Places By Design – What does the new Places page say about Google’s intentions?

Much has been written about what Google left out in the Places upgrade and much speculation has been offered as to the reasons for the change. The specualtion have often made the assumption that the new design was a reactive response on the part of Google.

After looking at a large number of pages, I would suggest that the changes were primarily proactive in a nature and design driven (did I just say design and Google in the same sentence?). To get a sense of Google’s intentions I looked at a number Places pages in a range of industries and states and captured a screen shot of the information above the fold on a typical size screen 1280 x 1024 screen to see exactly which objects and activities had been prioritized. I captured the same Places page on my iPhone for comparison.

We all know of the call to action for additional reviews and uploaded photos those were very obvious. However Google made a number of other decisions in terms of how to prioritize the information. Here is the slide show and I think you will find the choices made interesting and design driven. Click to start the slide show:

 

While Google may have left some things off in response to complaints about their use of 3rd party reviews, for the most part the changes are a conscious design effort to make Places more interactive, more current and more social and more transactional.

They include a strong call to action (review, upload photos) and clear sense of priorities as to what is important going forward – even coupons now have a higher visibility - more user generated content, more understanding of your social circles intent and a greater desire, at least in the hotel industry, to use Places to “close” the sale.

What are your thoughts on the new priorities and what they say about the direction of Places?

P.S. If you can’t remember the order of things prior to the change Optilocal has a good article summarizing the order after the last change.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Places By Design - What does the new Places page say about Google's intentions? by

28 thoughts on “Places By Design – What does the new Places page say about Google’s intentions?”

  1. Mike, excellent points – the extensive text you show from Wikipedia is more than the 200 character limit – Google pulls this for unclaimed, but when you claim a Places page you are only allowed 200 characters. Do you anticipate they will change the limit of characters for the description?

  2. I think the changes are more influenced by Google+ / Google’s move toward social by including more consumer information in the listings.

    It seems that more of the Places Interface is being controlled by consumers rather than business owners, as it had been previously.

    For example, the ability for consumers to influence images on a verified listing. Also,in June Google announced “Descriptive Terms” for Local Search Results, and in July we see many owner provided descriptions disappear.

    With the removal of other owner provided elements (email, oiptional attributes / additional details etc.), it seems that Google wants a more consumer defined view of the businesses rather than strictly what the business owner defines.

    This seems to fit more in line with Google’s overall philosophy of “democracy” on the web.

    To me it is less “design” than it is a move toward a more social business listing interface – a Yelp on steroids, so to speak….

  3. @Susan

    FYI they also pulled Wikipedia description for the claimed Hotel Lucia in Portland and used it in addition to the business description.

    Something is going on with the description field that’s for sure… what it is unclear. It might just be a bug and artifact of the recent upgrade or as you can see in the Hotel Lucia example, a bigger change.

    @Tim
    Certainly less and less of the page has owner derived content. Google has always thought of it as “their page” and now that are making that patently clear that they will put what they want on it… I don’t see it so much as controlled by consumers as a attempt at achieving a higher quality (as defined by Google) search result. It has always been this way, it is just more clear now.

    In reality the exercise of claiming and inputting information into the Places dashboard is more an exercise of indicating to Google which results to display rather than what to display.

  4. Tim, I think your take on things is spot on. However, I believe this is a preset stage in preparation for the roll out of Google Plus for SMB’s. I think one could consider as evidence, that Google has stalled indexing many important updates such as new location addresses, clustering issues and other “bugs”. Finally, I believe Google + for SMB’s will be nothing less than a major inflection point within local search.

  5. It’s like a spider connecting up all the dots to make a giant web that incorporates local, social and mobile. Quite fascinating.

    Re the loss of the third party citations, these seem to be back on the main listing in the seven pack before you click through to the actual Places Page itself. Did I misunderstand the previous advice?

  6. @Jim

    I agree that much was done in prep for G+…and if done properly will be as you say will be “a major inflection point within local search.”

    @Jo

    I am not sure I understand “Re the loss of the third party citations, these seem to be back on the main listing in the seven pack before you click through to the actual Places Page itself. Did I misunderstand the previous advice?”

    Would you clarify?

  7. Hi Mike
    I may have misunderstood but I thought that Google were no longer counting or showing the 3rd party reviews in the main part of the Places Page – just referring to them near the bottom as reviews from around the web.
    On my page and one of my clients’, they are showing as hyperlinks with the number of reviews per directory in the seven pack.

  8. @Jo
    correct they still show on a per directory basis but are no longer counted in the star totals, there are very few industries with review snippets on the main serps, all third party content was removed from the Places Page and the links to them have been lowered on the page

  9. Ah, it’s just the snippets that have gone, thanks for the clarification :) Keeping up is like trying to hold onto a bucking bronco!

  10. Mike ~ How much of these differences do you suppose might be testing? I’ve noticed that there is little consistency in displays lately too. Thanks for doing this slide show to document what’s happening.

    I think I like the direction this is headed. I’m personally not a fan of social influences but it’s likely I’m in the minority. Please just give me results strait up – the real ones.

    This looks like the beginning of a bigger wave of changes to me.

  11. @Jo

    I used just that analogy this morning when speaking with David Mihm…. but it doesn’t quite capture it as this a lot more fun and lot less dangerous (at least to me :) )

    @Jeffrey
    I think the slide show represents the “new normal” for Google which means that its life expectancy is akin to the half life of Atatine.

  12. I’m not too concerned about the features that were removed, but I did notice an otherwise inexplicable drop in actions on June 22. Impressions stayed fairly constant, but actions dropped from an average of about 60 per day to about 20 per day and have stayed at that level ever since. Has anyone else noticed or reported anything similar? Is it a weird coincidence?

  13. Mike,
    I think your screenshot of the Zuni Cafe is little short of earth-shattering. It’s not the fact that the description is being pulled from Wikipedia (which is notable enough in itself) but that, look at that, all 3 of the old taboos have been broken:

    -The description repeats words already in the business title (the business name)

    -The description uses words already in the category field (restaurant)

    -The description repeats the geography that is in the address field (San Francisco)

    Several updates back, Google removed the language concerning this from the guidelines, but I suspected that doing any of these things was still a faux pas.

    Now I have to wonder.

    Of course, it would be the height of idiocy if having scraped the Wikipedia text, Google would now penalize the Place Page for violations, right?

    I’d love Linda to comment on this, as well, as she and I have in the past discussed whether those old guidelines were still at play, despite their removal from the language.

  14. @Jeff – I have also noticed decline in actions since mid-July but where rankings are stable. Then again, coming off 10% plus conversion rates of impressions to actions that always seemed pretty extraordinary to me – so what is the norm? Highly suspect data n my opinion.

  15. @Jim: Before the drop in actions in July, our impressions:actions ratio was about 250:60, which presumably translates to about a 25% conversion rate. Now it’s 250:20 at best, which would be about 8%, right? So maybe the earlier numbers were just not accurate, and whatever else Google did in July, they may also have fixed some part of this calculation – at least for some businesses. It’s all very mysterious.

  16. Mike, great post and gallery. Thanks for dissecting the layout change so thoroughly: I feel like I’m looking at that poor frog back in 9th-grade science class.

    I’m wondering what effect the layout change–and particularly the now-absent info–will have on CTRs. It seems to me that when there’s not quite as much *written* detail about a business–little things like business hours–one’s natural impulse often would be to check the website. I wonder if to the extent customers “window shop” when they’re checking out the businesses in the 7-pack, they’d now start clicking through to the website (if present) more often before taking a look at the next business.

    In other words, I wonder if we’ll see more cases of a particular business’s rank NOT changing but having its “Actions” increase?

  17. Mike,

    If anyone can upload pictures to a place page. Does the business owner of the place page have the ability to edit and remove photos?

    Dave Jabas

  18. I like the new interface in regards to reviews.. the review button really stands out unlike before..

    But without citations and 3rd party reviews it looks quite bare when someone has claimed their listing.. even worse when they havnt. Almost looks ‘spammy’..

  19. @Dave
    Not only can the owner not edit or remove, the original community poster of the photo does not have that right either. The only option is to report the photo as inappropriate.

  20. Mike,

    I see this as being a huge problem and an opportunity to have another way to spam or affect another business. This is just a problem waiting to happen. Where do the pictures appear on the place page? Is there a number limit? Do any of the pictures replace any of the ones submitted by the owner. Based on all the problems Google has in trying to really make places work, do the really have time to look at and approve every picture that someone wants to add to a place page.

    Dave Jabas

  21. @Dave

    The ability for end user uploads of photos has been in Places since early April. Certainly not as visible as it is now but it has been there for four months.

    So yes, it is another point of reputation management that needs monitoring, so far at least, it has not led to outrageous problems.

  22. @jeff ~ We’re seeing the same thing with impressions/actions. Well I guess we shouldn’t have trusted the “actions” numbers before this latest update. Maybe Mike will someday write a new post about the Places dashboard stats. That would be cool! ;) ~

  23. @jeffrey magner: Thanks for that. Good to know at least that we’re not the only ones seeing that. It would definitely be nice to know exactly what happened and which numbers are more accurate. As it stands, the only reasonable course of action is to ignore the Places stats completely.

  24. We also have seen the click through rates for actions to the place pages and related websites drop in the last 2 weeks. We have seen questionable analytics numbers in the past. Remember back in Febuarary when they were non existent for almost a month.

    Dave Jabas

  25. It’s one more step in the direction of Google saying to SMBs “You don’t need a website, those are complicated and costly. Put your time and attention into building out your Places listing with deals, pics, menus…etc”…

    Google will do whatever they can to own the small business sector. It’s a smart move for them.

    -Gerrid

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