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Google Testing Grey Google Places Balloons

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If you ask 100 online marketers what the symbol of Google Places is most probably all of them will answer it is the red balloon-shaped marker that appears both on Google Maps and in the organic search results. However, Google seems to be testing a new layout even for this most iconic sign.

About a week ago Jo Shaer notified me that she noticed “grey balloons” next to the Google Places organic search results. She sent me the following screenshot:

Google Places Grey Balloons

Jo said that she would see the change both via Chrome and Mozilla. My first thought was that it might be caused by some plugin. However, I could not investigate that since she stopped seeing the grey balloons soon after and I was unable to produce a query to see them myself. The matter was put to sleep until today, when @nightlitemedia tweeted the following screenshot:

Google Places Grey Balloons US

Have you seen the grey balloons? I am interested to know the scope of this tweak.

  1. Phil Rozek
    Phil Rozek10-25-2011

    Interesting…

    Not seeing the gray balloons here in the states. I checked in my local area, as well as in the standard lineup of cites where Google tends to test first (Austin, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, etc.). Didn’t find ‘em there, either.

    Furthermore, I just Googled “Las Vegas bail bonds” (which seems to be the search term NiteLiteMedia kindly showed you), and I’m still seeing the standard red markers. Heck, even when I type in “Essex UK social media optimisation” (and see Jo ranked #1!), I still only see the red markers.

    From my vantage point, either this is a very limited-scope test, or it’s one of the “flash tests” that come and go before you know what hit you.

    By the way, those green checkmarks wouldn’t happen to denote the verification status of the Place page, would they? I’d check on it myself…but those gray markers just aren’t happening for me!

  2. Jim Jaggers
    Jim Jaggers10-25-2011

    I’d guess the green checkmarks are some variation of McAfee’s SiteAdvisor marks rather than a new graphic from Google’s serps.

  3. Nyagoslav Zhekov
    Nyagoslav Zhekov10-25-2011

    @Phil – yep, I have never seen them as well. Even during the times Jo was telling me about what she sees, I checked via a UK IP and I was still not seeing them grey…

    @Jim – yes, the checkmarks are from some anti virus program (not sure if it’s McAfee).

    P.S. I made Jo turn off her plugins but I believe she was still seeing the grey markers until one day they simply got back to red.

  4. Jo Shaer
    Jo Shaer10-25-2011

    Hallelujah! Thank you for posting this, Nyagoslav. I thought I was going mad when only I could see them! :) My partner in Birmingham was getting red balloons just like you when he searched the same terms.
    I turned off all the Chrome add ons that I had put on recently and it was still showing them. I had pretty much accepted that this was how my machine was playing for the moment.
    I’m not in Essex on my PC atm so Im can’t check to tell you what they’re showing today – here in Birmingham on my laptop they’re the usual red for social media optimisation in Essex and las vegas bail bonds.

    @Phil and Jim The green ticks are to do with my AVG antivirus – again on my PC not my laptop. As I recall, they’re a rating factor with regards to reliability. As in no one has written bad reports about them so far.

  5. Adam Steele
    Adam Steele10-25-2011

    I was wondering when someone would post this. One thing we failed to consider here is CTR. If this sticks, I have to assume CTR is going to go down the toilet. #notwinning

    Just tested another term from a different computer, same thing: http://awesomescreenshot.com/0a8mxllf1

    I was looking for a scapegoat for my grey hairs this morning, and then I saw this.

    Thanks for the write up Nyagoslav!!

  6. Jo Shaer
    Jo Shaer10-25-2011

    @Adam They’re certainly not very noticeable in grey, are they? I can’t tell you huge amounts about the effect it had on my CTR because smo is not a hugely well searched term over here in the UK… yet :)

  7. Nyagoslav Zhekov
    Nyagoslav Zhekov10-25-2011

    @Adam and @Jo – I don’t think the CTR will be so severely affected to be honest. Yes, there could be some drop in CTR, but I don’t think it will be so significant as after Google stopped showing the cover images for the listings in the organic search results. Let’s stay tight and see if they roll it out more broadly.

  8. David
    David10-25-2011

    It’s a “pin” actually not a “balloon”.

  9. Jo Shaer
    Jo Shaer10-26-2011

    Hi David – Those who hang out regularly at the Google Forums may call it a pin but ask the uninitiated woman on the street in the UK and she’ll say it’s a red balloon… I think on the actual Google maps (especially on my mobile) it does look more pin-like but not when you see it in the SERPs.

  10. Rasmus
    Rasmus10-26-2011

    Great catch. I am not seeing the grey markers in Denmark though I have checked several browsers. I find it out though that Google would want to change the well known red pin!

  11. Nyagoslav Zhekov
    Nyagoslav Zhekov10-26-2011

    @Rasmus – just a few “chosen ones” seem to be seeing these grey balloons (or “pins”). I asked for confirmation from Google. The answer was pretty standard: “We are testing stuff all the time…” nothing concrete on that specific test, which appears to be quite a big one.

  12. zeljka
    zeljka11-02-2011

    saw it today, live in usa, interesting, it was on ie

  13. Thomas Chui
    Thomas Chui11-03-2011

    We recently started seeing Grey Places instead of the Red places in Kingson, Ontario, Canada this past week. Use “Google.ca” to view our lovely results – “Kingston Plumber”

    Unsure of the long term ramifications, but the layout with Grey Places is easier to read for quick access to phone and address information.

    Thanks again for the wonderful blog, Nyagoslav. Keep up the fantastic work!

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov11-07-2011

      Hey Thomas, I am actually thinking to share my ideas on why Google changed the layout during this week. I still think on a few aspects.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  14. Guillaume
    Guillaume11-03-2011

    I have seen the grey balloon today in France!
    In fact, the color changes when the mouse is over the balloon.

    It seems to me that recent changes on Google.com have made local results too prominent ; the grey ballon lowers this. And when the mouse is about to click the ballon, the color change (from grey to red) reassure the user “yes, it’s a Google Map result, if i click i’ll be redirected to a map”.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov11-07-2011

      Guillaume, it is true that the red balloons were distracting the attention from the ads way too much. But I believe Google invested a lot of money into branding the RED pin, so they are not going to completely abandon it.

  15. Atniz
    Atniz11-29-2011

    Nyagoslav, you done a good review on grey balloons there. Mouse over on the balloons turning the grey balloon to red. Looks like Google becomes more colour friendly I would say.

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