2 profile = it’s indexed”.*

And indexed these pages are. If you search on the Burdick Chocolate Cafe Boston, an example that Google disseminated widely during their pre announcement briefings, you will find it on page one of the search results.

Chris Silver added that

“The keyword optimized URLs** appear to be key towards showing the intent: they intend those URLs to be highly friendly, easy for people to send to friends, and they intend the URLs to live for a long while. Very different from URLs we’ve seen heretofore in Google”.

“I think that this is to local what Wikipedia has become for factual information. If you can generate a central page collecting information about every single place in the world, then the world won’t beat a path to your door — you’ll already own the path.”

What are the implications?

With Places Google has managed to scale up an alogrythmically based view of Maps centric data across a multitude of businesses, geographies, monuments etc (and soon real estate listings) in a single sweeping product/technology. Places pages will soon be showing everywhere regardless of platform or software. It may affect IYPs, long tail search plays, affiliate directories and local aggregators. Depending on how Google implements Places in the mobile world, it could have a significant impact there as well.

On a typical geo search on City + State,  Google has done a decent job of finding and displaying relevant resources on the first few results oon the page. If you search on a rural town you will often find the Chamber of Commerce, a government page, a Wikipedia page perhaps a local data aggregators like Americantowns.com or City-data.com. Beyond that the results for city, state searches are pretty thin often showing a hotel aggregator, weather or a Mapquest result. I don’t think for the time being Wikipedia or chamber/government sites will loose their standing but data aggregators on down could stand to loose position and significant traffic.

Remember though, Google has created a platform than can compete not only on these fairly broad geo searches but on the much longer tail of transit stops, monuments and single real estate listings. The value of this type of easily displayed deep content content in the mobile world is incalculable.

In the business results world of long tail brand results those IYPs and directories that have been pure search plays and offer little original content will likely be affected as well. It seems, as in the case of Burdick Chocolate Cafe, that the Places pages for many businesses will rise to the front page of the results on the brand search.

In both situations the quality of the main search results will probably improve AND Google will capture and retain that much more traffic to the interior spaces of Maps.

From Chris Silver Smith‘s email to me:

“For a very, very long time, I’ve suspected one possible future for local search results pages could be Google creating a custom page for local directory results. This looks like a step in that direction, to me. Imagine a future where you type in a local place name, and a standardized info page appears, displaying photos about the place, maps, videos, webpages associated with it, business directory listings, the geocodes, address, and more. We don’t have to imagine that now that Places has arrived, but imagine if at some point these Places pages replace the first page of local search results in regular Google web search. I think that’s a definite possibility of where things could head.”

*In a subsequent email, Chris noted that for a more thorough understanding of how a no follow page can attain page rank you should read Eric Enge’s interview with Matt Cutts where Matt said: “Now, robots.txt says you are not allowed to crawl a page, and Google therefore does not crawl pages that are forbidden in robots.txt. However, they can accrue PageRank, and they can be returned in our search results.”

** Here is an example of the easily formed Google Places keyword optimized URL for Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry in Buffalo NY:

Note the standarized format:

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Where Are Google Places Pages Going? To the Index? by

32 thoughts on “Where Are Google Places Pages Going? To the Index?”

  1. That was a very vital distinction Chris made regarding nofollow.

    I can see that our typical work for SMBs with a local focus will include, from now on, linking to a Place Page from the website’s About Page or Contact Page.

    Now, conversely, if there are errors (wrong StreetView images, coopted reviews, hijacked listings…yes, I’ve been looking at locksmiths) Place Pages may increase the prominence and incidence of user frustration but if, as other Local SEOs are suggesting, Place Pages encourages more SMBs to claim their listings, perhaps some of these errors can be reduced.

    I’m eager to see the full rollout of the more info link.

    Thanks for your coverage of this, Mike.

  2. Mike,

    This is revolutionary and really brings Barnacle SEO to a whole new level. There is no bigger, heavier object than the Big G itself.

    At a minimum every business out to link to its own listing for a reputation management bonus.

    In some case, it might make sense for a business to make this page their home page! I wonder how they would rank submitted to the LBC as a business home page.


  3. @Miriam & Will

    This is big news for sure and I can see the ol’s barnacles attaching as we speak and will change smb local practices. Although we do not really know how Google will rank these pages and whether the effort to highlight them will be rewarding…

    It certainly makes sense as a landing page for many SMB’s if Google allows the url in the LBC and allows Ad campaigns against it. Now in the LBC many uses of the word Google cause the listing to be flagged…

    It could change practices in the Adwords reseller world as well.

  4. It’s speculation on my part, but I think Google could offer to automatically optimize these pages for businesses. The design of the pages lend themselves to automatic optimization and Google certainly has the scale and expertise to do something like this. If that’s their plan, it could be very significant indeed.

    I wrote up a little post outlining my thesis in more detail: Google Place Pages Designed for Optimization.

  5. For what it’s worth, when i ran the Barbara Oliver search, the citysearch and yahoo aggregation pages came up in 3rd and 4th position respectively.

  6. Mike,

    No conspiracy theory here, as I’ve mentioned when we talked Place Pages are not meant to be crawlable with this launch. This was an oversight on our part – we didn’t block all url paths and left maps.google.com/place open. Its now closed in robots.txt and we’ll make sure all other paths are blocked as well


    1. Lior

      I am not postulating conspiracy but trying to understand how this works…IF a Places pages has external links pointing at it with relevant anchor text, it will still make it into the main index (without a snippet attached), right? It could very well, by no act on your part, make it to the front page?

      Obviously this is not as likely to happen with a small business but on some of the prominent geography pages the Places page could take a spot on the main serps?

      I also am not suggesting that this a bad thing. For many “places” content is weak and your index reflects that. Driving people to a Places page from the main serp may be the best aggregation of information available in one spot. Maybe you should take the no follow off and allow these pages to achieve their natural strength based on the world’s view of their importance.

  7. I like your take on this topic, probably one of the more advanced posts on the web right now. I posted about the robots.txt disallowing all pages in the /place/ folder herehttp://bit.ly/R78cN

    But my favorite part of this posts is the parts that show google’s true non-transparency.

    Like the notes by Chris Silver that notes Google’s URL usage being “Very different from URLs we’ve seen heretofore in Google”

    And how foggy and unclear are Lior’s comments of Google’s intentions is this: “place pages not meant to be crawlable with this launch”

    So does that mean we can all calm down and not worry about seeing Google’s own pages in their search results, or is this just a temporary lull until we see Place pages round 2?

  8. I doubt many SMB’s would want a landing page where Google sells sponsored links.

    Burdick Chocolate Cafe might not want visitors to go to:

    Sponsorerede links
    Metropolitan Desserts
    Buy cake by the slice Boston
    Dessert Delivery 617-277-CAKE

    Chocolate & Blue Bedding
    Delicious Deals! Get Chocolate/Blue
    Bedding Sets & More at Low Prices.

    Lead Testing Lab
    Lead, Asbestos & Mold Testing
    AIHA Accredited Lab

    The Cappuccino Connection
    Ghirardelli Sauces & Frappes
    Cocoas-Chocolate Mixes-Mini Chips

    But I guess it makes good sense for Google to have one more go at selling a click.

  9. erm, if the robots.txt states disallow /places/ ..then that means that path won’t get indexed. I don’t see why nofollow is suggested in the paragraph in the blog post above?

    Or am I missing something?


  10. It apparently means it won’t be crawled but if there are external links to the page it will get indexed.

    The result will not have any meta information or page content but it can still appear in the search results. It will show the link text as the title

    In the end analysis, it will have little impact configured this way on the grand scheme of business listings. It could however impact the geo searches if a Places page receives external links.

    Google misspoke when they described how they were handling the pages.

  11. @Ross
    Yes and there are some interesting enhancement that are worth keeping an eye on:
    -Hours now show whether they are open or closed at the moment you look (think realtime mobile filters for “whats open nearby”)
    -The Thumbnail of the StreetView indicates whether Google has you properly geo-coded

    There is more that I will hopefully get to after SMX

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