New Inequality in Google Places: Sitelinks in "Blended" Local Search Results

I’ve just seen what I believe is a new competitive edge that some businesses can wield over others in the Google Places “blended” search results: sitelinks.

For example, here’s a screenshot of how one of my clients shows up in Google Places—notice the 3 little links under his Google listing:

I’ve never seen sitelinks show up where they do now in Google Places.

Sitelinks have shown up in non-local (organic and paid) search results for several years.  In terms of how they’ve appeared in the local search results, it’s been the case for quite some time that if you search for a business by name and see its “one-box” appear in Google Places, typically you’d see any sitelinks that Google has given it.

(By the way, here’s a post I did on how you can get sitelinks from Google.)

What’s different about these sitelinks is they’re showing up for some businesses (and not others) in the cutthroat arena known as page one of Google’s local search results.  Some businesses get to show their sitelinks to customers, even when those customers don’t search for those businesses by name.

What’s more, I’ve only seen the “blended” sitelinks for the businesses that are already ranked at the top of the heap.  The above example of my client is one such example (hey, I’m not complaining).  Here’s another example:

It’s possible this is a test.  But I’d say that’s unlikely, based on the fact that sitelinks have appeared in more and more areas of Google over the years.

In any case, this isn’t an earth-shaking change, but it does change the local-search landscape a little (is that too many L’s?).  Mainly it’s a force-multiplier for businesses that are the top of Google Places for some search terms.  The sitelinks push the other local businesses down the page just a little bit, and the sitelinks are likely to boost click-through rates for local businesses that have them.

The moral of the story?  Try to get sitelinks.  An optimized, Google-friendly site can help your Google Places ranking big-time, and the process of trying to get sitelinks can help you tighten up your site and give it a boost in this way.  Plus, if and when you’re at the top of the local search results in your market, your sitelinks can be an even greater advantage over lower-ranked local competitors.

Have you noticed more sitelinks in your local market than you noticed before?  Is it only the top-ranked businesses that have sitelinks?

Google Adds "At a glance" to Places Pages

One of my clients kindly pointed out to me a tiny new addition to Google Places pages: the words “At a glance” next to the “descriptor snippets”:

New - "At a glance" next to descriptor snippets

Here’s how the “snippets” area looked before:

Before- No "At a glance" on Places page

The “At a glance” is new only to the Places page itself.  It’s not completely new to Google Places.  For the last few months it’s appeared in the preview area that you see when you hover your mouse over a local-business search result:

"At a glance" in preview area of Google Places local results

Is the addition of “At a glance” to the Places page a big deal?  Of course not.  But it’s a nice baby-step toward greater usability of Google Places.

I’ve had a number of clients (and a whole bunch of other people) ask me what those random-looking “keywords” are on their Places pages.  At least for now, I’ll still have to explain that Google culls the “keywords” from customer reviews, third-party sites and reviews (InsiderPages, CitySearch, etc.), and from your website.

I’ll also still have to explain that there’s no way to control directly what phrases wind up in the “At a glance” snippets—and that sometimes they can include nonsensical, unflattering, or downright ugly phrases.

Still, this little annotation at least will give customers and business owners a slightly better idea of what they’re looking at in this little sliver of the Places page.  That’s always good.

I’m hopeful that Google will continue to add features to the “At a glance” area, and to improve the quality and relevance of the snippets themselves.

New Google Places Layouts w/ Gray Map Pins: Face-lift or Botox Shot?

 

Google has once again tested VERY different layouts for the Google Places local results.

This particular test lasted a few hours in the wee hours today (October 29) but features several elements that having been popping up in Google’s tests recently.

It included a new look for the “7-pack” Google Places results…

New Google Places 7-pack: larger & with gray map pins

…and for the “blended” local results:

New "blended" local search results layout

Most notably, it’s the second short test of the new map layout that I reported on recently, and it contains the gray map markers that Jo from LollipopLocal and Nyagoslav from NGS Marketing noticed (mainly in Europe) last week.

I didn’t notice any reshuffling of the rankings, nor anything to indicate an algorithm change; the test layout is pretty much just a facelift.

Or…is it just a Botox injection into the ever-changing face of Google Places?  Both new layouts are far less colorful—no red map markers or photos—even though they hog more above-the-fold space than before.

Google has now tested both the different map layout and the gray map pins twice in the span of a couple weeks.  My guess is that in the very near future Google will stop messing around and will actually roll out a new Google Places layout.

Test: New Google Places One-Box Layout and Map Size

Update:  It appears that this was only a test by Google (at least for now!).

Today Google rolled tested out a new local “one-box” layout for Google Places:

What’s changed being tested?  Simply that the one-box is now to the RIGHT of the organic search results area (rather than mixed in with them), and that the good-to-know basics like hours and “descriptive snippets” are right there in the one-box—visible on the first page of Google, whereas you used to have to visit the Places page to see them.

(By the way, I think we now may soon have a good name for the “descriptive/descriptor snippets”: Google now refers to them as the “At a glance” section.)

The new one-box also pops up when you wouldn’t think it would—like if you were looking up Blues greats the way I was when I first saw this change after having simply typed “Howlin’ Wolf” into Google.

The main improvement of this layout change test seems to be that it’s a space-saver.  Instead of having the business, photos, etc. featured in the middle of the page with the local map off to the right.  The effect is that the organic search results that used to sit below the local one-box (and possibly below the fold) have shifted up.

Also, because Google only shows the one-box when it assumes you’re searching locally for one specific business, this change makes it that much quicker for customers to get the info they want on that specific business: it’s on the first page, rather than accessible only by clicking on the Place page.  Maybe Google realized that sometimes people click on a business’s website when they actually wanted to visit its Places page; this makes them have less occasion to click on the Places page in the first place.

This is minor, but this one-box also gives the mention of a business’s third-party reviews more prominence.  The third-party sites that a business is reviewed on now occupy pretty visible territory, right there at the bottom of the new one-box (and above the Adwords ads).

In other news, the map has changed even when you see the Google Places 7-pack.  Rather than being a skinny upright rectangle, the map is now bigger and oriented landscape:

I think what Google accomplishes with this change test is now the map is just more visible and readable.  It’s now big enough to see a little more detail about specifically where the businesses are located.  So it increases usability a little (if you’re gonna have a map, have it be big enough to be helpful).

The other thing is that the map is wider, which means the organic search results (for local queries) have to fit into a narrower area, which means they’re all pushed down the page just a little bit.

One pattern we’re seeing here—with both of these changes tests—is that if Google perceives “local intent” of the user, it will make the local results WAY more prominent than the organic ones.  In other words, if Google thinks you’re searching locally, by golly you’re going to see some local results, all right.

What do you think the significance of these changes this test is?