Google Isn’t Bowing Down

July 25th, 2011 by Search Influence University

So, in case you haven’t heard, there was a major update to Google Places late last week. My Friday was filled with confusion, frustration and a feeling of something worse to come. It was sort of like a David Lynch movie with a Local twist. Now that the smoke has cleared, one question remains. What is Google up to?

Google Places Update

Before I get into the possible reasons for this update, here is a rundown of the most prominent changes that have been made to business listings on Google Places.

  • Google reviews are the only ones to include snippets now.
  • Third-party reviews have been relegated  to a  “Reviews from around the web” section at the bottom of the page.
  • Third-Party citations have been removed completely.
  • A big red “Write a review” button has been added in two prominent positions.
  • The “More about this place” section is gone.
  • The “What people are saying” section has been replaced by “descriptive terms”.

Now, back to the question-at-hand. What is Google up to? The Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati suggests that Google is bowing down to it’s competitors under growing pressure from the FTC’s antitrust investigation. Saying that, by removing third-party reviews from Places pages, Google is distancing itself from the claims that they “steal” content from the likes of Yelp and Citysearch, post it on their own Places pages, and give those pages preferential rankings in search results. While I see where Amir is coming from, I don’t think that Google is bowing down at all. Quite the contrary, actually. I believe that Google is putting their attack plans into motion.

Google was initially designed to index third-party content in an easily searchable and user-friendly format. By removing third-party citations and review snippets and promoting their own reviews in what is usually the #1 ranked search result within it’s own #1 ranked search engine, Google has formatted their local search results in a way that obviously favors their own content over that of their rivals. This is the exact reason why the FTC is investigating Google in the first place.

In other words, Google isn’t interested in displaying reviews from Yelp, Citysearch, and other prominent sites, they want to make those reviews obsolete. If you look at the changes to Google Places from this perspective, it doesn’t seem like Google is that worried about the FTC’s investigation. With all that money they are spending on federal lobbying, I guess Big G thinks they’ll come out on top like Microsoft did in the 90’s.

Ultimately, not much has changed when it comes to what really matters… getting results. Google Places is still the holy grail of Local SEO. There haven’t been any reported drops in rankings due to this update, so no major algorithm changes are believed to be involved. This means that while Google may not be displaying third-party reviews and citations, they still matter when it comes determining the rankings of local search results, for now.