Yesterday afternoon, Google announced that Google Place Pages are being adjusted to accommodate better, more “effortless” and “elastic” user experiences. Google maps have already been tweaked, and now it is Place Pages’ turn. The search engine says that its main goal is to make Places searches better on desktop computers, but also on mobile sites, so that users can see the pages and the reviews for places whether they are getting ready to leave the house or they are already on-the-go. Google’s Lat Long blog notes, “Some of the changes you’ll notice today have been made so you can quickly get a sense for what other people are saying about a place, more easily upload photos of places you’ve been (by using a more obvious “Upload a photo” button), and see reviews in a single section on the page.”
What are the changes?
Several changes have been made to the Places pages. Mainly, these changes place a heavier emphasis on reviews by Google users and less emphasis on reviews from elsewhere on the web. Additionally, companies setting up Google Places pages will no longer be able to view the citations they receive from other sites.
What has been removed?
It used to be that if you were a business looking to set up a Google Places page, you would have to be concerned with having references across the web. For instance, if you were a restaurant in Atlanta, it would help your page to have a citation on another website (maybe, for instance, a website that listed the best websites in Atlanta) because this would help Google to verify your existence. Like Matt McGee of Search Engine Land notes, “these citations are the local version of links and local SEOs mined the competition’s citations the same way link builders look for competitors’ links. Removing these from the Place Page will have a big impact on local SEO.” Now that citations have disappeared from Place pages (though they still may be useful – just because they aren’t displayed does not mean that Google does not still take them into account), it will be interesting to see how the formula for ranking a Place page comes to mirror organic ranking strategies more – meaning, perhaps in the future traditional linking and content (as well as reviews) will have more to do with ranking a Place page than anything else. After all, last year, when Place pages were first introduced, it appeared that the importance of citations may have lessened (with Local’s evolution) in favor of more consideration for on-page factors. Or maybe citations are still extremely important, but just simply more difficult to track; maybe Google just wants to make local SEO that much harder. Though citations may still play a role in Google Places rankings, they will certainly be harder to analyze because they are not visible on the pages anymore.
In a further step toward internet domination and becoming the absolute number one source for information (let’s face it: Google already holds this coveted place in most people’s minds, but you get the point), Google has mostly removed outside sources (like those from Yelp and TripAdvisor) and outside input from Google Places; now only Google users can register reviews for Places. So those snippet reviews from other sources across the web that we are so used to seeing have been axed from the pages. However, you can find links to other review sites if you do choose to get a second opinion elsewhere.
Now, the only way to see reviews from people outside of Google is to scroll to the bottom of the Places page and click on the link to Yelp, Zagat, or wherever else the reviews are located.
What has been added?
Clearly, a heavier emphasis on Google user reviews will take precedence over other elements of the Places page because users utilize those the most. Since people have vocalized their love of the places reviews and the ability to receive recommendations from others, the company has added “Write a review” just below the restaurant name so that, when you are signed into your Google account, you can see other peoples’ more personalized recommendations as well.
You can actually click in two places to write a review for a Place page now (if you are signed into your Google account).
What does it mean for SEO?
Remember when we endlessly talked about how Google +1 was going to change the face of “relevant” searching for good? Well, it looks like in the spirit of the new button and its corresponding social network, Google is trying to literally make every element of search relevant to you as the user. When talking about the search engine’s vision for the future of Places, Google’s Director of Product Management, Avni Shah, notes the following goal: “bringing you more personalized results when you search for local places — because we understand that information from the people you know is most meaningful.” So, its important for any person building a Place page to also work on building Google reviews. When yo create a review of a place through your Google profile, you can share the places you love with friends – this actually kind of sounds like it is a Places version of giving a page a Plus One.
Additionally, loosing the hold that citations listings on Place page rankings will likely send shocks through the local SEO community. For Place Pages, building citations is somewhat similar way to building links, but losing the ability to track the citations is going to make local SEO much more difficult. How this will change local SEO strategies for Places Pages will be evident in the coming weeks and months (tools for new modes of citation analysis will likely begin to appear).