For the last few months, ionadas local and Sentient Services have been engaged in research in the local SEO space. The survey uses heat mapping to reveal how the reader’s eye typically tracks geographically-based search result content, giving web developers and advertisers valuable insights into creating page layouts optimized to attract and retain viewers’ attention.
It was to be the first published survey of eye tracking patterns as applied to local search techniques. We planned to publish the research under a Creative Common Attribution 3.0 license.
Twelve days ago, however, Google released Google Place Search, and completely changed the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for local queries. One could argue that this invalidates our hard work.
“No so fast!” I retort in my best Lee Korso voice.
There are currently multiple page types for local queries. One of them draws much of its structure from the old 7-pack. It’s reasonable to assume that many of our findings apply to this new SERP as well.
And our most surprising finding certainly still applies. The conventional wisdom has been that the map itself should be one of the greatest draws on the page. Our research found that the map actually receives very little attention. Most people hardly notice its presence at all.
If anything, this should be even more the case with the new SERPs. Google has moved the map to the right, where paid advertising usually languishes. Most users have spent the last fifteen years learning to ignore that part of the page. I believe it is unlikely to be noticed now.
So, even with the changes, we’re publishing our research report and the heatmaps:
This research and this report are © 2010, ionadas local LLC and Sentient Services, LP.
They are being published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, allowing businesses, organizations and individuals to download, use and reproduce the data in their own promotional and research efforts providing proper attribution is made.
Proper attribution means listing the above copyright statement and including links to www.ionadas.com and www.sentientservices.com for web usage. For other uses, the copyright statement, www.ionadas.com and www.sentientservices.com must be listed.
Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from ionadas local LLC.
By now, you’re likely seeing Google’s new search results for local queries. Big G has been testing this for a few months now, and the rollout looks about like we expected it to.
It’ll take some time to tease out what exactly they’ve done, but at a high level it appears that the new ranking algorithm is a combination of the old Google Maps and organic algos. This is great news if you have strong organic optimization. You’re probably seeing improved rankings today.
If you’re targeting local queries without a local presence, however, life just got harder for you. For most queries, I’m seeing only a couple of organic listings above the fold. This is about the same as for the old page structure, but additional organic listings are multiple clicks down the page now. You’ve got a grand total of four spots on the first page of results. Good luck.
The seven local listings are now spread out down the page, with only one or two above the fold. This greatly increases the need to be at the top of the Google Places listings.
So, get to work building citations and encouraging your customers to place reviews!
There have been indications of this for some time, but the Google Lat Long Blog has now announced full support for hCard Microformat. This is a tagging system that allows a website builder to indicate what type of data is included on a page. It’s most often used for contact info, but other data types (such as reviews), can be tagged as well.
Information tagged in this manner is easier for Google to categorize, and can show up as a citation in Google Places, or even a more prominent link.
Mike Blumenthal has a great write-up on why hCard Microformat is important.
Chris Boudeaux and Adam Edwards are reporting that Google is testing search results with local listings only. In their case, a query for [car rental nyc] returned a new page format: the map on the right hand column with AdWords below it and a center column with more AdWords at the top, and nothing but Google Places listings below it.
All indications are that this is a very limited test at the moment and there’s no way of knowing whether it will become generally available. But the implications of such a change would be huge. For certain types of queries (i.e. those that tend to return the map today), traditional SEO efforts would no longer be of any value.
Only AdWords and Google Places listings would matter.
I doubt the screen capture the linked article shows reflects what Google would use in the long run, as it seems fairly clumsy. There are only 2.5 listings above the fold, with a great deal of wasted space.
But we certainly could see something like this in the near future.
Hat Tip to WebmasterWorld for pointing this out to me.
Recently, Google added support for Service Areas to its Google Places management system. This allows you to register businesses that mostly go to clients’ locations, rather than having the clients come to the business. It also allows you to prevent the address in your Google Places listing from showing.
This is especially welcome for home-based businesses, who might not want to list their home address on the internet for all to see.
Businesses owners should realize that there is a significant disadvantage to this approach, however. A large part of Google ranking calculation is based upon the Citations a listing has received. Citations are pages that Google has found that list the company’s name, phone number and address (and are trusted by Google).
Yes, you can list your home-based business with Google and prevent the address from showing within Google, but you’re going to have a harder time building citations. You can try listing just your company name and phone number, but those citations tend to not be as strong.
So, do you use your home address or not? At the end, it comes down to a value judgment, but you need to be aware of the pros and cons of various approaches.