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November 15, 2010

Google Local Changing The Local Search Game

Author: Valerie Baker

You may have noticed many new changes to Google. Over the course of the last couple of months Google has changed a large number of major features in how you and I interact with their search. Overall we at Atilus believe the changes have been very beneficial – if somewhat cumbersome at times for us as it changes how we do research for you, a business that is looking to rank on Google. They’ve recently unrolled the following:

3 Major Updates to Google

  • Instant Search – When you start typing the search will instantly appear, based on what Google thinks you’re looking for, as you continue to refine your word by typing it out further, Google continues to send you instant search results based on what it thinks you are looking for. Google claims this is shaving 2-5 seconds from each search done on Google. This is perhaps the largest technical advance Google has made since it’s rise as the dominant search engine.
  • Site Previews – This appears automatically for some searches, and for others you have to tick the little magnifying glass icon next to the search result. It shows a small screenshot of your website for a particular result, as well as captions from the site, revealing where in the site your search phrase is on said page.
  • Tighter Local Integration – On select local searches Google is now more tightly integrating their local search feature, in some cases it’s almost hard to differentiate from organic search although technically it’s COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. This greatly affects your business – more in a second.


These 3 updates are really changing search. I guess, when you have as large a market share as Google, ANY changes will trickle down and effect your business – if you rely on your website for leads, traffic, or sales. Let’s take the first two individually before we get to the meat of this article and why you must be concerned with Local Search.

1) Google Instant, More Pay Per Click Traffic & Skyrocketing Google’s Revenues

With the release of Google instant, many pay per click marketers, including ourselves, have noticed an uptick in traffic across our pay per click accounts – those ads that appear alongside a search. We hear all the time that “I just don’t click on those ads.” Which may be true, but previously nearly 35% of all searchers would. And now, with instant taking more screen real estate at the top of the page, that number is growing even larger, with the ads still showing at the top, and organic listings appearing many times, “below the fold.” Because in many cases users now have to scroll down to see all results more are clicking on pay per click ads. This is fantastic as it’s helping direct users attention back to the ads – which in many cases are more targeted and relevant than Google’s own listings.

What this means for you – Pay per click is now an even more dominant force in search engine marketing. The space has gotten more and more crowded, but there are still tons of opportunities, particularly for local businesses to purchase ads on relevant local keywords.

2) Site Previews – Your Site Must Be Well Designed

Studies have shown that potential leads or customers makes a snap judgements about you, your company, and your efficacy within a few milliseconds of coming to your site. This judgement is almost solely based on the DESIGN of your site. Now, with snapshots, a tool other search engines have had for years, Google is making a visible snapshot of your site available on all searches. I’ve already used it to weed through a few spammy results, judging which site is best suited for my needs based on design. Additionally, if you’re a franchise or trying to develop your own brand, this little snapshot will help people locate your site more quickly and easily.

What this means for you – Your site’s design must compete, not only with your direct competition, but with all sites at large. It must look good – as before users even land on your page, they’ll be seeing your site and judging your company by it.

3) Local Search Integration – Good Bye Local Organic Search

This one is going to be a bit longer than the other two, as I feel it’s the biggest update that affects 90% of the businesses we work with and is VERY IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND. On any given search, particularly one’s where you add your location, for example “Naples Florida Car Insurance” you as a user of Google will see 3 types of listings:

  • Organic Results – Organic refers to those listings Google thinks you should look at.
  • PPC Ads – Pay per click ads are advertisers who have said to google “if someone searches for XYZ term – show this ad…”
  • Local Results – Local listings are local business listings shown based on your businesses location. You can only set these listings up with a physical, verifiable address. 

Google has been playing with the format and display of local results over the last few years. Depending on YOUR location as a user, the businesses location, and how they setup their local ad (as well as a host of other factors – some clear, and some not so clear) Google shows you a list of local results. This was typically displayed with letters A – G, alongside a dotted map with the locations of all of the businesses that Google thought were relevant.

The Big Change

However, the latest update from Google, places many local listings INSIDE organic results, making them nearly indistinguishable to the end user and giving them preference (at times) over organic listings – see screen shot. Additionally, it no longer links just to your local listing, it links direct to your website. This is not yet happening for ALL local searches, but it appears to be heading that way, and this means the most valuable place to spend your time, as someone who values Internet traffic, is at local search.

What this means for you – Your business MUST be listed in Google’s local business center, and you must do the necessary next steps to ensure it comes up high in the local listings for your area. Previously, a #1 organic ranking WAS THE BEST LISTING YOU COULD HAVE, but now, that #1 spot has been pushed far down in the list of results and is no longer the best real estate to occupy. However, the local search game is a bit different from the organic search game, and only by playing by it’s unique rules will you be able to rank well in this space.

Should you need any assistance in setting up, or achieving higher rankings in local listings contact us today, we’re always here to help!

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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