Google Places Location On Top, But Why?

It’s been a busy year on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages: Caffeine, MayDay, the 6-domain SERP, Instant. Today the roll-out of the new location-based SERP, Google Places, was added to the list of noteworthy changes.

You can find a pretty good description of the new Google Places at Search Engine Land.

The practical effect of the Places is to give the listing of physical places prominence over the listing of web sites that have content about said places. If this change holds it will likely be the death knell for a good many directory and Internet Yellow Pages sites while the Google Places pages and company web sites for businesses with a physical local presence get much more exposure than previously.

Why is Google doing this?

The stock answer is of course that Google wants to give its users the most useful and relevant search results.

However, i think it makes more sense to describe the move as an effort by Google to become more important in the much bigger offline economy. Paid search ads have made Google almost shockingly profitable and flush with cash, yet far more advertising money can be found and had in the offline world. I think Google is trying to give physical businesses a greater role in SERPs in order to both get more money from segment and extract more money from online advertisers by increasing competition for AdWords space.

It is perhaps a bit surprising that Google has made Places such a central part of SERPs for computer-based browsers when it seems like a more natural fit for browsers on handheld devices.