If you do a search in Google for a local company or service, then you have likely come across Google Places – a listing of three businesses that shows up right at the top (or near top) of the page, complete with a map and contact information.
For many companies, showing up in Google Places is a gift. Also known as “Google Local” and “Google My Business,” Google Places is an instant opportunity to be on page 1 in Google, and those companies that find that they are rewarded by the Google Places can expect an increase in phone calls and contacts for their primary service key terms.
Like traditional Google search rankings, Google Places uses an algorithm to determine company placement. That means if you are on page 7 or page 10 in Google, it may make more sense to try to target Google Places rather than target traditional Google Search.
But there is a problem:
Nobody really knows how the Google Places algorithm works.
Even some of the leading SEO research and news websites don’t appear to have any idea how the Google Places algorithm works, giving vague ideas like “get more links” and “build more content” – all of which are no different than traditional SEO strategy, and yet their degree of benefit is still not even clear.
I have had my own experience with this as well. One of my clients is a psychologist that was on page 5 in Google. Over several years I got him to move up all the way to page 1 for all of his local search terms. Yet his Google Places rank varied. He would be in Google Places and then he’d be gone, and it would fluctuate consistently – even back when he was on page 5 in Google, and I had not yet completed any of his work yet.
All of the content and SEO we’ve used has worked largely exactly as expected – the more we did, the more he moved up in search engines. It was possible to follow it. But with Google Places, it never seemed to correspond to anything. One day it wouldn’t be in Google Places, the next it would be page 1 for search terms we were not even targeting.
I’m sharing this for the following reasons:
- Any company that claims they can get you to the top of Google Places is hoping that they get lucky and then taking credit for it.
- Focus on overall Google search only. There does appear to be some correlation between Google search result placement and Google Places.
- If you are already on Google Places, still consider investing in other online marketing, because at any moment it may simply drop away.
We do know that Google Places responds to many of the same things as traditional SEO. But how much, when, and why is simply not clear. Chances are if you do everything right you’ll still end up on the front page of Google Places, but don’t let it be a focus, and don’t believe anyone that says they cracked the code.