In early August of this year, Google released a new local search display format that will have a major impact on local businesses. Note that this was not a change in local search ranking factors (what determines a site’s ranking), but rather a change in the way local business information is displayed on the search engine results page.
If you own a local business, it’s important to be aware of these recent changes, so you can make the appropriate responses. Doing so will keep you visible, at the top of Google search results and ensure you continue bringing in new leads and prospects.
The Obvious Changes
On first glance, there are a few changes you’ll probably notice right off the bat. These more obvious changes include:
- Map results now show first – Right below paid ads, you’ll now see map results –businesses located right around your geographic area. Previously, you would often see an organic result before the localized, map search results would appeared. This feature seems to have disappeared completely.
- Only 3 local organic results show – Before the big change, you’d see seven local business results. Now, it’s been reduced to just three.
- A large map has been added to the search – Instead of simply listing local search results, a large map is now included with them, showing exact locations of each business listed. This pushes down organic search results, and they’re now completely below the fold.
The end result, while not the same for all type of searches, is shown below. This Google search for “family lawyer Burnaby” clearly shows the impact of these changes. As you can see, many more paid ads are shown above the fold, and with the new, large-sized map, there is only one local listing is visible above the fold.
For some industries, new filters are in now place to allow users to sort their search results by ratings, price and hours. To see what I mean, look at the search results for “Italian restaurant Vancouver” below. As you can see, the user can now filter the restaurants by their ratings (meaning ratings should now be a big concern for these businesses!)
What it Means for a Local Business
Work on those reviews
Your online reviews and ratings have always been important, but now that they’re a filterable part of local search results, they play an even more crucial role. Local businesses should have an online reputation development plan in place to build up these reviews and ratings, respond to feedback and keep on improving. Those that do this – and do it well – will be the biggest winners to come out of this major Google change.
Optimize for local search
Whether you have been doing it all along or you are hearing the term for the first time, local search optimization needs to be a priority. That means optimizing your site for a specific geographic area – one you want to target for business.
Some important aspects of doing this include:
- Ensure NAP (name address phone) and URL consistency across the web – The importance of this to maps rankings is often overlooked or not done thoroughly enough to be effective.
- Build better backlinks – Getting locally focused links must now become a priority for businesses. The best links will be ones that can point potential leads and prospects to your business, so look into free listings, paid placement and advertising. You should also budget for and maintain an ongoing link-building campaign, not just a one-time, one-off effort.
With these recent changes, it’s even more important that businesses use paid search marketing as part of their online efforts. This can allow them to gain (and hold) a position on the first page of Google’s results and stay competitive with others in their space – other who are likely using PPC to their advantage, too.