04/10/11

By Claire West

The launch of Google Place Search at the end of October has significantly altered the face of Google SERPs. With the focus now placed emphatically on local results, the ramifications of this change will affect a range of companies as well as the operations of the average SEO.

The most notable change to the result lay-out is the abolition of the “7-pack” section which previously appeared at the top of the page. The familiar grouping of 7 local search results adjacent to the map display has been replaced by a more comprehensive listing of local search results, with the geographical visualisations now located in the right hand column — an alteration which has caused concern due to the subsequent obscuration of the Adwords section.

According to Andrew Shortland, founder of 'Local SEO Guide', the tool lends itself to small businesses. His belief is that the new format “intensifies the competition for local rankings”. Shortland also points out that sites with a physical address within the searched for city will gain an advantage over those which lack the corresponding location.

In a similar vein, customer reviews will also benefit a business site, affording reviewed businesses a greater prominence within the SERPs.

The driving theory behind the latest development is the statistic offered by Google that over 20% of searches are location related. This may now be increased as search habits are modified to make better use of the Place Search function.

SEO company QueryClick.com believe that different sectors will be affected to varying extents by the introduction of this tool.

“The tool will affect some industries more than others, with one obvious example being the hospitality industry, for whom geo-modified search queries will play a more significant role. In such cases, search engine optimisation will revolve more closely around the location of a hotel or restaurant. Place Search definitely heightens the importance of local results, but does not represent a complete usurpation of organic search.”

With the new dominance of the local listings, non-location related organic results are being pushed further down the SERPs, and as such increase the significance of attaining the top natural ranking position for your site.

In terms of SEO, this development has the capacity to assist some rankings, especially if a business maintains their Google Places account.

Furthermore, for those who were already performing well within the 7-pack, the integration of the local listings with the organic results will have a positive effect on their search positioning.

For many, the emergence of Google Place Search represents an initial step towards a transformation of the first page of SERPs into a paid search listing. Search engine optimisation experts QueryClick.com [http://uk.queryclick.com], insist that this would undermine the work carried out on-site in order to attain top positions organically. A QueryClick spokesperson said:

“If the top ten results in any Google search were to be determined by the highest bidder of certain keywords, SEO would lose its credence. However, it seems unlikely that this will unfold, given that Google define its operations by the rewarding of relevancy and quality of content.”