Last week, Google made a major change to its local search results. The change that was made was an attempt to create a more consistent approach to how they localized results. These results while they visually create a more consistent look and feel to localization may have a significant impact on certain web verticals which supply geo-related content based on a geo-modified search, such as what you see in real estate and travel. Real Estate and Travel aggregators provide geo-related content based on the geo-modified search that combines a geo along with a specific search phrase. These two industries are likely to be impacted initially because the user behavior is to include the geo term when searching. This latest iteration of search, I believe was meant to make it easier for someone looking for a local restaurant, hotel or house for sale in a particular city. The reality is that while they may have used the geo modifier, the user intent was actually to get a broad result that they could continue to refine.
Below are some results from what we have seen so far with changes to localized results…
“River Cruises” Keyword Example
o USARiverCruises.com is #4 post change. Viking River Cruises held the #2 & #3 positions prior to the change. Because of the map update and the loss of the secondary Viking River Cruises result, you’d think USARiverCruises.com would now become #3. However, because USARiverCruises.com is not based out of the Los Angeles area (they’re based in Washington), a new site is now ranking #3…AmaWaterWays.com. They are based in the LA area. So USARiverCruises is still #4 as a result of the new map/location integration.
– The organic algo still comes into play when ordering the local “river cruises” sites, but if you were ranking high before but in the area the person is searching in (something Google has confirmed you can’t turn off…only change your location), you will be affected.
– NOTE: When location is changed to Seattle, the original view is shown (without the map/location integration). We’ll see where this ends up.
“Before” and “After” screenshots
– Location changed to Seattle, older view is delivered
However, it doesn’t look like the map results will always be at the top. Here are examples where the new Google Places results are mid SERP, after the shopping results:
Before the specific sites that had reviews of the locations the maps were not linked to from the initial SERP view, now they are. If anything, sites that have reviews on other sites that rank well for high-volume terms may see a jump in traffic.
– Example: the trustlink.org page that has 8 reviews for Goldline can be directly accessed from the SERP.
– A look at the keyword “river cruises” shows a hybrid / newest version of Google Places integration into the SERPs. Here’s a more classic example where all they did was move the map to the right (probably in an attempt to make the Google Places results blend more in with the organic listings):
First thought is that they must be comparing the map results with the organic results and when there’s a match, it triggers the hybrid result, but for the term “river cruise”, we don’t see the hybrid result:
Also as you scroll down the page, the map on the right follows you down the page….literally blocking the paid ads on the right when you scroll down. This is potentially a big issue for paid ads which are which are not in the premium listing spot for the keyword.
In conclusion, it is too early to tell the full extent of the impact from these changes but based on early analysis it will likely impact both SEO and SEM results for certain types of searches. Travel is one area which is likely to feel the short-term impact since many searches have a geo component to them. Ultimately we expect to see more changes to this search result product since it does not provide a logical flow to a wide range of searches. Travel is a great example where a user may use a geo modifier to the search query but is not actually looking for a local result. Google is going to need to adjust this or risk losing users to Bing or Yahoo where they can have a more relevant travel search experience.