Search Terms for Ransom?

Pay up!Is this the beginning of a new Google pay to play beta program?

WebProNews recently reported that Google is eliminating local results for a couple of terms, specifically those for SEOs and web designers.

The article also points to a discussion in the Google Maps help forum where a Google employee confirms that these results are not being shown:

Local search results/w map box not showing up on general search page.
Joel H – Today, we’re intentionally showing less local results for web design / SEO queries. For example, [web design sacramento] doesn’t display local listings today. We believe this is an accurate representation of user intent. In some cases, we do show local listings, however. I’m sure some of you feel we should be displaying local results for queries like [Web Design Vancouver]. I understand that concern, but based on our understanding of our users, we feel this is the right decision for now.

I’ll give the usual disclaimer that we’re constantly working on improving the user experience and results will vary over time. So, this could change in the future, but I wanted to be explicit about what we’re doing today.

An accurate representation of user intent? It would be interesting to know Google’s intent behind such a move. I’ve often wondered about hand jobs and claims that results are not manually adjusted.

Google has in the past shared their “philosophies” behind their rankings:

1) Best locally relevant results served globally.
2) Keep it simple.
3) No manual intervention.

It’s further suggested that questions regarding manual intervention in the results are misguided.

“Does Google manually edit its results?” Let me just answer that with our third philosophy: no manual intervention. In our view, the web is built by people. You are the ones creating pages and linking to pages. We are using all this human contribution through our algorithms. The final ordering of the results is decided by our algorithms using the contributions of the greater Internet community, not manually by us.

So these philosophies do not apply to the local results (Google Maps)? Does this move create an impression of impropriety?