Sunday, March 27, 2011

Google Places Algorithm Changes

Google Places has become increasingly important from a search engine optimization perspective over the past 6 months or so. The Places algorithm changes that have occurred have been significant, and unfortunately not without flaw. Within this time frame, map results have been integrated in to the organic search results pages (SERPs), as opposed to being displayed on the side of the SERPs as they once were.

While this can be a good thing for local businesses and visibility, webmasters that were ranking on the bottom of page 1 may feel otherwise, as often these changes have resulted in sites in these positions getting pushed back to the next page. Furthermore, the Places algorithm changes have resulted in a lot of listing errors. Here are a few that I have noticed frequently:

1) Places profiles that display the wrong website. This occurs when two or more businesses are sharing the same address. Often, the Places profile will display the correct address for a particular business, but list the website of another business that is located at the same address.

2) Multiple Places profiles for one business. This occurs when a business has moved addresses or opened up a new branch. Often, when a business moves, they have to claim a second profile, but meanwhile their original profile is still showing up in the map results. This can confuse users who are unable to determine which address the business is currently located at. Google has acknowledged this as a problem and is taking steps to speed up the integration process of multiple profiles.

3) Erroneous map placement. While I have not seen this happen often, there have been occasions when the address listed in the Places profile is accurate, but is not reflected in the actual map that Google displays. In other words, if you were to click through to the map, the tag that represents the particular business shows up at a different address than what is listed in the profile. My senses tell me that this happens after a business claims a new profile after moving locations, and the first profile is no longer showing up but the map result still displays the original locale.

It is clear that Google has every intention of pushing forward with the integration of local search in to the organic results pages. And from a practical standpoint, this makes perfect sense. Why wouldn't someone searching for "restaurants in New York City" want to get a number of profiles returned to them with map locations and helpful feedback on those restaurants such as ratings, reviews, and menus? I believe that smaller restaurants with highly optimized Places profiles can benefit greatly from these recent changes and increased exposure, while large corporate businesses, for example, "McDonald's," won't benefit much. I can't imagine too many people pulling up Google and searching for, "McDonald's in New York City."

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