The Local Landscape: Google Places 2008-2009 (Part 1)
With more and more emphasis on the local landscape of the web these days, I thought it would be interesting to go back 4 years to where it all started for me. In 2008, I was tasked to learn the ins and outs of Google Local to better position our company and our clients on what is known today as: Google Places and Google Maps.
2008 Represents the Wild West of Business Listings
This was a much simpler time in the Google Local atmosphere as there were few guidelines (if any) and SEM’s were able to pinpoint & manipulate the main driving force of their listings to immediately garner impressions – and ultimately spike their website traffic, considerably.
Basically, before the Google Local police intervened, Google Local listings were capable of being super-charged by including keywords, coupled with geographic qualifiers in the title and category fields. For example, if I was trying to build an optimized Google Places listing in 2008 for Bicuspid Dentistry located in Boston, I probably would have titled the listing as, “Bicuspid Dentistry Boston” and would have added categories such as “Porcelain Veneers Boston” or “Teeth Whitening Cambridge.” Today, such a tactic is a clear violation of Google’s Business Quality Guidelines and would more than likely result in a suspension of your entire Google Places Account.
Birth of the Google Local Business Center
Also in 2008, Google re-branded the product from “Google Local” to the “Google Local Business Center.” While there wasn’t an immediate change seen with the product, the most glaring difference was seen in how Google decided to display these “Google Local Business Center” listings in a 10-pack as opposed to the standard 3-pack. In other words, a search for “Boston dentist” or “dentist Boston” would return a result of 10 local Boston dentists as opposed to 3. This move confirmed Google’s commitment to the local landscape and served to polarize this FREE, newly-coveted real estate at the top of Google’s search results pages.
In Q4 2008, Google decided to trim it’s 10 pack of local listing results to a 7 pack. This 7 pack is still in existence today in 2012, but seems to be giving way to “search plus your world” or “blended search” in most markets.
2009 – Google Local Gains Momentum
In March of 2009, we started to notice an influx of localized results after conducting keyword searches – even without typing in geographic qualifiers. In other words, a basic search such as “doctor” or “lawyer” returned a 7 pack of results for doctors and lawyers in the local area. Another exciting development in Google Places was the advent of the Google Local Business Center’s dashboard. Google Local business owners were treated to a new interface, equipped with myriad statistical data, including: listing impressions, listing actions, driving directions requests, website click-throughs, top search queries and more.
Google Local Becomes Google Places
At the end of Q1 2009, Google decided to re-brand their local product as “Google Places,” a move we saw as further evidence of Google’s increasing commitment to the local atmosphere (Google Maps / Google Places). Google Places then rolled out to the public as a free product where you could list all relevant details of your business on 1 page, even if you didn’t have a website.
New features of Google’s new local product included the ability to upload 5 photos of you and your business, upload and attach Youtube videos, include your storefront hours of operation, add your products and services, and even the ability to attach a coupon to your listing to entice local users to your business.
Ratings and reviews were also introduced at this time, which enabled Googlers to share their experience with a particular business (good or bad) on the Places Page for that business.
The problem with this was that anyone with a gmail account could post ratings and reviews on any Google Places listing, regardless of whether the listing was a verified representation of the business or not (a common problem here was “slanderous reviews” from competing businesses).
Further complicating matters was the ability for savvy spammers to hijack and edit listings maliciously.
Google has since taken several small steps in the right direction in terms of being able to authenticate the validity of their end-user reviews on Google Places, especially those that are clearly considered questionable. In fact, I have personally had success in removing a few reviews from clients’ Google Places listings over the years. The common denominator for each happened to be blatant and clear misinformation – the last thing Google wants to be associated with.
The tail end of 2009 saw a few major changes to Google Places, including major updates to the Business Owner Guidelines almost exactly 1 year after they were initially instituted. These new measures were implemented to protect the integrity of Google Places and to level the playing field that had become convoluted with spam-laden tactics and manipulation. Some of the more stringent rules Google added during this update were:
1 – Do not include marketing taglines in your business name or business title field.
2 – Listings submitted with P.O. Boxes in the address field will be flat out suspended.
3 – Do not include information in the address field that DOES NOT pertain to your physical address.
4 – Categories should say what your business is, not what it does.
5 – Categories should NOT include location-based information
Better Customer Service with Report a Problem Option
In the last week of December 2009, Google added the Report-A-Problem tool for Google Places listings. This “RAP” button is found on the very bottom of the page on every Google Places listing.
This was fantastic news, as listings plagued by spam and bugs could now be reported directly to Google in hopes that the issue would be remedied on Google’s end. Initial response times were slow at best, but today this is by far the most effective tool to troubleshoot clear problems (especially problems beyond your control) with your Google Places listing(s).
This action marked the first signs of Google Places customer service of any kind, which made life in the Local Landscape much more efficient.
Google+, Reviews, and Mass Chaos
In the second part of this post, I’ll cover all the major news from 2010-2012, including more on reviews and the chaotic release of Google+ and Search Plus Your World. Stay tuned. In the mean time, visit our Facebook page and let us know if you have any questions about the Local Landscape. Thanks for reading!