Oct 272013
 

On Friday, Imprezzio Marketing reported that they are seeing “shrunk” Google+ Local search results in the organic local search results pages. At first I thought that might have been just a design change Google implements in an attempt to diminish even further the prominence of the +Local listings. However, when I looked into a number of search results, I realized this might not be the case, and what actually happened seems more like an across-the-board reversal to the old “7-pack” or “pure” local SERPs. For the ones that do not remember (or have never heard of) what these are, here is some history:

- Until September/October 2010, there was only one type of search results – “pure”. The rankings within the business listings search results in the organic SERPs were heavily influenced by factors such as completeness of the Google Local listing, number of citations, number of reviews, and (almost) not influenced by website-related factors.

- In October 2010, Google made significant change to their local search algorithm (or rolled out a brand-new, separate algorithm) and thus, two types of local SERPs started appearing – “blended” and “pure”. The blended SERP, in contrast with the pure one, was mainly influenced by factors such as website on-site optimization, and general authority of the corresponding company website.

- In January/February 2012, Google rolled out yet another major change to their algorithm(s) and the pure local SERPs disappeared almost completely. Thus, only blended SERPs were visible. That is, apparently, until last Friday (25 October 2013).

Here is a great visual overview of the differences between the two types of local SERP.

What makes me think this shift means returning back to “pure” SERPs, i.e. what is the evidence? Here are some:

1. I found many cases in which Google listings with no website associated with them rank high. Here are a couple of examples:
Woodbridge locksmith
plumber Rancho Cucamonga
Note: if the website associated with the listing is shown as “plus.google.com”, it means there is NO website associated with the listing.
If the SERPs were blended, this was almost impossible to happen, unless the competition was extremely low (i.e. there were no Google listings that have a website associated with them).

2. There are instances in which both the Google+ Local listing, and the corresponding landing page rank on first page in the organic search results. Here is an example:
personal injury attorney Seattle – notice the two results for deanstandishperkins.com
This can only happen if the SERP is NOT blended.

3. The “shrunk” size of the results themselves – I remember of only one instance when the Google+ Local listings search results have been displayed in smaller font, and this was when they were “pure”.

4. And I believe this is the strongest proof of all – ALL local search results I checked feature the business name from the Google+ Local listing. In the “blended” search results, the title of some search result changes to the title tag (or part of the title tag) of the corresponding website landing page.

Overall, if this change is kept this way, I would strongly suggest you look at citation building as an option, if you haven’t yet.

  22 Responses to “Google Shifts Back to “Pure” Local SERPs. The New Normal or Just a Test?”

Comments (22)
  1. Good catch on #4. This change really surprises me. I think having organic factors impact the local results is a good thing. I kinda think this is a step in the wrong direction.

    • Who knows what big G might be holding up their sleeve. Certainly, at first sight it looks more like a test, but if some additional changes are to be implemented in the near future, this might turn out to be just a piece of the big picture.

  2. Very interesting, Nyagoslav. Thanks for posting. Would you say the overall arc is that Google is playing up the importance of the Google+ Local listings themselves – rather than playing down their importance? (If so, I’d agree: I think the invisibility of many businesses’ listings due to the “review pop-up” is just temporary.)

    • Thanks, Phil! Indeed with this update, and if everything is pretty much back to how it was with the algorithm determining the rankings in the “pure” local SERPs, it does mean Google returns back some significant power within the local listing itself.

  3. Ya, I knew something was up when I had a client that has had non stop issues with his Places listing all the sudden ranking in the 7 pack for all his main terms. Thought it was cuz we were able to recently merge (not that I have ever seen that have an effect on it), but what you are saying makes more sense.

    Thanks!

  4. Yeah, I agree that it looks like they have reverted to the pre-blended, purely local algorithm. Crazy. I would love to know WHY.

    A couple of other details I noticed are:
    - authorship photos never appear in the pack anymore
    - there are always 10 organic results in addition to the pack (before this change the number of organic results would fluctuate depending on the way the pack blended)

    Both of those additional details add further evidence to support that this is indeed a shift back to the pure algo. I wonder if it will last.

    • Great observations, Darren! I actually have never seen a “pure” SERP with authorship anywhere on it before, so this is very curious opportunity.

      Have you noticed any serious fluctuation in rankings, too?

    • Great catch, Darren: I can confirm that about authorship: I have a client who’s in the pack results and had his authorship photo in there as of a couple weeks ago, and the authorship photo isn’t showing anymore.

  5. This matches what we saw in MozCast. At the end of last week, all of the CSS for the pack results was replaced with “near-box” style code. There were still some blended results in these new packs, but those results were also duplicated in organic (previously, they were de-duped and only appeared in one place or the other). Seems like this was much more than just a display/CSS change, but a significant rewrite in how the local algo works.

    • Thanks for the back-up, Dr. Pete! Do you have the opportunity/interest to cross-reference and compare the correlation between rankings and some ranking factors you have the chance to look at closely pre-Venice, post-Venice, and post-last-Friday?

      • Happy to compare notes, but we don’t track local pack rankings directly in MozCast, just organic. Lately, we’ve been tracking local features (one-boxes vs. packs vs. “near” boxes), which is how I saw the dramatic changes on Friday, but I don’t have data about the local results themselves. Darren has a lot more info on that, from chatting with him. Feel free to email me, though.

  6. So it looks like all rich snippits features are gone. In addition to the author photo, the listing for Truly Nolen Pest & Termite Control under “pest control anaheim” used to always feature the gold stars beside their Google Places listing (they were from Schema markup not from Google reviews). Now their organic has split off from the local and the organic listing has it, the local does not.

  7. Wow. The carousel is gone here too! That seems to indicate it’s a mistake or at least just temporary. It’s as if they restored a backup from way back when.

    Or maybe we’re going to see the Carousel return but this time for all local businesses? Is this a step in that direction?

    • Local carousels seem to be determined in real-time – we’ve been tracking a lot of day-to-day volatility, but there are still definitely local carousels in play.

  8. This is such an interesting post (including the subsequent comments). What is going on? and why? It doesn’t seem ‘finished’ to me as I’m seeing root domain listings in the organic/blended “and” root domain listings in the 7 pack… for the same website/company. Before, I’d only see a root domain listing coupled with a ‘deep’ page listing (one in the 7 pack and the other in the organic/blended results). So, I think it’s still a work in progress. I’m trying to keep up with the experts out there (several of whom have written on this post) to stay afloat —> thank you all for contributing :-)

  9. I can’t seem to find this change being made or test in Australian SERPs just yet. Very interesting move by Google if they do go back to pure. I can definitely understand it for some non-competitive SERPs because listings without a website aren’t too useful. Will keep everyone posted on the Australian situation.

  10. An interesting side point here is that we are seeing really strong organic placements for some of our clients that were strong on local but not so much in the standard results.

    To clarify, in queries that had ‘in’ or ‘near’ or other obvious localised theses sites / pages did well in the local pack or blended results but not so well in query variations that did not localise. Now, those queries still don’t localise but we are seeing listings that were locally strong bursting into the top 3 in the organic variations (often from nowhere in the top 10).

    Also seeing some real trash popping up in the right hand side one pack listing. Abandoned listings with keyword heavy names & weak websites lending more weight to the pure theory (whilst certainly not improving results overall).

    Organic results seem more localised and improved. Localised results seem worse in many cases. I may be biased as some of our clients are winning here!

    These observations are all UK based folks.

    Marcus

  11. found out same thing myownself too, Nyag as I was searching for some new client competitors and surprise! the 7-Pack is back….wonder if it’s a test or an anomaly or well….dunno….

    but yeah great capture here!!!!

  12. Carousel is back here now. Don’t really have restaurant clients so am not in a position to say much, but I do know that the restaurant down the street put themselves in G+ a few weeks ago and they were in the Carousel. Now they are nowhere to be found. I looked at their listing and it’s all good. So apparently, even the Carousel is being affected by this as well. What worked yesterday, doesn’t anymore. Coincidence? Or are they connected?

  13. Still seeing this. Wondering if it is an extended test, or if it is here to stay. Hopefully it is here to stay.

  14. I have seen the exact same thing in our niche. In addition to that, I have noticed that for some keywords (strong and week) Google still returns two listings for the same company, a local result and an organic result as well.

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