Ever since Google went update happy the last quarter of 2010, many people have been struggling to work out exactly how their new look search results actually work.
One of the major sources of confusion is with the map results which have taken on a much bigger role. The image below shows what a search including a location will now bring up:
The local listings dominate the 1st page and each listing is more descriptive than it used to be on the old style maps results. There are only 6 places at the bottom for the standard organic listings and when scrolling down the page, the map moves with you, blocking out the sponsored listings on the right. Whether you like it or not, Google is serious about local businesses.
In an attempt to help users even more, Google has added a button on the left of the search results giving you the opportunity to set you location; rather than putting ‘plumber + place name’ you can simply put ‘plumber’. Many standard users will probably be unaware of the location setting so for every relevant search they will be served with local results. In effect this means that if you are not on the Maps or in that exact area, you are going to struggle to get your website showing up well – a source of some major grumblings amongst website owners.
I have also heard a lot of people comment on the fact that they did have a first page organic listing for a local keyword but now they only have a maps result. The question is often “how can I get my organic rankings back up?” The answer is “they haven’t actually gone anywhere; A web page either lists on the maps results OR in the standard organic results, not both. You can have a different page ranking but not the same one.”
Map results are part of the organic listings
Maps results are no longer a separate entity, they are integrated in the main listings. The criteria for ranking well on the maps is different to the organic listings but they are grouped so one page cannot rank twice.
The confusion surrounding the local business listings is not helped by Google not always displaying the integrated results. For some queries you still get the map showing in the same way it did before all of the changes.
What is clear is that businesses need to get serious about local – sign up for Google places, claim your listing and get involved. I can only see local becoming more important and you do not want to be the one that misses out.