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What Google's Place Page Update Means To Local Link Building

Google’s Place Pages in the SERPs have everyone freaked out. If you haven’t read Greg Sterling’s excellent piece New Place Search Shows Google’s Commitment To Local, I highly recommend it. In addition to the potential SEO impact Greg discusses, there are a couple key points specific to link building that are worth making.

As with any Google update, there will be certain types of high trust merit based links that will not be affected whatsoever. Google’s new Place Search does not suddenly make links earned by merit somehow have less merit. A diamond is still a diamond even if it’s surrounded by other gemstones, a cubic zirconium, or a moon rock.

As long as your link seeking targets were chosen based on their ability to build credibility, brand and/or click traffic, nothing changes. The links you needed before are still needed now, unless you were just chasing rank via link building, in which case I strongly suggest you change your linking strategies.

That said, there are definite local linking strategies that local bricks and mortar businesses should be looking at now more than ever. I’m working on a more in-depth article for Link Week that will detail the process I use to create a local linking strategy. Look for it in my next column.

As I mentioned on Greg’s post, the big winner with the Google Place Page update is the local business owner. Why? Because the local business owner has had it rough so far, having to figure out exactly what a “web presence” meant. Do they have their own site? A blog? A Facebook page? Foursquare? Coupons? Twitter? Online Yellow Page inclusion? A local business could spend a lot of money and still have no chance of showing up in a Google search. I’m not saying all these strategies are useless, but the truth is they are not for everyone.

Call me a heretic, but not every business needs a standalone website, and a local business no longer needs to be held hostage by a hundred online options and choices if all they wanted is to be listed in Google results for Knoxville locksmith (notice 5 out of the ten have no website at all, just Google Place Pages). A website is an option, not mandatory.

I personally love this change and it makes sense. Why should Google direct the searcher to a third party directory that charges for inclusion, has marginal content but a huge SEO budget, when Google can simply direct the searcher to where they were headed anyway. Now go ahead and call me a Google kool-aid guzzler, as you always do and I almost always am, but explain to me how this is a bad thing? This is brilliant.

The challenge will come soon enough. After all, once everyone has a Place Page, what signals will Google use to rank those Place Pages? Will a business that has spent tens of thousands of dollars or more on a great website find themselves out positioned by a business that has no website at all but who does have a claimed Place Page with full business details filled out? And if that happens is it fair?

Does having invested in a website somehow mean Google should reward you for that investment over some company that only has a free Place Page? Do you need to start linking to your Place Page URL via your existing website? Do you link build for your Place Page, and if so, where?

These are questions I’m glad I don’t have to answer today. But all of us link builders and linking strategists better be able to answer these questions ASAP.

What Should You Do About Place Pages Right Now?

I’m advising all clients with a local presence to claim their business/Place Page. Most already have. As for the specific signals that are being used to determine the order or position of the Place Pages, there are a couple key points.

  1. Read David Mihm’s astoundingly good Local Search Ranking Factors, and Chris Silver Smith’s Anatomy & Optimization Of A Local Business Profile.
  2. Don’t be fooled by anyone telling you your local rank is dictated by a specific signal, especially if that signal is the number of reviews your business has. You do not need to go wild with reviews to rank. Reviews are game-able, and thus not a good long term signal.
  3. If you don’t have a website, you shouldn’t consider all your problems solved by Place Pages. Place Pages could go away as quickly as they appeared, and even if they don’t, they can’t replace a website’s ability to present additional information in the exact way you want to. A Place Page by itself is not, IMO, always a good search result. More information is often needed, and your own website can provide it.

Finally, as to the the specific link marketing you need to do for your website or Place Page, that will, as always, be dictated by the vertical you are in. A Place Page (and website) for a local plumber will necessitate a much different linking strategy than will a Place Page (and website) for a cardiac rehabilitation facility. Don’t lose sight of that. Place Pages do not change who you are and what you do. They are merely another way to tell people.

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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