Google Drops Another Bomb on Search Welcome to “Google Places”

Dave Hendricks – Lawyer Marketing Los Angeles –818-618-2227

Just last month, Google made waves in the search world with its new Google Instant.  Now Google rocked it again with its latest change in the search results – And it’s a big one!  Google Places or Place Search (depending on who you ask) was rolled out last Wednesday, October 26th.  It is a full scale rollout in the United States, but not globally yet.  It dramatically changes the look and feel of SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) on Google. And once again, this is going to dramatically affect SEO’s & how we adapt to these changes.

The first and most obvious change visually is that the Maps section has moved from the center of the results page over to the upper right side (where the PPC used to be).  The results people now see in the middle screen are now a combination of Organic/Natural results & ‘Places’ results.  For now, the Google Places results are appearing high on the page, placing a higher emphasis on local searches.  Previously the local and general search algorithms were distinct.  Now Google says they are now consolidated or merged in this new release.

Behind the scenes, Google said that the algorithm has been improved and refined for Place Search. (Instead of Local Search, Google calls it Place Search).  They also say we shouldn’t see any more of the spam that has plagued the Maps in the past. I’m going to reserve judgment on that for now because it was pretty bad.  And this big change has some fairly major implications in PPC, SEO and in Mobile Search.

About two months ago, my partner Anthony Flores made a deliberate decision to put a greater emphasis on Google Maps for our clients.  In hindsight, it was very fortunate as it was born more from an educated guess than anything concrete.  Nobody knows what Google’s next move is, and anyone saying they do is not being truthful.  Some of the SEO news resources we use started reporting on this in July, and some people noticed random results changes showing up over the past few months as the experimental phase for this begin back in August.

Anthony started focusing not only on SEO for the regular natural results, but now also optimizing our clients ‘Local’ or Map listings as well.  With the evolution of this new search results from Google, it looks like it was a wise decision.  Some SEO’s ignore Local or Maps, and they are the ones scrambling to adjust.

Google Places – Who is this going to affect?

For PPC – It’s already affecting PPC because this new results page is pushing the Adwords positions 4-10 down below the fold.  So if you don’t bid high enough to be ranked in the Top 3, it is now very likely your ad won’t be seen.

I’m interested to see if this will either 1) Increase the competitiveness of PPC & drive up the bids artificially for those who want to be in the Top 3 Spots, or 2) Perhaps reduce Google’s overall PPC revenue if the people who used to bid (very wisely and efficiently) for the #4-7 spots drop out of PPC.

This can also become a dangerous prelude to Google making Places, or Maps, become 100% paid.  If it is, I see a potentially dramatic shift in Google’s reputation as “The Most Relevant Search Experience”.  Yahoo was the market leader in search for years, yet lost credibility when non-savvy searchers learned that their results were paid.  So anyone who paid more than the next guy would get higher placement.  Google has paid ads too, but their focal point was always the ‘most relevant’ results in the Organic Results.  If they go to 100% paid Maps/Places, Google runs the risk of damaging their credibility by doing the same because some Organic results are pushed further down the page.  I’m sure this is music to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s ears & Bing.

For SEO/Organic – The way I see it, it is affecting the Large, Nationally based companies who are trying to get ranked in many different cities, yet don’t have offices there.

It is also affecting the Lead Generator & Directory sites, as they once had top 5 SEO rankings in certain verticals, and now some of them are now pushed down to Page 2 overnight.  Before, some Google Results were dominated by lead aggregator sites or vertical directories like attorney directories, hotel booking sites, etc. Now local results are higher and the bigger directory sites are pushed down.

Bottom Line – if you are optimizing your site the right way, you will continue to be successful.

For Mobile Search – If you are an owner of an Android Mobile phone, you are already seeing dramatic results.  Google Maps on Android now integrates their Local search to combine Google Maps, Places Pages, Street View and Navigation (with the phone and contacts).  It is an incredibly impressive Location Based Search on the Android phone that is designed to dominate Mobile Search.  Right now, no such combination of services exists on the iPhone, which makes it a more “open” playing field for location-based services and local publishers.

A couple other notes –

I see Google is also trying to provide local results if you don’t type in a city.  From what I see, it isn’t ready for prime time yet because it is too dependent on the ISP (which is often inaccurate).  I was searching from the Pasadena area & it gave me Burbank results. It’s been 2 days now, but this has already caused quite a stir. The people who are adjusting to this right now will see their good rankings stay intact.  Feel free to reach out if you have any other concerns.