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.