Solving the riddle of Google Places

matt millerWe’ve talked in the past about Google Places, the Google Directory Service where you manage your own listings.  Places is getting more important for attracting local business.  The following is a guest post by Xero customer and online marketing expert Matt Miller of Mogul.

Have you literally fallen off the front page of Google? This recently happened to one of our clients.

First, some background… the big themes for search marketing this year are ‘local’, ‘mobile’, and ‘social’.

That is, when people search the web for products and services these days,

  • they usually want to find businesses that are nearby
  • they are often searching from a mobile device
  • and they prefer to find out about businesses that other people are talking about

To accommodate these changes in users’ behaviour and expectations (and to combat Facebook’s new Places feature), Google has gone all-out with Google Places.

Up until a few months ago, when you did a Google search, Google mostly gave you a list of links to websites that contained the keywords you used in your search.

Now when you do a Google search, just about all the results on the first page are links to Google Places pages rather than links to websites. The website that you might have spent ages optimising for high Google rankings is nowhere to be seen – and a whole lot of your competitors have suddenly appeared ahead of you!

A good example of this is if I do a Google search for ‘Marketing’.

Google knows that I am in Hastings (ask Airnet how Google knows this – it’s a bit spooky) so it throws up a whole lot of Google Places pages for what it thinks are marketing businesses in or near Hastings.

Notice there are no links to business websites, just links to Google Places pages.

So if you haven’t got a Google Places page or if it’s not very good, then forget about getting onto the front page!

This was the problem faced by Seamus and Ashleigh at The Surveying Company. Even though their website was well-optimised for search engines, the big list of Places pages was pushing them off the front page and, as a result, their search engine traffic was really suffering.

So, rather than trying to optimise their website, we needed to focus on the Google Places page. With our help, they made a few tweaks to their Google Places page earlier this week and, within a few days, their Google Places listing has already improved significantly. They’re back on the front page and they’re getting more traffic.

Thanks Matt, that’s really useful.

2 Comments

Michael 'MC' Carter
January 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Great article Matt. This is particularly relevant for small and medium accounting firms. Apart from firms needing to monitor their Google rankings on ‘accountant’ and their town or suburb name … something that also helps is having a niche or two to focus on (e.g. hospitality) and then writing a umber of blog articles that (authentically) contain these keywords in the Titles/Headlines and body. That way a firm can rank well very well for that combination (e.g. accountant [my town] hospitality specialist). This link might be helpful for some: Getting Started with Google Places http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/static.py?page=guide.cs&guide=28247&topic=28292

Matthew Miller
July 29, 2011 at 9:41 am

Since I wrote this article, Google Local Search has become more and more important and the Yellow Pages is dying as a result. Google heavily favours businesses with addresses in the location you specify in your search terms. So unless you open an office in the town or city used in the search, you’re going to struggle for this particular search phrase.

A trend that has emerged recently is that, compared to Google’s organic results, Local Search is relatively easy to game, and given the way Local Search dominates the search results, this is causing problems for Google.

If you’re interested in how lead gen companies have been manipulating Google Local Search at the expense of local businesses, this is a great article from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/your-money/lead-gen-sites-pose-challenge-to-google-the-haggler.html

But before you get too depressed about your local business getting shunted off the front page by dodgy lead gen firms using black hat SEO tactics, bear in mind that maybe no-one is searching for your key phrases anyway!

You can can use this tool to see how many people search for any given search phrase:

https://adwords.google.co.nz/select/KeywordToolExternal?defaultView=3

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