Google Places Logo

From time to time, Google makes a change to their algorithm or their data delivery without discussing it publicly – beforehand or after the implementation. We usually catch on by noticing an unexplainable trend across clients that are completely unrelated, and with the clients of other agencies that are trusted and reliable providers.

That scenario has happened again, starting about two weeks ago, with the “local search listing” that Google provides for relevant keyword searches. Local search listings
are those that show companies along with a pin on Google Maps in proximity to a searcher’s physical location.

We have seen, in Google Places, an across-the-board and consistent percentage drop in the reported data for the number of times (impressions) our clients’ locations show up in the local search listings.

The change happened on February 20 consistently for the data across clients. No word has come from Google about any Local changes, and none of our colleagues in the industry have determined exactly what happened. So, we have done sleuthing of our own.

We believe that there are two issues, and we’re pursuing two courses of action for our clients.

First, we think Google is experimenting to change the number of and the way they display local listings. Google has shown a “seven pack” of local listings, but now it is sometimes less than that – or there are no local listings – and sometimes there are two different groups of local listings on different portions of the page. If a business was showing up in the sixth or seventh position, it might not show up in all keyword searches, now.

We have no way of knowing where Google will settle after the results of their experiments. In the meantime, we are taking steps to ensure our clients’ local listings are complete and accurate so that they will have the best chance of showing up for relevant searches.

Second, we believe that these experiments have caused bad data to be reported within Google Places. Specifically, we believe the impressions for locations are being under-reported. We believe this because the “actions” that Places reports – clicks to “more info” on Maps, driving directions, or clicks through to your website – have remained more consistent for almost all clients. If impressions were dropping as dramatically as it appears in the Places data, then actions would almost certainly drop at a similar rate. The drop in impressions is probably not as dramatic then – to actual searchers – as the data appears in Places data.

We have contacted Google, and will be pressing our efforts, to find out as much as we can about their experiments, and to get them to report impressions data accurately in Analytics.

It is important to understand that this does not affect other Google search listings, nor any pay- per-click advertising. We very much doubt that this will change our overall approach to search engine optimization – or even local optimization. We do not want to
overreact to what may be temporary experiments or bad data.

If you’ve seen any similar items, please list them in the comments. We’ll keep track of the situation and update as necessary.

Additional Resources

http://www.seomoz.org/q/anyone-notice-significant-impression-drops-in-google-places-on-february-20th

http://localsearchforum.catalystemarketing.com/google-local/3771-places-analytics-problem-impressions-actions-dropped.html

http://localsearchforum.catalystemarketing.com/google-places-help-support/3767-total-impressions-dropped-all-my-clients.html

https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!searchin/business/impressions/business/NqZfGsY817A/S5rOdOmECMIJ

– information for this piece came from WrightIMC team reports.