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”
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 Nike.com 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”
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.
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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