What triggers a newer style Google local “merged” (or blended) business listings over the old Google Place “Pack” style listing? Why are more of the old “Pack” style listings showing up, even for core keywords in major metro areas? Why do the different styles keep flip flopping all over the place?

If you deal with Google Places or local SEO you have undoubtedly asked yourself these questions multiple times per day. Don’t worry you aren’t alone! For opinions from some of the leading experts in the local search space, read on.

David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors 2011 just came out on Friday. I was a contributor this year, however I don’t recall a specific question about why the merge vs pack layout gets triggered. The commentary about that question appears to have gotten lost in the shuffle because there was just SO much info included. So I thought it was worth mentioning and linking to that overlooked part of the content.

Blended vs. “Pure” Local Search

What follows here is the wisdom (or folly) of what are generally considered to be the sharpest minds in Local Search. Most of us seem to feel that it is part of a large-scale experiment by Google to see what satisfies searchers better, with a significant percentage of us hypothesizing that there’s some interaction between category of search & the number (or lack) of “pure” Local results that would satisfy that category.

We’re all speculating, but there are some potential nuggets in here for frustrated business owners.

UPDATE: Someone asked via email so thought I should explain… The screen shot above is not one of the really strange markets I’m referring to below. That was simply a screenshot to illustrate the merged vs pack style listings.

I’ve been trying to so some testing for a couple consulting clients and it’s driving me (and them) nuts trying to figure out why the site and Place page merge properly in the new merged results for all keywords EXCEPT their core keyword. Searches for their core keyword shows them as #1 organic ABOVE the merged listings (which is great) but their site is disconnected from the Place page which features tons of great reviews they want highlighted in their listing too. They have all the right local hooks and Google is able to connect the site and Place for all their other keywords. Then for yet other keywords the algo seems to totally shift to some algo that does not make sense at all. It’s not the new algo, it’s not the old algo, it’s like a broken algo that returns TOTALLY bad results from unrelated industries.

In another case I’m working on a BLANK TOTALLY generic template that does not have a single word of related content and has NAP like: Your Name Here, Anytown USA, (555) 222-2222 on the site is not only merged but ranking HIGH. This is an UBER competitive market I routinely follow and measure in my algo testing. Many of the Drs. in this market use black hat marketing techniques and it’s a constant dog-eat-dog fight to try to get to page 1 and stay there. So how does this BLANK template with a fake address on Place page and no real address or content get ranked HIGH in a market this competitive. Also in this particular SERP result many top listings just got bumped and were replaced with Places pages that are riddled with KW spam and Google Places rule violations. So it’s almost like the algo is rewarding the spammiest listings.

At any rate, there are some crazy results out there! Read all the commentary at the link above, then I’d love to hear your thoughts about any crazy mixed Google results you’ve been seeing.