“There’s something wrong with the world today” …. remember that line from the Aerosmith’s song – Living on the Edge?
That’s how a whole lot of small local businesses must have felt in the past few days as Google made an unheralded move and decided NOT to show maps at the top of Page one of the SERP’s for local searches.
What?? Yes its true – maps have disappeared from search results….so when you type in “Dentist in Mosman” – you no longer see a map with all the Dentists in Mosman. This is a killer blow for small businesses as it had enabled them to at least get a foot in the search engine results if they matched the profile of a local search.
My guess is that Google decided small businesses were getting a free ride in the maps section by showing them right at the top of page 1, and this in turn was losing them revenue from Pay-Per-Click advertising. Well that is part of the equation. Google seldom does things without thinking ten steps ahead – they employ the best brains on the planet and pay them big bucks, so it stands to reason that Google Places was always a pawn in the chess game and was destined for the scrap heap from inception.
So what has happened to Google Places? The data is still there and you can still go in and create a Google Places account and profile, however, Google has ported all the profiles over to their wannabe social network – Google+ – and its under Google+ that you now can create a business profile, much the way you do on Facebook.
So another social network we need to maintain??? Yea, pretty much…however if you had an existing Places profile then that information is now also sitting on Google+, so there is minimal effort required to activate your Google+ listing and this is something you should do asap.
But back to the maps….they have gone. Will they return? Who knows. But plan for the fact they are gone for good and a new strategy is required for small businesses hoping to get ranked for local searches.
Essentially there has been a shift some time ago in Googles thinking. It probable started when they saw mobile searches skyrocketing and they realised that a mobile searcher looking for someone local would likely bypass the search engine and go straight to a Maps application to find what they were looking for – you can easily search a Map app and find a local business without having to get all the additional advertising sites showing up.
At some point Google also decided that social chatter was becoming much more important than it used to be in determining if a website was a credible authority on a particular topic. In other words Social networks are now playing a much bigger role in determining search engine rankings. The big three social networks are Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – with Pinterest being the fast mover in this space. Google is yet to develop a credible presence in the social networking space, which looks a heck of a lot like how Microsoft struggled to establish a significant presence in search a while back.
Which brings us back to Google+. Google needs to get a greater foothold in the social networks, and it may do so by purchasing Pinterest, but at the same time they need to have something to go to war with Facebook with and Google+ is the weapon of choice. Hence they are forcing all Places accounts to switch over to Google+ Local - this helps them populate out their social network – in a nutshell – of course it goes a lot deeper than this…….because now it is going to be so important for your business to generate good chatter about you and your services and products. Going forwards its going to be about the collective chatter, and Googles algo’s are going to be sifting through social networks to determine not only who is chatting about what but the credibility and authority of those doing the chatting. So a shift in thinking is required.