One of the good things about Google local search was until earlier this year you could have a page 1 listing without a local business website using Google Places. As with everything Google, their algorithms change and search moves on.
Google Places – your local business page, traditionally pulled the map into the search results with A-G pins. The majority of the time, there were 7 first page pins known as the 7-pack. No doubt you’ll recognise this format:
Appearing in the Google local search results could be as simple as claiming your Google Places page and making sure you had plenty of consistant citations. In competitive areas, you’d optimise your Places page, images and videos. You’d tweak your website to help give things a bit of a boost.
Occasionally, Google would change the rules a bit without telling anyone, just to keep people on their toes. More recently, Google Places became a more social place as it morphs into Google+ Local. This change isn’t why local rankings seem to be disappearing into cyberspace.
Local Search Updates
In February this year Google announced a new algorithm update, code named Venice. With all the fuss over Pandas and Penguins over the last year or so, the effect of this major local search update is rarely discussed.
This is what Google said:
“Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename "Venice"] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”
Venice makes a huge difference to Google’s local search results. After February, the traditional 7-pack Google Places results became rarer and universal blended local results were now in the majority. It’s estimated that over 70% of local search results are “blended”.
Blended universal results have been around for some years now and are effectively a mash-up of results from across Google’s properties. You’ll see all sorts of things in there depending on your search;
- shopping results,
- and of course the local search map pin
Getting your business in the local search results with your map pin now involves a whole lot more than claiming your Place (or Google+ Local page these days!) Your website now is a major local ranking factor.
Why Your Local Website Result Disappeared
Another quirk of the blended local results is you no longer have 2 (or more!) separate results in the search rankings. In the traditional local results you could rank your website and have a map pin with Google Places.
In the new blended results, your local Places (now Google+ Local) map pin result merges with your website ranking. Your local rankings have not disappeared, they’re just combined. Gone are the days with some fancy moves you could have your business website listed in practically every organic slot in the local rankings plus a map pin!
The other side of this story is that you NEED a search friendly website to realistically compete in the local rankings. The blended search results are directly affected by your website search engine optimisation.
In the past, you could get away with not having a website and relying on a well optimised Google Places page to bring you local customers from the internet. Now you can’t.
It is rare to see a traditional local result these days. Search terms that trigger the pure local results appear to be branded terms.
Let’s use my coffee addiction as an example. If I said I’d meet you in Costas in Liverpool, and you searched for Costa Liverpool, this is what you would see:
You can tell this is a pure Google Places local result because it says “Places for Costa near Liverpool Merseyside”
Searching for coffee Liverpool returns the now common blended result. Notice the lack of “Places for…”
Also notice that if businesses have a map pin, there isn’t a separate website ranking too.
So where have your local search rankings gone?
If you have a website your local rankings have not totally gone, they just display differently. Your website ranking and Places ranking have combined. Your website affects your map marker ranking in the blended search results.
If you don’t have a website, you are now competing directly with businesses who do. No matter how unfriendly and awful it may be, these websites often have the benefit of some search engine optimisation, usually links. There are occasions where the local slots get topped up with map pins from businesses that don’t have a website. Going forward, I would imagine this will drop off as competition increases.
Over to you… Have you noticed the differences in the local search results throughout this year? Has it affected your business?