November 15, 2010 1

Making Sense of Google Places

By in Local Business, PPC, SEO

Not long after the release of Instant Search, Google has updated its results with much greater emphasis on local queries and Places. This is the old results page:

old results page

And this is the new results page:

new results page

As you can see a lot more screen real estate is taken up with detailed listings for nearby Places. Each listing is spread out over a few lines, with review links and stars, contact info and an image.  The map has been moved to the right and paid ads have been pushed down.

But that’s not the only change. Different queries trigger different layouts. In this screenshot below ‘coffee london’ triggers a layout which is more reminiscent of the old condensed local layout but with the map on the right:

coffee london

Up to this point things look fairly neat but here is when it starts to get messy, a search for ‘hotel london’ has a different layout again (conducted immediately after the search for coffee london):

hotel london

In this view there is one Place result, followed by 2 results from the main organic index, followed by 6 more Place results, followed by 6 organic results, followed by 1 news result! Google is clearly experimenting with different layouts and trying to find the right balance. Things are certainly busier than the original ultra clean look that Google has always been known for.

So what do all of the changes mean?

  • Search results are changing rapidly  so what stands now maybe quite different tomorrow
  • We are clearly on a path to greater and greater localilisation and personalisation of search results
  • Its always been hard for small businesses to compete with larger ones in terms of SEO, but this levels the playing field to some degree since any small local business with positive reviews and a looked after Places account now has a chance at showing in prominent positions
  • The knock on effect on PPC is that the top 3 most coveted slots will become more expensive which suits large brands anyway, and ads in the right sidebar may experience a decline in CTR (the map moves down with the page so its always above the paid ads)
  • Google Places optimisation and looking after your reputation is increasingly important (third party reviews are factored into Place results)

When Google first rolled out the Places update, some one word searches like ‘coffee’ without any locations were triggering the new Places layout. This seems to have been revoked since the initial launch a few weeks ago which is probably a good thing since someone searching for one generic word like ‘coffee’ might be looking for history, facts, recipes or anything else.

Overall I think the emphasis on Places will be a good thing for most small, local businesses.

  • Boris Jacquin

    And try this with different browsers and you will get different results. I was surprised to see how different results were using Chrome, which seems to be the browser of choice when it comes to predicting what may be rolled out across the board.

    Search is going increasingly local, and I noticed that Google recently removed the automatic local search, which pinpointed the user according to several factors, but not the IP address (mine points to Melbourne, but I am in Sydney. It seems that Google used other factors, such as – very possibly – my default Google Maps place as I think I am signed into Gmail most of the time – which of course, may trigger other results).

    SEO is far from dead, it’s going local, mobile and social. You can read my thoughts on this on my blog. .

    What is clear, however, is that Google are putting their interests first by increasing the visibility of the sponsored links, which makes them, in my view, even more evil than before. Their monopoly is extremely unhealthy and I am curious ti see what will happen with Bing.