Experts Blog

What’s New in Local Search May 2012

By Mary Bowling on May 10, 2012 - 07:14 PM

The new Places Help Forum is buzzing with problems. There are either some serious bugs in Places, another "unknown" guideline of some kind is in force or the enforcement of one or more known guidelines has been stepped up considerably - or all of the above. Just when you think Google Places can’t get any more confusing for small business owners, it does.

Rich snippet spam becomes a household word, at least in houses with SEOs. It’s mainly coming in the form of false rating stars appearing in the Search results, but it’s so easy to make happen and the positive effect is so strong and so immediate that you can see how it might be irresistible to newbie SEO’s and those under great pressure to improve their numbers. It’s one of those things that Google will probably move to shut down quickly, if it can. We’ve all seen the problems caused when the Google doesn’t react quickly enough to this sort of spam (think false reviews) as it strives to make all things algorithmic instead of sending in the cavalry.


The effects of the Venice update become more obvious as the mix of local packs to packs with blended results swings heavily in favor of blended packs. Where about a two-thirds of the local results have previously been pure local packs (displaying only information from Google Places), it now seems that about two-thirds include blended listings (with information from both the business’s website and its Places page). Later in the month, Google Places guy, Joel Headley explains that Google eventually wants to show only blended local listings in the organic SERPs. This shift gives even more emphasis to the potential ranking power or domain authority of a business’ website. Even if you’re ranking great in Maps/Places, you need to be working hard on your website optimization, too. What are you waiting for?

Geo-tagging your photos in Panoramio becomes even easier. Just drag and drop them into a location on a map. This helps send Google more location signals regarding your business. Take photos of your store front, the interior of your enterprise and your products and services and geo tag them in Panoramio now! Chances are that you’ll get more than 10 photos showing on your Place page, too.

Bright Local, a UK company, officially launches a new tool named Citation Tracker. While it was nearly impossible to find a Local-specific tool 3 years ago, our options have greatly expanded. Most Local Search tools offer a free trial, so try before you buy. They vary greatly in accuracy and features.

Microsoft purchases AOL Maps. Many mobile apps are built using maps databases. Owning its own maps helps MSN better compete with Google, whose own Maps API is becoming very expensive for small developers.

Rumors swirl around about Places banning businesses with fake reviews. The general sentiment is this would allow competitors to easily shut your listing down by adding review spam to your page and that Google simply needs to do a better job of policing suspect reviewers.

Google lags in business information accuracy. Superpages and YellowPages both beat it. Google, however, includes listings for a greater percentage of business than any of its competitors. I’m not sure how much good that does any of us, if they are inaccurate. Either the searcher or the business benefits from bad information being published online. See the results of this study here:

The number of Google Places results stops at 10 for about a week. You cannot click through to see more of them, making it pretty tough for everyone except the top rankers, who have a Google bug to thank for their good fortune.

The Bing Business Portal (aka Bing Local) solicits advice from the business owners that use it as to which new features and services they’d like to see in their accounts. Bing appears to be compensating for its lack of a Local Search audience by being more responsive and helpful to business owners. I know I have had nothing but great experiences with its customer service department over the past 6 months.

Is a business license needed for Places inclusion? A business owner reports in the Places help forum that it received a request from Google for a copy of its business license and asked if it was legit. Googler Vanessgene says yes indeed. This does not yet appear to be widespread, but if you’re new to Places and in an iffy business, like escorts or limos, you might see one of these.

Google is encouraging more user edits via Places and also through MapMaker. This is creating frankensteined listings full of inaccuracies and takes even more control away from the owners of claimed listings. I know Google wants to fill in the holes of missing information, but this is crazy and completely frustrating to businesses that keep their own information up-to-date on Google Places. What are they thinking?

Analysts at BIA/Kelsey predict that within 2-3 years there will be more searches made on smartphones than on personal computers. However, a lot of those searches will be via apps rather than through the Search Engines themselves. For some types of businesses this shift has already escalated dramatically. If you have a restaurant, movie theater or hotel, for instance, you’d best be deep into mobile marketing by now to keep from being left in the dust by your more mobile-savvy competitors.

Google Play offers a new app that enables greater accuracy in mapping indoor locations. This helps people using Google’s  MyLocation feature more easily find their way around your mapped indoor venue or business- stadiums, malls, office buildings, warehouses, etc.

Google tells us that when a business moves, the old listing should be marked as closed and a new listing created to take its place. Anyone who’s seen what the closed listing looks like does not want to do this for their business. Vanessagene tells us Google is “working on better messaging”. Come on, how hard can it be to change the label from This business is closed to This business has moved locations?

Google Adwords call extensions are now being tested in Adwords Express in some markets. If you haven’t tried call extensions, it’s time to show your boss (or your clients-same thing, really) how well you are delivering phone call leads to them via their Google advertising.

There are reports of a company called Direct Alliance making cold calls and offering free advice about Places listings. Apparently, they DO have Google’s blessing, but the advice they are giving is downright bad. Don’t listen to their suggestions. You know better.

I ran across this comment in the not-too-helpful Places help forum that expresses many of our attitudes towards Google Places.


An algorithmic update rolled through Google and was fully live on April 24th. Dubbed Penguin, it’s aimed at reducing what I would consider to be old school spam-things like keyword-stuffing, hidden text, cloaking and crummy links. Those sites need to get swept out of the results. Go Penguin!

Lots of reviews go missing-again. We don’t know if it’s on purpose, if it’s another bug or if Google is throwing the baby out with the bathwater in an effort to cut down on fake reviews. Either way, those who have worked hard to build legitimate reviews suffer the most.

David Mihm and Darren Shaw unveil a Canadian Local Search Ecosystem infographic at Get Listed Local University in Edmonton. Expect to see it published soon.

AdWords Express disappears from Google Places accounts. It can now be accessed at If you’ve written Express off, it may be time to take another look. Much more customization is now available to small advertisers. What this web location change means is any one’s guess. My guess is that it will soon be offered to all advertisers, not just those with claimed Places listings.

Suspended Places accounts can no longer ask for re-inclusion. For a very brief period of time, it was possible to fill out a re-inclusion request if your listing had been suspended. Google is no longer supporting this feature, as it says it is working on a new process for pulling suspended listings back into the index when warranted.

Some AdWords advertisers are being offered free consultations on their accounts. If you get the opportunity, take it! There have been tons of changes in AdWords and more are on the way. Many of the new features are incredibly helpful for advertising local businesses. It’s a lot easier to ask a Google pro the best ways to use and combine location extensions, site extensions and call extensions for specific verticals than it is to try to figure it all out yourself. My most recent coupe in AdWords, with the help of a free consultation, is a mobile only campaign where searchers are not given the option to visit the website, but must call the business during its open hours, instead. The client and I both love that we can track calls and ROI from AdWords this way.