A few days ago, Mike Blumenthal first noted that the Google Places results when performing local search have been reduced for a number of markets. Now, one could find 3-packs and 4-packs (I’ve never seen such before) even for major, very highly competitive search terms such as “Hotel San Francisco“, or “Restaurant New York“.
What is the reason and the purpose?
It is interesting that this SERP update roughly coincides with Google “trying” to show Google Places reviews on normal AdWords ads. A few weeks before that, Google changed the color of the almost branded red pins to grey. And in June 2011, Google removed the photos from the SERPs.
Are these gradual steps towards increasing the click through rate for the AdWords ads? Did Google realize Places are a click magnet and “steal” a lot of traffic from the paid results?
Judging from the tendency, the next thing that might happen is that the Google Places organic search results might start showing up lower in the SERPs. Currently, for almost every query, the Places results are the ones appearing right after the paid results, and in 90%+ of the times this is above the fold. If the business listings have 5 or more reviews on them, it is a sure CTR boomer.