Google made a move this week to help small businesses get found on its search engine. It began rolling out Place Search to combine local and organic listings on Google.com when searchers look for information around location. It aggregates results based on places, so searchers can compare information, but there are a few things SEO experts will want take notice of when optimizing Web sites for local search.
When Google's search engine believes the searcher wants information about a location, it returns local businesses high in the search engine results page. The new results in Place Search supports longer descriptions and reviews. Scroll down the page and the map follows along in the browser window.
Google Place Search will lead to more SEO work for companies that focus on small business optimization. Andrew Shotland, founder of Local SEO Guide, says the tool favors small businesses in Google's search results. "It intensifies the competition for local rankings," he says. "Previously, if you couldn't rank in Google's Seven Pack for the local set of results, when it detected a relevant local query, you could always rank in the Web results around the map. If you weren't good at map SEO, you could get by with Web SEO."
The new change allows map listings to dominate the page, pushing non-local organic listings down or off the page. Businesses that ranked well in organic search results and had a map listing will now see the two merge. That merge reduces the number of Web results on the page by one, explains Shotland. He also says it means Web sites that don't have a physical location in the city get pushed off the page.
Sites that have customer reviews have an exaggerated prominence in the search results, Shotland says.
David Harry, community manager at the SEO Training Dojo, says reviews will become very important when indexing in Google Search. The ability to rank high in the search engine results pages for local search will also require SEO professionals to consider domain extensions such as .com .ca .co.uk; and information on the site that might appear on the contact page and in the footer, but to make sure it's accurate for each location if the business has more than one.
For the better part of a year, Google has been asking local companies from restaurants to lawyer offices to "claim their business" listing by adding information about their Web site, telephone number and local address. IT generates a listing for the location in Google Maps, allowing searchers to find the business, get information and leave a review.
The tool will compete for space with listings on Yelp, Citysearch and other local directories. And now with Marissa Mayer behind the helm supporting local as the vice president of geographic and local services at Google, we will likely see much more innovation focused on local in the near future.
There is a ton of information to help small businesses optimize sites. Those interested will want to optimize sites for PageRank, longtail keywords and link and social signals.