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Is Google Considering Removing Organic Results In Local Search?


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#1 AbleReach

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 04:11 PM

Google Removes Organic Results in Local Tests
by Chris Boudreaux and Adam Edwards

Yesterday, for the first time, we saw a standard Google web search results page, without any standard web search results. That is, a search for “car rental nyc” returned a Universal Results page showing a map alongside results from paid, local, and books categories (see screen shot below). Not one standard organic result appeared on the first page of results.


Yes, it's true. Check out their screen shot.

This could be a watershed moment for Google, and it could force local or franchise businesses to use AdWords and Google Places (formerly Local Business Center).

Creating a great web site with strong SEO may no longer take you into the first page of local search results.



It's a test, not appearing everywhere all the time. Still!! Eek!

Maybe it's a temporary anomaly, caused by sorting out some other factor?

#2 earlpearl

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 05:30 PM

These tests have been occuring for a little more than 1 month per Mike Blumenthal's blog that first publicly reported on this back on July 5: http://blumenthals.c...al-search-serp/

Google reported its a test.

Who knows what they will do in the future. Possibly John Mu can add some insights.

For some months now Google has been extending its reach to small businesses in the US and worldwide, at least through select nations. Currently they are actively growing their inside version of street maps, wherein they are adding internal pictures of active retailers in select cities in the US and elsewhere (restaurants, hotels, retailers, etc.). In fact they are encouraging retailers to contact them to be included in these pics.

At the least, with this effort, they will have an incredible data base of shots inside brick and mortar businesses.

They have extended their efforts to get businesses to "claim" their records in Google maps/places.

Its fascinating IMHO. According to published reports about 2 million US businesses have claimed their listings and I believe another 2 million have done so worldwide. In the US most estimates for the number of local Internet Yellow Page Listings is somewhere around 15 million.

In a few years, without any sales force on the ground (feet on the ground; the term used to describe the old YP's sales force;) Google has managed to develop a communications system directly between Google and 1 of 7 local businesses. That is quite a feat. The number of businesses who claim their local record keeps growing.

I suspect in the long run and in the short run its about gaining direct access to the huge volume of local advertising throughout the world. I think I saw that all local advertising in the US totals somewhere in the realm of $150 billion. The internet is regularly increasing its share of that amount. I believe Google is pushing this outreach to local businesses to capture a very large share of that amount directly.

The experiment with local results that show just Places/Maps records and ads is one of the many steps being taken in this long process, IMHO.

One last observation. 2 days ago while at a late lunch, while sitting at the bar and eating at a place where I know the staff, a google rep from the inside photo staff came in to introduce the idea to the staff. He spoke w/ the bartender. He didn't realize the owner was sitting at the bar in a business discussion. I sat right next to them while he was selling the bartender on this, just being the typically dumb customer that I am. The bartender was taking the sales pitch and protecting the owner's anonymity while he was in a separate conversation.

When the Google rep finished I asked, "Why are you guys doing this?"

The rep told me it was "top secret". After he left the bartender told me she thought that was a creepy response. When I left I suggested to the owner he take google up on the photographic offer.

@John: I'm amazed, the first thing, that must accompany Google employee training is how not to tell the puplic anything. I've had some opportunities at some conversations w/ google employees. you guys are masters at that. True masters. ;)

I suspect we will all see screen shots like that. Whether Google goes with that layout or not is way over my rank and position, though. :wacko: At the current time they officially describe it as an experiment.

#3 tam

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 07:58 PM

I wonder how long it will be until google makes having your own website obsolete. If all of the information you'd generally put on your website - location/map, opening times, photos, reviews are all held by google and beat out the website for the business in the search results then what's the point in maintaining a separate website?

It's going to put a lot of directories out of use because their information is combined with other sources by google and google puts their local business information top - you can't beat google.

I'm impressed by what they are putting together but also kinda worried about the monopoly they are creating.

Tam

#4 SEOigloo

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 08:44 PM

Liz,
Glad you brought this up. As Dave says, we've been seeing screenshots of this here and there for about a month, but Google is calling it a test.

Dave -
Whoa! You were like the proverbial fly on the wall for that conversation. I agree...the top secret remark is spooky, but yes, Google are past masters at this sort of thing.

If Google wants Place Pages to put me out of a job as a local website designer, they'd better meet the accuracy I can provide in making sure that the business' basic data is correct. :wacko:

#5 bwelford

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Posted 13 August 2010 - 09:13 PM

In other words, Google is moving out of the Search business when it comes to Local results. They no longer have any PageRank magic to say their results will be better than anyone else's. We'll all have to judge by results and it may be that one of their competitors for Local can do a better job than they can.

Just because it carries the Google brand does not automatically mean it's great. Who knows: if Google weakens the quality implicit in the Google name by serving inferior local results, perhaps that will weaken their search brand by association. The clear implication is that Google search methods don't work on the Local scene. That opens up the playing field. Perhaps Bing/Yahoo can exploit this weakness.

#6 jonbey

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 01:42 AM

Oooh hot stuff!

Google seem to be the main Adsense advertising on my Essex business portal at the moment, have been for a week or so at least. Maybe they are targeting all businesses directories with adsense to get their new customers?

#7 earlpearl

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Posted 14 August 2010 - 12:39 PM

My gut is they aren't going to replace organic with a page with all results from the 7 pac. But that is only gut.

The 7 pac is rife with errors to this day. That doesn't stop them from experimenting.....something they do all the time.

In the course of these experiments I'm sure they will find fascinating results on click patterns.


Ha....yeah Miriam, I guess I was the fly in the room....LOL. I know that restaurant bar hasn't claimed their listing, (maybe I should do it for them) So then I was thinking maybe they are targeting businesses for pics who haven't claimed their listings....just to increase opportunities for direct communications.

But 6 out of 7 haven't done so....so I'm sure they are hitting a majority of businesses w/out claimed listings.

Its a great way to generate a connection to google. All again w/out a salesforce on the ground. I find that fascinating.

#8 earlpearl

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 05:52 AM

Per Mike Blumenthal's blog piece today these tests are merging both local and organic results.

That is a very different situation. I haven't seen the experiment yet...but what does the 2nd page of results look like?

#9 JVRudnick

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:10 AM

and nothing I can find up here in g.ca either, earl....the tests look very limited as to their locations...

but yes, IMHO, this will change how we view local...."top secret" or not....

:)

Jim

#10 mrgoodfox

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 09:47 PM

Honestly Google local map has gone worse during the past 6 months. It used to much easier to use, much faster to load, and much more relevant results.

If you are looking for rental properties (or any real estate) you might as well forget using Google maps as it is practically filled with spam.

#11 earlpearl

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 08:05 AM

Mr. Goodfox:

In what ways do you see spam in real estate listings? Just curious. Haven't looked at it for a while and just did a quick search in my community. couldn't see spam on either apartments or homes for sale.

I'd love to see examples of what you are describing.

What is sort of astounding and confounding to me for home sales; in G Maps Google shows either:

Houses or

Realtors;

How in the world does google determine which house gets ranked first???? And does that matter?

#12 earlpearl

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 03:35 PM

Miriam: You might find this interesting. I ran into the Google photographer, or I think it was the same guy who I ran into earlier in the week at lunch. He was arranging interior photos at a local coffee shop w/ the owner.

I engaged him and tried to get him interested in one of our smbs. Its not exactly retail but its not exactly not retail. The c (onversation was interesting. OTOH he had specific parameters from Google, but OTOH, I gathered local friends of his told him to shoot/consider our smb which is sort of cool.

Not sure if he'll shoot it or not. No matter. He started to educate me. I played dumb. I'm naturally good at that. ;) (Wit can confirm ;) )

He whipped out his mobile and pulled up our smb. He was showing me where the pics are going. He went to our places page to start to "explain it" and saw that we had entered stuff. I played dumb ;) (Its my strongest quality)

He told me he would check w/ google to see if the business was okay per their parameters.

So I'm thinking....what is the purpose of this big effort they are doing in select cities in the US and world wide. Its time consuming, its gotta be labor intensive with lots of photographers working lots of appropriate retail corridors in certain cities.

After all they could put that money and time into "customer service" in the smb forum for business owners. You and I would like that. Cripes they could save a life or help in an emergency for crying out loud let alone correct mistakes.

In any case they are going to load these pics into business places pages. They are adding places content. They are using quality photogs to do so and doing it for free for the smbs.

Places pages aren't indexed in google.com. In fact currently most seo's that handle smbs and the smbs that monitor this stuff seem to indicate that places pages don't get much traffic. Of course that could change dramatically as smart mobile spreads and spreads. I saw a recent stat that locally oriented type searches show up 45% more often in mobile searches than in pc searches. That seems to make intuitive sense.

Places pages will show more often in mobile alone.

But I'm thinking this is a round about way for google to interact w/ smb's get communciations going and ultimately get them into Adwords. After all, that is where the money is.

I suppose we'll see over time.

Meanwhile back to the experiments with how google is trying to show local....Mike Blumenthal continues to show updates on these experiments via his findings and those of commentators. Its an interesting development.

One last comment: Of the 2 places where I ran into the Google photographer neither local listing is claimed. Coincidence or not. Don't know at all, but 6 out of 7 businesses haven't claimed their listings so its not surprising.


Okay here is the REAL LAST COMMENT. I went back and searched in google for coffee shops in my suburban town again. (town name/ coffee shops).

In google maps the one across the street came up first. I know the owner, I'm pretty sure he hasn't spent money for LOCAL seo optimizing, either for maps or for organic.

In google.com; 7pac though, Starbucks came up first with my neighbor coming up 3rd. There are some "tricks" to optimizing for the 7 pac eh?

On the organic side, under the 7 pac the #1 ranking was a coffee shop that closed over a year ago w/ a blog post on the first page talking about closing day. My neighbor was 3rd.

Coffee shops are typically small and probably don't spend time or more importantly $ on the web for advertising and rankings. Just thought the rankings are interesting. From my perspective for that 7 pac I'd go w/ a tag for a discount and see if it works.

Edited by earlpearl, 21 August 2010 - 03:57 PM.


#13 SEOigloo

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 02:38 PM

Dave!
Fate is drawing you and that photographer together. I wonder, is he a local guy or did Google send him there from elsewhere in the country?

It does sound like the photos are going on the Place Page, but I have to agree with you...what a huge amount of feet-on-the-street hours Google is putting into something that seems, in and of itself, not terribly vital or deserving. Your hypothesis that this initial free contact is meant to eventually result in a new adwords customer is interesting, Dave, but even this seems like an awful lot of effort in order to sign up a coffee shop or similar small business for Adwords. I'm kind of scratching my head about it. Like you, I'd rather see them employ the photographer as a customer service rep ;)


Thanks so much for continuing to report on your run-ins with this fellow. I'm amazed how you keep bumping into him.

#14 mrgoodfox

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 02:59 PM

earlpearl,

My specific problem was when for searching for rental properties in Dallas, Texas. The results were nothing but from websites like "post-it" and "Move.com" and other ad agencies (in Google Maps).

I was hoping to actually see listing of apartment complexes themselves not 3 pages of ads with no links to any apartments.

#15 A.N.Onym

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 08:58 PM

Dave,

1. Google might be building a long-term online publishing business equity, so it's investing into something that's work for it forever (photography). I don't approve the choice over customer support, but that's on Google's conscience.

2. You say that Google Places get little traffic. Does it include the 7-10 pack traffic that's shown above the organic results? I'd imagine it to get at least some traffic, thanks to the placement.

Thank you.

#16 earlpearl

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 06:23 AM

@yura:

this is quick, but I looked at 3 local acccts very quickly. only looked at the local google dashboard part of stats, which simply represents how many people go from a 7 pac to the 3 alternatives; link to your site, Google driving directions, and to your places pages:

In my case of the last 1,000+ clicks to the 7 pac maps all of 22 went to the places page. Very small percentage ~~about 2%. To the extent that commentators have made comments there experience is similar--Not much traffic from the 7 pac to the places page.

There is more traffic than that. People go to G Maps direct and hit the places page, people go there from G Mobile.....but all in all it isn't well trafficked.

(of note we can't track a places page, it's not our page, its google's). We can track people coming from a places page to the site.)

#17 earlpearl

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 12:12 PM

More on this big Google places page photography effort from some of the other suburbs of Washington DC.

(gotta be a lot of local photographers getting work out of this) ;)

http://www.gazette.n...22802_32539.php

#18 SEOigloo

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 01:42 PM

Wow, what an interesting piece that was, Dave. It indicates a business owner mindset that I find fascinating: the woman who is amazed that the 'faceless corporation' has come to her. Truly, this is a curious move by Google, and coupled with Google's refusal to be interviewed about this program...well, it's just so Google.

Good catch, Dave!

#19 earlpearl

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 02:15 PM

I think its ultimately about advertising and of course getting a places page up. Probably its about good will into the local business community.

6 out of 7 typical IYP businesses don't have a google places page. This is a way to generate more places pages. Once an smb has a places page big Google can start communicating to them. They make it easy to start using PPC. If google can get a lot more small businesses advertising in ppc that generates more revenues and w/ more bidders per topic that increases bid prices and still more revenues.

All that can be done w/out a feet on the street advertising sales force, which is expensive.

The approach is very friendly and helpful to the smb.

Just wondering though, Miriam, if they start adding businesses into the places page and G Maps still doesn't give customer service and has a lot of glitches...could increased activity in places generate a lot of backlash???

I guess time will tell.

#20 SEOigloo

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 02:45 PM

Just wondering though, Miriam, if they start adding businesses into the places page and G Maps still doesn't give customer service and has a lot of glitches...could increased activity in places generate a lot of backlash???


In a word, yes!

Every new Place Page claimer is one more person who will realize, at some point, that Google doesn't have customer service backing this app. The potentials for discontent only multiply with every new signup.

Wonder if Google has considered that, Dave...

#21 earlpearl

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 03:50 PM

(hey miriam; instead of speaking or emailing we should just converse here) :wave:

#22 bwelford

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 10:07 PM

I'm finding the Google Places pages can really get in the way of finding what you want to know about local businesses.

Try finding a local branch of a Bank in order to check the opening hours. For one major bank here, I could not find the web page that would give me the opening hours and the Google Places page was minimal and pretty useless. This whole sector seems to be one that Google will have a real problem handling. At least other search engines seem to provide more useful information and avoid the Places approach.

#23 SEOigloo

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Posted 26 August 2010 - 02:40 AM

Dave,
Yes, let's chat again soon! You know...you've got my # but I don't have yours ;)


Barry,
You've mentioned something I run into constantly. I would say that looking up hours of operation is the second most common task I perform (after looking up phone numbers) and time and again, the Google Place Page for a given business is unclaimed and has no business hours listed. Drives me crazy. Especially bad if the company in question has no discoverable website. Very good point.



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