As 2010 drew to a close, it became pretty obvious just how important local marketing would be in 2011. Google made the most obvious moves in local, changing up its local search results, or what it calls Places Search.
Google Maps always had local results available, but clicking on the Maps tab in the left sidebar would take you straight to the Maps page. Conducting a regular search with a localized query would cause local results to cluster in a “7 pack” or “10 pack,” where the Map results appeared as a OneBox result like Videos or Images near the top of the search result page.
In the past few months Google has changed, and ultimately improved these features. It only takes one click to search for Places exclusively, with a map now showing up on the right panel, and local results filling up the page.
However, it’s not necessary to do a Places search to get those local results. Instead of clustering together in a long list next to a map, the Places results are now integrated directly into the organic results. Both the organic ranking of the site and the proximity to the searcher seem to play a role in the placement, but as usual, Google’s exact algorithm remains a mystery.
Grouped reviews by site are also a new addition, and while it’s no doubt a helpful one, it’s hard not to wonder whether or not Google included it in their Places search in order eliminate the need for anyone to go directly to a site like Yelp or Trip Advisor first.
Google’s intention to compete in the local market was made even clearer when it recently made a bid to buy Groupon. Groupon ultimately declined the $6 billion offer, possibly because it might be worth several times that in the coming years, or because its owners believe they are ready to compete with Google for local business’ marketing budgets. Either way, it’s clear that in 2011, local search (and local marketing as a whole) will continue to be a growing focus online.