While Google’s main SERPs are in a near-constant state of change, the recently added Google Maps Onebox display is an entirely different story. Since being introduced on January 29th, the new Maps display has changed very little on several searches I’ve been watching. This is, admittedly, an incredibly unscientific survey with a very small data set. But let’s take a look and see what’s worth discovering….
Back on February 15th, in preparation for my local search presentation at SearchFest in Portland, I took this screenshot of a search for [italian restaurants in portland or]:
The night before my presentation, I ran the search again and it was exactly the same. During the March 7th SearchFest, Rand Fishkin asked during the Q&A session if these results were changing frequently. I said that I had just checked the search the night before and it was exactly the same as when I made the screenshot in mid-February. We were both surprised there’d been no change whatsoever in three weeks.
Tonight, I did the same search. Here’s that screenshot:
The three restaurants listed are the same, and in the same order. But I’ve circled the two obvious changes: Listing “A” now has one more review to its credit, while listing “C” has one less. (Say what?) So, while the rankings are the same, there’s at least some level of data updating taking place. In this case, not enough to change the rankings of the three businesses that appear in this prime real estate.
But, this isn’t the case across the board. Here are a couple examples:
1) A search for [italian restaurants in seattle wa] has changed from the image I used in this Jan. 29 post. Listing “A” is new, and listings “B” and “C” have switched places. And like the Portland example above, one restaurant has more reviews to its credit, and the other has less.
So, based on very unscientific and limited evidence, I’m (finally) seeing some Google Maps Onebox displays changing. But it’s inconsistent, and not nearly as frequent as Google’s regular SERPs change.
I think there are several possible explanations for the much slower rate of change in the Google Maps Onebox results:
Data: Google Maps listings rely on getting business data from a variety of sources, including Google’s own Local Business Center, business database services, Yellow Pages providers, and others. All of these require, to some degree, business owners to claim their data and manage it. If there’s no fresh data, there’s less reason for the listings to change.
Algorithmic: The local/maps algorithm is more complex than the traditional algorithm. In Google’s regular SERPs, an authority site can create content that targets a certain keyphrase, and within a day or two that content can upend the SERPs, moving other pages down. The local/maps algorithm is different. It’s tied to the idea of businesses and locations, not keywords. And you don’t create new businesses and new locations overnight like you can with keyword-targeted content. The fact that the local algo isn’t only about keyword matching and ranking means the data is less likely to change frequently.
Competition: Unlike Google’s main SERPs, there’s still far less competition for local keywords and rankings. With much less SEO influencing local rankings, those SERPs are less likely to change.
Google is slow: Genoa Restaurant is one of the three businesses ranking for “italian restaurants in portland or”. CitySearch, one of Google’s sources, has five 2006 calendar year reviews for this restaurant. But Google hasn’t picked up any of them yet. All of the reviews Google shows from CitySearch for this restaurant are from 2005 or earlier.
As we think about the impact of this new Onebox display, the slow rate of change of these prime listings is great news for the businesses that are fortunate enough to score one of those A, B, or C spots. And until the data gets processed more quickly, good luck to those businesses on the outside looking in.
[tags]google, google maps, local search[/tags]