Posted September 21, 2011 12:54 pm by with 6 comments

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Reading through the responses that Google compiled to some of the claims being made against the company by the likes of Yelp, NexTag, FairSearch and more there was one piece of information that jumped out at me with a claim and Google’s response.

CLAIM: “Is a consumer (or a small business, for that matter) well served when Google artificially promotes its own properties regardless of merit? This has nothing to do with helping consumers get to the best information; it has everything to do with generating more revenue.”

RESPONSE: In fact, most of the click traffic (roughly two-thirds of clicks) from our local search result pages goes directly to small business websites, and review sites make up the next largest percentage (about a quarter of clicks). Less than 10% of clicks from our local results page go to Google Place Pages.

It’s the last sentence that sticks out because for all of the hype surrounding Google Places in cities like Portland, Austin, Charlotte and more, Google Place pages, by Google’s own admission, accounts for only 10% of the local clicks.

I can see that happening since Google often seems to bury the links to get to the Place Page in favor of pointing the searcher to the website (which I never understood but it may be just to keep them out of trouble). The question then becomes where should the SMB or any business for that matter put Google Places on their pecking order when deciding how to allocate precious marketing resources. Well, it looks like the answer on the surface is a very distant third at best.

Here’s a quick look at what Google’s order of click importance could mean.

  • SMB’s need to spend most of their time on their website and doing SEO – We always try to do an end run around this truth but when given the information about where the clicks go in local search it’s obvious what should get the most attention from a resource stand point. Maintaining a strong website and doing the SEO dirty work is not sexy by any stretch but who cares about cool when money is on the line.
  • Local businesses have to pay close attention to all review sites – With about 25% of local clicks going to these review sites (according to Google) it’s obvious that a real strategy around these important purveyors of opinion needs to be in place and worked all the time.
  • Google Places not about clicks – It looks like either Google is making this appear a certain way to sound good before the Senate committee or Google Places may not be as important (right now) as we often talk about. For the most part, it’s a set it and forget it proposition (with some important steps as part of that process including cleaning up name, address and phone information across the Internet). Of course, if an SMB wants to do the work to get more citations to push the listing up in the results then they can (and probably should).

But here is where it gets most interesting. Google downplays the clicks the actual Place Page receives but that’s not the real story. Take a look at this local search result from this morning. This is why the Place Page is so important to businesses.

The clicks to the Place Page may be a distant third but their importance in being ranked on the first page of results appears to be paramount (click the image to enlarge). The map and the resulting placement for the business is pinned (pun intended),in good part, to the Place Page. It could simply be that the majority of clicks going to a local business’s website are just because people habitually click on blue links and Google has laid out results to highlight that option more than the others. You can also see how review sites get plenty of the rest of the clicks because they are prominently displayed in the results as well.

So all in all it’s an interesting game being played regarding local search. Yelp in particular has been very vocal that Google promotes its Place Pages above other local search options. If you look at the SERP’s like those above you can say there might be an argument there but is there really one? In reality, if most people are clicking on websites or and review sites what has Google done to prevent competition?

In conclusion, Google is trying very hard to downplay the importance of their Place Pages to try to negate any arguments that their own “products” are receiving favor in the SERP’s.

If Google were really smart about this I would suggest that they put together an all out assault on the business community around Google+ and any integration of Place Pages that would occur there. This creates two wins for the search giant in that businesses will flock to the service and, as a likely, result promote the heck out of Google+ thus doing the advertising to the masses that Google needs to do in order to get a wider adoption rate for the Facebook competitor.

So what’s your take on Google Places? Is it the clicks that matter? If so is it worth the effort to go after only 10% of those clicks? Or is the Google Places game about a larger strategy that isn’t as much about clicks on a Place Page but taking full advantage of ALL that Google offers?