Whilst the SEO and online marketing world was busy worrying about the possible repercussions of Panda 3.3, updates to privacy policies and the EU Cookie saga, Google very quietly rolled out the Venice update. It did, at first glance, appear innocuous, but the fact that Google named it should have been a hint that it would be just a little more far-reaching.

This is Google’s official announcement about Venice:

“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.”

“Improved local search results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.”

We are sure that Google is aiming to ‘improve’ as they used that word (or one of its derivatives) 4 times in 66 words!!

That aside, what this means in real terms is quite a substantial change to local search queries. Even if the search query entered does not include location specific keywords, Google will still provide local results, based on the user’s location and the fact that they are the most relevant to the searcher.

So far it appears that small, local businesses are benefitting the most from the additional exposure, especially those which already had a Google Places posting prior to the Venice update.

The downside is that many of those small local businesses have a web presence which to say the least is ‘thin,’ but they are being ranked alongside much more respected franchised businesses or those that operate nationally.
So, what can be done to put things back into the equilibrium?

First on the list has to be actually having a look at how (if at all) Venice has changed your rank on the SERPs. This could seem really fundamental, but many webmasters panic and start changing things before they even know they have been affected!

Assuming there has been a negative change in ranking, the next step is reviewing how you are optimising your web pages with regards to location. If you are not listed in Google Places, then you need to be. You might also need to review your keywords and possibly make them either long tail or location specific.

Next on the list is to check the directories your website is listed on. Surprisingly, many websites are not listed on any unless they get a ‘non-requested review’ from a client! Think national as well as local and sign up for every one that is free. In addition, be really pedantic with your analytics. Take one specific web page that usually has a reasonable amount of traffic. You now need to know exactly where every single person that lands on that page has come from, how long they stay and what they do whilst they are ‘engaged.’

Despite previous advice it issued to webmasters, Google has changed the game plan yet again and we all have little choice but to follow it, if only for now.