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Google Local SEO Changes & How They Impact Your Business

To be honest, Google has made so many changes to the Google Local and maps results in recent months that I am not even sure off the top of my head what the correct name is for the system. What I do know is that they have made dramatic changes in recent weeks that affect not just how results are displayed but which strategies local businesses need to use to address these changes.
First a recap of how things used to work.

Local Search Results Back Then

Google used to display local results as an inserted box grouped tightly with the name of the business, phone number, and website. They would also include several other items like the number of reviews gathered, and a link to their Google Places profile. Google would display this information any time someone made a distinct geographic search using a city name or zip code, and would also show the results for terms that did not have a geographic modifier, but were likely to have a local search intent. This was particularly common with service based businesses such as plumbers or contractors. There were several issues with this format. Because the local profiles titles were input by business owners themselves, and the keywords in the titles had a significant impact on improving rankings, business owners were constantly manipulating the title of their business. This was against Google’s terms of service and they had long been threatening disciplinary action. Its seems that Google has found an elegant solution with their new rollout of the integrated local search.

Local Search Results Now

Google has done away with the grouping of local search results into a separate display and now offers complete integrated search. Titles for business are now drawn from the website of the business as opposed to the title of the local profile. This is good news because it allows business owners to right captivating titles without violating Google’s terms of service. It is now more important than ever to make sure that the title tag of the main page of your website is more than just keyword phrases to rank well. You need to make sure that they are engaging to searchers which will be shown the title in the local results. We have seen this over and over again with local businesses.
Google also appears to have merged what causes local businesses and website to rank in this new cole slaw of results. A statistical analysis has not been performed to determine what the weight of traditional seo factors vs. Google Places ranking factors is in this new equation but you can be safe to say that it will constitute a mixture of the two. In case you are unaware of these important factors. They are listed below:
Website Ranking Factors (According to SEOMoz.org survey of prominent SEO providers)

  • The quantity and quality of unique domains that link to your website
  • The quantity and quality of the number of overall links to your website
  • The anchor text used in the links to your website (the text you click on to go to another page)
  • The distance from trust seeds (read: credible websites like nasa.gov)
  • The keyword prominence in your domain

Local ranking factors according to DavidMihm local SEO survey from prominent SEO practitioners & SEOMoz report

  • Number of citations for your business in Google Places
  • Number of reviews and diversity of locations reviews have been aggregated from
  • Distance from searchers location or intended search
  • Continuity of information across local relevant directories

You best bet as a business owner is going to be to focus on both sets of these. It is never a bad thing to get real clients to give you reviews about your business. One thing is for certain. Google is continuing their quest towards aligning search factors with results quality. Although SEO experts will continue to attempt to exploit the loop holes that open as progress is made, Google appears to be attempting to make gaming the system more difficult than just doing things the right way.