What are the implications of the new integrated Local Search results?

Update: It appears that Google is rolling out the new integrated local that I started writing about in July. They have been reported in Europe and are being reported as widely visible in the US. This was first written in August but it is essentially still valid today.

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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.

Benefits:
- 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 of the new integrated Local Search results? by

114 thoughts on “What are the implications of the new integrated Local Search results?”

  1. What is the average searcher thinking?

    I think they are totally confused but in a strange way, Google is making them a better, more educated online seeker…

  2. My very broad guess is that like the original Local algo, the new algo is designed to provide “improved” results over time…. any given local search trending toward the new organo-local result.

    There is some needed “minimum” of “ranked” websites that have been matched up against Places results for the new results to show. If the industry is low density, the search phrase too long tail, or there are not enough “ranked” local websites, it continues to show the 2,3,5 or 7-pack.

    This sort of algo would “scale” over time as more and as more smbs built good local websites the results would improve and trend toward the blended results.

    That is my working theory. Please critique and let me know if it is a decent “working” model

  3. As a point of clarification in my previous post, when I referred to the “7 pack” or the “3 pack” I was referring to the new “O-Pack” (coined by David Mihm, I think) listing style….

  4. Hi Mike,

    I would like to confirm the working-model you wrote down in Comment 102…

    I was now tracking loads of local keyword-combinations and in most spaces the tendency went towards the new “organo-local” results… When Google Place Search launched, about one third of this keyword-set was display in the classic way, which has now changed (mostly in the last week) and which are now more and more also shown as “local merged” results… It seems (as always with google) to work as a self-improving algo depending on what quality signals are provided.

  5. As a point of “Interest?” It’s interesting to see how the serps and layout of search results have changed over the past 5 weeks, when you now do a search for the original search terms in this post “hotels, utica, ny”.

    With the exception of “#1 Radisson Hotel”, you get a different set of results with a Web/Everything, Map, or Places search.

    And if you tell Goog that your “location” is Utica, NY, do a search for “hotels” you get yet another string of local hotel results (consistent across all 3 search platforms btw, but different from above)

    Interesting….but still somewhat confusing. And if you are foolhardy enough to do a search on Bing-Ahoo, using the “hotels utica ny” you get yet Another string of results with hotels mentioned that Goog doesn’t even list!….. Oie Vey!

    So from a “Searcher’s” standpoint, I guess variety of Hotel choices would be a good thing (aka Goog in a strange way making for “a better, more educated online seeker” mentioned by Dennis in comment 101).

    Although from viewpoint of someone that might have a Client that owns a hotel in Utica and has an vested interest in where his business is listed in Local Search Results, might not agree. Sigh…..

  6. @Dan Lee:

    We SEO’s do have a need for order in the Googleverse dont we, LOL! And by gosh, we’ll keep crunching the numbers until we find that thread that make it all make sense and we have the corner on rankings….Just goes to show you that Local SEO is not for sissies!!!

    I think Chaos Reigns in Googleland! and G is having trouble taming the beast.

    There’s no way to tell what comes next. For example, on one of our top keywords I got the following results — all in the same week which was last week! –

    1) 3rd in a 7 Pack which is sort of a hybrid betwen the old Onebox and New Places Search

    2) A competitor showed as the only listing in a Onebox

    3) 1st in the New Places Search view

    Prior to all of this, we were 1st in the 7 Pack and 1st in Maps. I believe ultimately we will end up 1st in the New Places Search if it will stop morphing back and forth between different views.

    Granted we are in Hawaii and the algo got here last, but it’s been 6 weeks. G, you definitely need to put on more people and get this thing done!

    An interesting note — going back to look at my Plastic Surgeons example above, the map no longer scrolls. Not on any of the examples. I think G figured out they were going to take a hit on the PPC revenue if they covered the side rail display of ads with the map. Smart move. That probably lowers that chance the there will be a bidding war for the top 3 spots, although I do think that PPC prices will go up. Funny how that happens.

    One thing I have confirmed is that Local Rankings were more important than Organic Rankings for ranking in the New Places Search. I have found many examples of this and fewer exceptions. If, prior to the New Places Search, a keyword ranked in the 1st or A position in Maps and 2nd page for Organic, the keyword would show up in the 1st position in the New Places Search. In the reverse situation — the keyword ranked Organically in the 1st postion but was on the 2nd page of Maps, then it didn’t show up in the New Places Search 7 pack.

    Although most of the New Places Search Results seem to be 7 packs, I have seen 4 packs, 9 packs & 10 packs.

    Places Analytics — and what’s up with no Impressions, lots of Actions and no keyword query distribution??? I’m tellin’ ya G, more people burnin’ the midnight oil or the beast will consume you, LOL!

  7. So what can we take away from all of this, if anything, given all the chaos?

    I think we can sift through all the confusion and pull out at least the following insights –

    1) If we have clients that haven’t optimized for Local Search because they are selling nationwide from a single location, check to see if Google is producing a One Box or the New Places Search for any of their keywords.

    G will determine that a keyword is Local even though it is a product that is commonly sold through the internet on a nationwide basis. I have a client that is in the 1st position for a keyword that produces 1 million searches per month. I noticed there is an old style 7 Pack showing now. When I click the Places Icon on the left rail, he doesn’t show up. He’s never optimized for Local in my search area and that is why he doesn’t show for the New Places Search (see my prior post).

    The problem is he doesn’t have locations nationwide, just one location. As Places requires a physical location to set up a Places Page, he won’t be able rank in Places except in his home city. As a result, he will lose business from every other location in the US. The total searches for his area will be a lot less than 1 million so good bye big time $$$’s.

    He has a couple of options — a) he can expand keywords that G doesn’t see as Local and/or b) he can use the hack that Mike Blumenthal discusses here —> http://blumenthals.com/blog/2010/12/07/illusory-laptop-repair-a-most-elegant-googleplaces-hack/. I’m not sure that I would base a whole business on this model and bet on the likelihood that G won’t do some bad thing to him if he does. Sounds like G-Roulette to me. What do you guys think?

    2) A strong Local Optimization program is critical. The whole, long, tedious process — heavy on citation building and covering all the factors that David Mihm lays out here —> http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml .

    Having said that, Organic SEO is still important as many of the Local Ranking Factors are Organic Ranking Factors. In my example in 1) above, Local Rankings will be achieved quickly because of their high Organic ranking. Also, for the New Places Search, I would expect to see a 7 pack with 3 to 7 organic results depending on how much data is merged into the Places listings. That means that it is critical to be in the 1st to 3rd positions, say, for Organic if you want to show up for the Organic results in the majority of cases. In my client’s case, he will be the 1st Organic result and that will likely be the equivalent of showing up in the 8th position in the old Organic Search Results (7 Places results then him in the 1st Organic Search Result). If he did rank for Places, he could get 2 listings on the 1st page, one in Places and one Organic.

    3) And, of course, it will be critical to read Mike Blumenthal’s blog every day to stay on top of all the latest breaking changes in Local SEO so that you lead the pack and your clients so far ahead of the competition that they will never catch up! Of course, that would have gone without saying…….

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