What The Changes on Google Places Really Mean for Local SEO And The Small Business
On 21 July 2011, Google rolled one of the biggest updates for this year on its “Places” property. Currently everyone is talking about the changes that occurred, and they are wondering if these affected the rankings of the listings. The truth is that the update was simply on the interface of the Google Places and had nothing to do with the local search algorithm. I have spoken with many professionals and none of them is seeing any significant change in their clients’ listings rankings. I will not go into too much detail about if the value of citations and reviews from third-party sources stays the same regarding the local SEO. I think Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm covered these topics pretty thoroughly. However, there are a few details I’d like to comment on:
1. The value of third-party reviews for conversion rate:
The reviews from third-parties are definitely not gone – neither as a ranking factor, nor as a conversion and reputation factor. Excerpts from them as well as snippets with link and count could still be found under the business information in the organic search results. I don’t know how many people were actually reading the review excerpts from the Place page itself, but I have always thought the value of these is very minor, as they usually show just a small part of the whole text, and they very often showed outdated, other business reviews or old/wrong rating. However, there was a link which was leading to reading all the reviews on the third-party source, which are still there – both on the Place page itself and on the organic SERP.
However, the problem is a little different. The ratings and the count of the reviews from third-party sources are no longer taken in the overall statistics for the listing. After the changes, only the native Google Places reviews and ratings are being counted. Therefore, there could be many situations, in which businesses with hundreds of positive reviews on third-party websites, and a few mediocre, or bad reviews (probably fake?) on Google Places, could potentially get their click-through rate, and conversion rate decreased.
2. The gone “More about this place” section:
This section on the Place page was used in most of the cases by local SEO specialists in the hope to get better competition analysis. There was basically no value for the regular user, and it was frequently showing (as with the third-party reviews) wrong, outdated or other business data. Now the easiest way to do what was done (often incorrectly) via the “More about this place” section, could be done with the Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder. I will post a more detailed article on this tool during the next week, but what is the most important is that basically currently it is the best option in terms of finding out the citations of the main competitors for particular keywords.
3. Gone “Details” section and description:
Although from Google they gave a vague explanation of this problem (which I believe did not explain anything), here is my personal opinion on why the section is gone. As you know, previously Google was showing information from third-party sources in the “Details” section. Now that they removed the “More about this place” completely, they have to clear the third-party information from the other parts of the Place pages as well. I suppose there is some problem with doing that for the “Details” section as this is basically the only one which incorporates both native and “foreign” data.
Furthermore, there were numerous reports of missing description on some listings. I think the problem here comes from the missing details, because both the description and the working hours, although not appearing in the “Details” section, are part of it structurally.
4. The descriptive terms on the Place page:
A field that needs further research, and will be very important in future in the local SEO are the descriptive terms. After the recent update they already appear on the Place page itself. About two weeks ago I noticed that they were showing up in the Places search results too. It is probably just a matter of time until they start popping up on the organic SERP. Some time ago I was joking that in future there will be situations like the small business owner handing an already written review to a customer, asking them if it is OK to post it on their behalf. It seems like these days are not so far after all.