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. I was just starting to love the old Places…now I have to start a new relationship with her. I know that Google loves to play with technology, so I am on board with that, however I hope that we will return to a portion of the expanded organic listing above the fold.

  2. Mike –

    First off, thank you for always staying ahead of the curve and alerting us as to potential future changes. I remember when you brought this potential update to life many months ago. Consequently we scrambled to get our organic rankings higher to prep for this event — and as a result we have maintained our top 3 (now #1 in many cases) overall rank.

    Some observations:

    1. Has everyone been observing what seems to be a 9-pack listing for # of listings that are combined? As I conduct several tests, it seems every time at the ninth listing Google has the old “More results near >>. Note there are sometimes 10 listings if Google includes a news item in the 9-Pack. After the 9-Pack, I never see any more combined listings.

    2. It does seem organic rank trumps Places rank most of the time? I see many times old strong organic listings stay at the top even #1, while many valid highly ranked Places listings are gone. I can’t find a single instance where high Places rank/low organic rank led to a high placement, but there are many instances where organic rank trumped Places rank.

    That’s it for now!

  3. What I don’t understand is the organic portion of this. Will they rank deep pages on your web site? How should you be optimizing for SEO? I suppose it’s just business as usual.

    Also how will this effect optimizing your places page? Is it still worth going after a ton of citations and reviews?

  4. @ dave: I’d go after both. I’d especially go after positive reviews. Review totals are going to be seen on the google.com first page if you rank high. sentiment analysis might be seen. Those are eye catching pieces of info.

    I’d get pictures into claimed listings. I’d geo code them.

    Then I’d do a lot of basic seo

  5. Wow, I think google means well, but if a bunch of competitors conspire to bad review you, and google publishes it, so much for “do no harm” ?

  6. Ooops – I was confused by the ‘user content’ term. I mixed it up with the sentiment aggregation. Thank you. And it’s very weird that that is gone. Interesting that Plamen feels this has downgraded the importance of this.

  7. @Miriam

    David, in his post, noted that he felt it was more important… My read on it was that Google originally included all KML, MyMap, GeoData and soon discovered (as much as a year ago) that there was a lot of noise in the totally of geo data and had to rank the geo data… this resulted in the Maps that show on the right side of Places… I think it still counts as part of the geo rank of a place but it is hard to split out the affect.

  8. mike, thank you for keeping us updated.

    has anyone seen any pattern to the following….

    types of citations that are doing better than others?
    how does number of citations impact?
    how does citations in other markets eg canada, australia, uk vary?

    thanks

  9. I’ve gotten hit by all the negatives. I used to have two to three pages listed on the first page. Now only one. Additionally for some reason I have two directories at 1 and 2 placement where I was before. Funny how they get higher placement. There might be some positives to this, but it is almost useless for me to SEO now since location is more relevant now.

  10. Mike: One of the things I’m going to look at closely within Google analytics is traffic from locations and I’ll dig down into the towns and city data.

    Suppose I have a plumber in one town with plumbers in other nearby towns. I’m going to want to expand the high rankings for my plumber relative to the nearby towns for any variety of key phrases that work.

    I’m going to look at the traffic I’m gaining and losing subject to what communities I’m in and try to expand visibility with higher rankings to a wider geography

  11. The new look would seem to be a big plus for people doing local searches.

    A few things stand out. First the eye is drawn to those listing with thumbnails and red 7-pack tags. So businesses that don’t have a local listing are at a disadvantage.

    Most of all though, the eye is drawn to those 5 stars. Businesses with no reviews or bad reviews can forget about it! Getting good reviews will now be magnified in importance.

    Also, some of the listings seem to have a “sponsored” section with a yellow arrow and a link in a lavender background. Is that PPC? What’s the point of putting a PPC link right next to a free organic link?

  12. On Friday I logged into my Google Places (local) dashboard and ALL of the businesses listed were “Rejected” for not meeting quality guidelines.

    Today they are all “pending review” (which supposedly could take weeks.)

    The listings had been fine for months, now they’re not showing as being claimed/verified at all, and I honestly can’t think of any guideline violations. The timing is certainly suspect.

    This happen to anyone else? Any suggestions for what to DO about it?

  13. Thanks so much Mike – but if they’re “pending review” right now, can I edit them at ALL? If they were rejected and I didn’t fix them before they were reviewed, won’t they just be rejected again???

    Sheesh…

  14. @Dee
    If you edit them and they still trigger some part of the algo they amy start the pending process all over again.

  15. Hey Mike!

    Lots of chatter on this one, eh! Gotta love the change, keeps us all on our toes.

    Out all my clients the ones who had us managing their Google Places Listing and their website seem to have same rankings or better. Now I have few clients where we only managed their Google Places Listing and not their website and they seemed to have dropped off the new 7-Pack or ranking below the fold.

    From poking around a lot on this now, I do see almost 90% of the O-pack listings are referening listings that have websites. I have seen some listings still reference Google Places Listing that does not have a websites associated with them.

    I think now because they are pulling the Title Tage and Meta Description from the Website it’s essential to have a really well optimized website.

    I am also seeing new o-pack title tags change depending on the searched term. Not sure why this is happening…?

    Questions:

    Now that they show: “Reviews from around the web” before “Reviews from Google Users” do you think having a diversified review profile across many authority review sites holds more weight in the ranking algorithm?

    User Content: (aka ‘my maps’) I think it’s still important ranking factor and it looks like it moved to the right side bar of places and it’s called “Related Maps”.

    I am curious to know if links matter to your website in your ranking factor now…? I’m not sure yet. I’d love to take a listing that has a good o-pack rankings right now with this new update and add a new website that has no history or links and see if it drops. Then add back in a optimized website with history and links and see if it jumps back up.

    It’s obvious the Title Tags matter, but links…? Not sure.

    I still the major (most likely) off-page ranking factors are still: reviews, citations & related maps. They have just changed the algorithm to use the website Title Tag instead of Google Places Name because it aligns itself better with how we search online. Great for businesses who have SEO’d websites, not so good for those that do not have a well optimized website.

    I’m loving all the extra white space and the image. Now choosing a good image for your Google Places Listing will be essential now that image is being displayed in the SERPs and we could do some pretty cool things with that too.

  16. Mike et all,

    I’ve been doing massive testing and reverse engineering for days and have made tons of progress figuring this all out. Have made some pretty interesting discoveries! However, what is driving me crazy is how inconsistent the results are. I have ranking reports due for a ton of clients and can’t see a way to even do them the way things are right now.

    How are organic SEOs or Local SEOs going to provide ranking reports for clients with all these “loco” variations of SERPS layouts.

    In many searches in my market city+keyword shows the new local merge format (using the new algo) HOWEVER keyword +city, still generates a 7 pack type layout (using more like the old Places algo).

    Check Tampa Dentist (new format) then check Dentist Tampa (Old 7 pack format). But then again it’s not consistent. Other big cities show the new format even when you switch the city/kw order.

    Certain less competitive terms generate 2 organic, then 3 localMerge (with the new algo), then more organic listings. Some even show 3 localMerge, then 2 organic, then more localMerge.

    Whereas certain other less competitive terms still show the old 1, 2, 3 or 7 pack.

    Then of course if you click on maps you totally get the old rankings with the old Places algo.

    Plus I’ve seen all kinds of other variations in between.
    Plus again it changes between cities.

    It seems in my market that I’ve been testing, only the more competitive or higher volume search terms show the new localMerge layout. The 2nd tier keywords may or may not show the old or new format – varies by city.

    Plus lots of great one box listings or #1 rankings I’ve gotten clients no longer show a map search or any type of localMerge listings at all, even with city +keyword. Even with strong geo intent, only organic show.

    So for example, if I do local SEO and my client is D in the local merge format – but there are 3 localMerge listings, then 2 organic, then 4 more localMerge listings… Do I put in my ranking report is he #4 on Local or #6 on the page?

    What about folks that used to do organic SEO? Do any of the popular rank checking programs still work? My guess is SEOS are screwed when it comes to providing ranking reports too right now. One organic SEO type I talked was concerned because a bunch of his client’s rankings dropped. But I am almost sure that’s not the case, and the issue is more that AWR can’t properly interpret the new SERPs.

    I think Mike and others use Advanced Web Ranking for local results. Has anyone tried it to see how it handles things now?

    I’ve been having my secretary do manual ranking reports and she would manually note if there was a 1 Pack or 3 Pack or if a certain term no longer pulled a map search at all. I can’t even figure out how to train her to document all the various types of formats and figure out how to communicate the ranking and type of listing for each type of layout to the client. I emailed clients right away, letting them know that things would be flakey for awhile. I guess I need to tell them I can’t do ranking reports until the dust settles.

    Mike do you think things are still in major flux and pretty soon all city + keyword combos will generate localMerge type listings, instead of some still showing old 3 and 7 pack formats?

    Do you think they are still testing or this just has not fully rolled out yet?

  17. Mike do you think things are still in major flux and pretty soon all city + keyword combos will generate localMerge type listings, instead of some still showing old 3 and 7 pack formats?

    Do you think they are still testing or this just has not fully rolled out yet?

    I have no idea and have also been trying to get a handle on the results. One thought I had is to use AWR to look at AOL as a relatively “pure” view of organic results and a more likely position in the new serps.

  18. You can also use http://www.squirrelnet.com safe search for a quickie analysis. It still shows the old organic results and if you match with the new layout results order, they are almost identical.

    OR this will show the original (old style) rankings too.
    http://www.google.com/webhp?esrch=LocalMergeImpl

    The 2 options above from my testing show the same thing – the old organic rankings. So are handy for comparative testing.

    However still trying to nail down for sure why some of the “old” organic listings that rank high are skipped in the new layout and algo even if they have Place pages. Have it almost figured out, but some inconsistencies remain.

  19. Mike,

    I’ve been doing Places and organic SEO for all of my clients, so for their city terms, they’ve done great with this change.

    However, for some clients, I also got them ranked in surrounding cities, organically, and that has been a disaster.

    In the following post, there’s a video that shows how one client disappeared from the index for surrounding cities when she was on page 1, prior to the algorithm change

    Has Google Gone Too Local?</a)

    Thanks for the great post and sharing everyone's comments!

    Becky

  20. @ Linda –

    I also use AWR and here’s what I think is happening with those listings.

    Organic rank of 1 really used to mean 8 (the listing after the 7 pak). So in the merge of the Places listing and the Organic listing, AWR may now show a decrease (from 1 to 2), but its really from 8 to 2.

    The Places listing didn’t show in AWR (at least I didn’t know how to get it show).

    So, if I had a client with an B rank in Places and a #1 rank in organic, its blended the B rank and the #1 (really 8th on the page) rank to be #2 in organic and it looks like my client dropped one. But they really kept their same rank in Places.

    Does that make sense?

    Becky

  21. @Becky, thanks for weighing in.

    “However, for some clients, I also got them ranked in surrounding cities, organically, and that has been a disaster.”

    I used to get my clients listed in surrounding towns with their Places listings. And several still are. In fact I have 2 clients that rank for some of the same keywords in Hollywood and neither of them is in Hollywood. They are each in different cities on opposite sides of Hollywood. So it can still be done. Thing is, it only works with 2nd and 3rd tier keywords (that’s what I call them anyway), not core keywords and there’s a trick to it.

    Re: AWR your analysis makes sense I think. But I don’t use AWR so a little hard for me to visualize. But sounds like you are very close. I have a friend that does SEO I’ll be sending over to read this.

    I was asking more about AWR and the way you used to be able to set it up to do local ranking reports. I think Mike may use it that way. But hearing how it’s currently working with organic SEO is helpful too.

    Thanks!

  22. @JeffM I’m seeing just the opposite. It seems places rankings trump organic, although I have seen the opposite. I have also seen 2 listings returned, one from the Places Page and one from Web Results. I think everything is still in a state of flux and we still can’t be sure what the final format will look like. Only time will tell.

    Having said that, see my next post.

  23. Hi Mike,

    I have been analyzing and reading all day long to try to reach a definite conclusion. I hope you can help. Even “I don’t know” would be a big help so I know that the answer’s not out there. If someone could ask Google, they would know, though.

    In Google’s 10/27 announcement for Place Search, they said, “Place Search results will begin appearing automatically on Google when we predict you’re looking for local information. In addition, you’ll find a new link for “Places” in the left-hand panel of the search results page so you can switch to these results whenever you want. For example, when I’m in New York, I love to go out and play foosball, but a search for [foosball] doesn’t automatically show me Place Search results. If I click “Places” I get the new view…….”

    One should infer from the above that a search with geo-targeted modifiers will return the new “Place Search Results”, as will clicking the “Places” link on the left nav bar. The additional inference, therefore, is that clicking the “Places” link on the left nav bar will return identical results as a regular search that Google detects as a “Place Search”.

    The problem I have with this is that when I perform a geo-targeted search, I get results that include Places (with balloon to the left and included on the scrolling map on the right) and organic with various orderings. When I click on the Places link on the left nav bar I get different results — Places listings first and sometimes after the Places listings “Web Search Results” are included, however, the Web Search Results are returned infrequently. Rankings also shift significantly, luckily most often in my favor. The system seems to take the higher of Places or Organic Results.

    For CA I get the above, for Hawaii searches I still see the Places One Box in the search results. If I click the “Places” link on the left nav bar for Hawaii searches, I get listings formatted as described in the prior paragraph. I guess they must be rolling out the algo from East to West.

    2 Conclusions –

    1) My search experience and many of the unusual experiences described in other comments above are because the system is in a state of flux as the algo is still being implemented and is settling in. We haven’t reached a final result yet and may not for another 30 days or more. Have you ever made several changes to your Places Page and watched how long it takes before it displays correctly?

    2) When I click on the Places link on the left nav bar, the results I get are what Google intends the rankings and layout to be for a geo-targeted search using the Google Search Box when the algo is fully implemented.

    Would you agree with conclusion #2 ?

    It is virtually impossible to plan without knowing the answer to #2 above. I hope we can get an answer as it is critically important for all of us to know so we can assess our situation, understand how our current optimization affects the new algo and implement an SEO strategy that will allow us to maximize results.

    Thanks for all your help.

  24. One more question.

    Am I corrrect that the Maps link at the top left of the Search Results Page will be part of the new algo and it will return results for Places Pages as it did in the past? It’s not going away is it?

  25. @Mathew
    Sorry for having your comments buried in the spam.

    Related Maps have been there for quite some time and represent the best of the user content (mymaps) data. They continue to play a role

    Links have always been important in Local since the ranking of the website is a critical factor in the position of the local listing, they have become more so. Trust me on this, links matter!

  26. Mike – You mentioned with the negatives in your article that:

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

    Do think Google is no longer accepting new listings?

    Your thoughts and anything else would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Jay

  27. @Jay

    Yes, Google is accepting new listings. With time and work and a website a listing can achieve visibility.

    What I meant by that is that in the past, a business could make it to the front page of Google (the only place that really generates customers as it gets 50 times the traffic of Maps/Places) without have a website. The opportunities for a Place listing to get to the front page under the new system are primarily for SMBs that have both a local listing AND a website.

    So what I meant was that if a local listing but no website they will loose out on many of the benefits of a highly ranked listing.

  28. Gotcha. So what you’re saying is if you have a listing in Google Place or if you submit one without a website you won’t show up on the first page. But if you have a website that’s optimized and you submit a new listing and optimize it then you have a good shot at the 1st page depending of course of the competition, correct?

  29. If that’s the case then shouldn’t that help us to get new clients on the first page for local terms since it will flush out the Google Places listings without websites?

  30. Mike,

    Thats something to be seen moving forward with regards to a business rankings on page one of Google without a website.

    In the past, clients of mine that had websites and I had control of and was able to make SEO localization changes to, enjoyed tremendous page 1 exposure organically & on the Places Listing whatever pack (1-10). I also tested PPC with some of those clients and realized a direct relationship in map rankings moving up and down on the map listings when ad’s were on & off. It blew me away! (ps, I always called them ad’s, not sponsored listings)

    Currently, those same clients are getting the visibility again both naturally and on the new local intent listings on Google.

    I do have several client sites that do not have websites and are still receiving visibility on page 1, that’s now and today, no guarantee of what tomorrow will bring. I’m speculating that because they have been in the system and Google I guess has trust in them even though a few do not have a single citation.

    Begs the question that we heard before, why do businesses still not have websites?

    –Dennis

  31. @Dennis

    For the clients that don’t have websites but are still receiving exposure I have two questions:
    1) is the display the new blended display or is the search showing one of the 2,3,5 or 7 packs?

    2) Are their dashboard analytics showing as many visits as previously? Or in other words are they showing on as many phrases?

  32. Been having a real kick outta all this change web results wise from Google….so I put up a quick poll here — http://www.canuckseo.com — to try to figure out what we SEO types “should” call this new layout/design/serp page results….and so far, Mike B is in the lead!

    Pls drop by and vote, eh!

    ;-)

    Jim

  33. Hey Mike,

    1) New Blended, initial search w/ ad’s on top and 3 organic listings then the balloon listings: click on the places link on left nav and pretty much the same minus the ad’s & organic’s: click the map and get 1 ad then balloon pin listings.

    2) The analytics are spotty at best and have always not been too reliable for me and as of late and I’ve also noticed that the updates that I have posted recently are not getting updated, last one was 10-24.

    -Dennis

  34. For the organic shuffle, I have noticed that some local searches are returning 6 organic listings following the Places, whereas others only have 3 organic listings…any theories?

  35. @Bobee There has been little stability so as quickly as the theory is formed it is dropped…obviously Google is still testing

  36. Yes, some serious testing going on. We’ve seen everything including local 10 packs followed by 3 organic and local 6 packs followed by 10 organic.

    Question about that blurb of text under the page title tag in the blended results – Sometimes it’s the meta tag description and sometimes it’s the first paragraph of text off the home page. Sometimes there is no blurb even though the website is optimized. Is there any consistency in this element? Is ranking dependent on this blurb being displayed? Why wouldn’t it display?

    There has been one fantastic change that seems to be consistent for Mental Health Professionals. Google finally figured this one out! Searches for “Therapist + City” and “City + Therapist” now show consistent results of psychotherapists. 7-packs in the past tended to list a diverse array of therapy modalities – Physical Therapists, Massage Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Psychotherapists – which made it a poor results page.

    Beyond that, if I don’t see some more consistency soon I’m going to need to find a good therapist. At least I’ll know where to look for one.

  37. @Jeffrey: Perhaps you could find one that offers “group rates”..Yikes! I am so looking forward to Google waters to calm down, so there is something consistent that lasts at least 5 days in a row. Everything is all over the map (no pun intended)……..

  38. I think that the algorithm is settling in and we will see erratic results for 30 to 90 days or more after roll out in an area. The erratic results everyone comments on are to be expected with a change this large.

    I’m in the San Francisco area and the New Places Search is here. It’s just started rolling out in Hawaii about a week ago and displays for very few of our keywords. Seems the roll out is taking place East to West and in more densely populated metro areas first. This explains why users in outlying areas are seeing the old Organic Search Results or a mixture of Organic and Places listings. Organic listings before the Places listings or mixed in with the Places listings is definitely not intended. The rollout in the metro areas first is pretty logical.

    I, as each of you, wanted to know what the end layout would be so I could start the planning process to adapt to the new algo.

    As a result, I decided to check some of the major metro areas and sure enough; the rollout was essentially complete there. About 2 weeks ago I looked at the following –

    New York Plastic Surgeons
    Atlanta Plastic Surgeons
    Miami Plastic Surgeons
    Chicago Plastic Surgeons
    Houston Plastic Surgeons
    San Francisco Plastic Surgeons
    Seattle Plastic Surgeons

    Each query returned 3 PPC Ads at the top and the New Places Search view with 7 Places listings followed by 2 to 6 Organic listings. These results match the results in the Special Link with an example for “Chicago Museums” that Google provided in it’s announcement on 10/27/2010 — http://www.google.com/search?q=chicago+museums&esrch=LocalMergeImpl::Experiment .

    Apparently the number of organic listings is affected by the amount of data that is merged into the Places listings.

    The above Search Results for “Plastic Surgeons” is the intended final layout for the New Places Search.

    2 weeks ago the maps scrolled for all but the Houston Search Results Page and on Google’s Special Link with the example for “Chicago Museums”. Today I checked and none of the maps scroll. I suspect G has figured out that scrolling maps cover their PPC Ads and will cut into their revenues and they changed it. The other upshot of this is that the panic about massive PPC price hikes is probably not as relevant as before. I think it will still be more important to be in the top 3 spots but not as compelling.

    My experience is that rankings for the New Places Search tend to come in as the higher of prior Organic or Maps Search Results and Maps carries more weight. What I mean by this is that a keyword that used to produce a 2nd position on Maps and a 15th (second page) position for Organic will produce a second position for the New Places Search. However, if you reverse it, you may not rank at all for the New Places Search. So if I used to have a 2nd position for Organic and was on the second page or later in Maps, I may not be in the first 7 results on the first page for the New Places Search.

    The other thing I have noticed is that keywords that were on the first page but had only been optimized for 3 – 4 months lost position in the New Places Search. The same happened for the broader Theme Level Keywords. On the new keywords the answer is to just keep going and I’m already seeing them bounce back. For the Theme Level Keywords, I believe that a Themed and Silo Structured website is finally a must as predicted by many of the thought leaders on the subject.

    And, there you have it. If you have thoughts and comments, please post them here. I’d appreciate the input.

  39. @Rick …..
    I suppose one might complete this exercise using any localized search string, but I have spent most of the past 10 hours looking at Google Web results using (city, car wash). “city” was substituted for big city, little city, and town names, in North, East, West, and South regions of the USA. The purpose of the exercise was to see if I could find ANY consistency within the SERPS, first as in just a common “layout” format.

    Results for the most part were either (3) third party listings, followed by the 7 pack OR the 7 pack followed by ten listings of a mix of websites and 3rd party sites. Cities with the “3 +7″ format were Chicago, Miami, Nashville, Burlington, New Orleans, and Phoenix. The cities with the “7 + 10″ format were San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Dallas, Boise, Atlanta, Poughkeepsie, and Nashua. And then there were a few test cities that showed SERPS in a format of (3) third party listings, a 2 or a 3 pack listing, and an option to find “More” (which gave an additional 8 local listings). Within the “3+7″ format, business listings that were mixed in with the 3rd party listings didn’t follow any rhyme nor reason, some with websites, some without, some claimed LBL’s, some not. Search requests for “search term” Kansas City KS, showed results from Kansas City, MO first for no apparent reason.

    Additionally I substituted “band instrument repair” “chiropractor”, and “car repair” as local search terms to check results as well.

    Trying to gain any consistency within the SERPS rankings in any format proved equally frustrating. Regardless of city location or size sometimes the first listing was for a business that had no website, and had not claimed it’s LBL. In other cases the top listing was for a claimed LBL with no website, and in others it was occupied by a claimed LBL that had a website. Further down in the listings (2-7) there seemed to be NO correlation between, website/no website, Google reviews/no Google reviews, outside reviews/no outside reviews, greater/fewer Star ratings, fewer/lesser number of citations, Website PR rankings, Age, # backlinks, seemingly showed no consistent effects in the SERPS. Equally inconsistent were search terms in the Title, or category listings.

    But alas, the “scrolling map” seemed to be the only consistency regardless of the SERP format, it continues to cover the “adword” ads as you scroll down the page, regardless of city, and regardless of where you tell Google you are located.

    Bottom line, ten hours later,the same confusion reigns as when I began this exercise in futility. It would appear that Google is testing different listing “formats” in different areas, and perhaps is “weighting” different ranking factors differently in different areas. OR there are 20+ algo’s in play! OR Google is trying to find a Local “layout” they are happy with, and THEN they will decide how to stack the results, OR ???? Oh Joy! All I want for Christmas is to find some consistency, somewhere…… well I guess I could wait til New Years…..

  40. Nice work you guys!
    I too have found nothing consistent in the SERPs after much nationwide research. It appears the ranking power of reviews and “proximity to city center” has taken a bit hit but how much of a hit appears inconsistent also. The ranking power of a localized domain name seems to be king now – which is disappointing to me. I guess that is most relevant now. http://www.keywordCity.com will rank you above the blended listings or at the top of them. It’s time to snatch up some new domains! Kindof a bummer.

  41. WOW, thanks Dan for the work and for confirming my own search results that there is no consistency.

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