July 2011 Changes to Google Places & What They Mean to Small Business

This week Google made changes to their local Places product which play down the role of 3rd party websites and make the ability to write a review directly within Google Places far more prominent. Google states on their Lat/Long blog that the actual ratings and review count that we currently see when performing a local search will now only reflect those that are added directly on the business’s Google Place Page.

Google places changes

What this means, is that when performing a search for a local business, you will still see a business’s rating stars in the search results, but the number shown will only be of those that were left on Google directly. External review websites, such as Yelp! and City Search will also be listed, but separately and without rating stars in either the search results or the business’s Google Place Page itself.Local Search Result Change

Once a searcher clicks on the business’s Google Place Page, they are immediately given the opportunity to write a review. You can clearly see that Google wants to own and control this data (note the large red button, which wasn’t there prior to this week).

Google Places Write a Review

In addition, they’ve removed the list of “citations” from the bottom of the Places page all together. This is actually a good thing. Typically, the citations could display wild variations with no rhyme or reason. Sometimes showing data that seemed useful and other times displaying information from websites that didn’t provide anything useful whatsoever.

Now, before we jump to any conclusions about algorithm changes…

I will say that in my research so far, I am not seeing any ranking changes. Rank wise, everything appears as it were before this change (at least for our clients). This appears so far, to be mostly a cosmetic change, and with that, I am going to state a couple of things for the record:

  1. This change doesn’t mean Google is no longer paying attention to 3rd party citations or reviews
  2. This change doesn’t mean you should stop working to get reviews and citations from 3rd party websites

Okay, so both points were one in the same. However, I’m saying this because it’s very important that businesses not go down the “out of sight, out of mind” road, because despite the visual changes to business Place Pages, citations and reviews are still very much alive and well when it comes to your rankings. To what degree? We have yet to see.

Don’t put all of your eggs in the Google basket.

If you were already actively seeking reviews on 3rd party websites in addition to your Google Place page – carry on. If you are thinking of making a shift to push customers to your Google Places page for reviews instead of other review sites – you may be placing a risky bet.

It’s always best to have a diverse portfolio of business review sources, as it could potentially protect your business against future algorithmic changes and also lends credibility to your business (something that an algorithm can’t change, yet ;)).

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