When you search on Google for something that may be local (a restaurant, dentist, or plumber, for instance), the search engine returns a combination of regular and local results. About a year ago, these were always clearly separate, but have since become less easily distinguished.
What’s interesting is that it wasn’t just the display that changed – the way in which results are ranked changed as well.
The Results Page – What Was
At the start of 2010, when you ran a search on Google for something that was likely local (looking for restaurants, dentists, or plumbers for example) Google displayed the regular results for that search, inserting a special section with a map and local listings. All information contained in those listings was from Places Pages.
This is what it looked like – red boxes are ads, blue is the regular results, and green is the local section.
And What Is Today
Today Google runs two different results pages. One looks like this:
Not too different. The map has moved, but otherwise it’s very similar to last year.
But sometimes what is referred to as the “blended results” are returned instead:
Again, the ad is in the top right. Here the regular results show first, which can happen in the other example. They continue further down the page.
The big difference is the local listings. Notice how much detail they have? Rather than just show information from the Places Page, Google is pulling Places information, and combining it with data from the businesses’ websites.
The headline for each business is from the title of the landing page (on the website), and the detailed description is pulled off the the website as well. The address/phone info and reviews are from Google Places.
That’s Not All
One might think that Google is just grabbing some info from the website to create more detailed listings. But it’s more than that. In the older system, website attributes have relatively little influence in helping a business to rank. In the newer results, Google is using the website to help determine rankings.
What Does It Mean?
You used to be able to rank well in many markets with just a Places Page, a bunch of business listings, and maybe some other mentions. But now you need to pay attention to all the factors of traditional SEO, considering your title tags, gaining links, etc. If you don’t already, you’ll need a website for your business to do any of this.
This might sound hard, but if you’re a business with a good history and happy customers, you’ll have a bigger advantage over spammers and others trying to game the system than you did in the past. Many businesses already have hard-to-replicate local links to their site, and as the search engines increasingly use social and relationship data for rankings, you will continue to benefit.