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Posted by on Feb 10, 2015 in All Matters SEO | 3 comments

Google Local: A History

Caitlin Pinegar
Caitlin Pinegar

Latest posts by Caitlin Pinegar (see all)

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You may have seen Emily’s Local U recap post a few weeks ago on the importance of UNAP consistency. I was lucky enough to also attend this conference in New York, and one of the most interesting presentations came from a Google representative on how Google views Local. In addition to the Google presentation, many of the speakers referenced and gave examples of the immense evolution of the local search space, since Google first launched Google Local in 2004.

Today I want to take a step back and look at the history of Google Maps and Google Local – how local search was brought into Google, and how it has evolved over time. I hope this will help us to see and understand what Google values in local search, and also to help us think about what might happen in the future!

2004

Google Local

Google Local is born. This local search offering provides relevant neighborhood business listings, maps and directions.

Prior to Google Local, people were using search engines to find information online. With this launch, it becomes clear that Google understands consumers will begin using search engines to find local products and services online.

Google 2004

Image Source: Google Press Blog

2005

Google Maps

Google’s mapping service, Google Maps, goes live. In a blog post, Google gives an example that with Google Maps, searching for “hotels near LAX” will show you nearby hotels plotted right on a map.

Google Maps 2005

Image Source: PeterMe.com

Google Maps on Mobile

Later in 2005, Google Maps also becomes available on mobile, which is a true sign of Google trying to make local information available to people on the go.

Google Maps on Mobile 2005

Image Source: RicketyRoo

2006

Google Plus Box

A new Google feature called the “plus box” rolls out in search results, which allows users to see maps for local businesses right within the search results page.

On his blog, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Web Spam team, states that with this feature, “you don’t have to remember to go to a completely different place to look up local info. Instead, this feature integrates with our main web search to help the majority of our users without them doing anything extra.”

This is a great example of Google trying to make things easier for searchers by providing them with all of the information they need in one easy to find location.

2006 Google Plus Box

Image Source: Matt Cutts Blog

2008

Google Local 10-Pack

Google rolls out local 10-pack of business listings, which displays above the traditional organic search results, often pushing traditional search results below the fold. Additionally, the URL and phone number are displayed in these results, making it unnecessary for a searcher to take any additional steps before contacting the business.

2008 Google Local 10-Pack

Image Source: Search Engine Land

2009

Local Business Center

Google launches the Local Business Center dashboard, which allows business owners to claim their business listings to better control the content and appearance of their listings in Google Maps. To see the announcement, click here.

2009 Google Local Business Center

Image Source: Search Marketing Communications

2010

Google Places Search

Google launches Google Places Search, a larger, more detailed local 7-pack that takes up more page real estate, pushing traditional search results even further down the page. Google Places Search results include a business description, reviews, relevant links and information from across the web making it even easier to get all of the information you need within local search results.

To quote the Google Blog: “In our new layout you’ll find many more relevant links on a single results page—often 30 or 40. Instead of doing eight or 10 searches, often you’ll get to the sites you’re looking for with just one search.”

2010 Google Places

Image Source: Google Blog

2011

Google+

Google launches the Google+ Project, Google’s answer to social media channels such as Facebook.

2011 Google+

Image Source: Gigaom

2012

Google+ Local

Google launches a big multi-platform overhaul with Google+ Local. As described on their official blog, Google+ Local is “a simple way to discover and share local information featuring Zagat scores and recommendations from people you trust in Google+.” Google+ Local is integrated into Search, Maps and mobile and available as a new tab in Google+—streamlining Google’s services to create one simple experience across Google.

2012 Google + Local

Image Source: Google Blog

Venice Algorithm Update

Also in 2012, Google rolls out the Venice algorithm update, which aims to make local search results more relevant by serving up the results it deems most relevant to both the location and query of the searcher. With this algorithm update, Google begins returning localized search results for generic search terms without a location modifier.

Venice Algorithm Update

Image Source: Search Engine Land

2013

Google Carousel

Google launches the Google Carousel, a new layout on desktop search for certain search queries with local intent. The carousel displays as a horizontal strip of images at the top of a search engine results page, featuring businesses more prominently on the SERP. Carousel listings include a photo, business name and ratings.

When a user clicks on a carousel listing, the SERP is updated to provide additional information for the selected business, and the full knowledge graph for the business appears in the right sidebar, which provides easy access to additional information about the company.

The carousel, like so many other previous changes, makes it even easier for searchers to obtain all of the information they’re looking for directly from the knowledge graph within the search engine results page.

Google Carousel

 Image Source: Search Engine Land

2014

New Google Maps

Google officially launches new Google Maps, after its preview in 2013. As announced on the Google Blog, the new Google Maps makes it easier to plan trips, learn about a new area and find the most efficient route. Other updates include Info Cards, with detailed business information, reviews and ratings, personalized results and an ability to make reservations and travel plans directly within the platform.

2014 Google Maps

Image Source: Wonder of Tech

New Google Maps

Image Source: PC Mag

Google Local 3-Pack

Google drops the local carousel and replaces is with a more mobile friendly 3-pack of local listings on both desktop and mobile. Within the Local 3-Pack, there are obviously fewer listing options immediately visible, however at the bottom of the 3-pack, there is an option to view an expanded list of businesses. Users can click on listings to view full business details.

Google Local 3-Pack

With the launch of the local 3-pack, it has become more important than ever for businesses to follow local search best practices in order to maximize visibility on the search engine results pages.

Well that about does it! I hope this quick look back over the last 11 years has given you a good grasp on how and why the local search space has evolved. Overall, I think the key theme here is that Google is constantly molding, adjusting and integrating their many product offerings in order to provide the best and easiest experience for their users – sometimes at the expense of the local businesses, who have to constantly navigate and adjust for these constant changes! But one thing I think is clear is that the changes are not stopping anytime soon.

What do you think the local search space will look like in the future?

3 Comments

  1. Great article, Caitlin!

  2. Loved this, Caitlin! This should go on Search Engine Land!