Discussion: what does the new Places Search mean?

Last week Google decided to take a completely different route when it comes to local. With the roll out of Place Search Google made huge changes to the way they are presenting local results. The “7 Pack” is gone, the map moved to the right, local results now are dominating the page on specific searches.

Google made these changes with a purpose. But why? Is Google aiming to go local all the way? Or is there something else? What do you think?

One thing which is remarkable is that Google has made the map “floating” which means that if you scroll down, the map scrolls down too, overlapping the ads…:

I’m not going to write a huge post on the changes (take a look at Greg Sterling’s post over at Search Engine Land to get an overview) but I do want to open the discussion here on why Google is doing this, especially with the floating map. This doesn’t seem to be a very good thing for advertisers, does it? Or do you think Google has other reasons? Share them with us in the comments!

NB: tonight on the State of Search radioshow we will discuss this topic as well. Tonight for once at 6PM UK time, 7PM Europe!

Bas van den Beld

About Bas van den Beld

Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.

14 thoughts on “Discussion: what does the new Places Search mean?

  1. Over 20% of Google queries contain a location element. They told Greg sterling as much directly in his discussion with them for the post you mention above. Given that stat, it seems to me that a more integrated UI for the local listings, is long overdue. It would be my gut feel that the local pack never got the CTR it should have in the way it was formerly presented.

    Convention dictates behaviour, therefore if we a “trained” to like our search results a certain way, I would suspect local listings never got the desired CTR due to their poor and anomalous appearance. Not to mention the visual disturbance of the map. Yeah – the map adds value and context to the results, but the mid-page position, and size in what is a text-led SERP would surely contribute to an element of banner blindness.

    As to the commercial plan, I wonder if we’re about to see the emergence of an additional paid model? I cannot imagine the CTR on paid, with the floating map now taking up that real estate gives the required level of trade-off that the UI improvement should on increasing local queries long-term.

  2. @Nichola you’ve made a good point, they probably have enough data to change the appearance of the local results within the SERPS from the box results to test out a new format. New results include more information compared to box results. More time spent on Goog property than in the past?

    But it does beg the question of what it means for advertisers. Adding a map to the top right, will possibly decrease click volumes even more for pos 4-10, forcing advertisers to increase bid values to compete for prime positions 1-3 once again.

    Would be interesting to see how many searches actually refine their searches using the tabbed options, such as video and places, without leaving the default of everything on.

  3. Hi Bas,

    having been back from a4uexpo I did work on local pages and as you can see in the article over here: google local performance boost (sorry for publishing in German but you can see the charts)
    As you can see Google pushed me really hard starting last week and had nearly 9,000 visitors each single day.
    The site is 100% local and went online just a few days ago.

    Microformats und Google Local/Places both have their impacts!

    Best Regards from Bavaria!

  4. Personally I think Google is aiming at being a one stop agregator of content, doesnt matter if they lose some ad revenue by this scrolling – what they may end up being is the complete onestop shop for th consumer – they need to drive a lot more traffic into their own “local” proerties, such that over time they can montise them even better.

    Once the local elements get higher consumer adoptation, expect to see lot more revenue streams being implemented. Remember, both Facebook and Foursquare (and some twitter) is heavy in the local fields – the best way to get consumer adoption would be to create tools that “add value” in the short term, gain market share. It’s a Zero Sum game Googl is laying with it self, and the search public.

  5. The map position is only fixed when your browser window is maximized. I don’t know if that is a bug, or if Google thinks that everybody is using a highscreen or something. In 1024/768 only two ads are visible. This will have a huge effect on CTR, quality scores and CPC’s.

    Might be a bug, a profitable bug though. And might be correlated to the Quality score bug too.

  6. It’s a new change by Google which normally means one thing – it makes them more money!

    I’m not saying this is a bad thing, if Google want to make more money, it normally includes making things better for users. That way more people will use it more frequently.

    From what I’ve seen so far the new local layout does two things:
    1) Attracts the eye towards the right-hand side of the screen more. Right next to the ads!
    2) Monetising local search better – I’d agree with Nichola, I’m not sure the local listings generated as many clicks as you’d expect. The new layout is surely intended to improve this and boost traffic so that they have greater opportunity for monetising.

  7. Can’t help but agree with Rishi’s comment on Google becoming a one stop shop – particularly if you look at their recent acquisitions such as ITA. The integration of the maps, to me would only serve to encourage the use of Google Local – which lets not forget they are increasingly looking to monetise (such as Google Boost – which again is reliant on the use of Google Places).

    As regards the map – I can’t help thinking this could be a test but one done on purpose, lets not forget during initial tests the movement of the map over resutls was highlighted so Google have had more than enough time to fix this if it had been a bug. Further to that, this can only serve to encourage greater competition for the top positions, ultimately meaning higher CPC (which if we take into account the volume of traffic through the top three positions may still ultimately mean more revenue for Google – but lets see….

  8. I believe this change is just the first of many to the local layout in Google.
    New products such as Google boost will make up for any lost revenue from the changes. Besides – they are also testing adwords at the bottom of Serps – so maybe ppc results will only show at the top and bottom for future local searches.

    What I don’t understand is Googles test of page preview. Given the new local layout – page preview will completely hide the local listing – and/or any adwords presence.

  9. I have to agree with Nichola, Rishil & Kevin G.

    I also “feel” that part of this change is to prioritise localised places listings at the detriment of sites that have optimised for localised results without actually having a physical location. In my opinion this is a good thing in terms of relevancy to a search query.

    I really agree with regards to where the eye is drawn with the map on the right side of the page & it will be interesting to see how this impacts upon paid/organic CTR.

  10. I think that they are in the preliminary phases of rolling out a new AdWords strategy…

    Sometimes the map on the right scrolls for me, and sometimes it doesn’t. This seems to rely on whether my window is maximized (it does not scroll when the window is not maximized), since otherwise the adwords results on the side would not be seen, right?

    But, the map does scroll down when the window is not maximized – that is, if there is no Adwords in the right column.

    Google making this change makes me wonder if place-specific adwords are going to get more attention in the future. What if an advertiser pushpin appeared on that map along with the organic pushpins? That would justify its position in the adwords column.

    Otherwise it would have been a result of heatmap testing, but future integration of paid results into the map – both the local corner-map and maybe the normal google map – seems more likely.


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