Google Local SEO in 2017: No Blue Links
User intent is finally coming to SEO, says Branded3's Stephen Kenwright. Here's what it means for local businesses.
Google is seemingly testing a new format for some mobile search queries and so far it’s only appearing in search results for local businesses.
The top half of the search results will be familiar to most:
- An image of the storefront
- The name of the business, type of services and distance from the searcher
- Commands (call, directions etc.)
- Photos and maps
- Star ratings
…and then absolutely no organic results.
Instead Google is pulling in carousels containing the results for similar queries (in this case the local results for “real estate agents”, “real estate agencies” and “property management companies”).
Searchers who do want web results can click the button at the bottom of the page.
What this means for local businesses
User intent is finally coming to local SEO. If a user is searching for a business, rather than a commodity, local listings are the only listings available. Huge aggregators that control this space (in UK real estate Rightmove, Zoopla and a couple of others are absolutely unavoidable) aren’t able to get in (unless they add local business directories to their websites).
Local businesses are regaining their advantage over purely online businesses, providing they are prepared to claim and update their listings. With this format Google is offering up the opportunity to appear in every single one of your local competitors’ search results – for free – providing you supply them with the data they need.
The format also highlights the importance of reviews. Star ratings won’t just catch a searcher’s eye as she scrolls up and down the listings – businesses’ ratings are now compared side by side, meaning that businesses with better reviews are difficult to miss.
We knew reviews were going to take centre-stage over the next year: at this year’s LocationWorld event Google’s David Byrne announced that searchers would be able to filter poorly reviewed businesses out of results and Yext’s Marc Ferrentino also unveiled Yext Reviews – a product to help businesses take control of their review data.
In results like this the only way to compete is through local listings, with no organic listings displayed at all – although it might be possible to get in here by paying. This is Google, after all.
This also takes the fight against doorway pages one step further. Websites with pages intended to capture local search traffic in areas where the business does not have a local presence might not be included in organic results at all. Google might finally make local search results exclusive to local businesses.
Some firsts for Google
Since 2013’s Hummingbird update, Google has been pushing the concept of entities far more heavily than before. Rather than returning a response to a searcher containing the keywords originally searched for (or as close as possible) in a question and answer format, the search engine has been trying to provide results closer to what a user actually wants. This new format goes a step further, returning:
- The correct result for the branded term
- Alternative brands that offer the same services
- …using a modifier to only include other brands in the same area.
‘People also search for’ has been a Google staple for years but there hasn’t previously been an instance I’m aware of where the top results of related searches are pulled into the results of the current search. If this becomes more prevalent (i.e. not just branded searches, searches with local intent) then this could have an impact on ‘head’ keywords – searchers are steered towards higher volume terms because they can instantly see that the quality of the results is better.
(Interestingly this feature looks similar to Bing’s image search, which has pulled the top result from related searches into its image results for more than a year.)
Finally, it looks like Google is making big efforts to encourage users to make more searches. Users are being pushed into alternative queries which means more results are served.
…and you know what that means. More ads.
*Stephen Kenwright is director of search at St. Ives Group-owned Branded3 – the best large SEO agency in Europe according to the 2016 judges of the EU Search Awards. Stephen writes weekly for the Drum Magazine and organizes the SearchLeeds conference.