Rankings on Google+ Local: Some Observations

MIHMORANDUM NO. 1498 | May 30th, 2012Reader Comments (16)

Naturally, after a big interface update like the Places-Plus “merge” that just happened, the first question on everyone’s minds–from business owners to marketers–is “OK, so how do I rank in this thing?”  While my advice has always been to focus only on rankings in the general sense rather than obsessing over a certain position for a certain keyword, I can understand the anxiety out there in the community that ranking in the general sense has indeed changed.

Lacking the bandwidth to do a full-scale quantitative study involving a crazy amount of page-scraping and geographic server proxying–a problem that very smart people have been trying to solve for years–I decided to see what I could see with a couple of representative searches in markets across the country just from my own computer.  For the comparison, I followed the instructions laid out in the new +Local support pages:

I still haven’t seen the new Blended results that Greg Sterling highlights here on SEL so I started out trying some searches using the Place Search tab on Google and then moved over to Google Maps to see what matched up most closely.

Based on this very quick, unscientific research, Mike’s and my hypothesis that what happened this morning is largely an interface update appears to be confirmed:

In most cases, the +Local ranking algorithm appears to be nearly identical to that of maps.google.com with its zoom level set to 11.

I’d be interested to hear if this “conclusion” matches up with what you all are seeing across the country as well.  My side-by-side screenshots follow below:

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

The Outliers

As I say in many of my presentations to fellow SEO professionals, the most interesting cases in any sort of competitive ranking analysis are the outliers.  In my very quick research on this particular case, I did find a couple of exceptions to the zoom-level=11 rule.  The first involved a handful of national-level rental car agencies for a search in Chicago; the second involved smaller-scale electrical contractors in the same market.

 
   

Neither Enterprise nor Hertz nor Avis nor Budget appears to have much of a Plus presence.  But, hey, at least Avis is on Pinterest and Budget New Zealand has a Plus Page.  Frankly, I can’t find a simple explanation of why Enterprise would jump from fourth to first on Plus.  Theories are welcomed in the comments.

But, interestingly, the bigger jump by Mr. Handyman of Lincoln Park from seventh to first seems a little more readily explainable–not only does Mr. Handyman have a strong web presence, but its Places landing page URL is very clearly linked to its Plus Page right in the header.  And I have to think that 26 followers on Plus for a small local service business like this one will blow its competition out of the water for quite awhile.

Implications for Current Blended results

Note that despite its prominence on Google+, Mr. Handyman doesn’t even appear in the Blended 7-pack on Google.com for “electrician Chicago IL.”  This signals to me that for now, anyway, there are still only two main algorithms at play for Blended results on Google.com: organic and Places.

Implications for Current Blended results

Keep in mind that these screenshots represent a moment in time, and that all the social activity that will now be happening around local businesses on Google+ will undoubtedly have SOME influence on Blended results soon.  But for now, anyway, my recommendation would be to

  • Keep plowing full-speed ahead with your traditional Local SEO campaigns just as before
  • Make sure that you claim both your Plus and Place pages
  • Get your Plus page linked persistently from your website (much like your NAP info)
  • Get a small amount of Google+ activity going immediately
  • Message all existing customers with an @gmail.com address that you’re on Plus & you’d appreciate a follow
  • Feather in some additional Google+ activity over time

Do not, however, run around like Chicken Little because of this latest interface update.  Yes, our jobs as SEOs will continue to get harder but it doesn’t look like that’s the case just yet.

Looking forward to your comments below.

16 Responses to “Rankings on Google+ Local: Some Observations”

  1. Dave Oremland says at

    Interesting, David. In the end and currently, most businesses are and should be concerned about visibility and ranking on the home page of search at google.com. Nevertheless how those results turn up are often a function of the ranking attributes found inside maps.google.com and now inside google+. Obviously with google’s newest announcement about google+ essentially replacing google places that becomes critical.

    Nice first look, nice analysis, nice commentary. But in my mind, much of this is still a doggone mystery, requiring a lot of work. I suspect it will take a good bit of time to get a feel for these significant changes with regard to google+. Thanks for performing an initial analysis.

  2. Ryan says at

    If you go into G+, Local tab and then search for something, it will show you a 30 point ranking system. If I understand correctly, the rankings and reviews that your circles have provided are going to have major influence to the search results. It seems that they have blended Hot Pot and Zagat to create a new style of rubric.

    Great breakdown of this news today.

    RW

  3. Mike Peterson says at

    Thanks for the timely post. Always a pleasure to read your views on local search.

  4. Matt Long says at

    David – thanks for spending your day making sense of this for the rest of us. As I was investigating some of the migrations from Places to Plus, I noticed that only two categories were being shown. In the small sample that I checked, it seemed to be the first two that were listed on the Places page. Any sense for changes that have been made to categories?

  5. David Mihm says at

    Matt,
    It was a fun, if not entirely productive, day :)

    I noted this earlier but forgot to investigate. For posterity, you’re right, Mio Restaurant also has “Latin American Restaurant” as a category on its Place Page (still out there)

    https://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=15809444261931482472

    Looking into this now to see where that might have gone. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. David Mihm says at

    Crazy! Even on the user edit area, there are only two possible text input fields:

  7. Linda Buquet says at

    Hey Guys the new +Local pages I’ve checked still have all the categories that were on the Place Pages. It only shows 2 on the page I think. But if you click on the categories then it shows a drop down list with all of them. So they are kinda hidden but you can still find them if you know how.

  8. David Mihm says at

    Linda, am I missing where to click?

    https://plus.google.com/108089234525710405867/about

    There isn’t anywhere to click on the categories for Mio?

  9. David Mihm says at

    Weird. I see them on Cari McGee’s page:

    https://plus.google.com/104334922520642682703/about

    Wonder why we’re not getting the pop-up on Mio?

  10. David Mihm says at

    Here’s another weird one:

    https://plus.google.com/103274305719979112308/about

    The primary category should definitely be “golf course”…it doesn’t show on the +Local page, but if, as a normal user, you click “Edit Details” you see that golf course is indeed one of the two categories associated with it.

  11. Linda Buquet says at

    David, here’s a little trick that will show you what’s wrong with that last one.

    Go to the Golf Club at link you posted above.
    https://plus.google.com/103274305719979112308/about

    Now click on their map and it takes you to:
    https://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&cid=7941281900954732991&q=Pumpkin+Ridge+Golf+Club&iwloc=A&gl=US&hl=en

    Strip the link down and add /place? after maps and before CID as so:
    https://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=7941281900954732991

    THAT takes you to their OLD fashioned Place page where you can see it’s an unclaimed listing and the default and only category is store, just like on the + page. :-)

  12. Linda Buquet says at

    Oh but just found out from Vanessa, you’ll only be able to get to the OLD Place pages for a few more days. After the rollout is complete, they’ll be gone. But clicking on the map is still the way to find the old CID# if you ever need it.

  13. David Chang says at

    FYI, if you’re *not* logged into G+, G+ Local pages display differently. Specifically, there’s no search bar at the top of the page (!) and the rating score is partial with a call to “Join Google+ for full scores and summary”.

    IMHO the former is a design error and the latter, of course, a way for Google to grow their G+ user base and capitalize on the waves of new users who’ll be stumbling into G+ Local.

  14. Andy Kuiper says at

    Thanks for your detective work David, this is all becoming (sorta/kinda) clearer :-)

  15. George says at

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom David. I’m very curious how the Google+ Local Listing page for Mr Handyman has a single image for his scrapbook pictures when all other pages seem to display 5 images in that header section. Can you also comment on when you will be releasing the next edition of the Local SEO Bible?

    Linking to the Plus Page from the merchant’s website is a great tip. What other steps can we take to expedite the process of Google merging the Plus and Places pages. In your opinion, is there a definite advantage to migrating all Places reviews to Plus reviews?

    Thanks

    George

  16. Rachel says at

    Hi David,

    Just wondering whether you have any software suggestions for managing local search listings, citations, etc.

    Thanks!

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