Apr 262013

Google has been the subject of antitrust investigations in Europe for some time now. The reason has been allegations from competitors about some anti-competitive practices of Google, especially related to vertical search. While a similar case has been settled in Google’s favor by the FTC in the US, the European Commission, claiming that Google’s market share in Europe is much more significant, has “pushed” the company to change their search results for some specialized verticals. The verticals included are Google Shopping, Google Places, Google Hotel Finder, Google News, Google Finance, Google Flights, Google Maps, as well as all future verticals that Google would roll out. Google finally came out with a proposal on Thursday. For me, naturally, the most interesting part of the proposal is the one related to local search results. Google offered the following format of the local search results on desktops:

Google's Local Search Europe

Click to enlarge

And here is the proposed format of the local search results on mobile devices:
Google Local Search on Mobile

Click to enlarge

The changes for the desktop SERP are:
- The inclusion of acknowledgement about the fact that the Google Places results represent Google’s own product
- The inclusion of links to three other “relevant providers”
- The moving of the map to the top of the Google Places results
The changes for the mobile SERP are:
- The inclusion of a “Google Places Search” and “Other sites” links above the map

To both SERPs will be added a frame that would signify the Google Places search results.

Before moving to how Google will be determining which sites would be considered as “relevant providers”, here are my thoughts on how this might affect the local search results:

First, if I were the complainers, I was going to be very dissatisfied with Google’s proposal. The changes are obviously made in a way that would satisfy the minimum possible requirement. The visibility of the links to the third-party sites is (purposefully) lowered by the fact that they are under the map (in the desktop SERP) and in smaller font (in the mobile SERP). Additionally, in the mobile SERP, the user should click one more time to reach the third-party search results, as compared to Google’s native ones. Second, it seems like the new layout (map within the results and frame around the Places results) would actually boost the visibility of Google’s properties even more than the current one does. Anyone can submit their feedback and observations via email at COMP-GOOGLE-CASES@ec.europa.eu under reference number AT.39.740 - Google . The feedback can be written in any of the EU official languages (which includes Bulgarian!). The deadline is 1 month from publication in the Official Journal of the European Union (which means 25 May 2021). Countries that would be affected by the change include all the members of the EEA (EU + Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), as well as all future members (most probably Croatia will join the group even before the implementations go live).

Google also gives a detailed explanation of how the third-party sites will be picked. Here are some outlines:

- The sites might be less then three, based on how many would qualify as per Google’s requirements
- There will be a tool which sites could use to apply to become a potential pick for these “Vertical Sites Pools”
- Criteria for a site to be included in a vertical sites pool include the presence of search functionality, be limited to a small number of content categories (generalist search sites won’t be considered eligible), be within the first 100,000 sites in terms of traffic per Alexa, acceptable quality of user experience, and others
- The sites that have the highest “Web Search Rank” (i.e. the rank of the site for the generic search results for the query in question) will be preferred for display
- Google could remove sites from the pool if they are found to violate a significant number of requirements

Theoretically, this means that same business directory websites that have been ranking for local search queries up to now will be the one to be picked (if they apply and are accepted). If I were them, and if the layout stayed the same as it is proposed by Google, I’d actually rather not apply if that would mean losing my organic result on first page (that might include things such as review snippets, meta description, sitelinks, and others). It would just decrease my real estate without giving me much additional visibility.

What are your takeaways? Do you think the new layout of Google’s search results would benefit their competitors or do you think they are still pretty self-serving?

  8 Responses to “How Google’s Local Search Results Will Look in Europe”

Comments (8)
  1. Fascinating stuff, Nyagoslav. Personally, I like the potential change. I agree that it’s self-serving, but I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t blame Google (this time). People don’t have to use Google.

    However, to the extent there are antitrust powers-that-be breathing down Google’s neck to be friendlier to the competition, I don’t think the “alternative sites” will cut it. Except maybe in those annoying cases where the local results consist of a 3-pack rather than a hearty 7-pack of local businesses, searchers just aren’t going to click those links.

    Again, I find this really interesting, and will be curious to see what (if anything) Google ends up doing.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Hey Phil,

      What I dislike is the fact that Google favors their own results without any clear reason while claiming that they offer the most relevant results possible. I would possibly be somewhat OK with that if Google was not earning money from their own properties, but they are, which makes me be against their policies even further. I believe giving equal opportunity to all players to get space in the search results is the only way Google could convince me (and others) that their results are the most relevant. Currently, it is obvious that the Places results are being generated from a different algorithm and they are not really fighting (at least not individually) with the other search results. They always have a booked place in the first page. I was really expecting something more drastic from Google, and I believe so did the complainers. I am sure changes will occur to this proposal, but it is very interesting to see the starting point of the discussion.

  2. for me the main point is whether Google is going or not going to reinstate the link below a seven pack as it was long time displayed as “more Goolge Places near …” but disappeared since couple of days.
    I have seen it on their “proposal” - but why did they remove at the same time that link on the actual seven packs?
    There is an other point:
    In few cases of keywords there was never places results displayed on a search for “Web” but displayed if using the “Places” option or using the parameter “tbm=plcs” in the searching URL.

    Their proposal doesn’t handle managing such places results affected at all - I beleive so.

    • Hi Helmut,

      I believe the two events might not be connected. I am also interested in hearing why Google decided on dropping the Places search as a search layer. It might indeed have some connection with their overall shift into how they serve small businesses, as there have been the speculations.

  3. Interesting update - thanks :-)
    I’m sure they have a long-term plan for the monetization of Local serps… they are just inching toward it.

    • @andy - inching is the keyword ;)

      • I am not entirely convinced their plan is that long-term. I mean, they definitely do have a plan to somehow monetize local, because they know it could be a very lucrative niche, but I think they are testing things here and there and their overall plan doesn’t seem to be too solid. At least in my mind.

  4. Nyag:

    You are a great resource on many issues. With this just coming up and surfacing in Britain now I re read your article and referenced it to a vertical directory owner in GB.

    Nice work. Nice predictions!!!


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