Google recently made changes in their search engine results with the launch of Places search. With this launch, Google combined the map-based Google Local listings with its organic search results.
Local searches have gained increasing importance with Google, which has worked hard on improving its ability to predict your location and offer local results without the use of a city name in your query.
The idea is to make it easier to find local information by combining results — presenting a more comprehensive view of a business by pulling information from multiple websites.
Before the change, when you searched for a local pizza place you’d see a couple of sponsored links at the top of the page. Then there was a large map with seven local pizza places listed to the right of it, followed by the organic search results.
This was great for a lot of small businesses whose sites didn’t rank high in the organic results — or who didn’t have a website at all — because there was still a chance to get on the first page of Google. By setting up a free Google Local page, you may have been lucky enough to place in the top local results.
Now the map with the local business listings has been pushed to the right side of the screen above the sponsored links. Businesses no longer are listed to the right of it.
Moving the map to the right has allowed the organic results to move up. And now if a business that’s listed in the organic results has a Google Places account set up, its listing has been enhanced with photos, reviews and contact information pulled from Google Places.
Finally, on the left side of the page, there is a search option called “Places.” If you click on that, only the Google Places page results show up. So you still can rank high by just having the Google Places page set up for your business — but the only people who see those results will be the ones who know to click on the Places link.
What the change means…
For search engine experts trying to figure out what this change means to their clients, here are some tips:
- If you do business locally, you need to pay more attention to Google’s local priorities, such as Google Places.
- Traditional search engine strategies that help a website rank high will have more importance. If you were relying on your Places page for search engine visibility and didn’t have a website, you may be in trouble.
- Adwords Ads — at least the top ones — are easier to see, making them more important. Google seems to be making an effort to get small business owners to advertise using Adwords, which means it will get more competitive.
- You may see less website traffic because addresses and phone numbers are easier to find in the search engine results and a percentage of people who visit your website are only looking for contact info.
- Reviews are more important, not only from Google but from third-party sites such as Yelp, CitySearch and InsiderPages.
What should you do next?
Because there’s no longer a distinction between organic and local search results you have to make sure both aspects of your online presence are managed well. It will be very hard for any business to rank well for local search without a well-optimized website and a claimed, optimized Google Places page.
- Set up or claim your Google pages/local account at http://bit.ly/gooclaim. Fill out your listing as completely as possible, including images. Add as many categories as you can (five as of now).
- Start asking people to leave reviews on your Google Places page as well as on third-party sites.
- Get listed in as many third-party directory sites as possible, making sure all registrations are consistent as far as name, street address, contact information, etc.
- If you don’t have a website, get one, especially if you were one of those business owners who relied on a listing next to the map.
Although the changes are fairly new, it is evident that Google is making “local” a priority.
For your best chance at getting website traffic from local searchers, your site needs to rank well in the search engines and have a well-optimized local “Places” listing.
For more information on advertising trends and news, please contact us at StreamCompanies.com