Google has changed the rules of the game again, this time by merging its local search and organic algorithms. And the implications for business, particularly small business, are major.
Small businesses who have hesitated making a real commitment to internet marketing have embraced local search as a quick and relatively easy way of creating an internet presence. No website was required for a listing. No bothersome and perhaps incomprehensible SEO. No real resource commitment.
It used to be that when a user typed in a local search query, the so-called seven-pack appeared with a map on the left. Paid advertising appeared above the seven-pack and in the right column. Organic results appeared below the seven-pack.
Local search rewarded not only those businesses astute enough to claim their place on Google, it also rewarded those businesses who not only claimed their places but created and promoted websites for rankings.
Now, the rewards will go to the latter group.
The new SERP will return paid advertising at the top of the page (as before) and a floating map above the ad word column on the right. The seven-pack is gone. Instead local data are integrated into organic results.
A front page listing then will return the website, the website title tag and meta description. It will also return information from Google Places, location data, an image from the Place Page, a featured review, total review count and a link to the Place Page. Website and Place Pages are thus merged.
Local search, of course, is only as good as search data. A number of commentators have suggested that the new Place Search will throw Google’s flawed local data into the limelight as the good data, provided by self-regulating businesses, is mixed up with the bad data. This, however, is an issue for Google.
For small business, however, the implications are clear. First, the new Place Search could prompt more businesses into considering paid advertising on Google. After all, Google’s revenues are derived from advertising and it has an interest in promoting advertising opportunities.
Second, those businesses which have coasted on Google Place alone for visibility will find this opportunity degraded. In the new world of Place Search, a business must have a website and promote that website with an eye toward rankings.