Although we offer search engine optimisation (SEO) to our clients, we have, for various reasons, never really pushed the optimisation of our own website. However recently we decided that this should probably change.
A quick search for the keywords “web design in Salisbury” shown that a few weeks ago we were 8th for an organic search, and 12th in Google+ Local. Disappointing, but understandable due to the lack of effort on our part.
Organic results are the 'normal' search results in Google, with a rank determined by your website's content and how it interacts with others. Google+ Local results are those linked to the map and are displayed at the top of some search results pages.
With a bit of SEO to our website over a couple of weeks, we noticed that this week we had risen from 8th, to 1st position in Google's organic search for “web design in Salisbury”, great news!
A few hours later, whilst speaking to one of our web designers, we noticed that our organic listing had disappeared. Panicking we searched for “web designer in Salisbury”, “website designer in Salisbury” and various other keywords, all of which had gone!
Our immediate thought was that we had done something to upset Google's algorithms, but this seemed unlikely as we always use white-hat search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques which are liked by Google. A simple search for “webbed feet uk” demonstrated that we were still listed, just not for our main keywords. Would Google block us for certain keywords? And If so why?
A stressful evening followed, with ideas whizzing around in our head as to what we could have done. Then another search revealed that another major web designer in Salisbury, one of our competitors, had also been removed from the organic results. At least we weren't alone...
In the middle of a restless night I woke up with an idea, grabbed my phone and checked again. It seemed that all of the Salisbury web design companies that were listed in the Google+ Local section had no organic listing.
Google seems to have changed the way in which their results are displayed.
What have Google done and why?
For most keywords Google displays organic results, that is a list of websites that they feel will help the user most.
However for certain keyword combinations Google can display enhanced results first; for example modifying the listing for large websites, including a video, including author tags, or in this case including Google+ Local listings.
The reason that “web design in Salisbury” produces Local results is that “web design” is recognised as a service, and the “in Salisbury” a location, so Google puts these on a map.
What happened previously is Google would, for example, display the top 2 organic results, then perhaps the 8 local results, followed by the remaining organic ones. This means that a website ranking number 3 organically would appear at the bottom of the 1st page, below the top 2 organic listings, and below all of the Google+ Local listings, effectively pushing it down to 11th place.
As you can get a (basic) Google+ Local listing with hardly any effort (often automatically) it is surely unfair on the organic websites as, for example, ranking 3rd organically can be a difficult and time consuming task. It meant that for certain keywords organic SEO may not have been a feasible marketing strategy.
What Google seem to have done is merged the two systems together, so that a website's overall rank is determined by their organic position and their Google+ Local position. The highest ranking websites are then positioned at the top of the page by the map, and the others follow immediately after.
If this is the case, it seems like a vast improvement to their algorithm, producing fairer results.
So what next?
We would suggest checking your position regularly as this change seems to be rolling out gradually rather than being implemented in one go.
Google keep their algorithm secret, and so we'll never know how the positions are being calculated, but thing that seems apparent is that Google+ Local seems to be a factor.
We would therefore suggest that you have at least a Google+ and Google+ Local account, verified, linked together, correctly set up, and tied in to your website.