Google Places Blended Results – Photos MIA

UPDATE 4:00 pm: I sent the following inquiry off to Carer Maslan this morning: ”I see that today ALL photos and graphics are missing from local blended results on the main search results page. This search showed photos Sunday/Monday but not today. Is this a new  normal?”  His answer:

Yes, but as you know, the “normal” is continual iteration. ;) This UI is just another iteration in finding the best presentation for certain types of queries like the categorical ones you mention.

It was pointed out to me by Su at the Inn at Tanglewood Hall and confirmed by observers worldwide that photos that had often  been embedded in the blended results are gone from ALL results at the moment. I also believe that the red pin is smaller as well. Whether this is the new normal or just another test is not yet clear and I have asked for clarification from Google.

This search was showing images when last viewed 48 hours ago and has consistently done so in the past (click to view larger):

 



I could not find a recent screen shot of blended results from the recent past so I stole one from Linda Buquet for comparison. When sized to the same pixel heights the local results take up less width on the page due to the photo being gone and the pin being down sized.

Clearly photos made certain local listings stand out on the page. It is an axiom of our industry that they increase click through rates. Is it possible in this age of ever increasing monetization at Google that they discovered that the images lowered click throughs on the ever increasing number of localized and Boost ads?

PS Note the incredible number of PPC ads in the above screen shot that are either Boost or Adwords with location extensions.

Update 2:20: Here are some great before and after shots of the same search (provided by Abby of Compass Internet Solutions) for the search Mold Removal Daly City:

Before (click for actual size):

 

After (Click for actual size):

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places Blended Results - Photos MIA by

38 thoughts on “Google Places Blended Results – Photos MIA”

  1. Thanks for the email heads up about this Mike. You’re 3 hours ahead, so I’d just gotten up and had not seen this yet. As I said to you in my email DANG! Hope this is just a test!

    I loved the images and it was a great way to make a listing stand out and increase click through rates. Have had a major blog post in the works for a long time about it and have been collecting great examples for the post and now POOF – photos in the SERPs are gone.

    That will teach me not to procrastinate on a story. Sheesh, blink and everything in the world of Google Places changes. I’m wondering what other maybe subtle changes they made with this update and am off to investigate.

    Let you know if I discover anything, as I do a little more digging into this today.

  2. As I mentioned on Twitter, it is interesting that the Places results in the example that you use, are 8. Also for the search “hvac contractor Chicago” I get 2 results with the letter F in the organic and Places search: http://goo.gl/74xVr

    I am sure there are more similar glitches, which is making me think this is just some kind of testing (at least just yet). Unfortunately I am handicapped of not residing in the US, so I couldn’t check the paid search results and if their number has increased.

  3. @Linda
    Yes waiting on story in this environment is like trying to build a foundation in shifting sands… a tough task indeed.

    Would love if you have any very recent screen shots without the Firefox insertions if you would ship them my way (anybody?)

  4. @Nyagoslav

    It certainly could be a test. Or a temporary glitch. Or a new normal for a few week. Or a new normal for more than a few weeks… Google has not yet responded to my inquiry….

    From a logical point of view, they wouldn’t need to increase the number of paid results, just get more click thrus… something this change might very well facilitate…. I was however struck by how many local ads their were in the SF market.

  5. @Mike

    I have recent screenshots – some really good comparisons. But not sure what you mean by “without the Firefox insertions”???

  6. Hi Mike,
    Just sent you some examples of the layout before & after.

    There is a good chance that GOOG did it in order to increase some traffic to their paid listings such as the Boost.

    We can clearly see in our reports that the local listings attract more traffic than the Boost ones. Lately it seems to be changed a little bit but still…
    Now it’ll be even more interesting to see if there are any more changes in volume.

    We’ll keep tracking! thanks for the great insight!

  7. @Linda
    Citations on the Places page are never a great indicator of Google’s index….the frequently normalize what they show to improve relevance…. that being said if it occurred on only one or two accounts it could reflect a problem that Google is having associating the citations with the Place….

    @Miriam

    Yes it looks that way… shakeup for sure… testing who knows :)

  8. Linda, it seems not to be an actual loss. I’d say Google is “hiding” them. I’ve got a business with no More about this place section ranking 1st for some mid-competitive searches in the UK.

  9. @Andy
    Thanks for the update… folks in Europe also confirm its the same… which implies it is more than a test…

    @Nyagoslav
    I am with you and that is what I meant by “normalize” that they have them in the index but don’t show all of them to keep the page length down and perhaps because they don’t think the citation adds anything new to a range of listings

  10. Interesting indeed & great screenshots of Abby ;-)

    on a different note: i reported a problem 3 weeks ago on a 3 spammy locksmiths listings using my company’s phone # (strangely..).
    Got emails from Google yesterday that they are reviewing the requests, now the listings are without the phone # in them but they are stile live & active.
    In the emails i received, saying they took care of the problem, Google wrote “If there is still anything wrong in our information about XXXX
    on Google Maps, please consider updating it directly via the “edit” link, or reporting another problem” !!..!!

    Oh.. Google.. you almost did it! it was in your hands & you let the spammers run a way.. this is the biggest ‘almost’ I’ve seen in a while.

  11. @Mike @Nyagoslav yes I know about the citations. He said the citations were reduced on several clients just last night or today, so I only mentioned it in case it was a change that was part of this update and to see if anyone else noticed same.

  12. I’m going to make a wild guess about what’s going to happen next.

    They are going to CHARGE to add a photo to your listing. They gave people a taste of images in the SERPS for a few months. Got everyone used to seeing them (sometimes any way). Now there will be a charge, like there was for Tags, to make your listing stand out from the pack. Would be smart and more effective than the little yellow tag was.

  13. When it comes to Google Places it seems that there is no normal. There are just short lived tests and longer tests.

  14. So true Linda! I would pay for pictures. My hotel client asked how they could add their rates on Places, and my first thought was eventually Google will let the owners do that, but it will be a charge i bet. The hotel can undercut the travel partners usually when they have availability, so I may try adding a special rate in the posts.

  15. Besides the bogus click charge for directions in Adwords they are soon to replace phone numbers with their own dynamic call tracking numbers and will be charging $1.00 per call generated from a desktop/laptop user that then picks up to dial that number. Again this is through adwords PPC ads with location extensions turned on – info pulled from Places account.

    Perhaps they are testing if removal of those images increases phone call rates so they can soon start charging all SMB’s $1 per call even if they are not Adwords customers??

  16. DANG it indeed! I had created custom geo tagged images for my clients in an effort to get their listings to stand out. Now with no tags and no images I’ll be reaching for stars to make their listings stand out. Will coding the reviews with microdata help or will I just be trying to keep a wave on the sand?

  17. DANG again, all ranking aside…

    I spent 2 hours a couple nights ago shopping on stock photo sites for the PERFECT SERPs profile image for a new client. Should not have spent that much time, but just got obsessed with trying to get their concept across in the perfect image. Then client had another idea, so we Photoshopped and sent images back and forth. Finally got it just right. I optimized her page with the image on SATURDAY.

    Seeing her listing pop up to #1 with that image was just beautiful. Super competitive market and no one had a decent image so she really stood out. Now after just a few days, it’s GONE!!! Dang again! All that time and effort wasted.

  18. Mike, I think you hit it on the head with the big G wanting to make sure they were getting clicks via Boost. The photos make a difference and I am sure it would lower some of the ctr’s of their ads.

  19. I’ve seen a similar change, but it only seems specific to me and one other competitor I’ve found, and limited to one (or some) keywords.

    If you do a local search for the keyword “marquee hire melbourne” you get this:
    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/192/placeslechanged.jpg/

    Our listing (Harts) is last, the blue link is not taken from the website title text and the description is not the meta description.

    But if you do a search for the keyword “party hire melbourne” you get this:
    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/863/correctresult.jpg/

    Which appears as it should (although without the image).

    It’s also worth noting that on the first search, we used to rank #1 and the competitor above us (Bedouin) #2. Now both of us are down the bottom, but the other listings have not changed.

  20. @Mike

    Sounds odd. Is it possible it changes the format of the result based on location? We’re in Melbourne, Australia.

    If I use the adwords preview tool for both keywords, I get the same result:
    https://adwords.google.com/d/AdPreview/?__u=1000000000&__c=1000000000&hl=en_AU

    Except we now seem to have dropped off completely from the ‘party hire melbourne’ search.

    This is all very confusing. I did a lot of digging on the google help forums and couldnt find anything there either.

    Oh, using Chrome if that makes a difference.

    If you use the adwords tool, put in Australia > Victoria > Melbourne, “.com.au” from the dropbox and search “harts hire melbourne” you’ll see the listing as it was intended and as it used to.

  21. @Brad
    Google is testing all the time, in all locales and in all browsers. They could be presenting different information based on any of those or all of those.

    Why are you worried about it?

  22. @Mike

    The clicks have gone down 40% since I first noticed the change a few weeks ago. It’s off-peak season which makes it worse, we need every lead we can get. We’re in an extremely competitive market.

    Was hoping it would be something I could point to and go “I can fix that”. But the listing hasn’t changed in months.

  23. @Brad

    Ahh… sorry to hear that. But you know, google up, google down, google change, google no change, google goof up, google stable… in the end you can only do what you can do … In your case that means getting your business mentioned on line in directories, local sites and news sites… getting links and link citations… getting reviews at a number of sites…

    it means doing what you can.

  24. Mike, if you’d allow me to try and give some personal opinion.

    @Brad:

    You actually appear on page 2 position A, so the situation is not that disastrous and it is fixable. I’d suggest you focus on your website optimization (both on- and off-site). You currently have less than 30 back links from what I see, and most of them are from the directories that you have listed your business on. Furthermore, something that Google probably might NOT like is the 1300 local rate number (but not local number) that you are using.

  25. @Mike & Nyagoslav

    Google certainly does like to play don’t they?

    Thanks for tips, I’ll definitely get onto it. The local number wasn’t something I was aware of, I’ll swap it to our direct office number and work on some more backlinks.

    Thanks a lot guys, I’m happy to know it wasn’t something I did!

  26. Ha, I just changed the phone number and they now want to revalidate the listing by sending me a postcard PIN.

    2-3 week wait. Go Google!

  27. Brad

    You have changed a key factor by which they establish trust. To prevent abuse they can not very well allow someone to claim a listing, change the number and expect phone verification. Once you change a number that has been verified their only option is post card

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