Google Changes SEO Game

Google Places Results

Google Places Results

SEO Changes For Local Searches

Have you noticed a drop in Google organic SEO traffic for any “local” search phrases, for example, “holiday cottage cornwall”?

Most likely, if you run any sites that got traffic from “local” search, you have.

It’s been a while since Google rolled out their new “Google Places” listings based on Google Maps locations in the search engine results (it was tested in Aug 2010 and rolled out in Oct 2010). At the time it caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth for anyone doing SEO on the 20% of daily searches that Google says have a “local component” because the Google Places listings jumped in ahead of the organic seo results accompanied by a huge map with pinpoints for local businesses that Google thought you may be interest in visiting, meaning a number one Google organic listing suddenly fell to roughly position five or six.

Now Google has rolled out an even more aggressive version of Google Places (see above image, click to enlarge) which positions the map ahead of the Adwords ads on the right-hand side of the page and fills almost the whole of the left side of the page with what looks like organic results but are actually enlarged listings from Places, meaning the first organic result fall “beneath the fold”.

Why are Google doing this? For a number of reasons…

First, by showing actual, verified local businesses in response to “local” searches, Google thinks it’s giving the user a better experience.

Second, the organic results which are unverified and potentially SEO’d to high rankings are pushed out and therefore the Google user avoids a potentially negative experience from a visiting an organic result.

Third, Google also sees this move as its way to compete with social media such as Facebook Pages and the new “hotpot” will take this one step further by allowing you to add friends, rate the local businesses and get their recommendations, all on your mobile phone (available as an app on the iphone and, of course, Google owns Android)

Fourth, after businesses have claimed their local listing, Google offers them the opportunity to add photos, videos, coupons, menus to their listings using their “tags” service from which Google makes money. Google is also testing the ability to automatically set up Adwords ads for the local businesses using Google Boost based on the information it has about them which would be another money spinner.

SEO Changes For “Branded Phrases”

Nike Brand Results

Nike Brand Results

We see a similar “crowding out” effect when searching Google for company names, or closely related searches… the top three or four results will all be from the same website.

See the search results for “Nike”, left. On the first page of results, different pages from command the first four places.

Google is effectively suppressing most of its search index in favour of the one website deemed “official” when your search relates to a company name, brand or slogan.

SEO Changes For “Shopping Phrases”

Shopping Results

Shopping Results

Finally, there are the “shopping results” when you search for product names, which are fairly unobtrusive at the moment, but will they grow into another way to crowd out organic results? My guess is yes.

Google Checkout

Google Checkout

Currently uploading to Google Base is free, but the whole trend at Google seems to be moving toward verification with charges for enhanced listings. Of course, one existing way to enhance your listing in Google Product Search or on Adwords ads is to use Google Checkout.

What These SEO Changes Mean For You

Here’s fair warning to anyone aiming for top Google organic rankings… beware of Google’s trend towards serving results from established, “verified” businesses to “crowd out” any results from new and unverified websites. In one area after another Google is showing that it wants verified, genuine businesses to be listed in preference to unverified websites. We see it from the local, shopping and brand name results down to requiring privacy policies for Adsense websites. It’s only going to expand, so take a hard look at your web-presence and see what you can do to project a corporate image.

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About Neil_Shearing

I've been an Internet Marketer since creating and selling my first ebook in 1997. As a former scientist I like to test money-making ideas, then simplify and share them. Apart from this blog, I can also be found on many social media sites. Click here for a list.
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16 Responses to Google Changes SEO Game

  1. Sam says:

    Absolutely spot on, thanks for succinctly summarising the trend G is taking.

    Personally I have not dealt with Google places, but say for example I has a website based on the key phrase “holiday cottage Cornwall” but I was based in the US. Could I claim a listing in Google Places in Cornwall even though I don’t have a physical presence in Cornwall? My understanding, from reading various articles, is you could still create a listing and get into Google Places… not sure if there’s any truth in that.

    If not, then there’s certainly a crowding out of old SEO tactics. As for Google base, I haven’t had a look.

    But it seems like if you’re an affiliate marketer, you’re in for a tough fight as you’re on really a merchant in your own right. What’s your take on that?

    Again, thanks for the info – heaps of things I wasn’t aware of :-)

    • Neil_Shearing says:

      Hi Sam, I don’t think you could get listed for “holiday cottage Cornwall” on Google Places unless you registered (and verified) a physical address in Cornwall. Even if you managed to do that, the cross-referencing with Google Maps / Streetview and user pics/vids/reviews would make it pointless if you were just a PO Box or an empty shop window.

      Regarding Google Base, I’ve seen merchants offer datafeeds to affiliates but forbid them from uploading the datafeed to places like Google Base. If all merchants do that (which makes sense, because Google doesn’t want 5,000 copies of the same datafeed with only the affiliate ID changing!), it’s another no-go area for affiliates.

  2. Gary Anderson says:

    This is more evidence that the day will come when the “Too Bigs To Fail” will snuff out the ability for the little guys to make an honest comfortable living online. Just like McDonalds snuffed out the mom and pop burger joints, and Walmart is snuffing out the local mom and pop Grocery stores, hardware stores etc. etc.

    Create great value and attract a lifetime of wealth now while you can, coz I personally believe the Big Companies will snuff us out. I could say more, but I won’t.

    Thanks for letting me blab ;-)


    P.S. Stay Boosted!

    • Neil_Shearing says:

      Hi Gary,

      >Create great value and attract a lifetime of wealth now while you can<

      Exactly. The Internet was always flaky in the early days, but one of its best attributes was that the "little guy" was on a fairly even playing field with the big guys. That is rapidly changing.

  3. Pensiune Borsa says:

    This might be useful for the websites that don’t have a good SEO but they provide quality services and products.

  4. Thomas says:

    The real lesson is to take advantage of the opportunities today and get to the place where your business is not dependent on Google. Relying on SEO/Adwords always has been a weak position from the start and always will be.

  5. Bill Hartzer says:

    I do believe that every business, especially local businesses, really do need to make sure that they have a verified listing in Google. Google is doing a lot of testing with the local search results, and I bet that we haven’t seen the end of it.

    @GaryAnderson: I don’t believe that is going to be the case. In fact, Google is making it a lot easier for the smaller mom and pop shops to compete, especially with personalization that they are doing. They’re showing local business websites when you search for more broader keyword phrases so if you search for “holiday cottages” there is a chance that a holiday cottage in Cornwall will show up in the search results. Especially if your search history shows that you have searched for Cornwall in the past.

  6. Jonathan Phillips says:

    Neil, Thanks for the great information. I did notice the sudden displacement of places, maps, organics, and almost everything else on the Google search page. It gets even worse (or different) when you pull down one of the page ‘modifiers’ such as Images, Videos, or the Wonder Hell…I mean Wonder Wheel!
    As far as the small guy versus big guy, as long as you have a physical presence (at least as far as Google can determine) and a legitimate claim to be in the keyword fight, there’s no reason YOU can’t be the ‘big guy’.

  7. Morgan Madej says:

    How will google provide relevant quality content to users when it is the independant marketers who provide original products and services at reasonable prices who will be excluded from their index for some unspecified alleged crime to enable the big corporate names to thrive at the expense of choice to consumers?

    This is similar to the Australian Registrars policy .au for resident aussies only…

    Does this mean that in the future all websites searched and found on google will be own country only?

  8. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the heads up on this. Just when we think Google has ‘settled’ down a bit, they create another issue that we in seo have to find a way around. Will it ever stop? :-)

  9. Jimboot says:

    Great research Neil. We’re finding Google places to be wildly inconsistent. In some searches it appears and in others it doesn’t. Even when a place name is being used. We still see it getting spammed quite a bit. I’ve featured this post in today’s Vlog.

  10. Terry56 says:

    Funny thing was I started a new thread on a forum about this on Sunday the 16th, and people laughed it off or said “This just depends on the keywords you use. Sometimes there will be regular site listings above the places sometimes not.”
    I dont agree with that statement.
    I saw it exactly like you did…
    Looks like the offline SEO guys will lose $$$ too.
    I think its better off to concentrate on Google places listings/services for real businesses.
    What a coincidence! Thats what I am studying right be a Google Places only expert.

  11. CJ says:

    I think its very disturbing that search is no longer free. Hell freedom is no longer free. Even if you are a verified genuine business in Google’s eyes. If you are not spending money then you too will be below the fold.

  12. Graham in UK says:

    Hi Neil
    If you have a physical presence i.e. a shop, business premises etc then you should without any doubt get involved with Google and get a verified listing for local search which should increase your exposure.
    In my German Shepherd Dog site(verified by Google) I have no need of a physical presence and looking at my traffic stats, visitors to my site come worldwide-so local business search is not relevant to me. Note: I do own German Shepherds so are they classed as physical presence? (LOL)

  13. LancerMan says:

    Great article,
    It seems to me that G is going to kill off the results that most of us want to see “Organic” as opposed to the “Sponsored” results paid for by the companies with the deepest pockets. So in the end we will only be fed what is paid for and the smaller, better service companies go bust.
    I think that Yahoo/Bing will take more and more of the search engine traffic as G gets greedier, fat, over bloated and eventually implodes. Google does not own the Search Engine market place (we do) and we mere mortals will make our displeasure know by not using Google.

  14. Pete Finnigan says:

    This is an interesting post Neil. Your second point about one company showing up in the top n positions is true. My business is about security of a certain database companies product and around two years ago if you searched on (“vendor” security) two word key phrase in google i ranked number 1 for the prevous 5 years to that at least, then i dropped to 3 now to 5 but the 4 above me are all the vendors site. Its pushed me to the fold line for this phrase.

    The strange thing is that if i search for three word phrases related to the same area I still rank number 1 for a lot of phrases in google but nicely my site shows up 2 and sometimes 3 times at the top. I am the little guy beating the massive corp – for how long I don’t know. The last point to make is that for the two word phrase the vendor doesnt even offer services in this space but i do and now i am pushed to the fold. So if this is a truly business related thing then its wrong. If its content related then yes the vendor is higher…

    Nice post Neil



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