It's been a busy time for our favourite search engineers over in Mountain View. With all the furore around Google Instant (you know that thing that predicts what you're looking for, looks to be almost as big a hit as Buzz and Wave so far, now where is that off button?) The big G have now moved their attention to Google Places, which they have been playing (I mean, running extensive testing and user analysis) on for quite a while.
Google Places has had a turbulent time over the past few months, there have been issues with duplicate results and the sabotage of listings, it has almost become a subset of search and search engine optimisation all on its own. Citations being the links, and having a comprehensive profile the Places equivalent of 'on-site'. I've had my own battles with Places over the same period and do think it has improved and become more relevant to the search query over this time, though still giving the impression that its still a work in progress and not something Google are all that happy with.
Despite my reservations as to the quality of the results shown by Places, Google obviously think differently and from today are starting to integrate local results into the main organic results. It's been seen by others that Places results are now phasing out the organic results, from our early research it looks more a case of Google integrating Places results into the organic listings. Previously ranking at the top of the Places results in the 7 or 10 box does not mean that this automatically now transfers to a number one ranking in the organic search results, but with the merging of the two, it does seem that a strong Places page is now more important than ever and it will play some effect on ranking.
As can be seen in the screen shot above, the new changes include:
- Google Places information and imagery being pulled into the description area of results - these will be important for click-throughs, (as well as for pushing your competitors even further down the page). The review information and star-rating does really stand out and again will be an important part of enticing people to your result - the search results really are starting to resemble the first page of your site - start your customer journey here.
- There's a huge map above the sponsored ads - I've never found these too useful on thier own due to the scale, but they do give an indicator as to which part of the country you're looking at :-) - it's interesting that it sticks on the page when you scroll down the results and that the PPC ads scroll-up and behind it.
- Filter results by just 'Places' listings - This shows results using only Places results and reverts back to the lisitngs that used to show in the 7 or 10 box, a worthwhile feature for those who will notice that it is there, wonder-wheel anyone? A nice feature but not sure how many people outside the search industry will use it, time will of course tell.
This change, in my opinion has more chance of changing the game than Google Instant, especially for small and medium sized businesses who have been seeing sales and leads from their Google Places page, especially those who don't have another web presence, of which there are a fair few.
It will be interesting to see how this develops and as it is rolled out how it effects search behaviour, as always we will be updating our blog with our findings and anything new that we spot. if you've seen the new results, or have an opinion on Google Places, please leave a comment we'd love to hear what you think.