Earlier in the month, Google let loose their Farmer/Panda Update, which rocked the world of SEO and had almost everyone looking into the quality of their content and their inbound link portfolios.
The issue with the Farmer/Panda update is it more or less affected a rather small part of the indexed results, but if anything was also the beginning of a major shift in Google results that may itself be a much larger update. Almost at the exact same time as the Farmer update, we also noticed a trend in more advanced local results, and more of those results powered by Google Places, within the Google search results.
Here are BlueGlass we has a lot of questions about how the ranking changes may have led to fluctuations in the site traffic of clients; some up, some down, but the bulk just different. After digging around one thing that we noticed is that rankings themselves did not change much; the base rankings as a whole that is.
What did change however, can be defined by
- The way that Google displays those rankings to different population areas
- The additions of new items in personalized search
- The expansion of Google Places and Google Maps results in SERPS for terms that did not used to be dedicated for local
Expansion of Locally Targeted SERPS
Essentially, with the expansion of local results in the SERPS as powered by Google Places, your company is not only competing with your traditional rivals in SEO, but you’re also going head to head against Google Local results, even if you are not in an industry that is generally considered to be local. If you are not taking Google Places and their influence on SERPS into account, you’re rolling the dice with your search marketing strategy.
We’ve seen the implementation of local results in some SERPS knock sites that are ranked #2 down to a #7 or #8 because of the addition of Local Listings/Places and sometimes even News inclusion.
What can be frustrating for businesses that rely on their rankings is that the bulk of much online traffic & income does come from specific population centers, and in some cases the addition of local can deal a blow, especially if the local results are unwarranted, misleading or just an all in all bad Google user experience.
Case in point, let’s look at the results for a term that is usually not associated with local : “costumes”
For this example, I suggest utilizing Google Chrome incognito mode and set it to “Tampa, FL”
What’s very interesting here is that, but Google placing these Google Places results in the SERPS, they’ve pretty much SPAMMED their own search engine with adult pages & affiliate spam. Three of the Places results are for costume stores that are located in some of the shadier parts of town and sell costumes and other merchandise specifically for exotic dancers.
One of the Google Places results, an Adult Super Store, says that in addition to costumes, it also specializes in “pipes, hookahs, oils, toys…etc.” – Probably not the kind of place you want to take the kids to pick out their Halloween costumes ;)
The issue here is not that sites are spamming Google, and the last thing I want this post to be considered is one that ‘outs’ spammers.
The issues are that :
- Google Places results are not relevant for this search query
- The Google Places results which are shown direct users to irrelevant stores
- Some of the sites listed are not in existence, nor is the location.
That being said, there is some room for improvement with Google Places. And given the above example it’s easy to understand that anyone ranked below #2 for the term “costumes” should be seeing a rather significant decrease in traffic and revenue from associated referrals. Furthermore, Google is recommending sites that do not sell costumes and locations that are very questionable; which does not help the situation.
Google Places though does have a lot of upside, especially with the integration of Sponsored Places, Hotpot and other Google Places images.
Images in Google Places are a GAME CHANGER
On a recent trip to Las Vegas I became more interested in Google Places after seeing a Google Places Sponsored Double Decker bus on the Vegas Strip. It seems that after some very “Vegas centric” searches that the Google Places results in the Vegas area are serving quite a bit of images.
The utilization of images within Google SERPS adds a whole new component to both Local SEO and Global SEO campaign strategies. Not only are the images appearing in the traditional organic results, but ideally they are also influencing click thru percentages of the SERPS themselves. For marketers & business owners who are setting up Places accounts, the addition of images brings a whole new component to search marketing strategies : the component of displaying compelling content within images, like one would do in a display ad, that influences the searcher to go beyond traditional text listings and click on the listings that include images.
- Although images being served in the Google Places results is beneficial for local businesses, is this fair for the nationwide companies that are relying on purely organic results to survive?
- Or does Google Places implementation on the local level in population centers, especially with images in results, cast an unfair advantage to the brick & mortar entity over the pure web player?
Here is an example of the #3 thru #8 examples when searching in Las Vegas for the uber competitive keyterm “payday loans”.
Obviously, payday loan lenders who have set up local brick & mortar entities have a huge advantage in these SERPS than some of the ‘online’ lenders. Let’s look deeper into the Google Places profile for “DontBeBroke.com”, one of the sites/locations listed above :
As a certified Business Owner, Dollar Loan Center has uploaded an image to their Google Places page, and that image is shown in the search results ; increasing Click Thru Percentages, traffic, calls and leads. [How to Claim a Google Places Business Listing]
In the below example, I then search for “Pawn Shop” and noticed that the top two Google Places listings in the SERPS have images that could assist with click thru, while #3, EZPawn.com, does not.
Google serves Places images based on the percentage of companies in a specific area customizing and using images in their profiles AND it also seems that these updates are taking place in targeted population centers.
How Does Google Places Affect SEO?
The inclusion of images in search results gives a MASSIVE ADVANTAGE to businesses that are setting up their Places accounts. Images in Google results is something marketers have been waiting for years to start manipulating and essentially, Google Places has opened up a new Wild West in SEO; the ability to influence results based on display marketing tactics.
The downside to all of this of course if that if a business is an online only player and Google is serving Places images in the results of traditional “bread & butter” keywords – it makes it very difficult to compete on the local level and new directions and strategies have to be put in place to do so.
Looking at the above example of the “costumes” result, if any of those Google Places local results did have images, the chances that the Google user would scroll past those fancy Places results has to be significantly lowered. The problem with those results is also that they are irrelevant, and the inclusion of images in those results would further make the user experience for the Google searcher even more negative.
Ideally, Google Hotpot user generated content and the inclusion of Geolocation signals from FourSquare and other “Check-in” oriented mobile tools will start to populate the Google algorithms with proof that :
- The actual store location exists and is not a dummy location, a closed building or a UPS box
- People are attracted to the store and actually sharing their experiences on the physical level
- The integration of physical Specials and use of those Specials by those who Check-in are further proof of the authenticity and relevance of the Places location
Really, if you look at Google Hotpot, Maps & Places – the only thing that is missing here is a local checkin tool. I’d image that the true future of Google Offers is not just a Groupon competitor, but actually a component of a Google geolocation physical “Check-in” tool. And if Google is not developing this as a default component of their Android operating system, it would not be too far off to predict a possible acquisition of one of the Foursquare type services to keep up with Facebook & their Facebook Places initiative (and its integration into Bing results).
In conclusion, Google Places is somewhat in its infancy and we’ve seen how their listings can influence the search marketing world, either in a negative or positive direction (I think that ultimately, any Google integration also helps increase AdWords clicks because AdWords are pretty much the only constant comfort in SERPS nowadays) and that in order for businesses to properly compete in this market, they also have to understand the changes and direction at Google.
In a nutshell, too much emphasis has been put on changes in SERPS and traffic that may have been a result of the “Farmer/Panda” but at the same time the entire Google user experience is being tweaked and optimized – which of course will change the way that the public reacts to Google results.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg, especially with Google’s interest in the mobile & social markets. It’s up to agencies and businesses like us to keep an eye on these changes and work with them – because at the end of the day, all of this affects the bottom line.
The BlueGlass Team will be updating the BlueGlass Blog and our Facebook page with new information and also the results of some of our internal studies as these changes continue to roll out. Be sure to subscribe and stay tuned, because we’re heading for an exciting world of change in organic online marketing!