How much of a factor do traditional organic factors play in the new Google ‘blended’ algorithm? How do the 2 different Google Places algorithms differ? Read on for detailed info, proof and some VERY cool free tools you can use to analyze the algo for yourself.

Shortly after the major Google Places algorithm change on October 27th 2010, I reverse engineered the new blended (merged, 0-Pack) algo and figured it out. I have not shared the info with anyone yet, but am about to start sharing today.

On June 21st I published a survey asking readers to weigh in on the question How Much Do Organic SEO Factors Control the Google Places Blended (0-Pack) Ranking Order? I promised that if I got enough participation I would show you how the blended algo works and how much of the algo is controlled by on-site and organic ranking factors. Additionally I said I’d show you 3 – 4 tools hardly anyone (no one?) in the industry knows about, that I use to analyze organic vs Places SERPS and I’ll also explain how I leverage this knowledge to help me in my business.

If you have not read the previous post yet, please do so now as there is a lot of info in the post and I don’t want to take space to regurgitate it all here. Plus the survey comments offer a wide variety of opinions from some very wise industry pros that will provide an important backdrop for the info I’m about to share. OK jumping right into the meat of it…

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words.
So at the risk of trying to say too much with one image – here we go.
(Trying to save my carpal and not have to write a book to explain this)

This side by side algo comparison image is HUGE! (1,512 × 2,046)
Click image to open in new window THEN ZOOM to view full image.
Then come back to read details & all the comments I’m sure will follow.


GooglePlacesRanking

Also see screenshots below that confirm these findings, using 3 other tools

BROWSER NOTE: The screenshot on the left is from a LIVE browser that still shows the old 7 Pack style layout with the ‘pure’ organic listings below. That’s not an old screenshot from the pre-October update. It’s one of the live tools I use daily, but not one I’ll share publicly for a couple reasons. 1) I don’t want Google to find out and plug this little loophole. 2) It’s a non-supported and unsafe browser. 3) I have a couple other tools that show the SAME organic results and these tools have some advantages. So I’ll be sharing those instead.

So anyway, pretty cool isn’t it to be able to GO BACK IN TIME and see the organic results as they would have been before the October update, huh? Now you don’t need to guess as much about what’s going on with the algo, you can see it for yourself or use it to prove a point to a client.

SUMMARY of the COMPARISON IMAGE ABOVE

The left browser shows the OLD Places layout and OLD organic algo. You can see the top two 7 pack listings have lots of reviews and if you check them online they have a lot more citations. On the left browser, below the pack, you see the old organic ranking order. On the right is the current ‘blended’ Google Places layout that we’ve become accustomed to seeing. The algo, as you can see is weighted toward the organic algo. In this example you see the 2 Drs. that had all the reviews are pushed down and the top listings don’t have many reviews.

In almost every case I’ve analyzed the top listings ALMOST EXACTLY MATCH. The businesses that rank 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in the OLD organic ranking order (left browser) are in the same order in the new blended algo. This says to me that the algo (AT LEAST for the top of page 1) is ALMOST 100% weighted toward the organic algo. ALMOST…

So my answer to the poll question “How Much Do Organic SEO Factors Control the Google Places Blended (0-Pack) Ranking Order” would be 90%.

Why do I say only 90% and not 100%? There are some caveats and exceptions.

EXCEPTIONS If Google can’t match the website and Place page then the site may not rank at the top of page 1 in the blended results, but will be pushed down the page to the organic section that’s below the blended results. See the example of jamesklim.com who is #5 organic in the left browser. He does not keep his #5 position in the blended results due to a dumb mistake his designer should have dealt with. He uses a vanity # throughout his website, so Google can’t match the phone # on his Place page with the phone on his site.

Other reasons Google may not be able to merge the site and Place page into one blended listing include 800# on web site, difference in name, multiple locations not set up properly on the site and on the Place page and Places ranking penalties. I call the critical info Google needs to make a match “local hooks.” There are several local hooks that need to be in place for Google to make a good connection and for the site and Place page to merge and rank in the ‘blended’ layout.

I’ve had a difficult time or just gotten bored trying to figure the above algo correlation out as it affects rankings further down the page. The match is typically consistent for the top 3-5 listings then starts to get difficult to track and starts to break down due to missing local hooks jacking the order and directory/YP sites getting in the way. Plus I don’t really care too much beyond #5. My goal is never just to get a client on one page 1 or “in the lucky 7” or top 10 or whatever. My goal is to get clients ABOVE THE FOLD on page 1, which is typically in the #1 – 5 range, depending on which browser, how many PPC ads on top, etc.

CAVEATS – Anyone that works with Google knows there are no absolutes. There are exceptions, there are bugs and nothing is ever perfectly black and white. So I HAVE seen numerous instances where the above explanation did NOT jive for every listing. For instance I’ve seen listings in the top 7 ‘blended’ results that did not even have a web site at all. However CONSISTENTLY since I discovered this at the beginning of November the top 5 or so sites almost always match up. And it’s the best explanation I can find for why unclaimed Place pages with no reviews or citations can rank #1 for keywords that aren’t even on the Place page. They rank because of pure organic ranking power.

OH and one other thing to mention – from my observations in many markets it’s really primarily about having solid on-site SEO factors, more so than off-site factors. I have lots of clients that rank #1 with no backlinks at all. I’ve also had several SEOS come to me for my Advanced Google Places training that say “I’ve done SEO for years and we’ve backlinked the hell out of this listing but still can’t get it to rank in the blended local results.” I’ve been able to show them it was on-site SEO weakness that was holding them back. So even with a ton of links you won’t necessarily rank without a good on-site SEO foundation. You have to cover all the bases to rank well these days. But again, it’s all relative it depends on the competition in that particular market.

Toward the end of this series I’ll share a tool that will show you EVERYTHING that the top ranking businesses are doing in a particular market; meta data, backlinks, claimed/unclaimed, citations, reviews, categories, KML files, # of images/vids, social mentions EVERYTHING. So you can easily size up the competition to see what it will take to get your client to rank in that particular market.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Even though I’m saying organic SEO RULES the blended local algo – Place page optimization, building citations and reviews are STILL critically important! The OLD style 7 pack style listings are abundant for many search terms. The old pack style layout still uses the OLD Places algo where NAP integrity, Places optimization, citations, reviews and other factors TRUMP site factors and SEO.

So, bottom line: To rank well in local right now, a business must have a well optimized Place page AND a well optimized site AND the “right” local hooks to help Google tie it all together. In order to have the best chance of ranking for any type of result G chooses to show Joe surfer, you need to optimize on ALL fronts since you don’t know for sure which layout (and algo) Google will serve up. (Depends on search term, keyword order, browser, IP and other factors.)

There is so much more I want to cover, but this is way too long and I’m still really sick, so need to try to wrap this post up and turn this into a series. I’ll show you some screenshots of the other tools I use to analyze the organic vs Places algo and will give you one of the tools you can use to do your own experimenting with for now. The goal I’m shooting for though is – I’m trying to get all the free tools I’m going to talk about assembled on one page, so you can analyze and compare SERPS to your heart’s content – all in one place!

The next giant screen shot, shows 2 of the other tools I’ll be sharing with you. HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART! These tools are ALL different ways of pulling PURE organic ranking data from Google. And they ALL pretty much match each other as far as ranking the top 4-5 sites AND the rank order matches the current BLENDED results.

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW FULL SIZE COMPARISON

Left = Google custom search that filters local and only shows organic
Right = Unique search engine that pulls local results with some extra benefits
The right is my fav & what I use most. Will have a separate post about it later

Again, they all list periopatti, winecountry, etc. as 1 – 4 in the same ranking order as the “LEFT” browser in screenshot 1 (pure organic) and the new BLENDED algo.

OK last tool to share – this one is NOT free. But it’s a powerhouse as you’ll see!

CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW FULL SIZE

This powerhouse software, shows at a glance all the ranking factors you need to know in order to size up a new market AND can be used to help to figure out why a client isn’t ranking AND outputs cool reports AND has a few unique ways to help prospect for new clients. This will be another huge post and will probably be post #3 or 4 in this series. Probably won’t be until next week. I’m probably going to have to man up and get over my fear of doing a screencast, to be able to share everything this power tool does.

Again, this tool lists periopatti, winecountry, etc. 1 – 4 in the same ranking order as all the rest, which I hope helps prove my point. ALL these tools are pulling RAW organic ranking data from Google and they all match the top Google Places blended results – listing for listing.

As I mentioned, I’m trying to get all these free tools (PLUS MORE) assembled on one page, so you can analyze and compare SERPS to your heart’s content – all in one place! However it may take me a a couple days to finish figuring out how to do it. I have a free ranking tool, a map search tool, lat/long tool that I’m putting on that page too. So it’s a lot of work to get everything formatted and working all on 1 page.

In the meantime, I’d be remiss AND I’d be a big fat tease if I didn’t give you at least one of the tools today to play with, so you can start analyzing your own and your client’s results against the algo info I’ve shared above.. I’ve experimented with numerous Google search gadgets and custom search boxes and so far this is the best I’ve come up with. There are some customizations I’d like to make to it, but I’m not a coder.


NOTE: The link above is disabled as the resource was moved by Google. Find it on this page.

1st just copy and paste Santa Rosa Dental Implants into the search box – so you can see it matches everything I talk about above. NOTE: By default it only shows 4 results, so click the far right little icon next to “web” and it will show more.

NEXT – Experiment away! Do some comparisons for other search terms you or your clients are trying to rank for and let us know in comments if the TOP organic results Google serves up with this tool match the ranking order in the regular local BLENDED results.

Future posts in this series will go into some of these tools in more detail. Plus very soon I should have my tools page finished so you can use all the tools in on place. Additionally I’ll be sharing some of the ways I use these tools to analyze results and help clients. At some point I may even share some of the strategies that go into the “Google Local SEO Integration Template” I’ve developed (which includes an on-site SEO formula including all the ‘local hooks’) and over time will likely share other tools & tips I offer in my Advanced Places Optimization training.

Whew! (S’cuse any typos.) Over & out for now. (Going back to bed to nurse this stomach bug.) But anxious to hear what you all think!