During October and November this year Google has increased testing of new ways to present page 1 results. Amongst experts and speculators nobody is quite sure if the new layout as tested will become a global role-out/ permanent fixture for Google...


Here is a sample of what we are talking about:

Google SERPS

The picture above shows the SERP (results page for the given search), for the search term ‘Taxis London’. There are a few notable changes to the presentation of this page and more than 1 thing for people to be a little apprehensive about. Firstly, notice that the local business results now dominate the main body of the page as opposed to being a concise block of results at the top of the page. Below you can see an example of how this would have been just a few weeks ago.

Google SERPS

Secondly, have you noticed that the map of the local businesses has now been moved? This would have featured on the left-hand side within the organic list but now resides to the top right above the adwords ads?

Thirdly, take note of the physical size of the local listings down the middle, which now command a huge proportion of the page.


An interesting Theory

It is interesting that if you reverse your search string and type ‘london taxis’, as in the second image above, that the page returned is displayed how we are used to seeing it (virtually). This is something that many have not yet realised or pointed out and it may hold a clue as to Googles testing. One theory is that by showing the 2 different formats for effectively the same search criteria, Google can map the responses, clicks and habits by its visitors, thus determining if the new layout should stick.


The Implications

If your web site is listed in the top 10 for a localised key term then be prepared to be pushed out of your targeted hot zone. We all know that it is best to be in the top 3 or 4 of the results but it may now become essential. Looking at the first image above you can see that the original top 3 organic listings are above the new local listings feature. Everyone else who is not a local listing or a top 3 player is pushed to the bottom of the page or onto page 2. Somewhat out of the firing line of hits/clicks. If you don’t have a local listing and have spent time and money to feature in the top half of the page then you have every reason to be worried about the potential impact on your site/business is Google opts to role out this set up permanently.

What if you optimise for a local term and use Google Local but your business is not in the town centre. Does that mean that you again lose out to the big boys with plush offices in the city centre? Not only can the smaller companies no longer afford adwords but they may also struggle to feature in the local businesses layout.

Not only do the organic listings suffer in making way for local listing but Adwords users are being squeezed out. For many, Adwords has already become too expensive and competitive. Now it seems that the map for the local listings takes precedence over peoples PPC campaigns. If you run the search for ‘Taxis London’, take a look at the map as you scroll down the page... you can see it actually covers up PPC ads that people are paying for.

Will it become harder to get a local listing in the directory or might the door be shut completely? Like every other change that Google makes, the web masters and site owners react in order to maximise their chances of exposure. In a sense Google is keeping everyone wriggling in order for results not to stagnate and to promote regular updates on the web. The trouble is that some of us cant quite keep up with the pace already. Especially in a world economy where resources and costs are spiralling without reward.


Conclusions

Google has spent years sorting the wheat from the chaff, changing its algorithm to improve the quality of its search results. It has placed increasing emphasis on quality content and rewarded those with pedigree and longstanding domain names. It may be at risk of stripping those who have adhered to all of Googles changes over the years. Is Google trying to help the little guy out by allowing him to feature nicely on page 1 simply by way of adding his site to the Google local business directory? Or, Is Google actually cutting the little guys out? Since there are also plenty of big companies in the business directory who inevitably operate out of the prime locations that feature in the map?

It is also speculated that Google is forming closer ties to large corporations and the largest of industries. With a valuation of over £200bn it seems unlikely that Google would need a financial injection from such a move.

Is Google panicking as to how it can stay ahead of the game whilst Microsoft becomes bosom buddy with Facebook to improve Bing…?

Sadly, we dont yet have all the answers. Be sure to keep an eye on our future blog posts and we will keep you updated.