Google changed the way it serves up SERP results last week for searches assumed to have local intent. With Place Search, Google Places receives more emphasis – organic results, less. The results on Page 1 are now more relevant and focused than ever. From our perspective, it’s an exciting opportunity for businesses to dominate in a competitive space with their website presence.
Right now, this appears to be a moving target. But, here is a quick summary of the changes we’re seeing today:
• The Google “map 7-pack” is gone. A Google Map appears to the right of the screen now above paid ads 4-10. Sometimes the map scrolls over the paid ads – this feature is variable at this point. Paid ads 1-3 are still prominent and at the top of the page.
• The “Place” links that used to appear in the map pack are now in the main search results as rich listings with images. Selected third party sites (mainly review sites) are clustered with the listings. Sometimes the Places link is mixed in with the organic result, combining the two of them into a single entry.
• For most queries, the number of generic organic links served on Page 1 has been reduced and pushed down on the page.
• In cases of ambiguous queries, if Google isn’t sure whether users are seeking local information, a “Places Mode” results page will appear. In this view, organic listings can appear above and below the Place listing results.
• Depending on the location set in the left hand column of the SERP, your search results will be different in both local and organic listings. In fact, a variety of factors impact and change the results you see, including whether or not Instant is on, Google Places is selected, the location is typed into the search bar, and you’re signed in.
• The Maps menu selection has been replaced by Places. Clicking on Places serves up only local results.
What do those changes mean?
• This change reflects Google’s commitment to local search. Businesses need to be equally committed if they want first page placement.
• Place Pages were always important, but now they’re critical.
• Google Reviews are more critical now, too. In addition to being served up on Place pages, a new “review” link appears next to the Place listing and key review sites are served up as clustered links.
• Because of the new scrolling map feature, competition for paid spots 1-3 may be more heated than before. It could also mean a reduced CPC for the lower spot – but that placement is still valuable, and reduced CPC would only increase the ROI on those ads.
• Local search marketing strategies need to be focused and smart. With less SERP real estate, Page 1 has become significantly more competitive.
Greg Sterling summed it up well on SearchEngineLand: “By making local results (and Place Pages) more prominent than even they were before, users will likely respond with more local queries and rely on Google more heavily for local information. The overall volume and percentage of queries on Google seeking local information may in turn increase.”
Google loves to surprise. And what better time to do so than the week of Halloween? For those of us with a pulse on the direction Google has been going, this isn’t a huge shock. Local search continues to dominate and as search moves towards mobile, it will dominate even more. For now, we look forward to seeing how Google’s SERP changes will boost traffic to websites that are optimized for local search.