I noticed yet another change yesterday in the way Google is displaying results. It’s not the recent algorithm change that has many in the SEO industry complaining that their sites have been trashed. It’s not the also-recent indexing glitch that has yet to be resolved and has many new pages, including blog posts like this one, going unindexed for extended periods. It’s not Google Instant, taking a big bite out of the long-tail. This change has to do with the serving of local maps “places” results outside of the maps box, and over most of the natural results.
One variation of the new format gives a huge amount of real estate to the local results by pulling them out of the maps box and reformatting them to a size that is now twice the height of the natural results. With one or two Adwords results, then two natural results followed by six huge Google Places results, natural result number 3 might as well be on Page 2. If the Google Places ad includes an image, then the searcher is offered a chance to click on it and remain on Google property, and be exposed to another batch of Adwords results. Or in other words another Google income opportunity.
The second variation I am now seeing basically pulls the Places results out of the maps box, without reformatting them, but includes 3 Adwords results at the top and zero natural results before the Places results. With this variation, having the number 1 natural result is not so great anymore. It’s probably more like having a number 5 or 6 position.
For local businesses with results in Places, but not in the natural results, this may be a good thing. For searchers who are looking for a local company, this change may be good as well. Especially with the first variation I noted, the SEO landscape when it comes to natural local search is changing significantly, with Google Places playing an increasingly important role.