For location-based businesses, ranking highly in Google Places can be a boon to sales. This is not only true on Google.com, but also on many of the country-specific versions of Google as well. In the tourism and hospitality industries, business can use this medium to promote services to people planning trips to their location.
Take for example a search for hotels in New York from various places around the world. In Mexico, a traveler planning a vacation in New York might search for “hoteles Nueva York” on Google.com.mx. The first seven results (after the sponsored listings) served are incorporated from Google Places.
So how do businesses use Google Places to target visitors in Latin American, Asia, and Europe? With great difficulty appears to be the answer. Google, it appears, has decided that what’s best for an English speaking audience is best for everyone else when it comes to Places results. Though the results of the example from Google.com.mx above deviate slightly from those on Google.com, the differences are minor. The same is true for results on Google France, Google Hong Kong, and Google Brazil.
This is wonderful news for those businesses that currently occupy the top results in Google Places. Not only do they capture significant market share from English speaking tourists but they also get the non-English speaking tourists as well. Google fails the tourism business here because it provides no preference for businesses that have made efforts to cater specifically to non-English speakers. It would appear that Google simply expects all users to understand English.
The most relevant results for a non-English speaking, Mexican national searching for a hotel in New York would be hotels with Spanish language websites, reviews in Spanish, and Spanish speaking staff. But these factors do no not seem to play a part in the Places ranking algorithm. Even worse, the Places results that are incorporated into the main search engine results push the more relevant organic results below the fold. So much for Google’s number 1 principal of focusing on the user!
I imagine that over time, Google will improve Places and utilize factors such as website translation, and language-specific reviews to improve relevancy in different countries. If you are the owner or head marketer of a tourism business, translating and optimizing your web presence will bring its rewards.