What are the implications for SMBS of Google Integrated Local Search Result Tests?

Since the beginning of July I have been writing about Google’s test to radically change the display of local search results on the main search results page. Miriam Ellis of Solas Design decided she really wanted my opinion not just my screen shots:

I’d like to ask the million dollar question, though: what do YOU think of this? In your mind, would this represent an improvement for users/business owners, a step backwards, something else? I know you like to report all this fascinating news with the measured voice of reason, but I wouldn’t mind some editorial opinion on this subject from you.

Ok, Miriam, I’ll bite.

While I personally find floating objects annoying, I don’t see many down sides to the local business. I think Google is making an effort to bring forth the most relevant local results and that is good for all.

– Local Results are highlighted on the page and are now more visually obvious than general search results
– Generic directories are pushed down in the SERPS leaving more local results above the fold
– The map floats down the page, not always adding context but always reminding folks to think local
– Ranking, which is always the most interesting to folks, appears to favor local businesses

Negatives (nothing too surprising here):
– Businesses that had two mentions on the front page will now have one
– If a business doesn’t yet have a website they will likely loose out on local search all together
– If they have a poorly designed website with flash or a welcome page that masks the site they will loose standing
– More opportunities for a searcher to visit something other than the business website

Local is all about customer acquisition and not click throughs. While there very well could be fewer website visits I think for the most part, customer acquisition one way or the other will not be altered for most businesses.

But this isn’t just about ranking, whether a business has a website, whether the directories are less visible or that the searcher might go to TripAdvisor instead of the business website. The point that most folks seemed to have missed is that Google is pushing their sentiment analysis to the front and center of the main search results. Is this a benefit or a drawback for local businesses?

Google is attempting to summarize ALL user sentiment about a given business in one sentence and hanging it out there for the world to see on the front page. This can be great for those businesses that have exemplary customer care histories reflected in their reviews. But for those on the margins? Watch out!

Here is a sample search of the test results that demonstrates the potential implication of showing sentiment analysis on the front page (click to view larger):

(To see the full screen shot click here.)

Now compare this result to what a searcher sees of Motel 8 in the current view (click to view larger):

(click here to view full screen shot)

My sense is that a very large percentage of activity around the 7-pack comes from calls. That may or may not still be the case if this new display goes into affect. But at least in this search result, the businesses being called could very well be a different one.

Super 8 has obviously invested in SEO for both organic and local and made all the changes that were necessary to succeed. They have done so because, by complying with Google’s rules, it was worth their while.

Obviously, reviews and review management will only increase in importance in the reality defined by this new SERP.

But imagine a Google defined marketing world where, to do well, a business not only needs to invest in SEO but in customer service upgrades as well.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
What are the implications for SMBS of Google Integrated Local Search Result Tests? by

22 thoughts on “What are the implications for SMBS of Google Integrated Local Search Result Tests?”

  1. Mike: That is a great observation. My experience is that there are still very very very few visits to the Places Page. Reviews on the Places Page are rarely seen. Google’s “sentiment analysis” is rarely seen. (It would be great if others would comment on this from their accunts). Of the great volume of visits to a number of businesses–by far and consistently, I see relatively few visits to the Places Page.

    Placing that synopsis of reviews in Google.com/organic results…gives the information a “yelp like” element in which reviews are highlighted.

    Now that is attention grabbing!

    Of interest; Again and again I see tons of restaurant websites that either have an intro page (what a waste) or lots of flash. The world of restaurant website designers, simply isn’t focused on optimization (either for organic or local). So if a few select restaurants in a market break that mold they would have a significant search advantage in that market, should one of these experimental versions of local/organic/local become predominant.

    Of interest, when I look at high volume searches attached to a city or town name, again and again, one of the high volume searches in that community is for restaurants, (along with hotels and apartments)

    Hmmm….now there is an opportunity. 😉

  2. Eventually, 90% of Google 1st page results will be under “paid” results status or option to “paid” results (Google Maps tags).

    Remember- they want money..

    probably the bottom of the 1st page will be “free”/ organic & of course all other pages (2nd & up) will be organic as well.

  3. Basically, Googles idea to promote only those businesses who “deserve” it because of a huge volume of positive reviews, which can be reflected using sentiment analysis, is good… why should Google send the users to local businesses with bad customer care and lousy products? (Good User Experience = more clicks on AdWords, etc.)

    Those SMBs who already have taken care now for a while about SEO, and the relatively new aspect “Google Places Optimization”, but who never really cared about their customers and/or services, will now see what a bad idea that was, to rely only on No. 1 Rankings. These will soon see a significant drop in leads and customers… The rest will be visible… if not with their own (flashy, poor or whatsoever) website, but for sure with their Google place page – and those will become even more prominent, if the new SERPs will be rolled out…

    I can’t imagine, that Google will accompany AdWords on page one with even more “paid” local results… those local results, who “deserve” it, will still be shown on top and if they want, they will pay for additional “Tags” who might be able to draw even more attention to these top listings… and finally there you might be right: They will pay, that’s for sure 😉

  4. I’ll chime in with Earlpearl – from what I’ve seen, people rarely make it to the Places page.

    But the issue that I think deserves the most attention is the combination of a business’ local and organic listing into one. From the limited data I have, clicks to the website from Local (either within the Places page or from the universal local listing in the main web results) account for ~10% of Google organic traffic, versus ~90% from the non-local organic listing.

    Obviously, that doesn’t count phone calls that originate from the local listing, but still makes me question why Google would take away something that so many people are clicking on. Perhaps they think people are becoming more accustomed to the local listings and with a change in presentation would be more likely to click through from there. I wait eagerly for the results!

  5. I have a client in Canada who’s business location resides outside the boundaries of the city they service. Organic results (#1) treat them quite well. For a while, with some trickery, they were able to be in the local 7pack (again at #1) but once Google got its hands on Canadian postal code map data our tricks no longer worked and big G realized they were not actually inside the city limits and certainly not close enough to city center to be permitted in the 7pack any longer.

    Traffic, calls and emails saw no significant drop after getting booted out of the map results, thankfully. And boy oh boy is that telling, at least for that category of local business (a plumber would tell you the exact opposite).

    This business has enjoyed their nice organic rankings for the past 4 years. They grew with it and a few competitors, that they have good relationships with, benefit as well as they spin off excess leads to them and/or sub-contract them to help with larger projects.

    But soon it looks like they will be shut out of organic traffic and unless they move to a location inside the city, and near the city center, they still won’t be on the map. ouch.

    Google likes to say they want to show the most relevant results possible. A nice goal to aspire too. But reality is – for a business to be relevant they need to do what it takes to “appear” relevant inside Google’s rose colored glasses. And they need to change that appearance as Google adjusts the tint on those glasses.

  6. “for a business to be relevant they need to do what it takes to “appear” relevant inside Google’s rose colored glasses”

    Stever, I couldn’t possibly agree with this statement more. I wish that Google’s ranking was in fact based more on their “sentiment analysis” and reviews, but the reality is (for me at least) that it is not. It would be nice if they played a bigger role, because that would indeed indicate that they are producing the “best results” for their searchers. But with the ability to spam these at will, I can understand why they do not. It seems to me that things such as data confusion and keyword stuffing business names play a much bigger role. These are the types or problems that really concern me about the new layout. Because one can be incredibly hard for SMB’s to control and the other is against Google’s said “quality guidelines”. Until Google becomes better at controlling the “quality” of their data, I am fearful that the new layout will only encourage spamming of Place Pages to an unprecedented level. If this is not dealt with effectively and efficiently, users will begin to expect useless and untrustworthy results and turn to another source for their local business information.

    Before Google pushes this product to a new level, they need to step up and take some responsibility for the amazing product they have created. With great power comes great responsibility and I do not believe they are fulfilling that responsibility as of yet.

  7. @Earlpearl
    Yes, this will even reduce the need to go into Places more as more of the answer is right there. In addition the alternative links to Tripadvisor etc might also detract from Places.

    I have no idea why restaurants are so enamored with flash

    I am with @Sebastien on this one. I think Google will create more opportunities to show ads but will not show more ads per page…at least in the near term.

    @Sebastien – well said!

    Obviously this is a test not a final product. As Greg Sterling noted that Google said: “We want people to find what they want. We’re going to present the best places from various sources.”

    @Stever- on some percentage of the new results, organic listings showed in the top three spots. That implies that the algo weights organic and local listings and if the organic listing is strong enough, it will still show.

  8. I find less than 5% CTR to the Places page. I think G recognizes this; thus all the new testing.

    Overall, I like the look of the changes, and from an SEO perspective it’s fine by me.

    However, I agree that ultimately the idea is to allow some form of monetization “just below” the link: tags?, ads?, something else?

  9. Mike, that’s encouraging that they are testing layouts that include a few organic results up top. If they were really smart they could infer from usage patterns those local business categories where users more often go to the organic results and give the organic listings a little more screen time there. While for other categories give the preference to the local listings. But determining the usage patterns might prove difficult. Categories where users rely heavily on the map listings but far more often tend to start dialing phone numbers instead of clicking links might mask that behavior since Google cannot detect what those users are doing.

  10. Hey, wow and good morning to you, Mike! This post was excellent to read and thank you so much for answering my million dollar questions. I really appreciated this post.

    Now, may I ask a question about one detail, above? You say:

    “If a business doesn’t yet have a website they will likely loose out on local search all together.”

    How do you figure this? Couldn’t a future website (not yet built) eventually do well, what with results being a fluid thing (changing over time)? Or, is there something about the new hypothetical results that will actually bar future businesses from inclusion?

    Again, many thanks for this reading treat.

  11. @Miriam

    Sorry I wasn’t clear.

    I was referring to the current situation whereby a business without a website could still do well in the 7-Pack.

    For example on the search for San Francisco Bakeries there is a bakery in the 7 Pack called Golden Gate. In the test results they don’t show up.

    They would have to build a website to gain any presence.

  12. This is a very interesting situation. I still haven’t seen this experiment in my neck of the woods.

    I would think there would be lots and lots of experimentation. Google has boat loads of data on existing patterns of user actions based on millions of searches and clicks. These current phenomena are new, experiencing some changes in presentation. Its a TBD situation, at least in my mind.

    Based on Mike’s find that the experiment shows combinations of organic and local listings…and that smbs w/ higher rankings in both categories tend to rank higher it leads me to two notions:

    1. Bigger businesses w/ a bigger budget for seo will do better. If you really want higher listings you’ll need on page optimization, links to compete in a competitive environment for organic rankings and then citations, and UGC with links to do well in a competitive Local ranking situation. In a competitive environment, its a lot of effort.

    2. And w/ that observation…..that is a real opportunity for the local seo group/especially w/expertise in both areas.

    3. Thirdly it becomes an added incentive for a business to be in direct communication w/ google via claiming its listing.

    and once that business is in communication w/ google..it opens the door for google to direct sell PPC.

    Its all interesting.

  13. @Sebastian, sure that could work, Google could track calls from maps that way, but how many small businesses are using Google Voice numbers? And how much does that screw up citation sources if they switch to Google Voice just for Maps/Places?

  14. I can already see my competitors or some scumbag SEO company paying some one in the Philippines or India to trash my business and knock me out. BAD IDEA! Don’t do it Carter. It invites bogus reviews and hurts small business.

  15. Hi,

    My client has a professional with only a web site and no Places entry.

    google pulls them up with a Map and more about this place at the moment. And they have lots of organic results through multiple domains and directory listings.

    Without a Places entry will they loose out?

    Or does the scraped web site ‘count’ as a Maps result and is equivalent to a Places entry?

    Cheers. Andrew.

  16. @Andrew, they ave an unclaimed Places listing in the system. Yes it counts as a Map result. It is a Places entry, just uncliamed and not residing within a Places account.

    Google pre-populates its local index with data from various yellow pages directories and such. The more about this place links you see in that unclaimed listing are the various directory listings Google has found that use the same location info (phone number and address).

    You client needs to claim his listing. At top of Places page for that biz you should see a “business owner?” link. Click that to go through the process of claiming it. Is also the first step towards optimizing it.

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