Google Place Pages Come to Local Search

A Place Page is a templated Web page containing all kinds of information that Google has gathered about one particular place. Although Google Maps has been displaying pages about many geographic locations for quite some time, in September it announced Place Pages for businesses, too. What Google now calls Place Pages are essentially the new display format for Local Business Listings, which also allows the further integration of information about things like neighborhoods, transit stops, landmarks, and attractions into Maps.

Clicking on the “more info” link next to a Maps listing takes you to its Place Page. There, you can expect to see reviews, Web pages about the place, coupons, videos, photos, public transit options, and maps (street maps, previews of street view maps, and related maps), which are mostly user generated. Google will undoubtedly add more features to Place Pages.

In order to get a Place Page, you must have a Local Business Listing in Google Maps. They’re free, easy to set up, and a must-have for every brick-and-mortar business.

Place Pages have certainly not resolved the issue of Google Maps spam, as some businesses still have multiple Place Pages within the results. Apparently, businesses are also permitted to create Place Pages for things other than their own business and use it to link to their own Web sites, as in this example, below, where the listing for the Amtrak Station in my town links to the Web site for the Ramada Inn.

Two concerns have been raised about Place Pages. When they first appeared, they were shown in the Universal Search results, and many people feared that they would outrank their own business Web sites. Google, however, vows this was an oversight, and now indexes Place Pages to keep them from competing for clicks.

The other feature that riles business owners is the advertising or sponsored listings on Place Pages, which is perhaps the most substantial change from the old Local Business Listing format. Before, your Local Business Listing was your own and all about your business. Now, other enterprises can buy a placement on your page, a frowned upon feature found on other local platforms, like some Internet yellow pages (IYPs) Web sites.

Another change that goes along with the introduction of Place Pages is the shrinking Google 10 Pack. For many local searches, seven listings are being displayed instead of the 10 we’re accustomed to seeing at the top of the results page. This was first noticed in several West Coast test markets, but is now spreading to other areas as well.

The 10 Pack has shrunk to a 7 Pack to accommodate the new local ads, although not all markets display the ads right now. These ads, currently designated by a blue balloon, are shown in addition to the regular sponsored listings. They sometimes appear beneath the traditional ads and above the 7 Pack, but sometimes occupy the top spot on the page, pushing all of the regular ads to the right sidebar.

The ads themselves are also controversial. They will apparently be sold at a fixed rate, with the price dependent on the market and niche, rather than being part of the AdWords bidding system. This is similar to the way ads have been sold on some of the IYPs Web sites. How this new local advertising system plays out is yet to be seen and may be influenced by how regular Google Adwords advertisers react to the new competition.

While we’re used to seeing the IYPs struggling to keep up with Google’s influence in the local marketplace, it’s interesting to see Google trying on some of the trappings typical of the IYPs. All we can hope is that local businesses and those searching for them both benefit from the changes.

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