Google Makes Major Changes to Local Search Results

Google has recently rolled out a new format for their local search results. They have changed the way search results are displayed when the search term includes a city and/or state, which will have a direct impact on your business if you target search terms that include physical locations.

Now called Google Places, the local listings are more like directory listings in which a business owner can "claim" the page on Google and enter information. For those who don't claim their listing, Google automatically generates a Place page based on info it finds in databases. Local results have been shortened and consolidated in a "Places for… “ list that follows the paid listings at the top of the page. These results are richer, showing your business address and phone number, an image, a snippet from a review and links to reviews on other sites. Since these changes are rolling out gradually, you may or may not see them yet or only see them on some searches depending on the search term and the location.

What to be aware of:

- Google Places has become a new way to search. The first page of results will show a list of options for refining the search on the left-hand side of the page. The list may include images, videos, or books and will now include Places as one of the options. This should help speed and refine some searches.

-The traditional grouping of local results at the top of the page has been eliminated. The map now resides in the right sidebar and additional local listings have been integrated into the search results.

- In many cases, the Places listings have displaced organic results, pushing top 10 listings on to the second page of the search engine results.

- While Google doesn't divulge how it selects which businesses show up in the top local results, even if you've done an excellent job of search engine optimization, you may find your company has dropped off the list of top search results. Experts think that reviews have become much more important to rankings in the new Google Places. It used to be your location that was most important, now it's more the quantity and quality of reviews.

- AdWords is getting more competitive for local businesses because paid ad visibility is, to a certain degree, replacing local listing visibility. Local business owners will be more inclined to fight for the coveted top spots since the paid ads are now the most visible aspect of the local results page.