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Google Place Search Winners, Losers & WhoKnowsers

It’s been a few days since the launch of Google’s new Place Search results, and while there is plenty more prognostication to come on the subject, I thought it would be helpful to sum up the collective wisdom of SEO pundits from around the globe on what it all means for getting traffic to your website.

SMB Websites Now Must Focus on Both Local and Organic SEO for Place SERP Rankings

Place SERPs combine Local & Organic results in one SERP to much greater degree than before this update. As Miriam Ellis says, it’s time for those small businesses who found it easy to put off revising their less-than-optimal website in favor of just optimizing their Place Page to wake up and smell the SEO coffee:

“And so, future clients, I want you to know that I would love your business, but you’re going to have to take my advice about your website as well as your Place Page, because it all hangs together now. I cannot serve you well without integrating this and my job is to get you the best return on your money. It was always important, but its basically unavoidable now. Now is the time to take a long, clear look at your website to see if it’s as awesome as you can possibly make it. Is it optimized? Is it usable? Is it rich in solutions to users’ problems and answers to their questions? Is your location totally obvious? Your local area code phone number? Got that in your footer? On your contact page? How about in some of your title tags? Can Google crawl your site? Can people with dial-up load it? Is your text couched in images or shining through with good old HTML? How long are people staying on your pages? Who is linking to them? Are you using hCard formatting or KML files? Got MyMaps? Got citations? Got reviews?”

But Ranking Outside of Your Physical Location Just Got Even Trickier

It was already challenging to rank for queries in cities outside of your physical location, even if they were in your service area. Paula Keller sees some issues with being from the burbs (as if there weren’t plenty already):

“In the past businesses in suburbs who wanted to rank for ‘the big city’ had a hard time getting on the map. This may continue to challenge suburban based businesses with this new Google update. Those with strong organic rankings who previously ranked organically for their targeted “big city” could count on traffic from the searchers who ignored the map and went straight to find what they wanted in organic rankings. This update, though, adds an additional factor to what Google considers relevant in regards to geography, which may pose a problem for suburban-located businesses.”

And try not to suck too much because…

You’d Better Be Nice To Your Customers

According to Mike Blumenthal, it’s not a lot of fun when those negative reviews start showing up on the first page of Google search results.

“This isn’t just about ranking, whether a business has a website, whether the directories are less visible or that the searcher might go to TripAdvisor instead of the business website. The point that most folks seemed to have missed is that Google is pushing their sentiment analysis to the front and center of the main search results. Is this a benefit or a drawback for local businesses?”

And let’s not forget about those Yellow Pages companies…

Local Directories Are Toast?

Chris Silver Smith queries “yellow pages + Google Place Search” and sees a lot of results for “Disruption“:

As changes go, this one will be quite disruptive, particularly to online business directories. Will Google Place Search be "game over for online yellow pages? It’s early yet to tell, but it certainly scoops up a lot of the lower-hanging fruit where local business queries are concerned. I continue to see referral traffic potential for those companies which are savvy enough to see where there remain good opportunities. However, I’ve had a few online yellow pages companies tell me privately that they are figuring there to be insufficient ROI for them to continue to consider SEO as a major/viable source of revenue.

And I think I may have been guilty of fanning this particular flame when these new SERPs first surfaced. I may have even shorted a few Yellow Pages stocks before the update, but then again…

Place SERPs = IYP Toast? Or Maybe the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?

David Mihm sees the Place SERPs as half-full for local directories:

I actually don’t think this new UI is any worse for IYPs than the 7-pack was. In a lot of categories, I’m seeing prominent sites…like Yelp, Judy’s Book, and Citysearch–get direct clickthroughs from clustered review links right off the search result page (which they weren’t getting from the old 7-Pack). I actually think Google is throwing directory publishers a bone here (at least for the time being).

In fact, according to data I have on referrals to local directory sites from the past few days, I am seeing no significant changes in Google referral traffic thus far.

And In Fact Local Directories May Indirectly Benefit From Increased SMB Focus

According to Don Campbell:

Web presence (as in making sure your business appears on all of the popular local search sites for your industry) is more important now too…Searchers may not click on your website, they may click on one of the other links (e.g. links to local review sites).

So make sure your data on yellow pages sites and other directories in your niche is up to date. And pay attention to the reviews sites that show up in your industries Place SERPs, because…

Maybe Google Is Picking Winners & Losers In The Local Directory Space?

According to Paul Carpenter:

(Some review sites are) suddenly standing outside the charmed circle that Google has drawn. Inside that circle is a mix of its own properties and approved partners like Qype, Yelp, TripAdvisor etc. And that ‘approved’ business is quite a biggy. It means that Google isn’t just an algorithm blindly crunching through quality and relevancy signals. It is becoming a direct arbiter in what sites are worthy to appear in the SERPs. The technical difference might be dull, but philosophically it’s a big leap. Not merely individual sites are looking down the barrel of a gun, but whole business models that rely on organic search. Again, Google’s been doing this for years but this feels different.

In fact, while there is still some opportunity for sites to rank around the local results, with the emphasis of reviews in the Place SERPs, it appears that those sites that stand out as strong customer review generators are going to be some of the biggest benefactors of this change. The message to sites that are not local businesses is pretty clear—create a lot of content (i.e. reviews) and give it to us, or lose visibility in the SERPs.

But let’s face it…

It’s All About AdWords For Local Queries

You can say all you want about improving usability, but Matt McGee sees right through that:

Local businesses, finding that paid ads are now the most visible piece of screen real estate on local search results, will/should respond by spending even more money to show up in the pastel-colored AdWords display that’s smack-dab in the center of the page. This is exactly where the old 7-pack of local listings used to appear. AdWords visibility is, to some degree, replacing local listing visibility. Small business owners will fight for those coveted spots. (And Google will make lots of money in the process.)

And in my opinion, those sites that are not so good at generating content/SEO are going to be pushed to buy even more AdWords inventory, driving up click prices even more.

And In Conclusion?

For local businesses that focus on both organic and local SEO, at first blush, this change appears to offer even more opportunity to acquire qualified traffic. If I were a business focused on local customers, I would be truly excited about the possibilities.

For non-local businesses (e.g. yellow pages, niche sites, etc.), this update is yet another challenge on what is already a challenging playing field. Yet with each challenge comes opportunity, and if I were a business focused on local customers across large regions or even across the whole country, I would still be truly excited about the possibilities.

Faithfully submitted,
Douglas C. Neidermeyer

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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