Google Places: Are We There Yet?
About a week ago Google rolled out Place Search. It's a new kind of local search that effectively takes the integration of Google Search and Google Local to a whole new level. We're seeing Google move away from the familiar 7-pack to something new that local search expert David Mihm has dubbed the 0-pack. Basically, local search results now look more like regular search results, and the map has moved to the right of the results and scrolls with you as you move down the page. The layout of the page is not the only new thing. Google has made some changes to the algo as well.
The local search results now show much more information than they did before. Business descriptions are now included in the search results along with customer reviews, a picture of the business (thanks to all those privacy-invading Google camera cars), and links to additional review sites such as Yelp and its kin.
The piece of this that is going to impact your website traffic is that the Google Places pages are what are now ranking in the search results, so there is much more opportunity for people to find your business and the information they want without actually ever coming to your website. While this is no problem if you're ranking well, the implication is that we are now going to find a gap in our data due to the lack of site traffic. Let's face it, we're data junkies now. We've been able to measure nearly everything on our websites and now we're having some of that data taken away from us.
This past week we spent a fair bit of time and energy looking into these changes and determining how our clients are going to be affected and what we can do to stay abreast of these changes. We came up with some ideas -- and since we are kind and generous souls, I would like to share our thoughts with you.
First off, we've determined that businesses with true physical locations have a significant advantage, as I stated above. This is because there is a more likely chance of reviews on various review sites. This drives more signals to Google as well as more UGC. It's recommended that you go and own all your listings across engines and review sites. This is really nothing new and it's something that's been a best practice for awhile now.
Second, there is a significant paid-search issue that has now cropped up. Unless you are bidding into the top 2-3 results to have your ad show above the regular search results, you are now at a disadvantage, because the map that shows in the right rail is now pushing the paid search results down. Additionally, as you scroll down the page the map floats down with you and covers up the paid search results, rendering them invisible to the searcher.
Now, I'm not a PPC expert, but to me this screams that there's some significant monitoring and testing to be done. I also find it very curious that Google would implement anything that would impact PPC advertising in this manner. The only compensation I see is that for some searches Google provides the option to expand the main Sponsored Results. Clearly they are testing to see which option will make stock holders -- er, users -- more happy.
All in all, I'm not entirely sold on the new results. I like the conciseness of the 7-pack and the option to go to the Places page if I choose to. versus being driven there immediately and putting the merchant website a further click away. Google is doing its. best to keep us on Google.com more and more. I'll give you one guess why.