Eye on the Industry: Google Place Search – The Facts and Implications

The following is a post from Hart Van Santvoord, TIG Global Search Marketing Manager.

Facts:
In a recent post, we touched on the high-level changes to Google search results brought about by the introduction of Place Search last week. In review, the three main changes we’ve noticed are:

  1. Introduction of one merged, updated algorithm incorporating elements of both the traditional organic algorithm and the local search algorithm.
  2. Migration of the traditional “7-pack” map to the top right of the search results), which now scrolls as the user scrolls.
  3. Significant growth in the amount of local content displayed, like reviews, star ratings and direct links to review sites.

Now that we have identified and provided a detailed visual of the changes it is time to dive into some of the initial implications for your business and/or website.

Implications:
Paid Search occupies less real estate – The new location of the map, in the upper right, takes the place of three sponsored links, pushing them down and resulting in fewer ads being displayed above the fold. The map also covers additional ads by floating as the user scrolls down the page. This could potentially drive up the cost of ads in position 1-3 (at the top of the page) and diminish the amount of traffic driven through ads 4-10 (traditionally along the entire right hand side of the SERP).

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Maximum of one placement in organic results – In the past, those websites that had strong SEO and local exposure could potentially occupy a position in the 7-pack as well as in the main organic section. With the merger of the traditional organic algorithm and the local search algorithm, these positions have also merged, offering only one opportunity per website.

Increased importance on Place page verification and optimization – Now that elements of the local algorithm play a huge role in ranking, and Place page optimization is believed to be a very important factor in the local algorithm, it is very important to continue to optimize and remain active within your business’s Place page. Be sure to post photos, videos and strategically select business categories in order to send the right signals to Google for your Place page.

UGC (user generated content) is more prominent in new results – Not only are actual, verbatim user reviews populating in the new Place search, but a cluster of direct links to review sites such as TripAdvisor.com and Yelp.com are also displayed. This requires increased engagement with users and monitoring of your online reputation and puts user experience, both on and offline, in the cross hairs. Now that reviews are front and center, strong ranking could be a double-edged sword if a negative review is the one Google picks to display.

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Less traffic to your site – Going along with the above, the change in format could result in less traffic going directly to your business’s website as only one of the potential seven links in the new Place Search sends users directly to your site. This reiterates the importance of increased interaction and monitoring of both your Google Place page and your presence on review sites. It will be very interesting to see what shifts in traffic by referring domains we see in the coming weeks as review sites now occupy far more real estate on the search engine results pages.

No more mapspam – While this was never as prevalent an issue in the hospitality industry, we can expect to no longer see mapspam in the new, Place Search search results. Mapspam occurs when a local listing with a high number of reviews is hijacked, updated and displayed with incorrect business information, sending users to the hijacker’s website. With the increased importance of claiming and optimizing your Places page and the merger of traditional natural results and local results, it will be much less likely for a Places listing to be hijacked and then displayed in the Place Search results.

Impact on directory, Internet yellow page sites – Now that there is one single algorithm, and local plays such an important part in the new, merged algorithm, much is in question regarding the role Internet yellow page sites, such as SuperPages.com and YellowBook.com, will play in organic search. With potentially fewer traditional organic listings in far less opportune areas of the search engine results page, we can only assume that traffic to these sites will decrease and, in turn, advertising via Internet yellow page sites will become less valuable.

Impact on the OTAs – The impact for the OTAs rests mostly on their ability to generate user content and user reviews. We have already seen examples of Expedia.com gaining exposure in the cluster of review sites and the OTAs historically perform extremely well organically for city+hotel and other variations of keyword phrases. They will continue to compete with the Internet yellow page sites for the few traditional organic results and will continue to shell out the money to show up in the top three Paid Search results.

In conclusion, at this point, Place Search seems to be good for users and good for businesses with strong traditional and local SEO. We look forward to seeing the rollout of Place Search on mobile devices in the near future and will keep an eye on all of the implications listed above. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and do not hesitate to reach out to TIG for help in the local space.

Worried about how these recent search changes will impact your business? Interested in ramping up your search engine strategy? Learn more about the full suite of online marketing services offered by TIG Global, send us an email, or give us a call at 301-841-4700.

4 thoughts on “Eye on the Industry: Google Place Search – The Facts and Implications

  1. November 3, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Will Google put some effort into improving the accuracy of Google Places as well as just revamping presentation?

    I’ve used Google Maps ‘report’ button to tell them about results that contain (a) multiple entries for the same business and (b) positions that are wildly inaccurate, perhaps deliberate attempts by owners trying to get better ranking in the results, and 9/10 nothing ever seems to be corrected. I’ve given up trying.

    1. admin
      November 4, 2010 at 9:01 am

      Thank you for your question. It is important to remember that Google looks at several reports or signals before making changes like these. You can read more about the process here:

      http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=162873

      While we have not heard anything about changes to the “report a problem” process, it is very clear that Google is placing a lot of emphasis on the verification and optimization of a business’s Place page. Be sure to stay involved in your Place page as this appears to factor significantly into determining rank under the new layout.

      Best,
      Hart Van Santvoord
      TIG Global Search Manager

  2. Ecom Geek
    November 5, 2010 at 11:14 am


    I suspect that Google won’t waste the valuable real estate Place page listings now take up in the main SERPs.  To that end, I think your take on “Impact of the OTAs” is not right.  I do fear that Place page listings will become the domain of the OTAs, just as Maps listings started to see the encroachment of OTAs.   In fact, Google had already started testing OTAs piggybacking on local listings in the 7 pack pre-Place Search change.    A screenshot of such a test is included here:

    http://www.ecommercegeek.com/2010/10/hoteliers-beware-of-the-little-blue-triangle/
     

    1. admin
      November 8, 2010 at 3:12 pm

      Thank you for your comment. We have seen these tests as well, but haven’t seen them yet in the new format. Google is always testing new features so we’ll have to wait and see what they decide to do regarding this feature. It will be interesting to see how search results continue to evolve as more parties battle for real estate.

      Hart Van Santvoord
      http://www.TIGGlobal.com

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