Google Places and Place Search – Who, What, Where, When and Why
On 27th October 2010 Google rolled out a major change to localised search results. Dubbed “Place Search” by Google, this update combines local organic results with Google’s local listings (now rebranded Google Places). This is a significant change to the way the (now combined) algorithm displays results based on your perceived location and search intent.
What triggers localised Place search results?
We’re currently seeing broad terms as well mid tail terms triggering Place search listings. Of course searches which include a village, town, city or county will trigger it too. Basically any search which Google deems that is more beneficial to inject local business listings into the results. So this can cover shops to service based searches. As the searcher this makes sense, since it’s good to discover companies in your locality (and why not help out your local businesses!). At the moment it’s apparent that broader terms are showing a broader map area. This will show local results (to us) for entire east side of England (not really that local at all!).
What factors will increase the chance of seeing a set of Place based results?
Google is using a range of signals which includes:
- Your IP – It’s possible to find your locality based on your IP’s geolocation, however the UK currently has a poor matching of IP to location
- Location preference – Was set by your previous Google Maps/Local usage. However…
Update 12/11/10 – Google has now added a location preference function appearing in the 1st column underneath the search filters.
This also shows your previously set locations used in your Google account. It also lets you add postcode meaning Place searches will be better focused to your position. This has been introduced to get around the poor IP to location matching (oh and it’s also pretty useful!).
- Personalisation – (NB: this isn’t confirmed, but i see no reason why Google wouldn’t influence the results based on previous searches. Also your starred items will show higher)
- Location based search – A search for “[service] [village/town/county]” will likely trigger a Places search. We’ve noticed that if you use a broad country such as “UK” in your search query then Places isn’t triggered.
What happens when a Place Search is triggered?
Google will display localised results based on the users’ search. This is influenced by search intent, or at least an estimation of what the user wants to see for their search.
Organic listings for these search results now have new format. The text based listing now dominates the entire centre column with the mini-map located at the top of the 3rd column. Data from Google Local listings have now been tied in to the local ‘bricks and mortar’ location. The new listing format includes:
- Phone number
- Links to reviews from other “trusted” sources such as yelp and qype
- 5 star rating system
- A snippet from one of the reviews
- Links to your Google Place page
- A red location marker
- A photo sourced from a third-party review site or a Google Streetview photo
- Bookmarking via star
The marker labels the relevant local company on the Google map at the top of right column. The map, which was once displayed in the centre column is now in a fixed position at the top of the of the 3rd column. It also hovers over the paid listings as you scroll down the page.
The filters in the 1st column now have an additional Places selection available.
The search for ‘pizza in norwich’ shows that standard organic listings are pushed to the bottom of the 7 pack of Place listings.
So far there have been a number of different formats spotted with a range of blended result combinations. These include standard 7 packs lists, new styled 3 pack listings, 7 pack listings with location tag links and a range of single listings split between organic results.
How has the Place page changed?
Place pages remain unchanged, however more ‘sentiment analysis’ information from Place pages is now included in the search result listings itself. If you’re unfamiliar of a Google Places page why not take the tour provided by Google.
How will Place Search affect my website’s rankings?
Local businesses will see a boost from increased exposure in search results if their profile has been added to Google Places either by themselves or a third party directory/review site. Google has added extra influence on local businesses meaning more qualified results will appear for the searcher.
Generally standard organic listings are pushed down in the results which favours businesses. This will impact traffic normally received to local directories.
Google Place listings aren’t necessarily owned or edited by the business owner, thus meaning that third party business directory/reviews sites could get more traffic. It also means reviews of both a positive and negative nature could appear for your listing.
How can i increase my rankings in Place Search?
While there are some indications on what could improve your rankings, Google Places will be harder to influence since it links your website with your physical presence via your official Google Place listing page. Now that the local and organic algorithms are combined inbound links to your website are still an important factor.
Things to do:
- If you don’t own a Google Places listing get one! They’re free, simply register all your details here. Google’s Tip at this stage is: “Before you create a business listing, think about which Google Account you are using. In the future, you may want to share this account with other people at your business.” You will also be able to claim listing by adding verifying your business.
- Remove any duplicate listings if they exist as it could cause some confusion.
- If you own a listing ensure you have added as much vital information as possible. Get your profile filled up with information to satisfy the “100% complete” criteria. Ensure you’ve added the closest category to your business type and add some photos.
- Consider using the free “coupon” service to add a local-based incentive. This adds a short message (like this) to your Places page
- In the US it’s possible to add (paid) Tags to highlight your Place listings. However they do not affect rankings.
- During his initial testing, Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.org, mentioned that “New GG Places algo appears overly simple at times: X*(review quantity) + Y*(listing references) + Z*(trusted sources citations)”.
Local directory submissions and their references influence your rankings. According to the impeccably bearded Danny Dover, Google are down with Yahoo Local, yet i’ve not seen any reference to Yahoo Local in the UK citations so far.
In the UK, a wide range of sources are being cited for references and reviews. These include:
- thomsonlocal.com (thomsonlocal.com upped their game after Google Places went live yet Yell.com appears nowhere in local citations on Places)
- Google Users can “Write a review” on the Google Places page when logged in.
In some cases Google is using some bizarre referencing sites. It looks as though a site using a particular mark-up (not even microformats) is then considered a trusted source.
NB: Before you start registering on these local sites and submitting reviews please note – it is illegal to submit bogus reviews under the EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices. Read this Register post explaining it. With that knowledge in mind you could encourage your visitors to review your company. This could be added at the end of checkout process if you’re an ecommerce site.
Why has Google added Place Search?
While many other esteemed bloggers have mentioned the strategic and financial impetus behind Google’s decision, Google have stated that this makes searching faster. It’s that keyword again – ‘fast’. Google’s goal “is to help you feel like a local everywhere you go!”.
We’ve seen a range of results at Further for our clients. Clients not relying on local based searches are unaffected. Clients targeting UK SERPs are seeing increases in visits. However, these changes will affect each client on an individual basis based on their keyword focus, business location and market objectives. I had 10 questions to answer in this post but alas have run out of blogging time. I hope to follow up these questions and Places findings in another post.
Have a great Guy Fawkes Night and weekend. Be safe!