Yet again Google continues to reel out the changes… This time it’s Google Places and the change is the massive increase in prominence in the SERPs. It seems as though the layout changes are being restricted to certain type of retailer and service providers, and the results are now displayed in a completely different way.
So what’s changed? Firstly, the map with the ‘place pointers’ to indicate the location of the business has shifted right- and in what seems to be a bizarre decision replaces the top sponsored links. We say bizarre because the majority of Googles income is generated from Adsense. This points towards an imminent change to Google Places being a pay per click service, however this is yet to be announced so we’ll wait for upcoming announcements.
Secondly, the listings are now spread out very much in the same way as the organic results are, albeit with the place marker and address of the business, plus a selection of photo’s if they have been added to the listing. Also you’ll find a link through to the places page, offering the traditional full page of company data.
Big change? Yes very much so. It’s going to have a big impact on SEO campaigns and how desirable number one positions are for natural rankings. This obviously only applies to location related results, where the phrases have a place name in the search string, but if you are signed in with your Google account then local results could appear for other generic phrases.
The fact that the results are so much bigger has pushed down the natural listings- in some cases we found that there was only 2 on the first page and they were at the very bottom.
So why has Google made this change? Back to the point about revenue, we can’t see it being long before the pay per click system comes into play for the Google Places feature. Having the whole front page pretty much dominated by free adverts doesn’t make an awful lot of business sense, although maybe we are taking a slightly cynical view. Perhaps there will be a compromise and this is simply an initial test. There could well be some further amendments coming on the exact layout, especially as the top Adsense banner rarely appears now. We’d expect this to be back as soon as Google have tested the water over the next few weeks.
With regards to quality scoring the results, it doesn’t really feel like a quality win. Matt Cutts of Google constantly talks of the relationship between the changes to the search results and the need to test the outcome in terms of quality for the end user. Recent algorithm changes have included changing the way you rank for long-tail key-phrases, and now we find many of the bigger retail sites rising to the top. They declared this algorithm change a quality win for searchers.
Bearing in mind that anyone can start a Google Places account as long as you have a website and a telephone number, the opportunity for manipulating the front page of Google’s SERPs is scary. Register 20 sites and 20 telephone numbers, start the Places accounts and submit the verification with the phone number. Then you can appear at the top of the rankings the day after, displacing a genuine and quality retailer with years of content work on their website now counting for nothing. Doesn’t sound like a quality win to us.