Is Google Becoming A Directory Site?

We mentioned in an earlier article that we’ve been doing some research into the way that Google Localisation is affecting search engine results, and we’ve started to wonder if Google has forgotten that it’s a search engine.

Take a look at the image below, where we did a search for used cars in Johannesburg. This screenshot was taken at a resolution of 1280×1024, and we were a little disturbed to note that not one organic search engine result appeared fully above the fold.

As you can see in the image, the top 3 results are ads, followed by the Google Places results, which take up the rest of the screen. At the very bottom, the title of the first organic result, the number one ranking on Google for this query, is just barely visible.

Google Places Affecting SEO

Now, one might think that people will simply keep scrolling and see the actual search results that way, but numerous studies have shown that people are just as likely, if not more so, to simply click on the first result that they can see.

Most people don’t know the difference between the ads and the actual results. And now they’re being faced with the Google Places results as well.

Places Trumps Optimisation

Right now, it looks like Google is giving considerably more priority to sites which are part of their Google Places / Local Business directory than they are to the sites which supposedly rank first. And when the top ranked site for a particular search term isn’t even visible on the results page, we think that there is something wrong.

There’s no indication of how Google selects which “Places” listing to display first, and based on a cursory check of the top three in this example, site quality and relevance isn’t among the criteria.

Although two of top three places listings had the words “used cars” in the link title, only one of them actually contained the words “used cars” and that was a navigation option. One of those top three doesn’t even have a website, and nor did 3 of the top 7. All they have is the Google Local Business Centre page. And out of the 7 Places results shown, 4 of them aren’t even in Johannesburg.

Is Google Moving The Goal Posts?

There are people out there, (including us), putting a lot of effort into making sure they meet Google’s requirements in terms of quality, relevance and usefulness to users.

And now there’s an ever increasing chance that even with all that work, with the utmost attention to the user experience, their site is not even going to be visible above the fold, thanks to Google advertising and directory listings.

We’re not exactly sure what’s happening here. But you can be sure that we’ll be keeping a close eye on this, and keeping you up to date.

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