Google Places Changes

Despite its fickle nature, many businesses rely on Google Places for their internet visibility. This visibility can easily be compromised when Google makes a minor tweak to the way they find and display Places search results.

Why Google Changes its Search Results

Google is constantly monitoring and tweaking its search algorithms in an attempt to serve up the most relevant results in a timely manner. When it comes to Places, Google can radically change the placement of search results by simply increasing or decreasing the search radius of a given query. For instance, searching Places for the term “jewelry buffalo ny” on December 28, 2011 returned one set of results; performing the same search on February 8, 2012 returned an entirely different result. The query itself was the same, what had changed was Google’s search radius.

Google uses a formula called “location sensitivity” to filter search results. This location sensitivity includes routines that determine the importance of nearby results for a given query. For instance, it could be assumed that someone searching “Chinese Buffalo NY” would be looking for a Chinese restaurant that is very close by. At the same time, someone searching “Horse Feed Buffalo NY” would likely not be as concerned with the immediate proximity of a tack shop. Location sensitivity uses a variety of data to determine how wide the search radius should be, and displays the most relevant results accordingly.

The search radius can also be affected by a number of other factors, including the density of a particular type of business within the area. Another factor is Google Navigation results. Google can begin to guess the popularity of a particular business by tracking how often users request directions to that business. If many people are requesting directions to a business, Google can deduce that the business is popular, and therefore worthy of a high search ranking.

How Search Radius Shifts Affect Businesses

While Google may not have any ill intent toward any particular businesses affected by their search radius shift, the shift can cause significant loss to those businesses. In December, one particular jewelry shop may have enjoyed a healthy stream of new clients, simply because they appeared in the first page of the Google Places search results. Fast-forward to February, and that revenue stream has dried up because they no longer have that front page visibility. This is why many businesses must pay close attention to their ranking on Google’s ever changing search landscape.

It should also be noted that the results obtained from a desktop computer can be very different from those on a mobile device. The reason for this is quite simple: a mobile device searches for places that are nearby it’s physical location. A desktop computer searches for places that are near to the center of a geographical area.

How to Avoid Losses and Adapt to Changes in Search Results

Unfortunately, there is no escaping Google’s changing search processes. It is entirely possible that one day your business sits comfortably in the top three results for a given query, but the next day it is plunged to page four. Google’s well-meaning attempt to deliver relevant results can cause your business to lose income.

There are a few strategies for recovering and maintaining visibility:

  • Ensure your listing is properly optimized for search traffic
  • Check to make sure that your listing is not being penalized because it appears to be spam or irrelevant
  • Expand your query visibility so that you are visible to more searches
  • Don’t rely solely on Google Places for your visibility, explore other internet marketing strategies.

Regular monitoring and tweaking is necessary to maintain a presence in Google’s regularly monitored and tweaked search results. Armed with this information and an easily adaptable website, you can minimize your losses due to search radius shifting.

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