Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Google’s New Local Results – How to Adapt


The writing has been in the sand for a while now but today Google rolled out a truly game-changing format for local search results. By totally eliminating the Onebox and removing most non-Google maps results from the first page, Google has made it more important than ever before to have a strong Google Places profile.

Onebox – Huh?: In case you are unfamiliar with all this hoopla you should know what local search results looked like before the transition. In this older Google search results screenshot you can see the Onebox in it’s original glory with 10 local business listings aligned directly next to a Google map of the related area. When the original Onebox was released it caused a major stir because it pushed down organic search results which would have normally been the first results seen on the page; a lucrative spot which was now gone due to this changeover. The next major change came when Google reduced the local results to 7 instead of 10, made each listing double-lined, and allowed business owners to purchase a Google Places Tag which enhanced listings in search results for $25 per month. Up until this point the local search results were considered a lucrative place to be for local-targeting businesses but no where near as lucrative as it will be as of today.

Here is a screenshot of the local results as of today’s changes (click for a much larger version or here):

A partial screenshot of Google's new Places search results along with arrows pointing out points of interest.

Significant Changes:

  • The Google Map is no longer fixed within the center column next to search results. It is now on the right and it follows your screen as you scroll through search results.
  • Instead of a short list of 7 Google Places in the Onebox, the local results have now supplanted the organic search results on the majority of the page; in some tests I found 3-4 organic listings after more than 10 local results.
  • Instead of an incongruous number of reviews next to the listing, the new results show the average review rating out of 5 stars along with a link to the reviews and the official Google Places Page for the business. (shown as the first arrow on the right)
  • Under the description for each result the address is provided followed by a phone number to provide rapid access to the business. (see the middle arrow)
  • Most interesting has been the addition of the most prominent websites providing reviews for the associated business. (see the middle arrow)
  • An image of the location has been added to the search results completing a very impressive beginning snapshot of each location for comparison shoppers.
  • When a user clicks on “Next Page” at the bottom of the results then they are led into the organic search results which, until today, had appeared on the first page.
  • The only way to see more than one page of Google Places results is to click on the new “Places” button listed in Google’s left-hand search options menu OR click on the “More results near <location>…” text at the bottom of the local results listed.
  • There can be as many as 30 or 40 results on the first page… this makes the first page far more valuable than ever before because it is less likely a user will go to the second page of results.

* The final arrow on the left points to what seems to be a glitch in the Google results I viewed on my computer. What is it? The word “Personalization” has been cut off by the Google logo and below is the option to turn off personalization which results in the removal of advertisements and some changes in results. Do you see this as well? So far I haven’t encountered anyone else with this glitch.

What Does This Change Mean for Business Owners?

In no particular order here are things to consider if you have a business that depends on local business:

  1. Reputation management is at a whole new high now that review ratings are exposed so readily to searchers.
    What to do: Start building your reviews as soon as possible by initiating a customer outreach program requesting feedback on various online profiles. Be certain to monitor your profiles regularly and respond appropriately to any issues that arise; check out the book Radically Transparent for great tips.  Sit down and create a reputation enhancement strategy designed to steadily improve your online reputation – even if you already have a great one.
  2. In many cases I noticed the business description used in local search results is being sourced from the Meta Description tag on the associated business page.
    What to do: Ensure your Meta Description tag is crafted to drive traffic. You need to keep in mind the tag has absolutely no weight in how your website is ranked so you can freely optimize the tag for improving click-throughs to your site; this is your chance to win over the searcher.
  3. Google Sitelinks are being used for some businesses in the results (see the 2nd one down for the Fairmont Empress).
    What to do: Visit your Google Webmaster Tools account and under “Site Information” go to the “Site Links” report and be sure to block any links you do not want to potentially appear in results.
  4. Images speak loudly about a location and will often play a large role in determining the next step for a searcher.
    What to do: Make certain all of your images in your Google Places profile are recent and attractive so they drive clicks. Remember to view the image in thumbnail format (81 pixels wide by 56 pixels high) before determining a photo is worthy since that is how searchers will first view the picture.
  5. Links from relevant sites that prove your locality can dramatically help with improving your local search rankings.
    What to do: Try to be included in as many relevant, local-focused websites and directories as possible. For Canadians I recently released (rather quietly) a list outlining directories and websites Google is known to consider when evaluating Canadian-based local rankings; the Free Guide to Improving Local Search Rankings in Canada. I do not, however, have a US-based listed created yet (it is on my very long task list) but here is one I found which does not appear to be too out of date (just don’t quote me on that!).

Final Take Aways

The most important lesson to be learned is if you have not claimed the Google Places listing for your business do it now!

Also, right now you may be charged up about getting your Google Places page all jazzed up but that may change a few hours from now when the reality of your workload sinks in. So, if you think you are going to put this off, I suggest delegating this task to another staff member (if possible) or contacting someone that can help you get your listings in order. As you can see, local search is only getting stronger and Google Places is not something you want to ignore anytime soon.

22 Responses to “Google’s New Local Results – How to Adapt”

  1. Darren Shaw

    Just to clarify, what you refer to as a one-box is typically called a “pack”. A 10-pack, 7-pack, 3-pack, etc. A one-box is a local result with one listing. Like this:

  2. Ross Dunn

    Oh my, thanks Darren. Obviously I lost track of my vocab. Cheers!

  3. Ross Dunn

    Hey Darren, I usually err on the the side of the wrong since I make mistakes like that more often than I like to admit. That said, I was starting to doubt what you said above so I did some checking. It seems, in fact, I was correct. See the following quote from this page:

    Last year, in January, the OneBox was enriched with a static map, information about reviews, directions. To make room for 10 results instead of 3, Google removed the addresses, the links to directions and the ratings.

    and from this Search Engine Journal page along with, well, most articles. So I am glad to say I was not in the wrong in this case but I do thank you for keeping me on my toes 😀

  4. Darren Shaw

    Oh man. Sorry! I had never heard it referred to as a onebox before. I always thought the onebox had just “one” result in it. I now see that many people refer to the entire grouping as a onebox.

    I did a search as well, and came up with this awesome 2008 post from SEOmoz:
    Sadly, it doesn’t look like Google is returning those amazing oneboxes anymore. :(

  5. Tyson Bailey

    One interesting thing I noticed is that the local results we are seeing are not the same as they were before the changes. There was definitely an algorithmic change. Quite a few of the searches still show the similar results as before: they just list the location in addition. At least this is what I hope.

  6. boyd

    great tips Ross on what local businesses should do.

    It’s the same over here in the UK.

    Big implications for local search…and you are spot on.

    Thanks for the info.

  7. Juicing With Rika Susan

    Looks like local results are now really becoming hugely important. We can’t afford to ignore these developments. Thanks for your tips and ideas. I will implement them.

  8. Craig Heineman

    I don’t think this is the biggest worry, what I am concerned about is that this doesn’t just effect the map listings, look at all the PPC listings that just got pushed down the page. I would expect PPC costs to increase to get the top 3 listings, due to this change.

  9. Party Bus Chicago

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the results vary based on your organic rankings. My listing is in the first position instead of the fourth in the 7pack now. I believe the reason that it happened is because i was the first organic listing out of the 7 companies in the 7 pack. Now that they have the new format for the 7 pack I’m listed #1 but my organic position is nowhere to be found. The old results still show on my iphone browser and I’m still #4 on maps and my organic listing is still there.

  10. Matt

    Hmmm… Google is keeping us hopping these days it seems Ross. Thanks for keeping us in the know! I will be revisiting my Google Places layout now! lol

  11. Dirk Johnson

    Hi Ross,

    You continue to be one of the very few voices of reason in the SEO industry.

    Ross, you need to HYPE this in some way, like the rest of the SEO industy. Where’s the hysteria?! The call to action, because the sky is falling?

    Great info. Again. Thx


  12. Ross Dunn

    You are very welcome, thanks for the comment.

  13. Ross Dunn

    Hey thanks Boyd, it is interesting to hear the UK is seeing much the same!

  14. Ross Dunn

    Interesting Tyson, I think you are onto something there because I have heard other gab around the same concepts. I don’t know at this point what changed because I haven’t had time to research it but I will definitely write an update if/when I do. Cheers, Ross

  15. Matt leonard

    I have been strongly positioned on the Google maps for a few years now!
    I recently updated my profile with a little bit of extra info, and a couple of new pic and a free phone number.
    I now look and see that Google has swipped me off the Google map section completely for my keywords such as Driving schools in Bristol and Driving lessons in Bristol…..any help would be much appreciated in getting me back up there!!

  16. Ross Dunn

    Hello Matt, I am sorry to hear what happened to your listing. My first instinct is to ask you if your listing bounced back after a few days… have you checked? The reason I ask is Google sometimes takes a moment to review any changes to ensure it isn’t being manipulated and that “moment” can result in a blip in results. If it hasn’t come back yet I would still give it another week or even two. If nothing has happened by then please use the contact form on our site and get a hold of me because I have a few ideas of what to do from that point.

  17. Darren

    I’ve just spend the evening reading SEO related posts and came across yours. Very interesting post and interesting times ahead if you are involved in local content.

    The problem we are finding is that we are a locally written guide, so write about restaurants, hotels etc. Where before we were at the top of the search results for specific keywords like ‘Japanese restaurants in Brighton’ we are now at the bottom of the page because of the Google local listings.

    From a search perspective I can understand why Google have gone down this path, but it has made it much more tougher for sites like ours. Do you have any tips on this, or, is it a lost cause?

  18. kansas city party bus

    I think google is going to have to redo everything as far as the search results and algorithm. The whole system is too game-able. The best companies alot of times are not signifigant in searches, because the smarter business owners are gaming the results to much. And citations is getting even worse than search results.

  19. Matt Leonard

    Ross, it has been many years since i originally posted here.
    All is now well and my listing is rocking at the top of the local listings. The panic is now over!
    Many thanks

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