By now, you may have noticed something has changed on the results page of the world’s number one search engine.
Google recently shook up the rankings of many local businesses when it changed its search display results for geo-targeted keywords – that is, keywords that have location modifiers in them, such as ‘seo sydney’ or ‘dentist sydney’.
Now, when a searcher types a keyword that has a location modifier in the search term, Google is giving a lot more real estate to businesses with a Google Places (or Google Maps) listing. They now look like organic listings but there is more information shown. In essence, Google has made localised searches more relevant by combining Google Places/Maps and organic search results.
For several years, the search community has argued over whether Google Places data affects organic search engine positions and vice versa. This argument is now settled.
What’s going on here?
Google has, for the last few years, been placing more and more emphasis on geo-targeting/location targeting keywords.
Those in the know have taken advantage of this emphasis by optimising both Google Places and organic search results and, therefore, profiting from multiple first page rankings.
The merging of the two data sets has further rewarded those who have been smart enough to pick up on this clear trend and, hence, focus their optimisation efforts on geographic-based keywords in both organic search and Google Places.
These businesses are now dominating top positions in Google for multiple keywords.
To further enhance listings for businesses with optimised Google places rankings, Google displays its widely recognised ‘Google Map’ — showing flags of businesses ranked by Google. This map now also scrolls down the page as you scroll down to view the full list of search results, giving extra exposure to businesses that have a place on these maps.
Further, businesses ranked under Google Places also gain images associated with their website, as well as the ability to show more information through more clickable links to business information around a particular Google Places listing.
Many businesses and smaller SEO companies that have relied on short-term, cost-effective tactics have now been caught with their pants down — as so happens every few years when Google does such a shake-up.
Furthermore, sponsored links advertising is predicted to be less effective for local businesses as the map is now taking up such a significant chunk of space, previously used to place sponsored links advertising.
How can I profit from these Google updates?
The first step is to understand what Google wants, and then to do your best to make sure your website is giving it to them. If you stick to the fundamentals, you will always be rewarded long term (while fly-by-night tricksters will be penalised, as history has proven).
So what does Google want?
Google wants relevancy.
Focus all your efforts on increasing the relevancy of your website for location based keywords. Google greatly rewards this practice.
If you are a business that has solely focused your efforts on organic rankings, now is the time to list yourself for Google Maps, or claim your listing if it already exists.
Four simple steps to relevancy
Here are four steps to take advantage of this new Google trend:
1. Ensure you either list your business, or claim your businesses’ listing if it’s already on Google Maps/Places. You can check your company’s name and the suburb your business is listed in and click on the link “maps” at the top. If you find your business there, you can claim that listing.
2. Ensure you fill out as much of the requested listing information as possible. Again, Google wants relevancy. Don’t leave out any vital information.
3. List your business in local directories (like truelocal.com.au, aussieweb.com.au, FindInAustralia.com) and provide as much data and information as possible in these directories. Don’t waste your time with unknown, undervalued business directories. Stick to five or so of the big ones.
4. Optimise your site for keywords with your geographic location as a modifier. If you are a dentist in Sydney, optimise your site for the keyword ‘dentist sydney’ and ‘sydney dentist’. This will help in ensuring your site is relevant for both the keyword and location in which you are based (and in turn help with your Google Maps ranking).
Where is this all headed?
Many believe that Google may be setting up Google places to be like Google Adwords – you have to pay to be at the top.
This has not been confirmed. However, by giving it more real estate on the front page – and also blocking the PPC listings on the right – this prediction makes sense. To say the least, this evolution would prove a huge revenue generator.
So think about the added revenue your business could be generating. Get your company up-to-date and looking relevant to Google so that you’ll be in good shape when the next shake-up comes around.
Ash Aryal is a co-founder and the head of consulting at QuantumLinx, an online agency which specialises in providing SEO and other results-based online marketing solutions.