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No. 113
July 30th, 2008

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Did Local SEO Just Get a Whole Lot Tougher?

So, I was just doing some browsing around today while listening to @dannysullivan’s chat with @chriswinfield on Webmaster Radio about how Google is now showing more personalized results, including Local 10-packs. I noticed that when I clicked through from the 10-pack to specific business listings, Google no longer seemed to be showing ANY citations for local businesses.

Below is just one example using a screenshot:

Is anyone else seeing the same thing?

The “Black Box” Just Became a Little Blacker

If this is indeed a permanent fixture, and not just a technical glitch, it makes the Google Local algorithm MUCH more opaque and makes it much more difficult for Local SEOs like myself to figure out why certain businesses are ranking well.

The timing of it is interesting, to say the least, just after a Local Search conference in which many folks like Mike Blumenthal spoke about the importance of mining the citations of one’s competitors for an idea about where to go to optimize one’s own listing…

If this change in the interface continues to hold, there are still plenty of ways for seasoned Local Search folk to gauge what’s helping certain competitors rank. But it’s going to be very difficult for DIY small business owners to figure things out from now on.


Update: It appears as though specific citations, at least for me, are NOT being shown nationwide for the restaurant and hotel verticals: “pizza Portland OR” “italian restaurant st louis mo” “french restaurant miami fl” “hotels new york ny” “B&B Cleveland OH” “motel phoenix AZ”.  I am still getting specific citations here-and-there for other industries.

  • Seems interesting that they would be covering up a part of the recipe like that. I just directed a friend to the citations tab to see how to help his local rank for his insurance agency. It was an easy way to have him research the 4 or 5 listings above him. Definitely removes an ‘easy button’. Why not at least show 10 or 25? Give a bit of insight without giving away the whole picture.

  • I’m seeing normal citations in the web pages tab, looks the same as it did last week when I last checked. Maybe just a hiccup, I think they will be keeping it for the long run, it’s a useful resource.

  • It wouldn’t be the first time that Google accidentally broke something during an upgrade rollout.

    That said, if one knows who Google’s secret loves are it just makes use of a “domain name” / “business name” exact search that much more important.

    A little more difficult? Sure. Once again requiring a little skill and ingenuity? You bet.

    A game changer, probably not.

    Of course if one was paranoid they would say “A pox on your house maps guide Jen”.

    I kid, of course, Jen was a great sport for 2 solid days of harassment.


  • Will, I agree–Jen was a terrific sport for all of the questions we asked her!

    Update: It appears as though specific citations, at least for me, are NOT being shown nationwide for the restaurant and hotel verticals: “pizza Portland OR” “italian restaurant st louis mo” “french restaurant miami fl” “hotels new york ny” “B&B Cleveland OH” “motel phoenix AZ”. I am still getting specific citations here-and-there for other industries.

  • Hmmm… here in the East, no change. Strangely, a search for lawyers in Paramus Nj didn’t produce a one-box – I had to change it to attorneys; but all the web pages are still showing. 4 pages worth for the #1 guy.

    This wouldn’t be the first time a change took a few days to sweep the nation in Maps.

    I tend to agree with Will… not a game-changer. But you are right about new SEOs David, I learned a lot by studying these results. And it will make it a bit more time consuming when entering a new industry.

  • Matt McGee

    I would think it’s just a temporary glitch/hiccup. Google is too big to move so quickly on something they just heard being talked about late last week…plus, mining other citations isn’t black hat or anything like that, right? It’s just smart competitive research. 🙂

  • It’s definitely an error. I did a search for “Pleasanton Kitchen Cabinets” and out of the 10-pack, 7 displayed multiple citations. The three that only displayed the businesses’ domains still listed <1 citations in the tab. Way to keep G on their toes David.

  • David –
    This has to be a bug you’re seeing.

    Citations look good for this search for restaurants boston mass:,+MA&fb=1&view=text&cd=1&latlng=42346925,-71079794,14451641451303691549&ei=w1mRSM-JC5vEiQOjj7SsAg&dtab=3&oi=md_references&sa=X

    Looks good for chiropractors san diego ca, pizza chicago ill, etc.

    That must have made your heart drop, David. But my guess is this is a bug. Very good catch!

  • It seems like, that in Europe, everything is still running like it should. I checked keywords in travel, retail, services and branded searches, all show the web references.

  • David-

    I saw this come and go yesterday afternoon. The data was missing (exactly during the moment I wanted to show it to a client) and then after I hung up it was back… I assumed that it was a glitch as they rolled new data across their servers.

    Jen was a good sport but she wouldn’t have survived 2 days of my “eastern” communication style if you had not been there to run shotgun for me. Thanks!


  • Thanks for all of the comments, guys. I’m still seeing the same bugs this morning but maybe I am getting shown results from a different data center or something. I am glad that at least one other person (Mike) has seen this on a widespread basis so I don’t think I am going crazy 🙂

    @Matt – There’s absolutely nothing black hat about it, but I see this as analogous to Google showing incomplete inbound link data, even in WMC…it seems like they might go this way eventually, even if this is just a temporary hiccup as it seems?

  • I’m seeing the citations. Of interest I’ve noticed a significant reduction with regard to identified citations for sites I have followed. Mike B suggests it might reflect Google’s “normalized” number of citations for a site. I think it might reflect Google’s tendency to under report reference items (such as links).

    Whereas I might have seen about 150 in the past today and consistently I’m seeing about 25.

  • David-

    I just noticed that I could not see web page referrals in the Text view but was able to see them in the Map view.


  • I’m seeing this as well. Just another example of Google playing it close to the vest.

  • CJM

    ya, likewise, just one citation showing for all variety of local searches in the Portland area.

  • Jon

    Hi David

    I got a similar phenomenon in the UK today. Writing an article on researching which review sites are being linked by Google in the one-box. I did a search for “beauty salon sheffield” grabbed a screenshot, then clicked one of the review links. When I clicked back to the original search page, the one-box had disappeared and there were just normal organic results. Tried refreshing and retyping the search several times, but it didn’t make a difference.

    I’m guessing this must be a glitch, as “normal” searchers would want to be able to click on several reviews, returning back to the original search page each time to look at the next one.

    Cheers, Jon

  • Sam

    Well, David, I just saw a problem with my listing today. Can’t say how long it’s been “hiccuped.” I check my local listing regularly to see if I am keeping my top ranking, but I don’t think I have clicked on it in the last couple weeks.

    I am still in the top 3 for various local searches for mortgage xxx, but when clicking the link, everything below the “Categories” (don’t like this new addition showing) and “Hours” is missing. I get a long blank page beneath.

    All mention of other web pages, citations, coupons, videos, details, photos, etc, are gone. Email address no longer visible.

    Searchers can click on my site link or click to read the reviews, but that’s it.

    Kinda scary. I hope it is a temporary glitch.

    Ugh !!!!!