Today Google’s made a major change in Google Places (known to many as Google Maps). The 7-box is no longer a separate entity, but is now merged with the full organic results. This is a game-changer for SEO.
If you take a look at any search for a combination of city and market type, you can see the results:
The Places entries are now listed underneath the sponsored links (i.e., Google AdWords ads) visible as merged with the organic listings. The difference is that each entry contains the same listings that Google Places listed before (web site, reviews, address, phone number), plus a teardrop with placement on the map. The map is now placed in the right column outside of the organic listings, and floats to stay consistently in position at the top right.
If this is a permanent change, this means that SEO has just changed in a major way. The old Google Places is gone. The results are now a combination of entries for Google places and the SEO’d results. Competition is between local businesses, not just based on keyword optimization. Having top position in the old organic results will now only mean top position underneath Google’s chosen local business listings, unless it’s for a term that is not related to services that local businesses can provide.
The big changes are to the listings that belonged to national companies that dominated the listings with huge SEO. Now the priority goes to any local business that has an office/address that is regional to the person making the search. The old national listings that had a single sub-page for that keyword are gone, unless they have a specific address within that region. Many people have theorized that Google is making an effort to replace the Yellow Pages, and this could very well be indicative of that direction.
People were worried about Google Instant killing SEO, but no. This is what will change things a bit.