Last week, Google changed the way they display results when you perform a search that indicates you’re looking for a local solution.
For example, let’s say you’re looking for an auto repair shop in St. Louis to bring your car to.
Before last week, the results would have a big map at the top of the page with a listing of 7 businesses. Below that you’d find the regular or “organic” search results. Here’s an example (click for a larger view)…
Now, the map appears on the right side of the screen and Google has combined the local results and organic results so a search for “auto repair St. Louis” now looks like this (click for a larger view)…
Notice how the top spot is a local result for a local auto repair company, the next two results are the top organic search results which, in this case, are local review sites Superpages.com and Yelp.com and then there are more local results listed (the local results have the red pushpin with a letter on it).
A few things that are important to understand about this change…
1. Where you rank in local results is now a combination of things you do to optimize your map listing (called a Places Page) and your organic rankings. Previously optimizing these were two very different undertakings and one had little to no effect on the other.
2. If you were ranked highly on both the map and the organic search results and appeared twice on page 1 of Google, you now only appear once. If you ranked high in one and not the other, you may now find yourself much lower in the rankings.
3. You cannot ignore your company’s Google Places Page. It’s free to claim one for your business. If you haven’t, go claim it and fill out your profile as fully as possible – people will notice.
4. Reviews figure prominently in this new layout. Snippets of reviews will appear on the Google results page next to your business listing. Nothing will keep someone from clicking on your company in the results more than seeing a negative comment from an unhappy customer next to your business. So encourage your happy customers to leave reviews about your business on Google and other review sites like Yahoo! Local and Citysearch.
5. The title tags and meta descriptions on your website are now a key component to making your business stand out in the local rankings. It used to be the local search results had very little to do with your website (in fact, you didn’t even need a website to rank highly!). Now Google is pulling that meta data from your site and using it as the headline and description for your local search listing. Make sure you make the best use of those meta tags!