As we anticipated, the Google local experiment has become a reality. On October 27, 2010, Google announced a significant change that, in my humble opinion, will have a huge impact on local search visibility for law firms. According to Google, Place Search is,

. . . a new kind of local search result that organizes the world’s information around places. We’ve clustered search results around specific locations so you can more easily make comparisons and decide where to go.

If Place Search hasn’t rolled out in your area, you can preview the differences with this link.

Let’s take a look at how this change will impact localized legal services searches.

Here’s a google search engine results page (serp) for the search phrase “new jersey defense attorney”:

Google Place Search Results

Not surprisingly, the sponsored listings retain primacy on the results page (Google’s moneymaker). However, as you can see, there are several significant changes that are likely to have an impact on the way users interact with the results pages.

First, the actual map has been moved to the right pushing down the lower ranking sponsored listings. This is likely to have a considerable impact on the click-throughs for those sponsored listings, especially for those in the fourth position.

Second, the organic listings have been hybridized with their corresponding places listings. This is likely to have the most significant impact on user interaction. Let’s take a closer look at these hybridized listings:

Google Organic Local Listings Merged

You will notice that the organic listings have been merged with the the places listings. More specifically, these listings now contain location information including business address and phone number.

These new listings also include citation and review information from other local platforms. You will notice the link on the top listing above. You can also see a link to the reviews from Google Places on the right.

It is likely that places tags will also carry additional weight under this format. Notice the “free consultation” link in the lower listing of the above example.

While the full extent of the impact that these changes can’t be known until the empirical data rolls in, it is clear that these changes will have significant consequences to law firms that have ignored their presence in local online platforms.

Legal professionals that have enjoyed considerable traffic from their powerful local organic listings are likely to find their positions fluctuating greatly in the coming months. While these changes will significantly impact localized searches, positions for non-location specific searches are likely to remain largely unchanged.

If you have a geographically specific practice, you should consider localizing your seo campaigns.

So how has this recent change impacted your firm? Have you noticed significant changes in your positions for local search phrases? Will local seo become more of a priority for your firm?