Following on from a previous post where it seemed that Google was starting to make a decision about what pages to index with a preference for lowercase results, but it seems that they have also been working to implement lettercase sensitivity on their Google Maps results. The interesting secondary aspect is that it appears early in the process that some businesses get a significant commercial advantage with the new quick refinement links that are showing for certain queries.
Lettercase can influence Google Maps results
Google is also appearing to try and adjust its Maps results for geographic queries which was picked up in a random search last month but still appears to be in place, but ive struggled to understand the linguistic significance of the recent change to adjust to suit lettercase. I would assume that using uppercase for the item is the user preference but it is not unreasonable to see how with the data insight Google has that it can now calculate if the user is likely to want to refine their query.
Types of Lettercases
According to Wikipedia "Lettercase" some sentences cases are not used in standard English grammar but are common in product branding and computer programming. The different types of common case used are:
CamelCase "iPod, eBay"
Start case "The End Of The World"
Snake case "Do_not_copy"
Studly caps "NeWS"
Google no longer case folding
Usually search queries use case folding, as it is then possible for the algorithm to make case-insensitive comparisons against its index for the relevant result. But recently it seems at least for local results there has been a shift away from case folding and the results are adjusted to match the letter case. It is now possible if you make a choice to use all lowercase or just capitalise the "object" you are searching for you are being offered the ability to refine your search query to get a better and more relevant match. It might be that by placing importance on "Hotels" by capitalising it, Google can understand your intention might be slightly different based on urgency but why just the "object" and not the whole word or the location?
The second result shows how case is now changing if you set the keyphrase "new york hotels" to use all lower case. The new Google Maps local results now shows an additional 2 rows of links you can use to refine your search query to better match your search for a New York Hotel. These can be seen just below the map and above the first result, meaning its now harder for local seo campaigns as more Google properties take up the first part of the search results. The addition of more elements to the SERPs pushes more results further down, below the fold and decreases the chances that those outside the top 3 will actually get clicked.
New links refine results
The new links are adjusted to match the city/location and are adjusted slightly for hotels nearby geographic landmarks such as Central Park, Times Square, Midtown or New York Plaza, and based on the types of hotels commonly available in that city such as Luxury, 5 star, 4 star, family or 3 star. For other geographic locations such as Las Vegas it offers Casino, Wedding and Luxury, 5 star and 4 star properties as a filter, but the hotel nearby landmarks produce the interesting results. Also the preference for singular or plural doesn't seem to affect how this additional search links are included which makes it more complicated when trying to figure out the users intentions to need more refined results.
Google loves MGM?
While it is not clear how these are populated at this stage the MGM casino group seems to gain the most extra promotion by the use of its properties as a filter allows them to show at the top of the results for any refinement. A click on the link for hotels near Luxor refines the users query and the results is an overly friendly result for the Hotel Luxor as shown in the screenshot below. For any competitors not shown in these new local search refinement links it is likely they will experience a massive disadvantage for their Hotel seo campaigns. The expected hotel near links I would expect to see would be mcann airport, the strip, downtown which do not provide a branding benefit to a particular hotel group or landmark property.
Luxor wins at seo
The first 2 paid results are for the Luxor, as well as the first 2 organic results are for Luxor.com with a very powerful 8 internal site links showing meaning that the Luxor controls the local Google results for the top half of the page. The also have the top Google Map result meaning more control of the SERPs and more clicks direct to Luxor.com The influence that these new search refinements will cause competitors is a massive drop in geographic queries and depending on the users search phrase a lot less search traffic from Google and also may affect Luxor affiliate sites and booking sites such as Expedia, Travelocity or Priceline because more traffic will go direct to the hotels website.
I'm not saying they should not be able to rank very well for local hotel results or they should not be entitled to dominate searches for their brand/hotel but the use of the refinement links does place a significant commercial advantage towards the MGM group at this stage. It is not clear how these are generated or weighted but this does seem likely to cause complications for search agencies working for MGM competitors as they now have a significant disadvantage.
The second interesting part is that these new refinement links are part of the overall Mayday update to the Google interface that has shown an overall decrease in search queries to websites, mostly attributed to less longtail traffic and users are able to better refine their search query meaning less clicks but more search volume and more AdWords displayed. It maybe possible that these links may turn into Google properties similar to Google Maps Real Estate or tie into the recent Hotel listings that Google has been offering on its Maps results.
Author Note: Thank you to Alan Bleiweiss who helped me try and understand how or why Google was doing this.