More Detailed Thoughts on Google’s Place Page Shift

MIHMORANDUM NO. 1009 | July 25th, 2011Reader Comments (27)

Can I say this any more clearly? Don’t confuse an interface update for a new algorithm.

In about four hours of searching a broad number of industries and market sizes on Saturday afternoon, I saw no evidence to suggest any changes.  Nor have several other experts.

Citations are still important.
I do not think Localeze’s business model (or Infogroup’s) has been “nuked” in any way, as Jill Whalen speculated.  This does not mean Google won’t “nuke” them in the future, but

a) Google is far from the only player in a fragmented Local Search Ecosystem and verified data aggregators will likely always have a role for app developers and the mid-tail and long-tail Local players
b) in markets outside the United States where Places has a much smaller mindshare among SMB’s (including Brazil, where I’ve just had quite a bit of experience with Local Search), they’re still heavily reliant, even dependent, on third-party business indices with more comprehensive data.

What this does is hurt is the fly-by-night Local SEO firms who used the ‘More About This Place’ results as the be-all-and-end-all of their competitive research.  Those companies will now have to look a little harder, and hopefully try to understand the algorithm rather than just memorizing a mindless ranking tactic.  It also makes life a little harder for SMB’s, though, who might have used that information as a quick reference based on advice they might have come across on various blogs (including my original post on citations—which has been sorely in need of an update for years).

However, I for one am thrilled not to have to answer any more emails about “Why Isn’t Google Picking Up My Citations?”  Google has been obfuscating them for years, which is why I’ve always advocated checking organic search rankings for traditional citation sources in a particular market in my conference presentations, beyond just the Place Pages in the 7-pack.  And incidentally, Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder tool—which has always pulled from Google’s organic results—is unaffected by the update (confirmed by the tool’s creator, Darren Shaw).

The truth is, we’ve never really known exactly which citations are counting towards a business’s Location Prominence score, but those of us who live and breathe Local Search have been able to develop a sixth sense for them based on countless hours of reviewing SERPs, and results from real client engagements.

The really prominent ones have always been obvious from Photos and More Details…Photos are still showing quite prominently—as are special awards from sites like Gayot and Travel and Leisure.  But where are More Details?  This is really useful information that Google STILL asks business owners for in the Places Dashboard.  Is it now just a waste of time to fill this out, or it is just a temporary bug as Google iterates the interface?

If Google decided to drop More Details, this would be a truly significant shift.

Third-party reviews are still important.
Google just doesn’t have enough coverage to get a decent review corpus in a lot of second-tier-and-below markets.  They need to rely on other sources (for now) to get a sense for consumer sentiment.

TechCrunch has it completely wrong.  This is yet another shot across the bow of the IYPs.  Google is getting to the point where it doesn’t need a baseline data set anymore.   Although it increasingly looks as though Blended Search was brought out partially to appease them.  It’s the “Pure” 7-packs show only Places reviews.

I am glad to see sites like DemandForce getting nailed by this update.  When non-consumer brands that filter reviews on behalf of clients have a direct line to Places, that is not a level playing field for anyone in the SEO space, and not helpful for consumers either.

But, Google’s review filter better get better in a hurry.  I’ve seen a TON of positive shill and negative competitor reviews popping up in the last 6 weeks, and whether Mountain View knows it or not (given their seemingly solitary focus on Plus, who knows if they do), they’ve just opened the door for an even more aggressive effort by “reputation management” companies to engage in this nefarious behavior.

Google must feel as though it has figured out the review formula through its efforts in Portland, Austin, Madison, and its other Places feet-on-the-street Beta markets.  And the biggest interface change is the new bright red “Leave a Review” buttons, which Google surely hopes stand out as calls-to-action even more.  The more reviews they’re able to aggregate for themselves, the better their former-Hotpot-now-Places recommendation engine is going to work and the more hooked they’ll keep users on returning for results they’ll like.

Speaking of, I think sentiment will continue to be important in competitive markets.  From http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2011/07/ongoing-evolution-of-place-pages.html

Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we’ve heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages. Rating and review counts reflect only those that’ve been written by fellow Google users, and as part of our continued commitment to helping you find what you want on the web, we’re continuing to provide links to other review sites so you can get a comprehensive view of locations across the globe. 

Despite some of the brou-hahas over inappropriate review snippets, I can’t imagine that Google is giving up on its sentiment analysis that easily.  Google has invested a lot of effort into this kind of analysis.  They may hide third-party sentiment to placate the IYPs but don’t be surprised if sentiment from native reviews re-appears in the near future.

The first part of the sentence is the more applicable one:  “The future direction of Google Places.”  I have a feeling that this will likely be replaced by an area that shows snippets or full reviews from friends in your Hotpot/Plus network, though, rather than the general public.

And, I think review keywords will still be important in competitive markets.  See above +1.  I’ve actually seen a few instances where these review keywords still show up.  And the fact that in many markets, Places specifically asks reviewers to rate a business on specific features (in restaurants, it’s food / service / atmosphere / value) means that Google is just dealing with how to incorporate these ratings visually for searchers.

Local SEO’s: Your Strategy Should Not Change.

Your clients’ data still needs to be accurate and comprehensive on as many local search sites and data aggregators as possible.

Your clients still need to be getting a ton of reviews, from as many sources as possible.

You still need to encourage your clients to provide great service, and encourage your customers to talk about that service publicly.  Where they talk about it should not be particularly important to you, although you might weigh your efforts slightly more in favor of native Places reviews than before.

But Local SEO has always been about a holistic strategy, and companies that are interested in long-term benefits from all sources of traffic for Local businesses should not change that thinking.

27 Responses to “More Detailed Thoughts on Google’s Place Page Shift”

  1. Yam Regev says at

    I agree with everything, David.
    Re citations, i must say, that now we can’t really know, what are the best citations sources as before. In the past we knew which sources Google prefer to bring citations from; we could even rank them and now it’s much more difficult.
    Good citations can come from huge sources like SuperPages, medium sources like HotFrog or Thumbtack, or unknown ones like ‘city-targeted-directory’.
    Now, the job of hunting citations is much less effective.

  2. Ian Williams says at

    Hi David,

    From what I know the citations are still being used, they are just now obfuscated from the actual Places page. IIRC, Google was working hard to tie in working agreements with a number of data providers – presumably the cash prefaced (and then assuaged) the removal of the link-through to the data provider as a citation source, and any subsequent traffic drop-off.

    Did you ever get your phone back?

  3. Ian Williams says at

    BTW, with + and the push for Hotpot/reviews, Google seems more than ever to be aggressively positioning itself as the foundation that underpins the web.

  4. Adam says at

    Google removing the citation sources makes a ton of sense from their perspective. Could you imagine how much easier SEO’s jobs would be if Google supplied a comprehensive list of backlinks for every site they index? I suspect a future update to Google Places is ahead of us that will allow businesses when they login a look at some of their ‘off site’ information like citations & reviews that Google is aware of similar to Google Webmaster Tools.

  5. Jason Hylan says at

    Thanks for your input David. I need to echo Ian’s comments. I believe that it’s another move towards almost forcing people to have a Google account. If a business encourages reviews, in the past, leaving one on their place page was a pain. The URL to send to clients was ugly, now its front and center. This is another piece to the pie of Google becoming the cornerstone of everything you do online.

  6. Linda Buquet says at

    Good overview David and I totally agree. I’m working on a post update overview too that echos your wise assessment. Wanted to share part of what I’ll be posting below, since I know lots more people read your blog than mine.

    A couple other important sections of data besides reviews and citations are missing, that not many people are talking about yet. The more details or additional details section is gone. This includes the service area radius, which is important for service related businesses.

    Lots of people are upset about this. Even though the more details section was often used for keyword stuffing by not so ethical marketers, many businesses used it for helpful customer info about parking, types of cuisine offered, insurance accepted etc.

    I used that section for optimization and had a bunch of really slick ETHICAL techniques that added highly relevant data to the listing. It also as a sideline, showed the client how much extra research and work I put into the listing. Now that part is missing from view on the Place page. But I plan to still go to the trouble to add it (I do a TON of extra work in that section) based on what Vanessa said in the GP forum.

    Google Places Community Manager Vanessa said: “Seeing a lot of questions in the forum, let me just clarify a couple things about the new Place pages. The following info you provide may not appear on your Place page, but it’s all still used to help us understand more about your business:

    • Email address
    • Menu
    • Reservations
    • Optional attributes / Additional details
    • Service area toggle “Show service area”

    So just because we’re not showing it, doesn’t mean it’s not helpful for us to have — it helps our system ensure that your organic listing appears and ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps when potential customers perform searches related to your service.”

    So she says that extra data still counts in the back end, just does not show publicly. Some users in the forum are pretty upset about this change too. And I think there will be more backlash as SMBs realize it’s missing. http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places/thread?fid=40b344934ba3ba190004a8ae9e12106d

    Linda

  7. Jill Whalen says at

    Hi David,

    I just noticed your mention of my SEL comment here. I just provided another comment over there regarding Localeze, but thought I’d repeat it here.


    Localeze had just sent me a powerpoint claiming that their extra information was showing up directly on Places Pages. And they in fact, did have examples of it. They were using this to try to sell their services, showing how you would get the extra edge.

    It was interesting because I had been planning on seeing if someone at Google who would comment on the fact that they were featuring Localeze so prominently. It just didn’t seem right that a company could basically sell you this extra stuff for your Google Places Page. I figured Google must have been in cahoots with them.

    But within days of them sending me that powerpoint, their example sites no longer have that extra information nor do they mention Localeze.

    Honestly, I haven’t done a lot in the local space, and am not up on all the other things that Localeze (or similar companies) may offer.

  8. Imprezzio says at

    @Jill – thanks for sharing that. They approached me as well and told me that you would only have data on your listing if you had the paid version, not the free version of LocalEze. Then i found lots of listings that I managed that had the snippit and weren’t paying so the information just wasn’t lining up. I appreciate you shedding some light on it.

  9. Phil Britton says at

    Great write up David. I agree with you that citations are still important, but I’ve always questioned whether the sheer volume of citations would be enough to boost rankings. My view on citations is that it is important to have enough to prove your business is ‘trustworthy’.

    The new wave of local optimization will undoubtedly be the integration of your locations with your general SEO tactics. Things like associations between location information on a keyword rich page, which is indexed, and has decent Domain Authority will be key driving factor for optimization.

    This integration is essentially what we’ve both been talking about all along: a holistic approach is the best, long term, sustainable approach to Local SEO.

  10. John Audette says at

    We’ve always followed a holistic approach (although that word is really close to being a cliche at this point) which our primary local search marketing product, that we refer to as Local Listing Optimization, does. I do know two things for sure: (1) Google will eventually find a way to grab it all unless something unforeseen at this time stops them and (2) I’m really sick of Google (in the wrong business I guess).

  11. John Audette says at

    One other thing…

    Seems like the Details section has to come back as the lack of information devalues the page. When a Places Page is done really well it almost obviates the need for a website. Why would Google want to offer a Places Page that is less useful? This must be a short-term hiccup as they roll out the new interface?

  12. MiriamEllis says at

    David – you don’t blog every day, but every day you do, it’s another chance to be wowed by your clear head and powerful insights! Agree with everything on your don’t panic list. Wonderful article!

  13. Brian Jones says at

    David – Well said…don’t panic. I find that reminding the client that Google is always changing and testing is necessary. Clients want to believe that local SEO is ” set it and forget it”. Then they panic when there is movement. They don’t want to educate themselves or spend time creating great content, but they like to point out negative movement in their rankings, even if it is temporary.
    Stay the course, be relevant, add great content and stay fresh!

  14. Jim Ryan says at

    I agree with J. Audette and I would speculate further. Logically, why would Place Page info fields still exist in the SMB dashboard in addition to recognizing the value of this info to the user experience? Because Places is currently in a preset mode in wait for a substantial relaunch and possible timing for integration of Google Plus profiles for local businesses. There are many other back end technical reasons for this scenario as well. Finally, and as a side note, when is someone going to write about what I consider to be the deceptive business practices of Localeze as indicated here in several comments?

  15. Mary Bowling says at

    David, I have a gut feeling that the new Google Business profiles will be a paid advertising product. (The guy making announcements about them, Christian Oestilen, is the ad manager for Google+!) and that all these Places UI changes are setting things up for that.

    Maybe owner-provided descriptions and More Details (with those yummy discreet links) will only appear if you have a paid biz profile. Maybe you’ll be able show a photo of your own choosing in the SERPs, if you’re willing to pay. Maybe you’ll be able to keep competitor listings and ads off your pages. Maybe you’ll be able to choose the reviews form third party sites that appear on your pages. It’s all beginning to feel very much like Yahoo Local’s enhanced local listing product to me, but taken a few steps further.

    Google Place pages may essentially become like basic Yellow Pages listings and Business Profiles may be like Yellow Pages display ads.

    What do you think?

  16. Jeremy Rivera says at

    I was worried about the echo chamber of doomsayers, saying this was an algo change, thanks for setting the record straight. Nonetheless, it is a big change to the game overall because people’s behavior is going to change. I shudder to think if I was a review website the decrease in traffic this likely means.

  17. Jim Rudnick says at

    As @Mary above said – I too think that this may definitely be the “paradigm behind the cloth” — that Google is aiming at a paid biz model…after all…Google is in the ad game, eh!

    …..sigh….even more to learn, research, test, analyze and then do over and over and over…gosh! I must love what I do, eh!

    :-)

    Jim

  18. Mike Blumenthal says at

    While Mary’s pay for enhancement theory is an interesting one, I don’t buy that they will charge to show enhanced data in G+ nor for the G+ Business Account. Google does not charge to show data.

    That doesn’t mean they won’t develop interesting and useful fee based products around the Business+ account. They do charge for advertising, driving traffic and business.

    I do however see the “strip data provided by business out of Places” and make it available in Google+ business pages as a variation on that theory. It is one that makes more sense to me.

    It is a way that would immediately make G+ very attractive as a business platform to SMB.

    Imagine if you can show all of the enhanced data that was Places including menus etc in G+. Imagine Google + being a place that would highlight all coupons and allow for restaurant reservations (that would cost of course). The restaurant world would jump all over it and instantly join Google+.

    As adoption by businesses increases in + Google could roll out a variety of paid products that would use
    G+ as a transaction and advertising platform.

    G+ could become a very strong Local content play with a cost per transaction and cost per click advertising options.

  19. Brian Greenberg says at

    From my understanding… the change to google places is that they will no longer be pulling in data from outside sources like yelp, foursquare, and others. Companies did not like google taking all their data and displaying it as their own. This makes sense as google should not have the right to use others data (like tripadvisor).

  20. Cortney Jacobs says at

    So…can we expect an update to that Local Citations post any time soon? Pretty please with link-juice on top?

  21. Eric W Christopher says at

    I think the move that Google made is fantastic! Rather than trying to manipulate the results (one of the biggest things that Google likes to minimize) thru 3rd party review sites that may not have the ability to filter out the gamers, Google is letting its searchers stay in a confined environment with quality results.

    Remember, G’s biggest job is increasing ad revenue to keeps its searchers using Google and paying dividends to its shareholders. It also influences the business owner to activate work at getting their fans to submit reviews only on Google. All of our clients had been focusing on getting reviews on Google and even though it hasn’t necessarily changed their ranking, they are typically the only listings with yellow stars, which increases CTR, which increases rankings (typically).

    I love what David wrote, which is that people should stop trying to game the system via tactics, and focus on what Google’s primary mission is: providing the best content to appease the searchers. It’s why Google dominates this space. It also minimizes the number of companies who are only in it for a quick buck and not really trying to add value to this arena.

    It also is congruent with the launch of G+. How do you post reviews to Google? By first creating a G account. Geez, do you think the once it goes from being invite only to public that people will AUTOMATICALLY become a part of G+, or at the very least given an option to register on the spot? (In case you didn’t know, G is offering its employees annual bonuses based on the success of its various social platforms.) This perfectly weaves into Google’s plan to continue to keep its searchers in its network, which allows them to increase revenues thru paid traffic models.

    Hey David, where is your +1 button to plus it?

  22. M-A says at

    This was a very interesting read; I was not aware of this move on Google’s part.

    To say that they did it for more quality reviews is debatable. I think that is what they want you to think; it is true that by featuring 3rd party reviews, they have no control over the writers of the reviews and how they came to be.

    That being said, I am more of the opinion of Jason H., that Google is first and foremost a Goliath of a business. They smelled another opportunity to dominate the web Industry, in the field of ‘local business reviews,’ which ties into local SEO. Instead of giving 3rd party review sites ‘free’ and broad publicity, they’ve decided to enter the game. And with a name like Google, you know they stand a great chance at getting Places to become the go-to local business review site.

    As a business it makes sense, and as you said David, “If you didn’t see this coming, you haven’t been paying attention.” Their strategy? Get more Google-addicted users. Their Marketing pitch? We’re doing it to provide cleaner, more honest and controlled reviews. Marketing 101.

  23. Lisa says at

    It seems to me that there are two constant struggles going on: Google vs. Bad SEO and Google vs. Itself.

    If people were using the detail section to keyword stuff and that is why the removed it, then say so. If it’s not, then say why. If they are bring it back at some point, then tell us. What is the point of us business people constantly having to spend so much time trying to figure out what Google is doing and why. I don’t expect that I won’t have to work to keep my listings ranked but I do expect some sound reasoning from them for why they are doing what they are doing. And a head’s up on major changes that affect business listings. They have all my email addresses.

    Statements like this: “…you may have recently heard about our renewed effort across all Google products to make the user experience more focused, elastic and effortless. ” (http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2011/07/ongoing-evolution-of-place-pages.html) That’s just marketing speak for “hey we’re making changes because we need to find ways to make money.” Which is fine. They should make money. But Google tries to hide its commercial nature with a “folksy” populist attitude – as if the changes are there to do ME a favor. Hardly. And that’s okay.

    All I ask is honesty and not to have to spend 2 hours digging around in their help/forums/blogs until my head spins trying to get a straight answer whether for place, analytics, whatever.

    Thankfully we have this site and I should have remembered that before I went down the Google rabbit hole.

  24. Rank Pursuit says at

    People talk about this more in regards to link building but you want to have a well rounded… Everything. Most things in local SEO and the success you have revolves round the same core ideas of business that have been around forever. Provide a great product/service, engage with your customers, find out what they like/don’t like, and get them to talk about it. Building up citations, links and making sure NAP is in order is the easy part.

    I find my self being more of a consultant to my clients than anything else and if the business owner doesn’t mind a little extra work, it pays off dividends for them.

  25. Greg Baumgartner says at

    I am curious who you folks recommend for local seo help ?

  26. David Mihm says at

    Hi Greg,

    I would recommend any of the companies on this list. It really just depends on your budget and your specific area of need (Local, Organic, PPC, Social, etc). Thanks for your comment.

    http://getlisted.org/resources/trustedproviders.aspx

    David Mihm

  27. Robbie says at

    Google places can be so frustrating – clients really don’t understand how it works and frankly many people who say they do don’t really know how it works.

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