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The Blurred Lines of Google’s Place Search and the Return of Local Packs
Written by Mike Wilton
Tuesday, 21 February 2012 05:52

In October 2010 Google unveiled a new blended search result that relied on data from both Google Maps as well as traditional SEO called “Place Search” to display a more blended search experience for local queries. For businesses practicing traditional SEO in adition to local search optimization this was a blessing, where as many businesses living by their maps listing alone where wiped off the map...literally.

However, recent changes to Google’s local search results seems to have tarnished some of those wins and in some instances left more questions than answers.


The Local Pack Hybrid

Last week I shared on Google+ some interesting findings related to local search. As I ran some local queries for some inconsistencies I noticed that in a number of queries I was finding blended results mirroring the style of a local pack listing. As you can see in this example, the #1 result looks identical to the local pack results that appeared below it.

What made it stand out as a blended result was that it used the website instant preview and displayed the title and description from the website and not the standard places instant preview associated with a local pack listing.

But even more interesting was the possible testing of a blended/local pack hybrid that appeared in Google’s search results with it. As I previewed the first result in the local pack I discovered two things. One, Google was displaying the title from the website and not the name of the business from Google Places and two, it was displaying an instant preview of the website and not Google Places and this was all within the local pack.

The queries I ran seemed to hold for a couple of days both logged in, logged out and via multiple computers, but what happened next was alarming.

The Return of the Local Pack

Over the last few days nearly every localized search query I have ran in various search spaces seems to be void of the infamous “Place Search”. Below are the search results for the same query I posted screen caps of on Google+ last week. As you can see, there isn’t even a hint of the “Places Search” results.

To do some further digging I ran queries that Andrew Shotland posted in his Meet the New Google Local SERPs post from 2010 and not a single query that display Places Search results then shows much more than a local pack as of the time of this writing.


A New Kind of Places Search?

When I posted the images on Google+ Andrew Shotland had commented that he was seeing a similar result to my first example for the query “Seattle Chiropractor”, however when you run the query now, the Places Search result is nowhere to be found. However, the second result appears to now display an interesting “Show map of..” link below the listing, which will expand to display a map and Places data for the listing.

Google Places has been less than perfect for some time, but to regress back to the days of Local Packs is surprising. Did search behavior deem Places Search unnecessary, or does Google have something bigger planned, like in the case of the “Seattle Chiropractor” example? What are you seeing in your local search spaces? Has Places Search disappeared in your neck of the woods as well? Needless to say the latest local SERP changes have many of us scratching our heads and wondering what’s next.

Mike Wilton -

Mike Wilton is an Orange County SEO that has been involved with various facets of internet marketing for over five years, most recently as the Internet Marketing Manager for a medical marketing company. Mike specializes in SEO, Social Media, and Local Search Optimization services.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 06:41


0 #1 Dean Cruddace 2012-02-21 08:31
I saw the new local out in the wild as well and see it is also fetching images from posts into the listing, in my case (vanity search on it fecthes a post image in from 16 months ago??
0 #2 Mike Wilton 2012-02-21 08:38
Dean, where are you seeing this? In the Places images in instant preview, or on the left side of the Place Search result? Since this rolled out entirely I have not seen a single image next to a Places listing in any of the local queries I have run.
0 #3 Dean Cruddace 2012-02-21 08:46
Sorry, should have been a little clearer. Pulled into places listing, in my case it is pulling in an image of Jaamit which I know I did not upload to the listing (

I thought the 2 might have been a little more closely tied and could quite possibly be the next logical step )in my head) to fetch post images from the place listing for the expanded SERP??
0 #4 Nyagoslav 2012-02-21 13:30
Hey Mike,

We are seeing some very drastic changes in the last day, eh! Google is obviously preparing for the big Places+ roll out ;)

On a side note, this "Show map of" drop down link has been around for quite some time. I believe since 2006. It then disappears gradually around 2008/9 and Google seems to be coming "back to the basics" now :) I know that back then there were a lot of complains about this so-called "Plus Box".
0 #5 mattmikulla 2012-02-21 14:19
For some local listing serp image previews I'm getting a screenshot of the listing's home page, details like hours and images loaded into the places listing.
0 #6 Mike Wilton 2012-02-21 22:50
Nyagoslav, I don't remember the last time I saw the "Show map of" feature in the local results, but it definitely feels like Google is rolling back the clock on local results.

mattmikulla, the instant previews for local listings have been out since about November of last year -

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