Google Places: Does Local SEO and Google Boost Make for a Local SEM?

How will local SEO change the SEM landscape?

I think we would all agree that with over $27 billion in revenue, calling Google somewhat successful is a bit of an understatement.

Interestingly, this mountain of sales is generated from a relatively small amount of advertisers – in the range of about 1.5 million to 2 million, depending on whose number you believe. And with over 25 million businesses in the U.S. alone, there is certainly room for Google to expand its reach and penetrate more than just the 8 percent of businesses it now commands.

Past attempts to capitalize on the local marketplace have resulted in less than desirable results. Churn rates of local businesses that try AdWords and then abandon efforts have grown to unacceptable levels for a multitude of reasons. In September we reviewed Google’s new transparency requirements, and as I mentioned, Google says it rolled out the requirements because it, “…want[s] to make sure advertisers – whether they work with AdWords directly or not – understand how AdWords is performing for them.” This was the first move to better control the sales channels that represent AdWords to local businesses; and now Google Boost is an attempt to further penetrate the local market with an improved product focus.

Find a Need and Fill It

Google now recognizes that in order to capture more of these local businesses, it needs to simplify its offerings. Local businesses face a multitude of challenges daily; servicing customers, generating sales, meeting payroll, and in effect doing what they “do” for a living. Basically, they’ve got there hand in everything and this rarely allows for deep specialization in any one specific facet of their business. Local businesses do not have the time required to research keywords, monitor results, and modify bids and ad creative along with all the additional complexity that is associated with SEM.

Enter Google Place Search, released at the end of October, which provides much more localized content, allowing local advertisers to better tell their story.


I believe that the change to Place Search was the first step, in a much larger plan for Google, which will better leverage its enormous growth and market share lead within the local search marketplace.

Source: comScore qSearch 2.0; comScore IYP/Local Combo Report 2007 – 2010

The new format draws on a very easy concept; your location, Web content, and what others are saying about your business (i.e., the ratings and reviews) are the main details a searcher looks at when picking a local business. Given this, Place Search rewards local businesses with organic positioning when complete content is found on the businesses’ Place Pages, website, and in directories across the Web. Marketers that seek to leverage these changes should apply traditional local listing SEO techniques and of course focus on building a rich resource of ratings and reviews for their business.

Boost – Paid Search for the Masses?

The latest in a long line of changes to Google’s product mix has been dubbed Google Boost. This offering provides local businesses visibility in AdWords results without the complicated set-up and constant management. Google has been working on this iteration for some time now. Just last year it tested flat rate Local Listing Ads, which were rolled out in October 2009 and discontinued that December.


There are distinct differences between Local Listing Ads and Google Boost. Local Listing Ads were flat-fee and structured to look much like another 7-pack listing (ads were limited to URL and phone numbers), while Google Boost ads are performance-based and include ad creative along with ratings and reviews. One thing they do have in common is the blue pin that matches the ad to the location on the map.

While Google refines this product offering, Google Boost is currently limited to testing in Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco. In order to set up a Google Boost ad, a local business must claim their Places Page first and the ads are then created directly in the Google Places account. Here’s how they work:

  • The title of the ad must be the business name as defined in Google Places; there are no exceptions to this.
  • Seventy characters are available for ad copy.
  • The destination URL can be your website or your Google Places page.
  • The categories that are selected on your Places Page profile will determine which queries your ad will appear for.
  • Boost ads will only show for geo-designated queries, “keyword” and “location”; not queries that Google predicts are local in nature.
  • Your ads run on a minimum monthly budget of $50 and Google provides a rough estimate of how many clicks you will generate for the money you invest. There is a “custom” option if you wish to spend more than the maximum suggested budget.

I think the lingering question is “Will Place Search and Google Boost be the face of organic and paid search for local businesses?” It has yet to be seen if this is just another blip on the Google product-testing radar, or if this is a significant change to the Google product mix. But that’s the funny thing about Google; every release is a big deal because you never know which one will change the Internet forever.

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Hand holding smartphone with city map and store location on screen and store icon.