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. Mike,

    I noticed this view one day while I was looking up a business in the Toronto area. If this the view Google will use, do you see it hurting businesses near the bottom of the 7 pack? (assuming that with more information presented on the search results, that the bottom listings won’t be shown above the fold) I’m not convinced that displaying the map on the side is a good move, especially when the CTR of orgnic is higher than paid ads, but correct me if I’m wrong.

    Jackson

  2. There is a new local organic algo combination. It will hurt businesses that were above the fold and now drop below. The value of winning is all the more.

  3. pretty buggy stuff here.
    1 time the search results are displayed the old fashion way, then with map on the right side, and then with map on the right AND description from the site…

  4. Dramatic visibility differences. Wonder how it will all play out with businesses and conversions.

    Hey, Mike: It makes the role of the local SEO expert far more important. Do you know any good ones? :D :D

  5. Thanks for all the info, Mike. Things are definitely changing.

    Around the time I shot you a message on twitter about seeing the results in Lancaster, there was little to no merging going on in the new listings. One local oral surgeon had 3-4 individual local listings, just as they did on the old style.

    Within the past couple of hours, some merging appears to have taken place. Conestogaoms.com changed from three listings to one. Though I notice that they’re appearing in both the local listing (#1 position) and what remains of the organic results (#2 organic) albeit for different pages.

    Interesting stuff. Sites that didn’t make the 7 pack but ranked well organically for geo-specific terms (mainly due to location) are taking an absolute beating.

  6. @earl yes that it will

    @Bede Yes the absolute best spot to be is if you had both organic and local optimized going in. Although it seems that organic can still pull a great local listing down.

  7. Now if they only add/integrate consumer product search results in there. But please not from Google Product Search DB – useless for offline shopping :(

  8. It’s all well and good that we are ‘abuzz’ here in the industry but what we need to do is get the word out to the SMB’s of the world.

    We need to speak their language and stop talking over them. Bottom line is that while this change is truly a “game changer” until the actual business owners are evangelized we will be talking to each other rather than the millions of customers who still don’t know to verify a Place Page.

  9. For those of us who have been catching a glimpse of these changes for some time, I for one thought it would be sooner than later. The lack of places support from G is now rather obvious in that their time was occupied with this needed improvement – change.

    I’m excited, change is always good, thanks for your time and input Mike, I appreciate it.

    –Dennis

  10. My observation on the floating map is one of puzzlement, why would Google cover up their PPC money making ad’s?

  11. @karl I am seeing changes in Firefox. While it may be coincidence it seemed that when i clicked on the Places link on the left side nav of the Google homepage that seemed to ‘trigger’ it. Like I said it may have been a coincidence.

  12. Am I missing something, or has this killed any notion for getting high placement for a local business that services a particular city without actually having a physical location there? I see the potential for huge slides for a lot of the clients I do local SEO for… =(

  13. Hello All!

    First off, a big thank you to Mr. B for his excellent insight on the Goog! Your blog is incredibly helpful and spot on!

    @Karl – Changes are appearing on all browers, but I believe they are still being rolled out across all servers. In my office we do not have static IP’s and some computers are showing new Places layout and some are not regardless of the browser.

    @Dennis – i agree with your comment regarding the floating map covering the PPC ads. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but hey who are we to judge? :)

    @Frank Reed – I agree, but as you said, most people STILL don’t know what the Places means to SMB’s. The changes really only affect those SMB’s who are currently utilizing the service or have SEO companies helping them.

    For one thing, I think this could actually HELP our industry by weeding out those fly-by-night companies who jumped on the Maps Optimization band-wagon and are out there spamming companies for their service at $20 a month! With the new changes you truly have to be entrenched in traditional SEO as well as Places SEO to truly deliver for your clients. I am still on the fence on whether or not I like the layout though. I think it is a little confusing for consumers. It will definitely hinder the “phone call” aspect of local search.

  14. P.S. There are still a TON of “buggy” stuff going on in regards to the layout. Organic listings mixed in with places listings, etc. There appears to be no rhyme or reason at present and I hope that it settles into one, consistent layout.

  15. While Google is certainly living in its own little world when it says that we “won’t be seeing any more map spam” I am noticing some hugely positive changes where spammy listings are ranking much more poorly. I’m going to assume that the majority of this comes from the fact that a spammy “strong” listing doesn’t necessarily mean a well optimized site.

  16. @Dennis
    There never is an excuse for bad customer service… :)

    The sliding map as implemented is actually less disruptive than in the tests as the page now appears to move leaving the map static… who knows the impact it (and Boost) will have on PPC… Matt McGee thinks it will drive the cost per click up.

    @Sebastien and Luca
    Thanks for reporting in from Europe. It is nice to know that it is there and that Google didn’t leave you behind :)

    @Brian
    Long tail organic results from the burbs seem to be impacted on the surface…. I am wondering though whether a strong organic ranking might actually give them a pin on occasion?

    @Zelick
    They are still rolling out today… and yes, Google will make its own decision about the affect that it has on PPC… in the end they may very well profit more.

    I can imagine the agony that Local only optimizers are now facing. Either they have to learn organic real quick or they are toast.

    As to the phone call aspect… you might be right but I think Google will deal with at some point. In mobile they now have call completion as an integral part of the mix..

    And yes it is still quite buggy

    Thanks to all for your comments. I really appreciate the insights from around the world!!!!!

  17. @Mike

    I am still in the dark ages when it comes to my mobile phone, (shame on me, I know). Is the Maps or Places app still the same? This is an integral part of local optimization for those businesses and biz professionals who count on incoming phone calls for new business (i.e. lawyers, insurance agents).

    I believe that mobile search is hugely important for the SMB and am curious to know if the App has changed.

  18. wow this is heavy, quite funny that I just did some work for a company and got them to number 1 on all of their search terms in Local, got paid – now this happens and they’re f*cked! I did tell them them their organic SEO needed lots of work, this echoes those sentiments but I doubt they’ll be happy hearing it!!!!!!!!!

  19. Excuse my language but this is crap specifically for the reason that Google local has so much work to do in not allowing companies to spam the local listings and even getting it wrong where you take the necessary steps to make your local listing show up but it doesn’t even show up. Mike you know what I mean. I might sound contradictive here but I do like the way it looks, there’s more coherence to the way the results are displayed but unless Google is actually able to stop companies from creating multiple listings for one business and not allow verifiable businesses to have listings then Google is essentially making their results un-relevant.

  20. so does this mean that places is now going to grab results in some aspect from a users website?

    im seeing a client go from page 4 (number 42) on google places to number 1 in the 7 pack!
    all the info from the listing is directly from the clients website

  21. @Dave
    For many searches, yes.

    @Donovan
    The spam results are yet to be determined. One thing working in Google’s favor is the extra layering of filtering honed by the organic folks… we’ll see but I expect that some will get thru. How much is the question.

  22. @Zelick

    Google has just announced an upgrade to Google Maps for Android where you’ll see that Place pages on Android Maps share the same new design for displaying reviews as used by Place pages on your computer.

    This upgrade occurred in Places for the desktop on 10/15 with the organo-local results showing up on the 27th… so they aren’t far behind.

  23. Yikes! It’s like a 8.0 earthquake just rumbled thru the Local listings. What a delightfully dramatic Thursday! I’m seeing the new layout in many cities across the US. Sometimes the map scrolls down, sometimes not.

    I’ve got some customers that just got HOSED. Looks like I’ll be needing to drink some serious coffee and investigate this. But it’s the IYP’s that really are getting the shaft. I guess that’s why Google is highlighting the 3rd party reviews so prominently. Wow. They must be scrambling big time.

    Mike, when do you figure the buggy-ness will settle down and do you expect the SERPs to get tweaked more in the coming days/weeks or is what we are seeing what it will be?

    I’m looking forward to your future usual in-depth posts about the specific changes in ranking factors (and what we can do about it). Is it likely that this major change will be followed by a series of smaller updates too? Kindof like aftershocks?

    I might need to put some booze in my coffee.

    Thanks for the post!
    ~ Jeffrey

  24. @Jeffrey

    If you look at the analysis that I did a while back you can see the effective merging of standings between local and organic in the new results.

    The reality is that now, to do well, some one needs a well optimized site AND a well optimized local listing. Doing well in just the local arena is no longer enough.

  25. Mike: One quick observation: Last December you allowed one of my “rants” about volumes of reviews to be printed here: http://blumenthals.com/blog/2009/12/11/google-maps-and-reviews-a-readers-perspective/

    At that time I noted that a dentist was ranking first in the 7pac for a search phrase that included dentist(town name) for 2 searches for 2 adjacent town names. At that time the dentist had 49 reviews which was significantly higher than those of anyone else. Most of the reviews were generated through a communications system developed by Demandforce.

    More recently I performed the same searches. The dentist in question had well over 150 reviews…and was ranking 1st in the 7pac in the town in which the office was located…and 2nd in the 7pac for the adjacent town.

    I looked at the rankings today with the integrated orano-local rankings.

    The dentist in question had over 170 reviews. The site was ranked 2nd in the organo-local mixed rankings in the town in which the office was located. The office was not seen in the adjacent town on the first page.

    In fact I had to go to the third google page to find the dental office in question in rankings when using a search for dentist (town name) . No maps on the 2nd or 3rd pages of organic google.

    I haven’t done anything but a cursory glance at the rankings. Haven’t bothered to dig deep into the “signals” that might generate high rankings or look at the depth of organic seo that might support the website in simple organic levels….but the aspect that had stood out most dramatically as of last December, relative volume of reviews compared to others….seems to have been “dialed down” from a strictly simple observation basis…between last December and more recently.

    More vividly from a simple observational basis….without heavy research…The current “Organo-Local mixed rankings” seem to have mitigated the impact of Google Places rankings by organic factors….both in the town in which the office is located and in the adjacent town; dramatically so with regard to the adjacent town.

    What to take from all that? After all it is just a cursory look.

    It certainly falls in line with comments you made back in July wherein this test of “organo-local” started….and you noted the mixture of G Places and organic ranking factors.

    Not good for the dentist in question; that is for sure. Also not good for demandforce and other services that generate huge volumes of reviews. It appears that there was some “dialing back” on volume of reviews impact in G Places in any case between last Dec and more current perspectives….that is especially vivid in that the dentist in question had 49 reviews in Dec and over 170 now—and the relative difference in volume of reviews had grown exponentially.

    I’ve maintained that current (or recent) Google Places has been a heavily spammable algo. It reminds of organic google say 6 or 7 years ago.

    I suspect G Places on its own is still quite manipulative. On the other hand, where G Places is most visible and used is through organic searches in Google.com. Direct traffic to maps.google is still slim. Within maps the dentist in question ranks first in the town in which it is located and 2nd in the adjacent town as it did in the 7 pacs just 2 days ago.

    That is no longer the case where most people search. Its a significant difference. It may well be an effective mechanism to combat some of the manipulative elements that made the 7 pacs so controversial and problematic.

    Very fascinating. I’ve been one of the loud mouths that’s been screaming fix the 7 pac Possibly some out of the box thinking did it by combining organic and G Places algo’s.

    Amazing!!!

  26. here’s my findings on a Property Website I’m developing:

    As of 26 October my search engine results were (local position / natural position):

    tenerife property – E / 52
    property tenerife – E / 65
    property in tenerife- E / 58
    property for sale in tenerife – A / 31
    tenerife property sales – B / 76
    property sale tenerife – A / 49
    property sales tenerife – B / 90

    Now this has happened:

    tenerife property – E / 53 (results are still split into local then organic)
    property tenerife – E / 69 (results are still split into local then organic)
    property in tenerife- E / 61 (results are still split into local then organic)
    property for sale in tenerife – 3 (results are mixed together)
    tenerife property sales – 75 (results are mixed together)
    property sale tenerife – 53 (results are mixed together)
    property sales tenerife – 93 (results are mixed together)

    so because the site did well in the LOCAL results previously but not in the organic results (it’s a newish site) it has now been hit for six by the adding together of the 2 listings in comparison to estate agents who have been around for years and were either:

    good at local / ok at organic
    ok at local / good at organic
    ok at local / ok at organic

    So clearly I need to work on the websites organic results as the only term it’s stayed up high in the “property for sale in Tenerife” term, which coincidently is the URL…….

    I’m sure when the mixing of results hits the “Tenerife property” terms the site will be toast (good terminology Mike).

    Lots of old fashioned SEO for me ahead!

  27. @Mike:

    I have a question that has kept slipping my mind. Do you believe that Google will integrate the “Maps” module with the “Places” module? I notice that the “Maps” module results are different than the “Places” results in that it seems as though the listing optimization carries more weight. Your thoughts? Thanks!

    P.S. Commish check is in the mail :)

  28. @Zelick

    I have been contemplating this for a while. I can think of a number of reasons that Places will continue to grow in distinction from Maps. I think the change irrevocable and will become more so going forward for both user and economic reasons. See this post from May

  29. This is unreal, the changes are so sudden business and people are going to be rip sh.t. I think Google is crazy to just change the algo so quick.

  30. :-D

    I noticed the impending change last month as it seems Google might have updated the look of the SERPs for some users (?) before making it universal.

    I was bouncing out of my seat when I saw it and was disappointed when I realised that it was not universal yet. This change has put a client in a great position.

    I am glad that the company website has become a more important factor.

    I don’t know if this is all roses. But for me, right now, this is just great.

  31. @Taiyo

    I think for most people taking an integrated approach to optimization, on both organic and local, the results are positive. Google has been signaling this change since tests in early July and results repeatedly showing up around the US and I assume the world…

    I wouldn’t want to be a Local Only shop at this point, that’s for sure.

  32. The reality is that now, to do well, some one needs a well optimized site AND a well optimized local listing. Doing well in just the local arena is no longer enough.

    Seems like great news for us in both the organic and local seo worlds.

  33. @Mike

    I’ve analyzed my customers Places pages and found that the ones who ranked high in organic with a low ranking Places page now have both Places & Organic ranking high. It hurt my clients who had decent Places listings but their SEO campaign was fairly new and no results were found on page 1 organic. Now they are not in the maps on page 2 anymore.

    I also noted a little algo that dealt with the images being displayed in the SERPS. On normal 7 pack listings it takes 4 of the businesses to have images in order for Google to display images in the SERPS. This is very important since you can customize your GPP listing to display the image you want. This seems like more businesses will take advantage of optimizing their default image to increase CTR. Imaging having a business with an enormous Yellow Tag as their image. This would draw the searcher’s eye to that listing in the same intended way Google Tags does.

    I didn’t not any changes in the Authoritative 1-Pack but did notice that if the majority of the 7-pack listing were unverified Google didn’t integrate them into the SERPS (Prolly due to unfair competition).

    Long story short, this new rollout greatly benefited our clients rankings since they all had well positioned website in the organic side and had optimized and verified Places pages. They now mostly all sit at the top of the search results for searches that have some sort of geographic intent.

    Try the search “Florist San Francisco” it yields a 7 pack similar to the one prior with the new floating map. But now try the search “Florist San Francisco, CA”, it integrated those results into the organic… Could this be due to proven geographic intent? In the old SERPS those search terms generally yielded the same map results, why the sudden change?

  34. This relationship between Place Page placement and organic SEO on a site is not even close to being a hard and fast rule. It is situational and is likely to be happening in the most competitive spaces. I have seen results (hyperlocal) where that relationship doesn’t play out at all.

  35. …sigh…and here I figured I’d have a month or two to learn more about this BEFORE g.ca got the same Google BLEND (my term for this merged algo/layout style)..

    it’s here as of this am…and I’ve been playing with same almost all day.

    oh. if you’ve a sec, go to g.ca and plug in “plumbers in Toronto” — note the new BLEND style.

    then try “laundromats in Toronto” — see any diff? I do, as I now get a top-mounted 7-Pack but the floating right hand side map is still there…

    sigh…too much to learn too quickly…sigh…but aint’ that an SEO’s life!

    :-)

    Jim

  36. Hey Jim,

    I’m seeing that as well and in some cases, still the old layout. My speculation is that they are still in a “Live” test mode and we the practitioners, are seeing all there is to see.

    I always keep in mind that the everyday searcher is often clueless or simply figures out what to do when presented yet another Google layout…

    –Dennis

  37. Gonna reiterate what Frank Reed said way at the top. Its important to get the word out of smbs abt claiming a listing and how all this works and what is important.

    A couple of other observations:

    A screwy local record is now more prominent.

    A search for Dentist DC (washington dc) turns up a highly ranked site with the dentists office merged with a prominent dental review site. The dentist never claimed his listing. It can’t help his business. its a very mixed message.

    A search for hotels Arlington VA turns up a record for Ronald Reagan National Airport. Now that is wierd. It was ranked 2nd in the 7pac before the change. Now the Airport record is pushed down a bit.

    But it sticks out more than in the The 7 pac before. The goofy result is faar more visible to more people.

    Screwy records that rank high for some reason will be more obvious than before. Its a bigger reason for records to be claimed.

    In the case of the unclaimed airport record, for some reason one of the categories is airport.

    It makes the google algo look stupid. More reason for google to effect a change on the claimed record with the airport webmaster.

    One other observation: I’ve a business with a high ranking (currently top 3) for the generic industry term (no geo modifier) for the business site.

    Over time market research has suggested that about 50% of searches for a local business never show a geo modifier.

    Now when you search for the industry term from any suburban location that rings the city; The business site shows incredibly strongly with organic page(s) and a very visible “record” with a picture, reviews, the places page, etc. That is great IMO. Hopefully it drives tremendously more traffic for the phrase. We’ll see over time.

    I suspect Google will adjust ppc placement over time. Right now I’m seeing cases with no ppc on top, 1 ppc record, and sometimes up to 3–but not 3 all the time.

    I agree with Matt McGee. I think it will cause a massive price bidding war and Google will win.

    One other thing I’m seeing is a bit of “sandwhich” records….with some organic records on top and then the “blended “with tear drop letters beneath them. the ones I’m seeing have directory sites on the top.

    Google could be “nice” to the directories and position directories above the “blended records”. Again, we’ll see over time.

    I repeat again what Frank Reed said: Get smbs to claim their records. It’ll keep wierd results from appearing in prominent places.

    Don’t stop thinking about Local impacts…but I’d really start thinking organically!!

  38. Hi Mike :-)

    I took a few days off to recharge and got back to work today to find 90% of my “Local” client’s listings are showing top 3 results for most of their competitive kw’s. All of them have a combo of organic SEO as well as Local SEO. I have to say I like this blend… so far.

    What’s really cool is I see a ‘compounding’ of Local and organic effect at work (as you’ve suspected since July) . For example, I have a relatively new client who has a muti-discipline health centre in one of the suburbs of Vancouver; the client’s site was optimized for Local without focusing too much on any ‘one’ discipline (so the citations focused on “health centre” and “health clinic” more-so than any one health discipline such as “Chiropractor”.

    As for organic SEO, I’d only just started to optimize the site, with “Chiropractor name-of-city” being the only kw properly optimized.

    Prior to the recent Local algo changes, the search term “Chiropractor name-of-city” did not provide a 7 pac result, and showed a consistent 7 in the organic results.

    Since the Local algo change I’m seeing a consistant ‘C’ search result for “Chiropractor name-of-city.

    So the SERP went from a poor Local result and a 7 organic result, to a ‘combined’ search result of ‘C’.

    I’d love to know more about what aspects of organic the Local algo is taking into consideration.
    *I have the address and phone number on the site’s Chiropractor page, and the new search result is linking back to said ‘Chiropractor page’ (a deep link).

    Exciting times :-)

  39. @Miriam

    User content was the mapping information that was showing at the bottom of the Places page that reflected mymap and geocoded content from across the web that appeared under the “More about Section”. It made the page too long and it was obviously ejected from the display. Do I think that minimizes the importance of geocoded information? no…

    @Andy
    exciting it is… and in flux… It is not clear to me when/why the 7 pack shows for example. And it appears that non geo modified phrases are showing more local results than before….

  40. @Mike – about the the user contents. After some testing (actually, a lot of) I can say that right now they are removed from the algorithm or their importance is minimized. Before Google BLEND I have businesses that outrank the others only with some user contents from Google, communitywalk, flickr, etc. Now they have fallen down a bit.

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