Just about a month ago, Google rolled out a new user interface for local search that is quite different from the previous method, both algorithmically and visually. These changes merge the local and organic results in a new way. If you’ve used Google at all since the change you’ve probably already gotten used to it.
This screen shot shows the new interface, and how the listings with a map presence (via Google Places) are favored.
As far as placement on the search results page, the changes to the search algorithm shouldn’t make much difference to website owners who have pursued long-term, best-practice SEO strategies that include optimizing for organic results, signing up for local search accounts, using social networking sites, and obtaining reviews. So if you have some strong incoming links, have some social networking profiles or a blog set up, and have done a good job of optimizing your site for local search terms, relax! The new interface shouldn’t impact you too much. Of course, any time the Big G makes a change to the way they conduct business it makes everybody nervous and it makes sense to evaluate if your listings have changed.
Google made a big splash when they first integrated Google Local into the main search results. The local results displaced businesses that didn’t appear on the map and pushed them further down the results page. It also seemed to favor those with a strong local presence to begin with, which hurt those sites for whom local optimization had not been a priority. The biggest change with this new rollout seems to be that sites with a strong Google Local (now called Google Places) presence and weaker on-site organic optimization seem to be hurt by this the most, getting pushed farther down the search results page. Businesses with a strong Google Places listing and good site optimization will really stick out the Google search page .
So what can you do? First of all, if you don’t already have one, create a free Google Places account today. Begin creating a local presence for yourself. If you already have a Google Places account or aren’t sure…check into it and make sure the listing is as complete as it can be. Essentially, focus on what has made sound organic search optimization strategy for the past several years, local search aside: title tags and matching on-page content, a local search presence, and strong incoming links. When you create your Google Places listing, make sure to work your top phrases into your business description and use the best categories to describe your business.
Google is putting a much greater emphasis on local search. We are sure to see more changes in the months ahead as they continue to make the Google platform more relevant and useful for local searchers.