You may not be seeing it in Firefox yet, but fire up your Google Chrome browser, and you'd better be sitting down for this one because the new integrated Google Local results are dizzyingly different and ready to rock the SERPs. My Canuck friends to the North aren't seeing this yet, and the rollout isn't complete in all browsers in the USA, but the implications of this totally new layout, if set in stone, are going to effect every local business on the map.

The first hints of this major change started appearing in July of this year when a few SEOs, including Mike Blumenthal, noticed some queer testing going on, but over the past couple of days, a big wave of altered results has resulted in some 50+ emails rushing back and forth amongst my Local SEO colleagues who are feeling fairly blown away by what we are seeing.

For review, for quite some time now, if you did a search for Chinese Restaurant San Francisco you would be shown results like the following, with the map and 7 Pack at the top, Adwords to the right and organic/universal results below:

Now, perform the same search in Google Chrome and you will see something very different, with a floating map at the top of the Adwords column, a vanished 7 Pack and local data stemming from Google Places integrated right into the organic results:

Let's dissect one of these new integrated results. I hereby nominate Henry's Hunan Restaurant for fame here on Search Engine Guide. The following graphic will show you the basic elements that are making up most of the new integrated local results I am seeing, though there are some variations. What you will see here is a combination of traditional data from the business' website, such as the title and meta description tags, plus much rich data from the business' Google Place Page:

Why This Is A Big Deal For Local-Focused Businesses
I've literally had no more than about 24 hours to really sit and play with this, so my opinions are just forming, but to me, the most revolutionary aspect of this is the perks apparently being given to those businesses which have successfully combined their on-site and off-site work for a strong local and organic presence.

Why is this a big deal? Let me count the ways:

- Google Local/Places used to be open to all comers, including those without a website. You could rank in the 7 Pack and Maps with no website. While website-less companies will still be able to add and verify their Place Page listing, their chances of gaining prime rankings without a website have just become much more remote.

- Over the past couple of years, many businesses with strong websites found their organic listings pushed down by 7 Packs they may or may not have been able to break into. If organic web page rank is now being taken into account in these integrated results, the chance is there to leap back up into the running for companies with strong websites.

- This may be one of Google's most effective attempts to fight Mapspam yet. Spammers and scammers who found it easy to take shortcuts in Maps/Places, creating lots of fake listings, fake reviews and other simple data may find that their goose is about to be cooked. This laziness will not do in a new Local world that demands a high ranking website to gain top visibility. Will this lead to spammers developing high ranking local business websites? Maybe so, but for now, at least in my view, the new results are slanted toward those who have been working hard on their websites all along.

Possible Negative Effects Of Integrated Local Search
To me, the greatest negative potential of this integrated approach is its ability to put Google's bad local business data in the limelight, mixing it up with the correct data provided by business owners via their self-regulated websites. The errors, bugs and spam in Google Maps are rife and any change Google makes to promote its own data means promoting false information. Until Google's local business index is markedly cleaner, they will continue to publish bad data and the more prominence Local is given in the SERPs, the more power that bad data has to misrepresent and mislead.

Secondly, in some verticals, some businesses that formerly enjoyed two organic listings for a given search term may now be seeing only one or none, as a result of the integrated listings pushing other data down or off the front page. I say in 'some' verticals, because in looking at some of my clients' results in less competitive verticals or in more rural (less populous) areas, I am seeing results in which my clients not only have a high integrated local rank, but also have 1-2 organic results from their website appearing below this. Depending on the competitiveness of your industry in your geographic location, you may wind up with a little less visibility or truly ruling that front page.

One potential negative I'm considering but haven't had time to really research is this: I have clients who are ranking excellently in both the old 7 Pack and organic results for their main service term and the city in which they are located. Maps/Places has been built around the premise that each business is allowed to rank only for the city in which it is physically located. That's Google's take on what a local business is, but in the real world, there are countless businesses that offer go-to-client services in a wide area. For example, I have a client who is a mobile notary public. Let's say she is located in San Francisco, but she also renders services in Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond.

Historically, the way we have worked with Google's definition is to create a Google Place Page for a client like this notary in her main city - let's say that's San Francisco. Then, harnessing the power of her website, we have created strong content pages for each of the other cities in which she serves. The result of this has been excellent organic rankings for all major points in her service area, backing up her high local rank for her city of location.

But what happens now? Will the new integrated local SERPs push my client's high ranking service area web pages off page 1? This will require further investigation of the new system.

Another possible downside to this is that the integrated data does make it rather easy for your potential website traffic to go off in all different directions. Some may click on your Place Page link, others on the various user review sites being listed or elsewhere. The bottom line with SMBs tends to be that they want business and money and don't particularly care how the phone ends up ringing or how the client ends up walking through the door. So long as all of these secondary data sources (secondary to your website) lead to you, this may not be much of a problem, but your basic organic traffic could potentially drop as visitors decide to investigate you in other ways.

Finally, those businesses without websites may find themselves left out of the game. My advice to you - this is the time to invest in an excellent, professional website, rich in the content that helps your potential customers to know all about you, your locations and the benefits of doing business with you. With the new integrated results, those days of depending on the phone book (or a simple Maps listing) are really, really over.

In Conclusion
In the dawning hours of this rollout, I am seeing big ranking shuffles going on between the old SERPs and the new. Businesses that didn't rate an A-G ranking in the former 7 pack are now being brought to sudden prominence, ostensibly on the strength of their organic/local combined efforts. As a web designer, I actually like this change because it appears to be set to reward the big investment of time and money that goes into developing useful, helpful websites - as opposed to solely rewarding the 20 minutes it takes to create a Place Page.

As a Local SEO, my chief feelings of concern arise from Google's historic and current failure to combat the spam and errata in their index. The most we ever hear from Google reps on this score is, "We're working on it," and that has never, nor should ever be good enough for the local business owners whose reputations and livelihoods hang in the balance.

This is a very exciting time in Local, and if you own a local business or do Local SEO for clients, head over to Chrome and start looking at your results. You're bound to see big changes.


October 28, 2010





Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.






Comments(17)

My thoughts mirror yours pretty closely. It looks to me like ranking organically in the top three is the only guarantee of hitting the first page since Google will always need a minimum of three organics to round out the SERPs to a minimum of ten (assuming that the magic number of 10 listings still applies - it seems to for now). Also a bit worried about the way the floating map obscures sponsored listings as you scroll down the page.

Miriam,

Nice post and great insights for 24hours.

Hey, we're seeing the full new local SERP listings up here in Canada now.

I just finished going through all my clients and the ones that are ranking well have had a strong authority with their Places listing & Good SEO on their websites. The ones who seem to have lost rankings where the ones that I don't manage their sites, just their places listing (go figure).

I too am trying to figure out this new algorithm for local SERP's. It looks like if your don't have optimized title tags on your website then your Merged Google Place/Organic Listing may not rank as well.

I thinking links may also play a roll, but not totally sure yet.

I guesing here a little, but it looks like the new formula will be:
strong website + good onpage local seo + links + claimed google places listing + citations + reviews + user content (aka my maps) = strong local SERP's rankings.

Nothing really new to the formula, but still keeps us on our toes.

Nothing static about internet marketing!

Love to hear what your thoughts are on what you think the major factors are to the new local algorithm..?

BTW, I've been a fan of yours for some time! :)

I agree with the floating map obscuring the sponsored listings. I use adwords to advertise and my listing after this was rolled out was hard to find and and layout doesn't look as clean. It also looks to reward those who might have been on page 7 with front page listing on certain keywords.

Greetings Rebecca & Sharon,
Taking into account your concerns about Adwords, I would recommend a perusal of Matt McGee's post about the new integrated results:

http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/5-quick-impacts-of-googles-new-local-search-results/3757/

Take a look at the prime real estate being given in the pink box to Adwords in his screenshot. Matt feels that Adwords will actually become more important than less. Something to consider.

Thanks for taking the time comment.
Miriam

Greetings, Matthew,
Thank you for your very kind comments.

I think your equation looks pretty accurate. Basically, at this early stage in the game, the feeling I'm getting is that rankings will now depend on a combination of everything you've always known is good for traditional SEO, plus everything you know is important for local SEO. In one stroke, Google has brought the old and new together, and local businesses and their marketers must have a clear understanding of both disciplines. To my way of thinking, this has always been true, but the difference is that the results are now combined, rather than separate.

Your findings about how you carefully managed clients are ranking matches my own. Way to go!

Thanks so much for stopping by.
Miriam

The floating map feature is annoying, but I think this change points out once again that content is still king.

Hello, Seth,
Would you like to explain exactly why you find the floating map annoying? I've heard a few people express this, but not explain why it annoys them. Is it distracting? Something else?

Yes, the importance of content in local has just been given a boost like its 2006 all over again, but, truly, it looks to me like integration is king here. You've got to have your local and organic ducks all in a row for this one.

Thanks so much for stopping by.
Miriam

Good stuff, thanks Miriam.

One thought, two questions.

Thought => I suspect that this isn't the end of Google revamping their local focused initiatives. I'm sure they see Yelp, Twitter and Facebook in their rear view mirror.

Question 1 => Would anyone care to comment on this new layout and algorithm is going to play in Instant?

Question 2 => In terms of Google Places, what is the standard recommendation for work from home types? Or at least those who don't have a standard single office, per se.

Hi Mark,
It's early days yet to figure out how this will play out with Instant, but that's an excellent question.

On the work-from-home question, you've brought up a subject which I have been writing about/asking Google to respond to for years. At this point, Google considers local businesses to be those with a physical office. If you can't show an address, for whatever reason, they don't want you in your index right now.

A few months ago, Google did incorporate a feature into Maps called 'hide this address' which would enable a business without an address to list themselves in Maps but have their address hidden. This seemed like the solution so many business models were waiting for, but unfortunately, tests of this feature indicated that if you choose the 'hide this address' feature, you can add your business to the index, but you won't show up anywhere at all. So, it's basically useless, from what I can see.

Until Google revises their stance on what qualifies as a local business, all companies without a physical address are out of luck.

Miriam

Thanks for the post.

I'm seeing similar results here in New Zealand - ie those with well optimised sites seem to be ranking well in Place results.

I think it means more of good practice - good content, good behaviour, good service, good links will all pay dividends.

Historically, the way we have worked with Google's definition is to create a Google Place Page for a client like this notary in her main city - let's say that's San Francisco. Then, harnessing the power of her website, we have created strong content pages for each of the other cities in which she serves. The result of this has been excellent organic rankings for all major points in her service area, backing up her high local rank for her city of location.

But what happens now? Will the new integrated local SERPs push my client's high ranking service area web pages off page 1? This will require further investigation of the new system.

............

This is what is worrying me about the new layout... it used to be fairly straight forward to deal with this issue with some intelligent SEO, but not any more...

I would welcome other people's thought on this issue

This really is a big chance. I think SEO's need to start thinking about the big picture and prepare to get into more areas such as social marketing, local listings, etc since more of these elements are being filtered into the search results.

Great post..
It's look like a beta release to me. Google has rolled it out for some short tailed, large volume searches.
Example searches :
'self catering cornwall' displays the Full '7 pack' local results with 4 organic listing below, a long way below the fold!!
'hotel cornwall' displays one organic followed by the full '7 pack' with 4 organic listing below.

My personal opinion on these results is not positive, I don't like the display or the information
delivered and I honestly can not see Google rolling this one out in full...it's a bit like the big image backgrounds they launch for a day and then ditched because it looked awful.
It doesn't look right and they are delivering inconsistent results.

Chris Horner
SEO at TOP PAGE

Great post and great reasoning on the effects of the new look search results page - particularly the point around the effect on organic traffic and thus the fragmentation of traffic between Places page and business website. I am beginning to wonder why Google would want to drive more traffic to a Places page - could it just be because they want more businesses to claim their listings or will this eventually be monetized in some way?

Thanks for all the great thoughts, folks.

Andy -
So far, I am seeing a variety of results. For the most part, well-optimized city pages for clients are still managing to have a presence on page 1, sometimes in the new blended results, sometimes as a purely organic results. I have seen a few reports of pages getting downshifted, but mostly I am hearing that good past organic results are managing to hang on, for now, anyway.

JK73-
The decision to drive traffic to Place Pages should definitely be put considered a monetary one. Place Pages are monetized with AdWords and that is how Google makes a living. So, yes, definitely a financial move on their part.

Thanks for doing the thinking and sharing it. Was wondering if this new Google display was sporadic, category oriented, or what? Your insight is appreciated.

I am very pleased to see the integration go through and cut down on so much of the shortcut/spamming techniques. As you pointed out, there is a lot of time and money invested in a website and it is good to see hard work rewarded in the serps.

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