Jul 222011

Changes in Google Places occur daily and it is often difficult to keep up with the speed of what is happening. A new one was announced yesterday on the Google LatLong blog. It includes numerous tweaks, some of which might not really be in taste for many small business owners working hard on getting good reviews for their business on third-party review websites. Here are all the changes that I managed to discover:

1) Red “Write a review” and pale “Upload a photo” buttons near the top:

This is an obvious attempt to push up the reviews on the Place page, but not only that, they seem to be trying to get more user generated content with the photos button. Furthermore, you can see these same buttons lower on the page.

2) Descriptive terms on the Place page itself:

Google rolled out the “descriptive terms” project a few weeks ago and it seems to be pushing these even further with this change. Furthermore, the “What people are saying” section is now gone as it is unnecessary to have both of them on the Place page. Good riddance as this section was mostly causing troubles with inaccurate and very often completely wrong “performance bars”.

3) Awards from third-party websites showing up on the Place page:

The websites that feature awards in this field are opentable.com, gayot.com, citysearch.com, and others. It seems like a really interesting addition.

4) Button for reporting of inappropriate photos and videos:

As Google is pushing for more user-generated content, they probably understood that they need better system to protect the small businesses from unwanted spammy behavior of competitors. Up to now there was no easy way to report specifically photos and videos, but cases like this tell us how important that inclusion actually is.

5), 6) and 7) The “Reviews by Google Users” and “Reviews from around the Web” sections merged into a “Reviews” section. Reviews from third-party websites appearing just as snippets at the bottom of the section. 5 reviews from Google Users on the listing’s main page (previously they were only 2):

That’s probably the biggest change and the one that most of the people would worry about. The third-party reviews are now almost completely gone, and they show up only as a counter snippet at the very bottom of the Reviews section. Google states the following:

Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we’ve heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages.

I personally like the change as there were way too many cases in which Google was showing incorrect or outdated reviews, only parts of them, or reviews of other businesses. Moreover, it was very complicated for the spam on these to be controlled as it completely depended on the webmaster of the website itself. Reviews from third-party websites are also not included in the overall count of reviews on a Place page currently. However, although their value obviously decreases from conversion stimulation point of view, I don’t think their importance as a ranking factor has been changed. It is worth mentioning that the snippets for these reviews are still present on the organic search result page.

8) Missing sections:

The “What people are saying” and the “More about this place” sections are gone. The first one is obviously unnecessary anymore as the descriptive terms were included and the third-party reviews are not being displayed (the snippets in this section were coming from the reviews from around the web). The second one was used mostly for competitor analysis purposes, and was almost completely unnecessary for the regular user and for the small business owner themselves. Google has never been showing correct/full information in this section, so one more good riddance.

Many are wondering now if these changes would actually increase/decrease the importance of some of the ranking factors (specifically reviews and citations). I haven’t seen any significant change in ranking since yesterday and I strongly believe that this particular update was only regarding the new interface and had nothing to do with algorithm tweaks. However, I keep asking myself a couple of other questions:

A) How will Google handle all the spam on Google Places now that the reviews by Google Users seem more important than ever? And how will Google handle the glitches that are often causing loss of reviews?

B) Where is Google going on with the photos on Google Places, as previously they removed them from the organic search results page and now they are pushing for more photos and stressing on their importance?

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