Local Internet Marketing

Google Places Changes Pin Color!

Image of Google Places listings showing grey pins in Google SERPs

Google Places Changes Pin Color – Google Stops Blushing and Goes Pale!

[EDIT:  New video at the end of the post reveals Google Places changes in the WILD!]

I was doing some research for one of our large clients who is in the process of becoming a national franchise in the US, and did a routine Google search for the generic term “pest control”.  I thought something had gone wrong with my computer screen!  Then I checked my Firefox browser plugins to ensure that I didn’t have something active that I might be using for research that might change the CSS of my screen.  However, neither one of these was the cause for the result that appeared in the Google Places listings.  Would you like to see what I saw?  Here you go:

Pest Control Grey Pin 10 27 2011 3 34 39 PM 1024x554 Google Places Changes Pin Color!

Google Places Changes Pin Color! I was just a little shocked here!  The Google Places pin color has always historically been known as red!  If it isn’t red in the Google SERPs, then it will be blue to reflect that this Google listing is a paid advertisement.  In fact, you can now see how Google Places has customized the Map itself.  Here the pins are still red and blue and the layout has changed and takes up less space.  Hmmm, wonder if this has anything to do with trying to reduce the area the old map took from the paid ads in the right side bar?

Then, I immediately remembered an article that I read about on SEOMoz discussing how Google changed a feature in its Analytics platform based on whether the searcher was logged into their Google account or not.  So I proceeded to log into my primary Google account.  I went back and did the same exact search.  Guess what happened to the Google Places listings?  Watch this:

Pest Control Red Pin 10 27 2011 3 42 58 PM 1024x554 Google Places Changes Pin Color!

Google Places Changes Pin Color to red again!  Now, of course, this could be Google running some algo tests to determine whether or not this is a permanent change.  I am going to bet that this will be permanent.  Here’s why….  Google is the number one search engine because it does a better job than anyone else providing useful and relevant results to its users.  That is why businesses are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for advertising space.  If users stop using Google, then advertising dollars will go somewhere else.  So Google is going to continue to show local Google Places listings in its SERPs if it feels that the search has local intent.  But by showing grey results, several interesting thing might happen:

  1. Using grey pins causes less distraction from the rest of the traditional website listings and paid advertisements.  On Mike Blumenthal’s blog, he cited research conducted on eye-tracking movement and what gets the attention of searchers when showing Google Places results.  Unquestionably, the majority of the heat maps demonstrate that the searcher’s attention is predominantly drawn to the Google Places listings, even if the Google Places listings were pushed down the page!  Also, the Map in the upper-right corner of the search results got lots of attention.  I wonder if Google saw the same study and decided to switch to grey, so as not to distract visitor from other paid adverts?
  2. Google + is a top priority for Google this year and company bonuses are tied into its performance.  So far, Google Plus has only been available for personal profiles, but Google + for businesses have been in beta for a while now.  Google just announced that it is trying to convert its Blogger users to switch over profiles from Blogger to Google Plus.  In addition, Google + profiles will be incorporated into other Google platforms soon.  How long will it before they incorporate into Google Places? Especially when Google + for businesses launches and goes public.  Now, if the change is permanent, is will become common knowledge that you get red pins when you log into your Google account.  Do you think that when you create a new account, that you will be automatically creating your Google + account as well?
  3. Google wants more people to log into their accounts which allows them to better track and analyze the data of its users.  Better analytics means better data for Google advertisers, which allows Google to make more money.
  4. Reputation management and social proof become even more important to small business owner’s who are doing online marketing campaigns.  Now that the color has been removed from the pins in the organic Google Places results, what element stands out even more?  Did you know that yellow is the most reflective color in the spectrum which makes it brighter than other colors?  Which listings stand out the most in the searches done with the grey pins?  Who would you call if you needed these small businesses help?
  5. Is Google trying to make Congress and the FTC happy?  After having to appear before a Congressional investigative hearing, Google was accused of creating a monopoly in the search engine space.  Which, of course, is a joke, but that is for another post.  But do you think that Google Places made this change to appease the powers that be?  Yelp and NexTag filed a formal complaint stating that Google is leveraging Google Places as its own property and gives it preferential treatment over other local business directories.  Hey, if you don’t like Google use a different search engine like Bing or Yahoo.

I find it interesting that the traditional Map still reflects the traditional red and blue pin colors.  I am willing to bet that the user’s attention will now naturally gravitate to these colorful pins.  Hmmm…. what is directly below these colorful pins on the map?  Paid advertising!  I am curious to see if CTRs of these advert go up.  I’m sure Google will be measuring!

Are Google Places Changes Pin Color a fluke?

Then it occurred to me that this Google Places listing results might be an isolated incident.  I also noticed that my screen shots did not actually show whether I was really logged in or not.  So I did another search for “chiropractors phoenix az” with NOT being logged into my Google Account:

Chiros Phx 10 27 2011 3 37 02 PM 1024x554 Google Places Changes Pin Color!

Again, grey pins are showing in the Google Places listings results.  Then I immediately logged back into my Google account and guess what happened?  Check it out:

Chiros Phx Red Pin 10 27 2011 3 42 58 PM 1024x554 Google Places Changes Pin Color!

So do YOU think that these changes are permanent?  Do you think they are simply testing right now in Phoenix AZ?  (I will be checking other areas using Proxies to see if this is happening in other markets, but wanted to get this post out asap)  Why do you think Google Places is even doing this in the first place?  If you were Google Places what would you do and why?  Google is making changes all the time, including letting any Google account user to edit and validate information on its Google Places listings.  So, be a ROCKSTAR and leave your comments below!  Oh, yeah, make sure you Google +1 this post, okay?

[EDIT]  We spotted Google Places making some changes in the WILD!  Watch this video to see how Google Places changes its layout!

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