Hidden Listings, Local Ranking & Algo Changes with the New Google Maps

Linda Buquet

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Jun 28, 2012
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The new Google Maps is not a game-changer but it WILL change parts of the game! There are several changes coming that will impact your clients, therefore your business, your time and possibly your work flow. Research, troubleshooting, duplicate discovery are all affected too. To keep from making this post too long and confusing I decided to focus this one on just the ranking pieces of the puzzle and will try to cover the other issues later.

There are new ranking problems with "hidden listings"
but there are also exciting new "hidden opportunities"
.

It's complicated to share everything I'm seeing. I've been trying to document on images over time, in preparation for this post - so layouts are different based on types of issues I'm trying to communicate.


EXAMPLE #1 "Beverly Hills Cosmetic Dentist"

OLD MAPS - Same Dentists and Ranking Order as Google Web Search
(You can easily see whos on top and who ranks A, B, C, D, E due to left column)

<img src="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/MapsNewBevDentOLD.jpg" alt="" title="MapsNewBevDentOLD" width="700" height="566" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-7688" />



NEW MAPS - ALL BUT ONE OF THE TOP RANKING DENTISTS ARE HIDDEN!


<img src="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/MapsNewBevDentHidden.jpg" alt="" title="MapsNewBevDentHidden" width="643" height="739" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-7686" />​

To keep screen real estate down I am only showing the top 5 Dentists. These 5 Dentists rank A - E on page 1 of Google web search & on the old (classic) Google maps search. BUT on the new Google Maps, all except letter A are Hidden and Invisible. (They have a dot, but names don't show so they are not prominent.)

To drive my points home and make this more real - let's pick a Dentist and <strong>pretend</strong> it's your client. For grins, let's pick Dr. Glossman who ranks D on Google search and old maps. He actually was my client 2 years ago. As you can imagine he was tuned into every ranking change and very concerned about moving up.

So let's pretend he's page 2 when he starts with you and you work and finally get Dr. Glossman up on page one in the D spot, but of course he asks you once a week when he'll be #1.

Then the new Google maps hits and everything switches over. He calls and tells you he clicked from Google search to maps and HE'S NOT THERE - and wants to know why.

Actually 4 out of the 5 Dentists that DID rank on top on Google search and maps are now invisible!

If you were a potential new patient searching for "Beverly Hills Cosmetic Dentist" the 4 out of 5 of the top ranking Dentists do not visually show up! Yes you can zoom in, change your query, I know all that.

But I'm talking about ranking! There is no ranking on the new maps - there is only visibility. If you don't show up on the 1st page with your name and large pin - YOU DON'T RANK!!!

THE PROBLEM? Since there is no left column of results so you can easily see the A, B, C, Ranking order and since all the business names are embedded right into the map some of the names don't show up - especially the ones that are clustered on top of each other.

NEXT PROBLEM So then let's say the patient does not really see what they want to see OR they do want to see a list of options with more details. There are 3 filter options on the new maps search box. I'm not really too worried about viewing Places from "Top Reviewers" or "Your Circles" as I don't think the average consumer is going to want to use that.

However people are creatures of habit and I think some are going to want to see an ordered list of top results like they used to be able to on maps. So I think some will click "Go to list of top results." When you click that link here is what you see.

New Maps Filter "TOP RESULTS"

<img src="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/MapsNewBevDentTOP.jpg" alt="" title="MapsNewBevDentTOP" width="513" height="674" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-7690" />​

The ranking order is TOTALLY different here too. The Dentist that had the prized A spot is not in the top 5 at all any more. B is at the bottom and poor Dr. Glossman is totally MIA again.

Now when Dr. Glossman calls to tell you he's missing on maps and missing in the list of top results, you can tell him all day long that people mainly use Google web search and that's all that matters. I know exactly what he will say. He will say "I want to be on top or at least showing on page 1 everywhere my potential patients are looking. And especially with mobile, people are searching right on Google maps! Figure out this new algo and make me show up!"

OK so that's one part of the issue and one example, hidden listings. The next example shows a little different hidden listing issue and also shows that "hidden opportunity" I referred to in paragraph two.


EXAMPLE #2 "San Diego Chinese Restaurant"

OLD MAPs - Visible Ranking Order - Same as Page 1 Web Search

<img src="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/MapsNewSDChineseOLD.jpg" alt="" title="MapsNewSDChineseOLD" width="700" height="662" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-7694" />


NEW MAPS - HIDDEN LISTINGS - but WIDE OPEN RADIUS!

<img src="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/MapsNewSDChinese2.jpg" alt="" title="MapsNewSDChinese2" width="729" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-7698" />​

So in the image above you see a couple other variations on the hidden listing problem.

But here is the HIDDEN OPPORTUNITY.
See how you can rank even FAR outside the city?

WHAT CONTROLS THE ALGO FOR SHOWING ON the MAP???

Yummy Express in Escondido is tiny, funky, almost an hour from San Diego in traffic and NOT prominent in the local area at ALL - not in in any way that I can see. (I know - I live here.) It's not prominent!

Sooo... what does the new maps like so much about Yummy Express that it will rank this little
hole-in-the-wall, that's an hour away & put it on the map for "San Diego Chinese Restaurants"?

Figure that out, and you may discover what it takes to make
YOUR client show up and rank on the new maps in surrounding cities.

(Maybe I should start a new "Why Ranks High?" thread and we can jointly try to find out what Google likes so much about these far away restaurants and reverse engineer the algo?)

NOTE:
This post is already WAY too long but there is much more to cover in terms of how the new maps will impact your work flow and clients. Will do a follow up post when I can and link to it here.

PS There are other important posts about the Google Maps update in our new Google Maps forum.
 

David Deering

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Nov 25, 2012
Messages
206
That's pretty crazy, Linda. So what algo is Google using for the new Maps, and why in the world would they use a different algo than local results??
 

DanLeibson

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May 17, 2013
Messages
220
I'm curious to hear more about the methodology for the comparison and if you could share more.

Our research has been showing that the list in the new maps is the same order as the list in the old maps. Here are two example screenshots comparing them that I just took.



 

Linda Buquet

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Jun 28, 2012
Messages
13,308
Thanks Dan, meant to ask you on Twitter to come over here where it's easier to talk and there is more room to discuss than Tweets allow.

Yes based on your screenshots you are doing it differently than I did and I believe different than the average surfer would. (I can tell because you have city in the search term and going direct from maps, maps drops city out of the query - I'll explain below.)

I tried to follow a natural flow, as if I was a searcher than did not know any of the things we know. (They would not know how to get direct to that top results page you showed and search direct from there.)

METHODOLOGY USED: (Again trying to mimic natural flow)

1) Search on Google web search
(Check results, want to see more results)

2) Clicked on top Map tab
(Could also click on map or more results below 7 pack but sometimes those results are all different too, so I chose the top map tab)

3) From New Maps, Click "Go to list of top results."

Then you will see what I'm showing above. It looks like you went to that search page and then typed in a query that included city. But when you just do a natural click direct from the maps search box to view top results, it drops city out of the query box. (But it's still searching in that city.) So that's the results I'm showing which is the path I believe the average surfer will take.

Try it and I think you'll see what I mean.
 

DanLeibson

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May 17, 2013
Messages
220
Thanks Linda!

1) I just want to clarify that my initial reply was specifically in regards of the way that Google prioritizes results in Maps. I think we can both agree that the underlying ranking software is the same in both the new and old maps.

2) Thanks for pointing out the issue with natural search flow. That opens up some really interesting optimization opportunities (and drawbacks) specifically, it increases the importance of ranking well for head terms. Since the new Maps "Top Results" list strips out geo-modifiers, then the pie is cut into even bigger pieces with less to go around and those head terms become much more competitive. I find this the most interesting, because Maps gave birth to a whole subset of geo-targeted long tail which it seems to be moving away from.
 

Linda Buquet

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Jun 28, 2012
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Thanks Linda!

1) I just want to clarify that my initial reply was specifically in regards of the way that Google prioritizes results in Maps. I think we can both agree that the underlying ranking software is the same in both the new and old maps.
Well in the screenshots I showed they are totally different in that some listings are missing and do not show due to the way names are embedded on the map. The larger red dot PLUS the name is going to be what sets the top ranking businesses apart and show which businesses are most important/relevant. If name is missing they will be ignored.

I don't think the consumer is going to look at all the red dots that don't even have names and click them to see what business is hidden inside. So if the name does not show, even if they have a bigger dot, I don't think those businesses are very discoverable and therefore in my opinion they don't really count.

At least that's how I see it when I wear on my Suzy soccer mom hat. :p
 

DanLeibson

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I am referring to the list results only, not the Google Maps display layer. And frankly, with a better local product offering direct from a SERP Google Maps wouldn't need to be used for business discovery.
 

Linda Buquet

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Sorry confused.

I explained my methodology showing the results ARE different. And thought we agreed there in premise.

Then you said: "I just want to clarify that my initial reply was specifically in regards of the way that Google prioritizes results in Maps."

So I thought you meant you were talking about Maps. So I explained how it's different on the map.

Then you flipped back to the list results again?

I am referring to the list results only, not the Google Maps display layer.
But I thought we already agreed that based on typical searcher flow, the list results are different?

(Sorry I'm multi-tasking all over trying to get ready for this big webinar series, maybe I'm missing something.)
 

Linda Buquet

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Just realized however that I broke one of my own rules...

I don't normally put much energy into new products and updates that are in BETA. Because things could change by the time it's released. But since this wasn't just some little test a couple folks discovered in the wild, but was a major pre-launch announcement, I guess I took it a little more seriously.

It's in BETA for a reason and user testing could cause some things to change before it hits the general public. But I still think it's worth looking at and discussing in preparation, just don't put too much energy into it because it could all change.

Of course even the tried and true stuff we are used to could all change tomorrow. Change is Google's middle name I think. :p
 

DanLeibson

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May 17, 2013
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The list result IS in Google Maps, just not the Map display layer. I feel like this is getting a little off topic, but I will attempt to clarify (no snark intended). If you go to the Maps list and type in the same query between the and old UI the results are the same. To me that shows that the underlying software which prioritizes results in some type of hierarchy is the same. Whether or not pins are displayed is a question of the design of the UI not of how Google ranks results. I don't see how that can be in dispute when I can show exact same results. Further, if going to the list strips out the geo modifier, that is specifically NOT the same query NOR is it related to how Google creates a hierarchy of their list results. Remeber, the title of this post mentions "Algo changes". I don't disagree at all that it changes the way a user would use Maps. However, I am more concerned right now about how Maps creates its listed hierarchy since the local carousel uses the Maps hierarchy to order carousel results, I REALLY REALLY care about changes to that, while like you say the Map UI stuff could easily be changed before roll out (like stripping the geo modifier). :)
 

Linda Buquet

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Technically speaking you got me. I was in a rush and should have titled it differently. Should have said "Perceived Ranking Order" instead of algo - so I see what you mean there.

Although with personalization the new maps algo really won't be the same. Your map could be different from my map or what our clients see.

Part of my challenge doing this too was just that, the personalization. I had to use Chrome logged in because that's where I have the new maps update. I'd been hitting that new maps page a few times looking at some of those listings at various times so every time I checked it seemed that something changed somewhere. The regular search and old maps results even changed on me a couple times during the course of trying to get this post done, so everything seemed to be in flux and it was hard to do an accurate comparison.

But the main points I was trying to make still stand.

Some very rank conscious clients if they are buried or hidden on new maps will say "I've always been B"
how come I don't show on maps anymore and I'm not on the 'Top Results' page?"

AND the other point - about having a chance at ranking even if you are outside the city is still exciting to ponder.
 

DanLeibson

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May 17, 2013
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There was no attempt to get anyone :) I have been doing tons of research on Maps ranking (in regards to the carousel rollout) lately, and wanted to make sure that I didn't miss something major and need to go back to the drawing board.

Most of our clients are VERY rank conscious as well, which is why I really hope that the carousel and new Maps becomes a new thrust into a better local product that allows for both a pretty UI as well as good lead generation and ranking.

As for ranking even if you are outside of a city, I have seen lots of carousel results that have a large splatter of desperate Map pins on the corresponding Maps sidebar on the right of a SERP
 

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