Blended Google Places Search Results: What You Need To Know

We’ve been watching Google test integrated Places search results for a month or two now, and today they began rolling it out systemwide. What has changed and what does it mean for you and your business? In this post, I’ll walk through some of the changes and their implications.

Your search results look different.

And actually, they don’t just look different – they really are different results. Take a look at a before shot from the Do’s and Don’ts article we posted last week.

Before today’s rollout, search results were broken into three distinct and separate areas: Local (pictured above), Organic (the ten results below the map) and Sponsored (PPC above the map and along the right hand side of the page). Local and Organic each had their own unique algorithms to serve up results. There were anywhere from 10 to 17 non-paid search results on the first page for any given search query.

But in this after shot, things look quite different:

The look has completely changed. The local results are now blended in with the organic results. There are several difference to note:

  • The map has been moved into the right column, and floats down the page as you scroll. Sponsored listings in that column have moved further down the page, making AdWords a more competitive landscape since fewer ads are visible above the fold. In fact, as the map floats down the page it obscures the ads, which do not float.
  • There are fewer organic search results on the first page. Depending on the search query, local results displace between 1 and 7 organic results. However, note that for “Chicago Lasik Surgeon” there are 15 results overall – 7 local and 8 organic. The numbers vary wildly from search to search. I found one query which showed 6 local and only 4 organic. Other searches may only show 3 locals but balance it with a higher number of organic listings, while others may show 7 local and only 3 organic.
  • The local ranking order has changed. While these were never exactly static ranks to begin with, local did tend to be more stable than the constant fluctuations of organic listings. The blending of local and organic into a single algorithm has effected a ranking change in its implementation.

What does it mean for your online presence?

There are certainly a number of consequences to this change, and you definitely need to take them seriously.

  • Being in the 7-pack is a must. Now, the 7-pack no longer exists as we knew it yesterday, but seven is still the magic number. If you were on the first page before, but you weren’t in the 7-pack and you didn’t rank in the top 3 organic results, you now may be relegated to page 2. I’ve seen Google list as many as 8 organic results in our test queries, but you certainly can’t count on it. The only way to guarantee a first page organic listing is to be in the top 3 organic results. Even then you’re still likely to be below the fold. What to do? Work on getting into the 7-pack! Your efforts here will be somewhat limited by your physical location, but if you follow Google’s guidelines and don’t spam your listing,  you’ll be well on your way.
  • SEO is definitely NOT dead! There’s always someone out there who will post the obligatory “SEO is dead” article whenever a major change like this comes about. But it’s not! It is SO not! In fact, I strongly suspect that the blended local+organic algorithm takes traditional SEO and link building into consideration when serving local results. Even if it doesn’t, the bar has certainly been raised for what constitutes effective SEO. If it was good enough to get to position 9 yesterday, today it’s not good enough. Time to step up your game. Additionally, any SEO worth his salt will tell you that the true value of your website lies in the long tail. Long tail searches are mostly immune to the “local intent” criteria used by the new algo. Keep in mind that searches for your pet keyword likely only comprise a small portion of your search traffic. Therefore, losing ranking on the pet keyword may not translate to a big drop in traffic.
  • Searches with no obvious local intent may still yield local results. Why? Because Google isn’t sure, so it’s playing it safe. For instance, a search for “Lasik” could have local intent or it could just be someone looking for general information.
  • Search quality is actually better for the end user. As much as it drives us SEOs up the wall, the quality of the results is actually much, much better. Generic national directory-style sites are notably missing when “local intent” is triggered, leaving the searcher with a clean list of local businesses which provide the service or product they’re looking for. Some industry watchers believe that it’s signaling the end for those big yellow pages style sites. Others have wondered about antitrust issues. But when I look at the results now, I think they’re considerably more useful, less polluted.

Here’s what you should do about it.

  • Claim and optimize your Google Places profile for each of your locations. This is the only way to give your business the best shot possible of ranking in the blended 7-pack.
  • Focus on high quality, well-targeted SEO and link building. Sound familiar? Before and after are remarkably similar here.
  • Provide excellent content. The top three organic results are the only ones guaranteed to rank locally, and those three tend to be high quality, relevant sites devoid of junk.
  • Focus on the long tail. That’s not exactly new, either, but it’s worth reiterating. Long tail search doesn’t often trigger the local intent algorithm, and as such there should be very little change here. It’s also one of the most valuable assets to your site. Don’t ignore it just because it’s not an exact match to your pet keyword.
  • Stop worrying about it. Truthfully, no one knows yet what the full impact will be, but keep this in mind: Rankings do not equal conversions. Take a deep breath and repeat that with me: Rankings do not equal conversions! Are they strongly correlated? Yes, of course they are. But remember what I said above about long-tail traffic? People will still find you. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t worry about it, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle, and it’s just too soon to tell what the impact really will be. Add an annotation to today’s date in your Google Analytics, then go have a nice, long lunch.

For more information about the integration of Google Places and organic SERPs, I recommend Search Engine Land’s excellent article, New Place Search Shows Google’s Commitment To Local.

What are your thoughts?

This is still a very new development, and I’m sure that we haven’t yet digested or imagined every implication. We welcome our readers to discuss the impact of blended results in our comments.

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14 Responses to “Blended Google Places Search Results: What You Need To Know”

  1. John D Says:

    I think this post is wonderful. This change in SERPs is going to be really interesting to watch in terms of conversions and how quality SEO really changes. Becuase it will. It certainly will not be the death of SEO, but I think it will really change the focus of our work. Long tail is still a major player, and that’s excellent for many businesses. However, the physical location of a small-medium business will play more of a role than ever before. Let’s hope that Google actually follows this up and removes spammy, keyword ridden Places accounts that still seem to find themselves at the top of listings. While I agree that this change improves the overall quality of the SERPs for any given query, I think that Google also needs to focus on regulating/making sure that its’ guidelines are actually met.

  2. Kyle Alm Says:

    Our clients always want to know about the map listings. There are going to continue to be changes in local search. It’s about listings and the correct directory; not much has really changed from the phonebook.

    Where/when is the real “game-changer?”

  3. Patti Says:

    So, I disagree on this being better for the end user. I’ve never loved the seven pack, three pack, or any local maps mucking up my SERPs. If I need local businesses, I’ve always looked to the Google Maps section of Google. I’m not necessarily your average searcher, but I do know many other folks who search similarly.

    Different strokes for different folks, eh?

  4. SERPD Says:

    Blended Google Places Search Results: What You Need To Know…

    We’ve been watching Google test integrated Places search results for a month or two now, and today they began rolling it out system-wide. What has changed and what does it mean for your organic, loc……

  5. Matt Says:

    I think that there is no doubt that this is good news for the SME who operate in a specific location. There are still so many SME businesses who have relied on Yell.com, 192.com, yellow pages and Thomson Local to bring them leads. There are so many local businesses who have next to no web presence still and surely this is the final straw for such directories. A basic website can cost next to nothing and this change by Google will give more reasons to develop such a site.

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  7. Gyi Tsakalakis Says:

    Goog points. Have you noticed that there seem to be different varieties of “local” results, hybrid organic, places listings integrated in organic, and even traditional 7 pack results.

  8. White Hat, Black Belt » Blog Archive » Yet Another Algo Change: What Google Previews Is and What it Means to You Says:

    [...] Google Blended Search [...]

  9. Jim Mazzo Says:

    We have been working on this. One issue is for internet businesses that want to market to the whole country get screwed in favor or local businesses. Our business is to do web-based tinnitus therapy and there just aren’t enough people in our local area to use our services. I think Google screwed up.

  10. Eipsellig Gerg Says:

    Can somebody please explain the madness of who gets to the top of the 7 pack? I have seen sites with attrocious reviews get listed first and yes I know what Google tell you to do but I just don’t see a true pattern here?

    Anyone else feel the same?

  11. Rebecca L. Says:

    Hi Eipsellig,

    Google doesn’t distinguish between good and bad reviews for ranking. It would be too easy to game the system that way. The only way that reviews are included in ranking is by the total number of reviews. More reviews is better, no matter the sentiment behind them. Even then, a business which has fewer than its competitors can still rank highly if it’s closer and more relevant.

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