Google’s Venice Update Rocks The Gondola

Significant Changes in Local Search Results.

rocking gondola image

Google's Venice Update Rocks the Gondola

Yesterday, I picked up a post in Search Engine Land by Matt McGee about 40 Google search quality updates in February 2012, also announced in the official Google search blog.

At number 26 in Google’s list of 40 items, is an update dubbed “the Venice update” and Google’s summary announcement on their blog is as follows.

“Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”

The very next time I logged into Google Analytics, I saw some of the effects of that update had already started to manifest themselves in our search results.

I noticed a visit arising from the term “SEO”. Being a broad, general term, I have never bothered to try and target it and AdJuice does not rank particularly highly for that query. So I carried out a few searches myself and have shown two of the results below.

You can click on these images to get bigger pictures.

Google Venice update example 1

New google search results for "SEO" after the Venice update

Google Venice update example 2

New google search results for "SEO services" after the Venice update

I was amazed to see that a minor page on our site, dedicated to Camberley, was ranking today at number 5 in the main results on a search for “SEO” (by the way, it was number 5 and not number 4 as I’ve incorrectly annotated the screenshot). We also appeared at number 5 on a search for “SEO services”, a term for which we usually appear on page 2 nationally. You can see from the lefthandmost column of the second screenshot that my location was set to Camberley. Prior to the Venice update, our Camberley specific page really only appeared on page 1 when a searcher specified Camberley in their search query. That’s all changed.

With local results being intermingled with national results rank tracking becomes a big issue, as Linda Buquet explains (see first related link below).

Interestingly, our Camberley page did not appear for other very closely related searches like “SEO specialists”, “SEO agencies” or “SEO companies” although other pages of our site rank well nationally for those terms.

Opportunities For Businesses Operating in Local Markets

The Venice update, at first sight, would therefore appear to offer some great opportunities for local businesses to appear on page 1 in the main results to customers who are searching within their locality. Up until now, the focus for local businesses has very much been on Google Place Page Results, Google Maps and the blended local business results introduced in the UK in 2010.

This change suggests that a shift towards optimising for appearances in the main organic results may have become commercially viable again for some small businesses.

Not only does it now look like local businesses will be able to appear on page 1 for major terms but if they have their Google authorship sorted out, then they are also likely to have their result accompanied by their photo, as in my first example above. That’s a big opportunity.

More places in the main organic search results for small businesses must mean fewer places for the big brands / big budgets that dominate some of the most competitive search terms on a national level. Will they have to recoup their lost leads by upping their AdWords budgets or will we see an increase in the proliferation of “service” + “town” pages?

Venice Update Experiment

The page that appeared in the above searches was this one . Today I deleted this page, set up a 301 redirect to the home page and submitted a URL exclusion request in Google Webmaster Tools for the deleted page.

The page was really a legacy page which served as a landing page for hyper-local searches in our home town. Unlike many “service” + “town” landing pages, it did actually have 100% unique content but it was not providing any real user value so I did not want it suddenly appearing on page 1 for major search terms. No, I’m not mad. It was a crummy page.

It will therefore be interesting to see whether the deletion of the above page will cost us the rankings in the screenshots or whether our home page will now appear instead. If it’s the former, then I won’t be disappointed but if it’s the latter, then so much the better. Will I have removed the vital signals (a highly specific location-based page) in order to appear in these positions or were they not necessary in the first place?

I’ll watch out over the next few days and update this post (in the comments below) as soon as I have the answer!

Please see comments below for updates. I intend on continuing this experiment by making further changes over the next few days as soon as I can find time. Pop back or subscribe.

Related posts:
Google Venice Update – New Ranking Opportunities for Local SEO – Local SEO Blog
The Google Venice Update – Another Nail in the IYP Coffin? – Local SEO Guide
Google Venice update showing locally targeted organic results – Blogstorm
Google Venice Update – Big Changes Based On Locality – PPC Blog

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