I just noticed something that I’m pretty sure is new:
When you type in a local search term PLUS “review” or “reviews,” you see the Google Places 7-pack of local businesses.
Try it out. Type “restaurant review” into Google:
Then try it when you search for a service or product:
It even works if you type in “review” or “reviews” after a longer-tail, highly specific search term:
By the way, what’s interesting about the 2nd example is that “roofing” is an ambiguous term: are people looking for reviews of roofing services, or are they looking for reviews of different types of roofing materials? Google doesn’t know—and it includes search results for both, just in case—but it still includes results for roofing companies. A good example of Google trying to infer whether or not a customer is searching for something locally (AKA “local intent”).
Anyway, unless I’m going soft in the head (quite possible), this represents a change by Google. When customers type in a local search term plus “review,” no longer are they only shown a bunch of organic search results for websites that specialize in reviews (like InsiderPages). Those sites still show up, but the super-noticeable Google Places results now compete with them for customers’ eyeballs.
This seems to be part of Google’s recent hard push to get more people to write reviews through the Google Places interface (rather than through third-party sites like Yelp, CitySearch, InsiderPages and so forth). The same people who actively seek out customer reviews to read are the same ones who’ll eventually write the reviews. If Google Places is the place to go read reviews, it’s also the natural place to write them.
So what does this mean for your local visibility and ability to get customers? Depends on your answer to three questions:
1. Go to Google and type in a local search term you’re trying to get visible for PLUS the word “review.” Do you see the Google Places “7-pack”?
2. Is your business on the first page of the local search results?
3. Does your business have “Google reviews”? If not, you need to get some, or else local customers who type in your services + “reviews” will pass you by in favor of any of your competitors who do have reviews—which is what they’re looking for.
I don’t know the answers to these questions in your case. Only you do.
What I do know is any customers who search for “reviews” already have their minds made up: they know exactly what they’re searching for locally, and the only thing they’re not sure of is where’s the best place to get it. Google is now showing them their options—in the form of the top-7 businesses in Google Places. Without plenty of good customer reviews, you’re not the best option on the page. And if you’re not on the first page, you’re not even being presented as an option for local customers.