Some well-known SEO folks are seeing some drastic changes to local-result queries on Google, including Frank Reed over at Marketing Pilgrim. The results are clearly part of a testing phase, as not all users are seeing the same thing. But the changes are huge and could have rippling impact for all kinds of businesses.
Apparently this new local results page format was first spotted in the wild by Mike Blumenthal, which is where it caught Frank's attention. But Andy was able to recreate the result on his own—something I have not been able to do yet myself.
The major change being tested is the "local map" being pushed to the right sidebar… above the sponsored listings. In Frank's test, the lettered results that typically sit next to the map box are still rolled into the standard results—but they're significantly expanded.
For comparison, here is the page I get when I search "dentist Raleigh" (no quotes):
You'll see the standard "Google local box" (as it's referred to commonly) just below the horizontal sponsored listings and above the first organic result. That's where it typically is for all of us. And next to the map, you'll see a series of lettered listings—each one a different dentist in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But on the new results page being tested, the map is gone, and each of the lettered listings contains far more detail, as you can see in Andy's screenshot here:
They're fuller than standard organic listings now. You get the title and description, and the green URL—all things a standard organic listing gets—but you also get a physical address, the business phone number, and a testimonial! Each lettered listing also has a star-rating, signifying its average rating by users of Google Places.
I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Reed, that this is a very strong signal from Google that Places (formerly called Google Local) is about to become far more important in terms of search placement. All the added information being used to expand those lettered listings (phone, address, testimonial) is being pulled from the companies' Places data. And I'd imagine it seduces the user to click more than a traditional search result, simply because you're getting so much more information at a glance.
So… why am I writing about this? Because many of you care about SEO, particularly SEO for your video offerings. And any time Google lets changes this massive slip out into the wild during testing phase, it's a good idea to talk about their potential impact. If these expanded lettered results are going to become more common, then it means all other organic listings could be affected, including video. Just in my own limited testing, I've seen the lettered listing next to the Google Places map have a much greater impact on my clients' overall traffic than you might think—people click on these at alarming rates.
How will this impact universal results like Video? That remains to be seen, at least for organic results. But this much seems obvious: Google is placing more importance on Places data moving forward. And what is one huge step that most businesses skip when setting up their Google Places account? That's right… video.
Did you even know you can upload or embed a video in your Google Places account? I bet many of you didn't. Most companies just input the business name, the address, and some keywords, and then call it a day.
Look… this screenshot could just be a test… or even an anomaly of some kind. There's no guarantee this kind of local search result will ever see the light of day. But let's take this screenshot from Marketing Pilgrim as a warning, shall we? The future of search results is likely to be impacted by Google's ever-expanding Places service, even if it doesn't look exactly like this screenshot. Content from Places has already been receiving special placement at the top of organic results for nearly two years… and it will probably only increase in importance moving forward. Oh, and that very Places service allows you to add video.
I wasn't a math whiz in school, but even I can add all that up. It's time to take advantage of the five slots Google gives you inside Places to add or embed videos related to your business. Then… if this crazy new SERP ever goes from secret beta to live roll-out… you'll be in the driver's seat moving forward.