Google is constantly making subtle search updates and makes hundreds per year. BUT when they go so far as to “name” an update it’s usually worth noting!

For the most part the local SEO community I think missed or misinterpreted the new Google Venice update. And there is a good reason for that. Most of us in the ‘biz’ are so focused on the local MAPs based results. The packs and blended results. PLUS most of us in the biz when we do client research and ranking reports are checking City + Keyword or Keyword + City, so not many people noticed the subtle change that rolled out.

Google announced 40 updates at the end of Feb. I blogged complete details here. Today I want to focus on the Venice update and some new ranking opportunities for local business. OFFICIAL GOOGLE BLOG QUOTE BELOW:

Search quality highlights: 40 changes for February

Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal. (Bold by me)

I’ve seen Venice update speculation that I think misses the mark and is looking at changes to pack and blended results. I bolded Universal because I believe this update has to do with the pure organic results. Figured it out a few days ago and promised some folks I’d share, just haven’t had time til now.

The update is already live and results are subtle BUT THERE IS A BIG OPPORTUNITY for those that figure out how to capitalize on it.

Remember this post I did back in November 2011? Important Google Places SEO Group Research re GEO Modifiers, Search Behavior and Rank Tracking If my research is right 3-4 time more consumers search for KEYWORD with no city modifier. “We” search Atlanta Dentist, Tampa Plumber – but many consumers at least start off simply searching Dentist or plumber. Then I think if they don’t find what they are looking for they refine their search and add city. I think Google agrees with me and keyed into this search behavior.

ENTER CODENAME VENICE – Previously if you searched for a local service without city modifier, you’d see a set of pack or blended MAPs based local results. HOWEVER the organic listings would be national. They would be general research sites that ranked high or associations or national sellers. You would not normally see LOCAl results in organic if you didn’t add city to your query. That’s now changing.

No time to grab screenshots, etc. I’ll just share one example and hopefully with your browser if you replicate what I’m doing you’ll see the same results.
Search term Family Dentistry but change location to USA. That’s what the OLD organic results looked like. There are some general national results. There are some Dentists that happen to rank high BUT they may be across the country from you. NOW search Family Dentistry and change your location to Altanta. See quite a few Atlanta Dentists now in ORGANIC??? Then change location to Tampa and do the same search. Now there are Tampa Dentists. Another good test is compare “Dentist” with location set to Atlanta. Then change location to Beverly Hills. For both you’ll see some national results like Dental directories and Wikipedia but you’ll ALSO see LOCAL pure organic results.

IMPORTANT TAKE AWAYS

For the keywords I have spot-checked in a wide variety of US cities, it seems there are usually 3 – 5 local organics mixed in with the national results.

If my research is right and 75% of searches are for “cityless keywords” then this is a huge opportunity that didn’t exist before – to get your clients on page one EVEN IF they are outside the proximity radius, or have dupe problems or some other problem and can’t rank in Places. Now you have a shot at getting them in the local ORGANIC results.

Many of us started off with or used to primarily focus on Google Places. But now with blended results I assume most of us are focusing a lot more on organic SEO to help get high blended rankings. However lately we are faced with changes like the reduced local footprint (Some 7 packs now only showing 3 listings). Additionally many have noticed local queries that no longer show map based results at all – ONLY organic. So Venice presents more opportunities to get your client to rank on page one even IF you can’t get them in the local maps results.

RANK TRACKING – This makes it even more important that ever to be sure your rank tracking software will check rankings for KEYWORD only, with location emulation to simulate a search from the client city. That’s one of the biggest reasons I recommend Places Scout (See my update about ranking reports for keywords without geo modifier at the top of the post). You can set it to track rankings BY location for keyword only searches – most other tracking programs like Bright Local don’t, although last I heard they were working on it. (It’s very difficult to do and Mark and I went round and round trying to figure out the best way to not only make Scout do it, but best way to display it in the reports so it made sense. The feature in Scout is called “location emulation” if you want to use it.)

So let’s say my (admittedly very limited) research is wrong and 75% of searches aren’t “cityless keywords”, let’s say it’s only 50%… That’s still huge. If you are getting your clients ranked on page 1, whether it’s blended or pack or local organic for lots of keyword, don’t you want to be able to know and track it? Don’t you want to be able to tell your client – “YEA! You are on page one for the keyword Dentist” (not city Dentist). I sure do!

THE GOTCHA and another GROUP RESEARCH PROJECT
I haven’t had time to totally figure out what triggers a page one LOCAL ORGANIC in Venice. I believe it’s somewhat based on traditional organic factors but I think there is more to it. If you search City + Keyword and see who ranks in organic. Then search keyword only with that city set as your location in Google, the same results don’t always show. So for example the #1 organic listing for City Dentist may not even be there as a local organic when you search for Dentist only in that city. Plus which keywords pull a Venice and how many listings show up seems a little inconsistent. Maybe this is still rolling out or they are still testing.

So if anyone has any ideas about what triggers the organic LOCAL Venice results, or has some good examples, or any other insights – do share!

There are just a handful of other bloggers, mainly from the UK that have come up with the same theory I have about the Venice update. Here are their posts if you want to read more and view some screenshots.

Google Venice update showing locally targeted organic results
Google Venice Update – Big Changes Based On Locality
How the Google Venice Algorithm Changes Your Local Search Strategy
Google’s Venice Update & Location Specific Results; The Big Questions