As if getting listed among local search results on Google wasn’t tough enough, recent changes make it even more difficult. Google has revised the results you get from a local search to show three businesses rather than the usual seven. (In common parlance, the Google 7-pack is now no more.) The listings are redesigned to be more mobile-friendly, which is a major goal of Google’s current business strategy. If you run a test search, you’ll only get three results – and those three are indicated on a map with links to directions and the businesses’ websites. Google reviews for the listed businesses continue to be included. What you don’t see any more are addresses and phone numbers for the local search listings. Significantly, Google has removed links to Google My Business pages, taking the emphasis off Google+.
What does this mean for business owners?
Commenting on the changes, Google spokespersons have emphasized that a narrower search will provide “more relevant information,” which includes photos, reviews and price information in situations where there are multiple results for a specific location.
Obviously, it’s going to be more difficult than before for a local business to show up in the rankings. It remains to be seen how consumers respond to this narrowed search, and how many choose to expand local listings beyond the first page to see more options. Interestingly, the map that appears alongside the three results not only highlights the locations of those three, but also shows locations of similar businesses that are not named on the first page results. This seems to suggest that Google is letting users know more options exist if they want to expand their searches. It seems likely that consumers accustomed to more choices will do just that. If they don’t, competition for inclusion in the new “3-pack” will be intense. End-users’ responses remain to be seen.
In the new search scenario, your website is more crucial than ever before. Remember, the listings don’t carry phone numbers, although business hours and links to directions are included, as well as links to websites. Google’s emphasis upon relevancy means that your website is extremely important. It’s a good time to do a review of your entire site to make sure it’s as user-friendly, intuitive and helpful as possible. Without question, you must have a website URL and display important information like phone numbers and opening hours upfront.
Google’s recent changes have de-emphasized Google+. This might be good news for business owners, who resented the need to create a Google My Business function, but it is early days for the new local search system, and it might be premature to stop maintaining your Google+ pages. Keep what you have in place updated and relevant. It’s possible that Google may have more innovations planned for their social media services, and you don’t want to be caught short-handed.
Keep close tabs on what impact, if any, the new search system has on your marketing and sales efforts. Determine if it is affecting your website traffic, and monitor any other impact on “click through” traffic and new customer inquiries. Do some informal surveying of new client contacts to assess how important local search is to your sales and client acquisition.
Measuring results from online marketing efforts and tracking leads is never easy, but efforts to assess the impact of Google’s new local search system will help prepare you for the next round of changes. Because, if there is one thing we can predict with certainty, it is that change is constant.