The old rules of SEO no longer apply. I'll explain why, then I'll suggest some key points that local businesses need to think about.
So - what's changed?
This morning I noticed that the traffic to one of my most visited pages on my blog had seriously dropped. In early 2008 I wrote about "Raja-Fashions Tailor-Made Hong Kong Suits, Online Meets Offline". It was an experiment, to see just from copy writing using the right keywords I could achieve a good search ranking for "Raja Fashions". Just for kicks. And it worked. Number 2 in Google for "Raja Fashions" after the business itself.
In the last two weeks, traffic to this site has halved. Looking at the reasons why made me realise that as far as Google is concerned, the game has changed.
What's happened now is that instead of being number 2 in the results, high up on the page, Google has massively increased the amount of screen space it uses for the relevant local business result. Now the "place page" has taken centre stage.
Now as you can see, my blog isn't seen on the screen. I can count already 17 links to the Raja Fashions site, 4 links to their place page and a two links to "more results from rajafashions.com".
(Now - I am stuffing this blog entry with lots of Raja Fashions keywords, but in this case I'm just doing to tell the story, I'm not doing it to try re-claim my ranking, that's for sure! Although, I can recommend having a high ranking page with lots of opinion on it to use as leverage when you're dealing with a Chinese salesman and you're negotiating on price - but that's another story...)
3 important implications for local businesses...
1. Claim your place page.
Local businesses need to claim their place page more than ever. These pages will get more traffic, make sure the information is complete and accurate.
2. Design your website navigation with Google in mind.
Local businesses need to make sure that their website navigation has key call to action and information categories on the menu so that these links are the links shown on the Google results page under the main result. For example if you were a restaurant, you would want a "Book A Table" link on your primary navigation and a landing page for that purpose. As well as having the booking interface on the homepage as well of course.
3. Bid on your own brand name
This will push all the aggregators even further down the page because you're claiming the top slot on the page. More real estate for you.
Strategically, here's how I read the situation...
Google has always struggled to sell to local businesses. They've not got a sales force, unlike yellow page companies or Groupon. So - they need an automated touch point. By pushing the place page they do two things. They drive more traffic to place pages so that local business owners start to take notice. In parallel, aggregators have to pay to be seen because if you're aggregating local businesses, you're not going to get the same returns that you used to on SEO as there's less and less first page screen real estate to be seen on - so better PPC revenues. Then, they develop their own automated promotions engine on the platform, coupons, vouchers etc. Groupon, watch out.