I’ve been involved in lots of online conversions since Thursday’s major Google Places update. I’ve also done tons of research and have read some really important points made by Google employees as well as industry pros.  Here is a summary of important updates and insights from the last 4 days.

OVERVIEW – KEY CHANGES FROM THIS UPDATE – 3rd party reviews removed from review count in the SERPS and in the reviews from around the web section of Place page. Citations removed – no more “more about this place section. More details section removed. Service area radius removed. Email removed. Write a review and upload a photo button much more prominent.

THE ALGO & THE RANKINGS – Linda’s opinion and brief summary:

From what I can tell this was ONLY a front end cosmetic change NOT a back end change that affects the algo or ranking and most pros agree.

In some quick ranking checks I’ve done, it appears the lack of 3rd party reviews showing up in the count and lack of citations on the Place page, DID NOT affect rankings. Not in the rankings I’ve checked anyway. Regardless of how many 3rd reviews were removed from the COUNT everyone’s ranking stayed the same. I’ve checked tons of Dentists for example that had over 200 reviews and 300 citations due to DemandForce, that dropped to 5 Google reviews. They still rank on page 1 where they did before.

So from what I’m seeing right now anyway, this does not devalue 3rd party reviews or citations. Even though they don’t show, they are still counted in the back end!

Plus the additional details no longer show on the Place page but Vanessa says they still weigh into the algo. (More on that below).

THE RANKINGS & THE SERPS – I’ve heard reports from one pro that’s seeing merged SERP displays that went from 7 listings to 3, which hurts # 4-7 by pushing them to the 2nd page. One search term I’m following did go from 7 merged listings to 5. I’m also seeing a big increase in 7 Pack style listings – even for core search terms.

POSSIBLE THEORY re SERPS – Many theorize that this update was in part driven by concerns about the antitrust problems Google is having. One of the biggest complaints from the competition, is that Google favors it’s own listings and is monopolizing more and more page 1 real estate to feature it’s own local Places listings as opposed to other directories, review sites and aggregators. I don’t mean to start a panic and it would certainly suck for people like me if this happens. But it occurred me that Google COULD be gradually reducing the number of local Places results or could continue to switch back to the pack style listings because they take less space. I hope this is not the case. But start keeping track when you check your rankings. When I manually spot check I always make note of whether it’s a merged or pack style listing and how many local results are on the page so I can keep a pulse on changes in display format.

CITATIONS – Are no longer shown on the Place page which makes competitive research harder. But Google for the most part has been obfuscating citations for many months. She very seldom showed any new ones, so it’s been difficult to do citation hunting by looking at the “more about this place” for a long time.

That’s one of the reasons Darren’s Whitespark Local Citation Finder Tool is so valuable! However just because she does not show citations any more, does not mean she does not count them. Listings I’ve been watching that had 300+ citations and went to 20, still have the same ranking.

MORE DETAILS SECTION MISSING – BUT STILL COUNTS ON BACK END? – Here’s a Google Places forum thread that got a little heated on the subject. Snippets quoted below.

Google Places Community Manager Vanessa said: “Seeing a lot of questions in the forum, let me just clarify a couple things about the new Place pages. The following info you provide may not appear on your Place page, but it’s all still used to help us understand more about your business:

• Email address
• Menu
• Reservations
• Optional attributes / Additional details
• Service area toggle “Show service area”

So just because we’re not showing it, doesn’t mean it’s not helpful for us to have — it helps our system ensure that your organic listing appears and ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps when potential customers perform searches related to your service.”

Many were upset. User speedfrog replied “I also agree that the fact that Google has taken out all the additional info about businesses is a travesty. Just when they start making in roads with main street small business they upset the apple cart again. Most business owners poke and peck through this and to think that they took a good deal of time setting up their page and thinking of pertinent information related to their business and did all the entry and now it is just “poof” gone is crazy. At some point soon they will just become disenfranchised with Places.”

SERVICE AREA MISSING – An important piece of data that service businesses need to share with customers is service area. This section was also removed. I read a heated discussion about this change and I think Google weighed in but I can’t find that particular convo now.

IMPACT OF MISSING REVIEWS ON CONVERSION & CLICK-THROUGH RATES
Not many are talking about this one, but it’s a BIGGIE in my mind. Here is my comment that is part of a heated discussion at Blumenthals about reviews, conversions and it goes into a lengthy discussion about DemandForce too. I’m a DF partner and shared some insights in that thread too. But back to reviews/conversions, here are a little part of several thing I wrote at Mike’s.

Will the Change in Status of 3rd Party Reviews Affect Rank in Google Places? – One of my comments 7/22.

Regarding the impact the # of reviews and the star ratings in the SERPs have on CONVERSION and CLICK-THROUGH rates.

I can probably dig up a good screenshot, but just imagine this example. Consumer quickly scans Google for a restaurant, spa, dentist, whatever. The BLENDED results are almost totally dependent on organic SEO factors, so he who has the most reviews was not on top necessarily before OR after this change.

So a typical result BEFORE the update may have been

#1 2 reviews
#2 0 reviews
#3 5 reviews
#4 50 big bold 5 Star reviews.

Consumers into reviews will likely skip over 1,2,3 and go right to #4.

Results AFTER the update may have changed to
#1 2 reviews
#2 0 reviews
#3 1 reviews
#4 2 1 Star reviews.

If NOW #4 only shows 2 reviews (with no star rating) instead of the 50 5 Star reviews that made them stand out from the pack yesterday, that can really impact not only click through rates, but “pick up the phone and CALL RIGHT NOW” rates.

NOTE: Lots more good insights on this topic over at Mikes. Head over if this topic is important to you.

No time to go in detail on all the things I want to cover right now, so here are links to some important coverage.

Blumenthal’s Blog – Numerous – The Professor has been on a posting frenzy!

MAJOR Google Places Update – 3rd Party Reviews and Citations Removed from Counts – My original post right after the update.

No, Local SEO Isn’t Dead … But It Is a Wee Bit Harder

More Detailed Thoughts on Google’s Place Page Shift

Google Bows to Web Rivals – Wall Street Journal

Google Places Drops Third Party Reviews

Google Places Update Puts Focus On Google

There is so much more important info out there I want to discuss and cover, but I need to cut this post short and get some work done. May have more later.

Love to hear your thoughts on all this!