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What Is The Purpose Of Google Places?



12:40 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Google loudly proclaims that it's search results are ALWAYS about giving the searcher the best possible result. We hear that time and time again. So why is it, when a search term contains a location/city/town etc, that Google immediately devalues those "best possible user experience" results (the orgainic results) and instead inserts a 7 pack of dubious results simply because they are supposed to have a connection with the "place"?

If Google's algo is so smart that it can bring me the "best user experience" in organic results when I search for "San Antonio bodyshops" (just an example) why are organic results pushed below the 7 pack? On the one hand Google is telling me they give the best possible search results, then they push those results out of eyesight below 7 pack sites! Sorry.... but that is not providing me with the best user experience.

When I add the letter "s" to a search it's because I want to see more than one. I don't want to slog through 7 individual sites hoping that I MIGHT find the right body shop. When visiting New York I want to see sites that offer me a collection of "New York hotels", not have the world's best comparison sites buried below 7 individual hotel sites that happen to be New York related.

Then there is the inconsistency of showing the 7 pack at all. Sticking with the "New York hotels" example, we see the typical 7 pack results. However, refine the search to "luxury New York hotels" and hey presto, the 7 pack vanishes! The same product/service (hotels) and the same location (New York) are still there but by simply refining the search (luxury), all of a sudden the logic for showing the 7 pack evaporates! "<Placename> accommodation" gets a 7 pack, "<placename> apartments" does not get a 7 pack. If Google seriously believed the 7 pack adds to the user experience, why not apply it consistently?

Google prides itself on a clean, uncluttered presentation of search results. So why have such a mish mash of different styles when presenting Google Places. Sometimes there are organic results above the 7 pack, other times not. Some displays consist of 2 lines, other displays involve merging part of the Google Places data with an organic display to create an 8 line monster version complete with links to citation sites. Why?

When Google Adwords first appeared at the top of the search page, we understood that they had to monetize their business just as we have to do with our businesses. As their vested self interests started to encroach onto more and more of the screen real estate, we understood they have to appease their shareholders. But with Google Places they seem to be demonstrating a total contempt for organic results and I for one can see no "user wins" reason for introducing the 7 packs into the serps.

Google Places smacks of the old IT mindset of "can do = must do". It does not improve the user experience.

PS.... I have sites, both my own and clients, appearing in Google Places. Doesn't change the above one jot!


2:16 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I agree that Google Places is still a mighty rough application - not close to what you'd hope for. And I also think it's existence is a tacit admission that when it comes to location-based results, no conventional IR algo is going to give a very thorough result.

That's especially true when database site generation is so common a form of spam. Just this week I was looking for some local transportation information and the results were littered with false promises - sites that obviously just churned out keyword plug-in pages, whether they had any real information on the topic for that location or not.

So Google invented Places - a conventional Yellow Pages approach rather than any IR algo - and still they struggle to make it dependable and not so badly gamed. However, I think Google expects they will have a better chance at cleaning this up eventually than cleaning up any purely organic results approach to local.

The question of when Google search results do or don't go to the 7-pack is fascinating. I've watched it turn on and off over and over agina for given types of query terms. Apparently this part of the algo (when to display a Places 7-pack) is still in major test mode.


3:06 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Do you think Google already done a lot of scientific test on the local queries and found that Google Places received more clicks and also get more user satisfaction? It looks like Google show different search result elements depends on user intent. I didn't say that it is perfect, i also see lot of queries that doesn't make sense. For query "New York Hotels", it shows 7 pack and also show hotels by category (luxury, 4 star, 5 star) and also location, that what Google wanna be, they will become aggregator that's why they acquired ITA for control search experience when user looking for comparison the accommodation. I hope they would do better than Kayak or other comparison site.


4:27 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member whitey is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Well the purpose is to capture the local search highground in lieu of the once very profitable Yellow Pages demise which has more or less ground to a revenue halt. But it's a mega business worth multi billions and Google is keen to partner with whoever to develop business models that enhance it.

So the fact that it's very rough around the edges, and , in my view not a good user experience, doesn't seem to worry them. They have the eye on the long term rather than the here and now , and don't appear to care about comments like these. ( but what do i know ).

To me, locality search has it's future on hand held devices, or in a separate area of the SERP's via a tab. Mixing them up is both confusing and ineffectual. I do believe that Google is determined to stay the course until such time as it get's its business model and presentation spot on. But it's been a long time coming and disruptive for those wanting organic to remain.

One thing is certain. Google is very happy to introduce plenty of new ideas to it's 1st page of media realestate, so one thing gone, another thing will arrive.


4:57 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Google loudly proclaims...

Ha! Very few believe those lies now, it's all about profit and pushing the "creepy line."

Google wants to promote it's substandard properties through Google search to make more money and to drive the competition out of business. And of course to discourage others from doing what Google is doing--which is almost everything these days. They are very good at copying and disrupting competitors. Looks like they have realized that the loss is smaller than the benefits with the 7-pack so who cares what we think or what is "right". By going to Google places instead of your site, people get another chance to click on a Google ad, among other things.

FTC is investigating them for this, makes almost impossible to compete with Google given their reach and the free exposure they get on Google.com.

The new FTC investigation . . . will examine fundamental issues relating to Google’s core search advertising business, which still accounts for the overwhelming majority of its revenues. Those will include whether Google—which accounts for around two-thirds of internet searches in the U.S. and more abroad—unfairly channels users to its own growing network of services at the expense of rivals’.

If you look carefully you will also see many out of place and out of context Google book results, especially when searching in sentences. Same principle, more chances to click on a Google ad in another page, and nothing to do with 'best for the user.'


6:14 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The purpose of Google places imho is to increase the logistical size of the database of potential topics for Google to utilize in advertising. The idea in my opinion is to connect with businesses themselves so that they can market their services directly.


6:23 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

You make some very good points, walkman. Contrary to their publicly crafted image, Google has also been a ruthless competitor. They don't accept a lot of conventional limitations to their thinking and are willing to push the envelope in many ways. Google Places is one example of this.

Whitey made a good observation, too. The hook-up between mobile and Places is an important development and Google definitely has their eye on it.

But Google better do something about the current problems pretty fast. In the past two weeks, without even trying to look for them, I've seen three "tutorials" about how to spam Places. Major media are publishing very vocal criticisms about the problems in Places.

And even with all its problems, and all the "force feeding" of Places results, I often prefer Places results to organic local results. Local spam is epidemic, as I said before.


7:21 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member sgt_kickaxe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member

Looking up "coffee shop" in my aunt's neighborhood results in an adult hair cutting salon(bikini clad hairdressers) that offers free coffee. Places is rough indeed.

Ha! Very few believe those lies now, it's all about profit and pushing the "creepy line."

I strongly believe the public needs to be informed about it, many non-webmasters are oblivious to it and are having their personal information used for profit. The solution? It's time the #2 search engine carries a bigger stick and that webmasters strongly consider using fewer Google products, at least until Google pulls their idea of the creepy line WAY back. That may not be possible if there are backroom data gathering deals with the likes of the NSA etc.


8:11 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member lucy24 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time Top Contributors Of The Month

Ooh, I like the trick with the map. I want to think of a non-annoying use for it. Navigation links, say.

In my town they could only find three places worthy of mapping :( But the one further down with the bullets gets my click, because it looks as if it will convey information. So there.

:: wandering off in search of some public-domain open-source javascript I can swipe ::


11:34 am on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Memo to Google....

Move the Adwords skyscraper display from the right side of the SERP's page to the left. Display the A to G 7 pack in the freed up space under the map on the right side.

Leave the central display area for the organic results.

That way the searcher gets to choose and is not being force fed. Then I'd start to believe you really are trying to provide the best user experience.

Oh well, one can only dream.


1:42 pm on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

The purpose of google places plain and simple is to push the organic results down and make google more money. Everything google does these days is about one thing, making more money. I think they also see it as a bonus if they can put more people out of jobs and destroy more businesses.

As to why places isn't uniform, it's rather simple. Google has had years to gather priceless data about which keywords convert and which ones don't, and to measure the value of each and every phrase. Some keywords are simply not that valuable.


3:21 pm on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

My feeling is that it may be more relevant if merchants actually claimed their listings - however most don't know they can, or don't really care which leads to the "educated guesses" we see google taking, and in many cases failing.

Not to mention that most of the google local results came from yellowpages - but who knows how stale the data was/is that they got from yp - i've seen many cases of "THIS BUSINESS NO LONGER EXISTS" reviews yet the listings remain.


3:56 pm on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Or perhaps this is just the ground work, so once the local results start triggering every time, people will spend more time optimising and vying for these positions - then they can start charging for add places like Adwords, and the highest bidder gets higher up the 7 pack! - so income from both the Adwords banner, and the local place results.


4:23 pm on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Were pretty deep into local guides for a specific market segment (Not Locksmiths) and have several employees working full time from a main office, to make sure everything stays current in the Metros our company services. We publish very detailed information about local businesses, service guides, business growth guides, etc. Its well linked, well referred to in news and local media, etc.

The Places listings 7-pack is slowly killing off our organic results across several areas, and we actually feel (no data to back it up) that Google measures the traffic it sends to our sites for different keyword combinations, and then uses that data to calculate the value or local relevance of a phrase, and finally spawn the 7-pack in future updates. Its not been uncommon to find pages ranking very well for a local-centric long tail phrase today... and in a few weeks, the same long tail phrase will begin spawning the 7-pack, pushing our site to the first organic still, but well off the hotspot of click-through.

Also - the local 7-pack excludes several Webmaster, Marketing, Developer, and Technology related categories from the spawn. Just try searching for a few. You may find some local results, but never a 7-pack or map.



5:13 pm on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

then they can start charging for ad places like Adwords

They already do. Check the 'new york hotels' search mentioned above, the top four hotels listed each have a price listed next to them - click on the price and a list of ads appears, so the hotel itself will often still end up paying commissions to the big hotel listing sites even if their own hotel is high in the listings.

Worse, the fact that the top listed hotels all have prices and the ones below don't suggests that G are already giving priority to hotels that they have ads available for.

Incidentally that means that above the fold on my screen, there are currently 17 ads: three above the listings, three on the right, and 14 in the drop down boxes with the prices. If I did that on my own site everyone would tell me I'd gone mad and deserved to be penalised.

...and no hotel comparison sites can be seen above the fold, although that is clearly what a user will really be looking for when they search 'new york hotels', rather than a list of 7 hotels chosen 'randomly' from the thousands available.

None of the above even comes close to improving the user experience.


5:48 pm on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

google places is all about keeping people on their own site. the more page views google can get using their own products, the more ads they can put in front of us.

Another annoying thing that New York hotels example, is that google appears tobe moving into the affiliate business.
instead of just sending users to the hotel's website, they are listing prices next to it, in a dropdown box. None of these appear to inclue the hotel's own price, just big holiday companies like hotel.com and expedia. Do google make money out of these? If they aren't then I wouldn't be surprised if they started earning commission in the future.

I wouldn't be too happy if i was the hotel owner -- imagine having a link to your site, only to find that google is siphoning off the customers by listing "best prices" next to it that aren't even yours.


6:26 pm on Sep 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Another annoying thing that New York hotels example, is that google appears tobe moving into the affiliate business.

...and no hotel comparison sites can be seen above the fold, although that is clearly what a user will really be looking for when they search 'new york hotels', rather than a list of 7 hotels chosen 'randomly' from the thousands available.

Te only reason (IMO) that Expedia, Orbitz and the likes are still on page 1 is that they are fighting G tooth and nail with anti-trust complaints [bing.com...] so G has to seem fair. Not to mention that almost all are also Google advertisers, so Google isn't losing much. They are destined to be moved to page 2-3 or get a -50 penalty once that's solved.

Google is already int he affiliate business: IIRC, they penalized all finance comparison sites and then bought one. Of course they removed the penalty 2 weeks later--for the Google owned one. If you search for credit cards for example, you will see a 4th link on top with another 4-6 sitelinks. The same is for "Offers" and it will get worst as Google is buying more and more businesses. If Google does it, your site will be considered "low quality and not unique" and at the mercy of their heavily biased people.


1:36 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

For as long as Google continues to buy businesses they will continue to be heavily biased. I will only change my statement if they try to consider placing their adds below each and every SERP's.


4:19 pm on Sep 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

I think the purpose of google places is to push the organic results down and make google more benefit.

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