Website SEO Dead?

Google Places – The Reality

Posted on February 7, 2011 by Jim Farnsworth

Google Places is being hyped as the foremost source of local search.  Sure, it’s been around awhile, previously as Google Business Center.  People are familiar with the format:  the map of local businesses that meet the organic search parameters.  Placing the listings smack dab in the middle of the organic listings is genius.  Google realizes that the majority of people are looking for local businesses.

I first became aware of Google Places last year through the standard email solicitation.  The more I learned about the email, the more excited I became.  Millions of businesses are not even aware that they have a Google Places Page, which opens up an incredible window of opportunity for consultants to get their clients to Page One of Google WITHOUT expensive and time-consuming SEO.  All you have to do is 1.Claim your listing.  2.Add Photos and Citations, and  3.Get Reviews.  The more of all three you have, the higher your ranking.  The ultimate goal is to listed in the coveted ’7-Pack’…the list of 7 local businesses on Page 1.  Simple.

But, Wait a minute, Scooter.  In spite of what some ‘gurus’ are saying, it is NOT that simple.

Google Places is still a work in progress.  There are still big inconsistencies in its reporting.  Places Pages that have not been claimed, with no reviews, photos, or little in the way of information, regularly outrank Pages that are properly optimized.  My research shows that the Google Places listings are still pretty arbitrary.  In fact, I’m trying to get listed for ‘Akron Internet Consultants’.  That search turns up a 3-Pack.  The third listing is a ‘Siding Contractor’!  The site is not claimed, with 0 photos, 0 reviews, and only 2 citations…neither of which even mentions the word, ‘internet’   Go figure.  By the way, I AM on the map for that search.

OK, I signed up for the course touted by the email, and began to learn about Google Places. But when I started to do my own research, I found that the instructor was grossly simplifying how Google Places rankings work. For example, the instructor claimed repeatedly that not claiming your listing could hurt your listing position. There is no proof that claiming or not claiming your listing has any effect on your position.  It is certainly a good idea;  until the listing is claimed by SOMEONE, it could be claimed by ANYONE. For the sake of security, claim your business listing NOW!

My research was simple. I did searches for various terms;  Chiropractor, Glass, Assisted Living, Tree Service, Pest Control, and others.  I then took the information of the local 7-Pack businesses, and plugged it into a spreadsheet;  Is the Listing claimed;  How many Reviews, Photos, Videos, Citations? The results: there was no pattern.  Google Places rankings are still quite arbitrary. Listings that have not been claimed frequently outrank sites that are claimed;  One site with 33 Reviews, 61 Citations, and 5 photos was #7…behind unclaimed sites, and sites with no reviews or photos, and less than half of the citations.

So, the question you’re probably asking now is, if it’s so arbitrary, why bother?

Because, it will eventually sort itself out.  I expect 2011 to be a big year for Google Places, and I see a lot of effort being made by Google to tighten things up.  Listings will begin to make more sense, and those accounts that are ignored, are going to get left behind.  The 7-pack has room for only 7 businesses.  Those businesses that have taken the time NOW, to optimize their listings, to encourage customers to submit reviews, that start adding citation sites, will be in the 7-Pack;  those companies that ignore Google Places will be shut out.

If your competition has 5 reviews, you’re going to need 15 to get ahead of them.  If you have 25 citations, someone else will need 50 citations to get ahead of you.  The 7-pack for Clearwater, FL Dentists have 3 listings that have 116, 89, and 54 Reviews.  Get the picture?  Get started TODAY!