A Seismic Shift on Google for Local Searches

by Adam Kreitman

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!

Related posts:

  1. Google Local Search: How a Lowly PPC Specialist Beat The Local SEO Firms at Their Own Game
  2. Tag Your Local Business Listing in Google
  3. Google Local Search Update: Lowly PPC Guy Gets A Big Slap And An Important Reminder
  4. Google Maps Marketing: The Quick, Critical (and Free) Step 88% of Local Business Owners Have Missed
  5. Facebook Advertising: 5 Pros and 4 Cons for Small Businesses

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jason Hyman November 5, 2010 at 8:13 AM

Adam,
what’s your thought on how this change will effect IYP’s?

2 Adam Kreitman November 5, 2010 at 9:08 AM

Jason-

From a local business’ perspective, certainly having reviews from IYPs featured next to your company’s local listing right on the SERPs is going to increase their importance/prominence. Businesses are going to have to monitor their listings on those sites (if they weren’t already) and even encourage customers to leave reviews at sites other than Google.

What I’m not sure about yet is how IYPs will be affected in the rankings and whether that will affect the amount of traffic they get from Google. Google seems to have a few different ways they’re serving the local results now (ie. sometimes it’s just the local results at the top and the organic results below, sometimes a few organic results appear at the top followed by the local results, sometimes it’s a mix). I wonder if Google keeps this variety or if they’re just testing out different layouts and will eventually settle on 1 or 2 that they use the majority of the time. It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out because that will be a big factor in determining if IYPs (from a traffic standpoint) are winners. losers or somewhere in between.

How about you? What are your thoughts on this change and the IYPs?

Thanks!
Adam

3 Jason Hyman November 5, 2010 at 10:24 AM

I wrote on a blog post awhile ago about “google and the color yellow”. It was appearing to me they were squeezing the IYP’s out of the top 10. this move/serp layout will definitely push them down.
I think this is merely a step in a direction that will eventually wipe out the need to go to an IYP. Googles Pages are not “paid for” like an IYP. Their selection is supposed to be based on relevance and the best “answer” for your search. an IYP is based on who pays the most.
Perhaps it will come down to what is valued more, user reviews and genuine feedback or paying for placement…

4 Bob Sommers November 8, 2010 at 8:57 PM

Great article Adam:
I’m still trying to identify all the changes. It does look as though having a fully optimized site for your local business is critical for high placement. I’m also leaning toward believing that the quantity, dispersion and quality of reviews is going to play a bigger part in both placement and conversion. We will see.
Aloha, Bob

5 Adam Kreitman November 8, 2010 at 9:15 PM

Thanks, Bob. I know if anyone will decipher exactly what’s going on, it’ll be you!

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