3 Misconceptions About Google Places & SEO

Filed in Featured, Google, Local Search, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on December 8, 2010 22 Comments

googleCountless articles have been written about Google’s recent overhaul of how it displays local search results; and I feel like I’ve read most of them. Along the way, I’ve come across a few of what I’d call misconceptions about Google’s changes and how they impact both the search results and how small/local businesses should adjust their approach to the new search results. Here they are:

1. This change diminishes/phases out organic SEO.

I’ve also seen Google’s new local SERPs described as a change that puts more emphasis on your Google Places address. Neither is accurate.

In the old way of local SEO, you essentially had these options:

  1. Do local SEO on your business web site, optimizing pages for good, local keywords. The hope was to rank in the organic results that might show up below the old 7-pack, 3-pack, etc.
  2. Claim and optimize your Google Places listing in order to get visibility inside the 7-pack, 3-pack, etc.
  3. Both of the above.
  4. Neither of the above.

I’m simplifying things there, but the point is that you could get visibility via local SEO and/or Google Places listings.

Now, your listing is inextricably tied to local SEO. The change doesn’t diminish one or the other; both are now required elements of any local search marketing effort. Without both an optimized web site and a solid business listing, your chances of great visibility in the new Google Places is low.

2. You can’t rank (or it’s harder to rank) for any city name outside the one where you’re located.

Ranking for cities other than where you have a physical location was always a challenge in the old local SERPs, and was essentially impossible in larger cities and/or competitive industries. A real estate agent in Kirkland, Washington, was just not going to get visibility for “seattle real estate agent” or even “bellevue real estate agent.”

But, in smaller cities and/or less competitive industries, it was always possible to show up in the 7-pack or 3-pack of local results. That has not changed in the new Google Places. If you do enough searches outside the major cities, I’m certain you will see local businesses ranking for cities where they’re not actually located … just as they did before.

3. Local directories are dead.

The prevailing thought was that the new Google Places search results would pretty much kill internet yellow pages sites and other local directories. Not the case. I see Expedia, Yahoo Travel, and others showing up on a search for anaheim ca hotels. I see HealthGrades.com and SuperPages showing up on page one for nashville dermatologist. I see three directories at the top of page one for seattle italian restaurants:


Again, I have no doubt that you’ve also seen local directories doing just fine in the search results even after the big Google Places change. They’re also getting visibility in the links below some of the business listings, too, when there are reviews available.


  1. Organic SEO on your web site is more important today than ever for local search visibility.
  2. Getting visibility in cities where you don’t have an address is no more easy or difficult than it was before.
  3. You’re still competing against local directories.

Your turn: What other misconceptions have you seen or read? What’s surprised you since the rollout of the new Google Places search results? Comments are open…

Comments (22)

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. SearchCap: The Day In Search, December 8, 2010 | December 8, 2010
  2. Is Organic SEO Ranking Dead? | December 9, 2010
  1. Andy Walpole says:

    It would be interesting if you could go into more details about point two Matt

  2. Aaron Eden says:

    Intriguing insights you’ve got here. I think it will be harder now to rank in Google via SEO as they’re making changes with their algorithms lately. I have to agree with you that Google Places won’t displace all those other local directories – perhaps, enhance it? We’ll see… the possibilities are limitless these days and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Cheers!

  3. Stefan N says:

    Hi Matt. I personally don’t belive in SEO anymore and i see it as a stinky swamp. Probably because i’ve read to many opinions and articles. But i think a site can succeed with great quality content from scratch.

  4. @Matt

    RE Point 2

    I am seeing ( a few ) cases where strong organic placement on the center city search from a business in the far out burbs that was not getting a local placement for the center city search is now getting that placement with a blended result.

    It appears that Google is MORE willing to let the organic web send location signals to a blended Places serp.

    This is positive news in my opinion.

  5. Thos003 says:

    “Local directories are dead.”

    Matt, you are correct. I am still battling with IYPs for placement on “Las Vegas Pest Control”. However, I feel those organics are of less value than a business profile with reviews. Further, Google’s terms say that they don’t want other directories in their results. I think it’s only a matter of time… But, in the famous words of Monty Python, “I’m not dead yet!”

    ps… they do have a value even if they are losing ground in the SERPs.

  6. Jami Broom says:

    Well said!

    I am seeing just as many directories in my results, as well, although the “places” listings do seem to push them down further.

    I’m also seeing some organic listings appearing at the top, with the “places” beneath”.

  7. Adam Riemer says:

    Great article. My question though is are you planning on going mafia in a Seattle italian restaurant, flying to Memphis to clean your look and change your appearance then hiding out in hotel in Anaheim? Pretty good plan ehh? lol. Great post.

  8. Henri says:

    #1 is not true at all – it does diminish organic SEO. When you do a search for a generic term which could be location specific, but you do not specify a destination, thus leavign it generic, Google still returns you local results. If you are physically based in Scotland and a search is carried out in London, you won’t come up.

  9. Aron Cody-Boutcher says:

    I have to disagree that with the notion that it won’t impact local directories. A prime example is tourism dircetories where the google places even includes a Book Now advert. As traffic drops on the local directories the customers leave too.

    Google London Hotel – Not a look in for any of the hotel aggregators or hotel directories that have been working for years to get good results.

    I am slowly seeing the other tourism searches also slowly end up with Google on top, although many start out like Seattle with a few directories still fighting on for position..

  10. Gareth Rees says:

    Hi Matt. Thanks for the run down. Does the recent changes also stop a site from ranking for both local and organic on the same page? I’ve noticed a client bouncing off the last local position and the first organic position and back again, but never the both.

  11. I would like to see additional insight into ranking for multiple cities. This is a huge concern and question mark for a lot of local advertisers I deal with.

  12. James says:

    I find my google place ad for Phoenix HUD homes, but why not for Tempe HUD homes, etc. How do I get it to come up for all of my local cities?

  13. John says:

    Hi Matt, I’ve noticed that if I’m logged into my google account, it affects the look and position of all my clients listings. Have you had any experience of this and do you know why?

  14. Ray Cassidy says:

    Although this note pre-dates the “Farmer” algo change, I think you’ve set out the main considerations for the “business in the street” very clearly. BAsically folks, keep it relevant to the area you’re working in and add value. The principles haven’t changed.

  15. Gavin says:

    I find that the older 7pack listings are much more ‘proximity focused’ than the blended results.

    Id gladly welcome blended results in ALL search queries as at the moment, proximity gives some businesses an advantage over the others.

    The user search query may specify a town or city, however they may not imply town or city center. Id love to see a search range drop down option for local results….that would make the search experience much more personal for the user and drive more relevant results.

  16. So, I’m a little confused. I’m the owner of a restaurant that only serves a local area in Provo, Utah. Do these changes mean that I should just focus on “restaurant” as a keyword because the results will be localized anyway, or should I stay focused on “restaurant provo” as a more localized keyword?

    • Matt McGee says:

      Hey Richard – thanks for the comment/question. If you optimize for “provo restaurant” and/or “restaurant provo,” you’re also optimizing for “restaurant” simultaneously.

  17. Thanks so much for the response. I see. One more related question: does the order of the search terms matter? “restaurant provo” vs. “provo restaurant”? or the order of “great restaurant provo”?

    Thanks for the great site; lots of good information here!

    • Matt McGee says:

      The search results are probably slightly different depending on the word order, but I wouldn’t worry about it. Write for humans. You can use both versions in your copy, too, without sounding all spammy. “A great Provo restaurant since 1991…” or “Looking for a great restaurant in Provo?” etc.

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