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.
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.