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November 4, 2010

Google Local – big changes

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Google has recently rolled out an update which changes the face of Local Search and search engine optimisation professionals everywhere are likely to feel the effects. Not all forms of local searches are affected and the affected ones are to different degrees. For example, a search for Sydney banks results in a standard 7 pack of map pin results but with only 9 organic results on the page while the accompanying map has been relocated to the right sidebar of the search results traditionally occupied only be paid search listings. AdWords listings still appear in this area, however they may get covered up by the map as its position is not fixed and it will move as the user scrolls downwards. This change is probably good news for SEOs as it moves the map off the valuable real estate above the fold.

This next change is a pretty major change which is probably not such great news for SEOs, unless of course you’ve been spending time optimising for local. In the “Sydney banks” example above, the website previously ranking #10 would now be relocated to the second page. This change also involves the repositioned map which follows a user as he/she scrolls down the page, however the 7 pack of map pin results has been expanded quite dramatically from 2 lines of text up to whopping 6 lines. 7 pack listings now feature a snippet and the address and phone number have been placed on separate lines, which improves the readability (see search results for Sydney lawyers below).

Cached page, similar page and report spam links now also accompany the website URL and review and place page links now feature on the right hand side of the listing.

Yet another addition you might see on some kinds of searches (Sydney dentists) is thumbnailed images.

The addition of an image to a search result could increase click though rates significantly, especially if that image is located within the coveted “Golden Triangle” (the portion of a search results roughly highlight below – for more information refer to Search Engine Optimisation for Dummies). When images are clicked the user is redirected to the Google Places page of the business. This is somewhat unfortunate for SEOs as it means clicks may drive traffic to the Places page and not to the company website. On the other hand, it may increase the number of phone calls and/or decrease the foot traffic.

One casualty of all these changes is the indented listing. Let’s say you had a number 1 ranking and a number 8 ranking for a search term, Hornsby hairdresser for example, and let’s also say you had a listing in the 7 pack. Previously, your 1 and 8 rankings would merge to form an indented listing in addition to the 7 pack appearance. Now what you might get is a 7 pack listing and one standard organic listing (which is probably below the fold) or a merged listing.

Implications:

  • Local search optimisation will become a more important part of a successful SEO campaign
  • Search engine referrals of lower ranked websites may drop as listings get pushed below the fold or off page 1, especially for very competitive searches such as location + dentist/lawyer etc.
  • Traffic to company websites may decrease as related addresses and phone numbers become more prominent on search engine results
  • Map spam will likely increase as a result of increased exposure and increased listing size
  • PPC professionals will likely have to work a lot harder to ensure that their clients are listed above the organic results (in the mauve box) as advertiser visibility has been lowered due to the relocation of the map to the right sidebar

Actions:

  • Claim your listing on Google Places now, if you haven’t already done so
  • Categorise your business correctly
  • Fill in every possible field accurately and completely:
    • Add keywords to heading and description of your listing
    • Add product and service keywords in local business listing description
    • Opening hours
    • Payment types (Visa, MasterCard, EFTPOS, etc.)
  • Add high quality images to your listing
  • Avoid using a PO Box, physical address are preferred
  • Include all service areas to your listing
  • Maximise the consistency of all business registrations on the web
  • Create a strategy around the acquisition of additional reviews from third party sites
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One response to “Google Local – big changes”

  1. James Whitrow writes:

    Thanks for sharing. Some really helpful advice and tips for the Google update. Much appreciated



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