The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results

The Venice update that started in late January had significant impact on Google local search results. We saw an increase in the display of the PlusBox, an increased search display of Blended results, reduced display of Local Pack and an increasing number of city level results being inserted in the organic SERPS (See Mike Ramsey’s piece at SEOMoz).

This “citification” of organic results where truly local webpages are given a ranking boost is quite significant. It offers clear opportunities via traditional SEO for local SMBs and those with a significant local presence to compete on a broader range of head phrases that don’t show pinned results and that have in the past been the exclusive domain of national sites.

Equally significant was the dramatic increase in the display of Blended Local results and the equally dramatic reduction in the display of Pack results. The 5 and 7 Packs seem to be completely gone and the vast majority of pinned results are now Blended. We all have anecdotal evidence of this shift but it is useful to have a large scale, quantitative view as well.

Just how big was the shift from Local Pack to Blended results?

Hanns Kronenburg of Sistrix, who spoke at SMX Munich, agreed to share Sistrix’s large scale research from his presentation with me. Every week they analyze the search results 100 deep for one million of the most common queries at Google Germany (google.de). For SMX they did some additional analysis of these numbers and extracted before and after Venice tabulations of the absolute and relative frequency of the Local Pack vs the Blended results that occur in the main search results.

Their methodology, which I explored in detail with Hanns, seems to accurately reflect the relative quantities of Blended vs Pack results although it might slightly undercount the absolute number of pinned results. Because the analysis is of Google Germany only there may be some differences with US or other country local results. However my anecdotal experience in the US is consistent with their results and I think the results are typical of pinned local results worldwide.

When viewed on a pie chart the change in the frequency of Blended results is more obvious:

The Sistrix data also showed a shift in the frequency of results within each of the pinned display types on post Venice results. While we don’t have before data for these it is obvious that these results are much more likely to be either a 7 Blended result of a 3- Pack than before:

Key Data Points:
1-The Blended results, unlike in early Januay are now the dominant type of Places search displayed showing more than 2/3 of the time.

2-The Pack results, while reduced to showing only 1/3 of the time, are still present. These are showing frequently on branded searches (like Starbucks + city) but also still show for some broader search phrases (insurance agent + city).

3- The Pack results are now mostly 3 Packs and the previously shown 5 and 7 packs have totally disappeared.

Take aways:
When the Blended results first started showing in fall of 2010 many predicted that Google would only display them. While that has not yet come to pass and in my opinion will not as long as there are relevant universal results to be extracted from Places (like branded locations), Blended results have now, for the first time, become the dominant pinned display type.

To do well in Places search it is necessary, as it has been for the last 18 months, for you to do well in both organic search AND in Maps/Places search. The new Blended results place increased emphasis on web rank for the top results. However it appears that to get a pin you need not just a high ranking organically but in Places/Maps as well. The best way to think about Blended results from an algo point of view is as a hybrid of Organic Ranking + Places/Maps Ranking.

It is still important to do well on Places/Maps Ranking. It insures that on those phrases that you rank well for organically you will get a Pin. But there are other reasons as well. For example if there is not enough highly ranked organic inventory with solid Places rankings, Google will back fill the 7 Blended results with Places only results. And since 33% of results still show Pack results, there is still some opportunity for high ranking Places/Maps results to show there as well.

That being said the opportunities for those that have only optimized for Places are less and nearly gone. Going forward, with Google’s new found ability to identify websites that are located in specific markets, it is likely that even Blended results that are back filling with local results will at some point will skew completely to the fully blended listings.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results by

37 thoughts on “The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results”

  1. This is interesting Mike. I was just talking to David Mihm and Darren Shaw about this during a phone call today. What MOST people are seeing is the complete opposite of what we are seeing in the cosmetic surgery/cosmetic dentistry search space.

    When Places Search rolled out in 2010 blended search results dominated local search spaces nationwide in our particular niche. Fast forward to Venice and we are seeing the complete opposite. We are seeing more “local packs”, but what’s interesting is that the local packs will now feature blended results in them. I touched on this a little in my last post on Search News Central (http://searchnewscentral.com/20120326271/Latest/navigating-local-search-in-a-post-venice-world.html), but nothing seems to be concise.

    I think post Venice local results seem to vary by search space and may not have the same impact across the board. The only thing I have determined is certain is that with Venice broad queries for things like “Dentist” or “plastic surgeon” will deliver more localized results than in the past.

  2. Significant changes indeed! I find it interesting that G would back away from the huge monetizing potential the 7 pack’s provided. It seems odd, I suspect there is something else, something ‘new’, in the works with regard to the presentation of Local results in the SERPS.

    Andy :-)

  3. Hi Mike, I hope SMX Munich was fun!

    We’re seeing a lot of what you just thoroughly explained. Not only have we seen the frequency of the Pack decline, but also the “size” of the Pack when they ARE shown (maybe from 7 or 5 down to 3). It’s definitely interesting. In one respect, it actually helps get some of my clients above the fold organically when the Pack results are only pins A-C, since they have a local page to rank in that city but are not necessarily close enough to the centroid to rank highly in maps/places.

    Thanks for the post.

    Justin

  4. Mike,
    Thank you so much for sharing these takeaways. Looking at the slides and reading this post, some questions arose. Maybe these would make a good follow up post, seeing as we’ve gone through such a big change in Local over the past weeks. May I list my questions?

    - I need to review the accepted definition of a one box. In graphic #5, the chart is referencing 2 and 3 places within the OneBox. I thought a one box meant that ‘one’ company was featured. What am I misunderstanding?

    - You write: “if there is not enough highly ranked organic inventory with solid Places rankings, Google will back fill the 7 Blended results with Places only results.”

    How can a local business owner tell, now, whether the result is solid places or blended? What are the signals to look for?

    - You write: “The Pack results are now mostly 3 Packs and the previously shown 5 and 7 packs have totally disappeared.”

    Am I correct in understanding that when you say the 7 packs have disappeared, you mean the pure local 7 packs have totally disappeared but that the blended 7 packs are now one of the most shown local results?

    Would so appreciate your answers. I’ve been wanting to ask you how you liked Germany!
    Miriam

  5. 1- What Hanns refers to as a Local OneBox we refer to as a Local Pack (3 Pack, 5 Pack or 7 Pack). A result that is drawn exclusively from the local data siloh (Maps or Places).

    2- In the Blended results usually the first 3 or 4 show web page title tags. Sometimes more, sometimes less… but the balance show the Maps Business Name only.

    3- Yes when I am referring to the 7-Pack I am referring to Local (Onebox) Pack with 7 results

  6. Hi,

    There is one very easy way to differentiate local from blended results – by clicking on the marker (the spermatozoid thing with letter in it) in the SERP:

    - if you go into the listing – this is blended
    - if you go into the website – this is local

    Google’s logic, eh?

  7. Interesting post Mike. As you say, it’s been important to rank well organically for quite a while now but it has only become really apparent since Venice.

    What is still annoying though is we often see sites with high inbound link anchors like “solicitors Belfast” get preference over sites from the same area that might rank higher for “solicitors” nationally. This is only a (vague) example and I know there are many other factors at play but I do see it quite a bit. I don’t think enough weight is given to geositemaps and/or schema mark up which matches the Places page of more authoritative sites but it does seem to have taken a step in the right direction.

    @Andrew: Yeah it’s only a matter of time before Google+ gets some sort of integration with Places!

    @Miriam: Thanks for asking about the “OneBox”, I was confused as well!

  8. Very authoritative post Mike. You spell out the requirements for ranking well based on some solid research. The question I have is will you adopt Plamen’s nomenclature for the Places Pins?

  9. @Jeffrey

    I had never tried Plamen’s technique but I figured if he said then it must be true. On the limited cases I tried it was consistently as he noted.

    I had use the criteria of Title tag used instead of business name AND the physical size of the display.

    Hanns, for the purpose of his research, distinguished between LocalPack Results and Hybrid results (Blended Results) by looking if there is the title “Orte für…” (engl. “Places for…”) above the results with pins.

    I think all three currently seem to work.

  10. Mike:

    Excellent article. Better insights and advise.

    one of our smb’s lost its very strong places record recently. It was replaced with a VERY WEAK places record. To date I suppose it was a merger, a dupe/ or some kind of google “clusterf*ck”. Don’t think we did anything malicious sneaky or bad.

    The business has relied relatively strong straight seo, relatively strong Places, and relatively strong PPC. Now the Places component is ptui. its there but its weak.

    Google’s latest advice was “WAIT”.

    Visibility is strong so far, and since the problem traffic and leads are strong.

    Mostly its because of strong standard SEO applied to the local phrases. Fortunately the “pinned results are mostly “merged results” so the organic strength for the time being, is carrying the weak Places strength.

    I know we are losing some traffic and because of that leads and sales. Still the organic side is overcoming what otherwise would be a disaster if all we did was rely upon the Places side of thing.

    Your commentary is priceless. All SEO’s and more importantly the smbs should heed that advice.

  11. Mike and Hanns,
    Thank you very much for that clarification on the ‘onebox’ definition. I was truly mystified about that. Wow…our terminology grows more complex every year. Thanks, fellows!

  12. Hi, great post! It will be included in our Gnome Likes this week. In our little town, we are still seeing the non-blended 7 pack. Do you think the size of the geographical area impacts the types of results that are displayed?

    Thanks!

  13. If Google ascertains (say via user intent) that a query is local AND there are not enough web sites that rank highly with high Maps ranking, then it is possible that Google would still show a 7-Pack. I would like to see screen shots.

  14. Hi Mike, I sent you an email with an example. What you say makes sense, because most of the other results are national business directory type sites.

  15. Hey Mike, I noticed that one of my clients today went back to the pack results today when it used to be more blended. This is interesting and I wonder if you noticed any changes since posting this? At the same time I have seen more local competitors pop up on the landscape and their on-site SEO and link profiles are not very strong. Google Places is starting to confuse me :P

  16. @Chris
    yes and most of the searches are pretty fucked up – search for “carpet cleaner new york ny” for example
    Google Places – where the bugs are

  17. @Plamen and Chris

    Thanks for pointing this out. Clearly very weird. A bug or a feature? that is always difficult to tell with Places but my money would be on a bug.

    It is likely a temporary artifact of Google reworking things on the back end and we are seeing a temporary fix until things are working properly again. It may portend a bigger change in the wind.

  18. Hi Mike
    Thanks for the explanation and forgive me if I always seem to bash G but those drugs we sold you to keep you alive might have a defect so take them while standing on your head, if that does not work… that car we sold you that you depend on well it might kill you so… and the weapons your army uses have a slight bug, they work in reverse, we’re working on it.as I’ve said before the International Space station has some marvelous technology, Google not so much

  19. @Chris
    Google’s policy of shipping early and innovating often has served them well in most of their products…. in local where folks expect it to represent reality it does not.

    When we are looking for a local business we don’t expect bugs, quirks or variability (all hallmarks of Google’s technology) we expect rock solid day in and day out… and this is just one of a long line of not rock solid….

    @Linda
    Thanks

  20. Interesting.

    What i see now is a 7 pack of results and only 3 web results for a localized search.
    blended or not, there will be only 3 web results when a keyword has a map showing in the results.

    does anyone else see this?

  21. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for the chuckle, very clever. Everyone has some bias in their perspective. In my case, a strong background in library science coupled with decades as and amongst local owners lends confidence to my credibility. Bottom line Google can’t be trusted, the 3 of them should be ashamed of themselves. They may have quite a few apostles and disciples elsewhere but in this community it ain’t happenin any time soon.

  22. @John

    I assume that you are referring to Places Search? That was what Chris and Plamen were referring to above. Everybody has been only seeing that since yesterday AM EST

    @Chris

    At the minimum Larry Page will have difficulty getting the “love” he craves from the SMB. :)

  23. Interesting. This explains why I have seen the changes in rankings with some of my clients the last 2 weeks. I have noticed the change to blended and thought the competition had pushed these keywords from a 7 pack to blended. I hadn’t thought it was due to Venice. However, it looks like it is more likely Venice just took a while to roll out in my area and not necessarily a competition thing.

    Very useful information Mike and much appreciated.

  24. Hey guys, just wanted to let you know Vanessa just confirmed it’s just a bug – not a permanent change. Engineers are working on a fix.

  25. Mike – I’m finding with this new rollout that rankings for various searches with the same SERP format are different. ie a bounce between #1, #2 and #3 position. Is anyone else reporting this phenomenon? I haven’t seen this happen before.

    thx,

    Jeff

  26. Hey Mike,

    I am new to the space and I am really trying to wrap my head around the blending of local and organic search results. Recently, I have been pulled onto a project that requires me to explain why one of our clients no longer ranks for the organic search term for which their home page has ranked for months…. I was very green to local and I have spent the last two weeks developing my answer and I thought I found it in the fact that many suggest that you can’t rank both locally and organically when the results are blended. However, when I looked at their competition I realized one of them ranks in the local blended results on page one for their homepage and the homepage ranks organically on page 7 of the SERP. Can you offer me any insight regarding local and organic blended search results regarding the same URL?

    Thanks,
    Matt

  27. @Matt
    There is no single simple answer to your question. Multiple pages can and do rank in local. It depends on the query, page content and relevance to the query and exactly how Google does the blend. Not all local results are blended results either.

    It is very difficult for me to answer the question in a general way without looking at the specifics of the given search, the local record and the competition.

  28. Good Morning Mike!

    Thank you for responding. I guess my biggest question was if there are blended results can you rank in both local and organic?

    For some back story my client is in the real estate market in Chicago. Being real estate blended results are showing up, however, their homepage used to hold the top organic spot and now their homepage only appears on the local results. As I dug through the results there are very few instances of a single webpage ranking for both local and organic search. This made me wonder if it was possible to have the same exact page show up in both the results when blended results were shown.

    Furthermore, if it is in fact possible, is it worth putting our efforts in to having the exact same page rank twice?

    Any advice you could give would be very helpful. As I had mentioned I am new to the local search space and a recent graduate trying to stand out in a small marketing company, so it would be very helpful for any and all insights!

    Thanks,
    Matt

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