by Peter Bowen
Google Local and Map have become a big influence on how people search and get results. We can demonstrate this by searching for ‘accountant’ and the search result returns a broad list of ‘accountants’, but perhaps too broad so we tend to search again by narrowing the result – adding a location to the search – ‘accountant in city’ and the results we see are now closer to home.
So it’s no surprise that Google should be taking a closer look at how we search and attempt to refine the process and provide a more meaningful search result by changing the Google Local search algorithm to make it easier for us to find what or who we are searching for locally.
Now we see searches that reference local business and all the relevant places in that location in a new clustered visual display located in the upper right corner of a search result page. The now familiar map displays each business with red lettered pins, and links to each business. And as you scroll down the page the Google Places Map will scroll with the page so that it is always visible.
In addition to the way we see businesses displayed on Google Places, a new product is being launched – Google Boost.
Google Boost is a Google AdWords product that allows local businesses to feature more prominently in local searches. It allows small to medium size businesses the ability to feature more highly in searches, and concentrates much more on the relevance and location of that business than ever before.
Now searchers will see sponsored location searches appear on the Google Places map as blue lettered pins and in search results with the blue marker pin next to the content description.
Search results for the ‘accountant in city’ will now appear first below sponsored listings and above organic listings. What this means is that results for a business in a location will now appear grouped with the other search results, making it much easier for searchers to find what they are looking for in a local area.
Google reports that Place Search results will begin appearing automatically when Google determines that you are looking for a ‘business in location’ search result.
Google also says “We’ve made results like this possible by developing technology to better understand places. With Google Place Search, we’re dynamically connecting hundreds of millions of websites with more than 50 million real-world locations. We automatically identify when sites are talking about physical places and cluster links even when they don’t provide addresses and use different names.”
Google Places is being rolled out across the world and will be available everywhere, in 40 languages once complete. Google is hoping to provide a better, local search to users, while exploiting a different revenue stream. It’s also competing with Facebook Places which was launched a while ago. Facebook was able to use very targeted advertising to provide a similar service to its users.
Google should have the advantage here though, as most Facebook advertising is passive, appearing alongside the primary content. Google’s Place Search is active and should have the advantage when it comes to conversion.
Location-based services are seen as a growing market, with Facebook Places and location aware services like Foursquare enjoying significant growth since their inception. Placing Google Place Search alongside search results, Google can hedge its bets while not detracting from its standard offering.
From an SEO perspective Peter Bowen at First One On says, “One of the downsides to this new display of results is how it will affect businesses that previously enjoyed number one placements for ‘business in location’ or featured well alongside the old Google Map.”
“Now with the introduction of Google Place Search in results it is quite possible that businesses that had worked hard to get top placements on page one now find themselves listed on page two! Other businesses that did not even have a listing on the old Google Map are now being brought to the top of the search results based on the location of their business and business listing in Google Places.”
What this means is that in the long run it will be more difficult for businesses to rank at the top of a local search unless they realize that they will have to spend much more time and effort on local search engine optimization. Businesses that had previously enjoyed a prominent position on the old Google Map without a website, which was possible before, will now find it almost impossible to maintain a listing without a well developed and locally optimized website.
Businesses will now have to have a visible and physical location if they want to be listed in a local search. In the past, businesses could hide their physical location and yet still be found locally through their websites, but now consumers searching for a business in a location will be able to determine if they contact that business or not based on their location.
So as Google exposes competitors in searches, it is now revealing where those businesses are located – hopefully providing the consumer with more information before making a purchase decision.