What You Need to Know About Google Local Updates
Amy Daniels |September 11, 2015
If you’re even slightly interested in what Google’s up to, you’ve probably noticed that they’ve been making lots of changes recently. In addition to their mobile search updates and their recent logo redesign, Google has made several big updates to how they handle maps and local SEO.
While you may be concerned about how these recent changes affect your business, you may not want to sift through pages of articles about the topic. If so, you’re in luck! I’ve pulled information from several articles across the internet and broken down the most important parts below. Here are the changes you most need to know about:
Changes to the Local Pack
The update: Say you do a Google search for “restaurants.” The page you’ll see shows a combination of listings. Sometimes there will be paid advertising at the top and right hand side of the screen, but there will certainly be organic listings (what you think of when you think of search results), and since it’s a search for local businesses, you’ll see what’s called the Local Pack. This part of the page displays businesses near you, even if you don’t type your location as part of your search. This group of listings is pulled from Google Maps.
One of the most significant changes to the Local Pack is that Google has updated it to show only three results instead of seven. Before this update, even if your site wasn’t listed on the first page of organic results but you had your Google Maps listing verified and updated, you still had a fairly good chance of showing up in the Local Pack.
What it means: Now that Google has decreased the 7-Pack to a 3-Pack, many small businesses will have a more difficult time showing up in the Local Pack. While this change undoubtedly has many implications, it’s not necessarily bad news. Many SEO experts point out that Google is tailoring search results to show more geographically relevant results to their users, likely reducing the radius that they pull from to display results to the user. So, while it may seem that your chances of showing in the Local Pack just dropped by more than 50%, the theory is that you may still benefit from this update because you’ll have a higher chance of showing up to users who are extremely close to your facility.
Another point to consider is that Google probably wouldn’t have made such a drastic change if results 4 through 7 of the old Local Pack were producing large amounts of traffic. Mobile searches have only shown three results for a long time anyway, so this update shows one more way that Google is tweaking its desktop searches to mirror mobile searches (this fact isn’t surprising considering Google accounts for roughly 95% of total mobile searches).
Juris Digital conducted a click study to see how this change may affect where users click on the page. Their test was fairly limited and their findings are debated by other SEO experts, but what they found was that users are about as likely to click on local listings as they are to click on organic listings. If your business doesn’t show up in the 3-Pack, there are still many users who will skip the Local Pack and look at the organic listings. Since this update doesn’t affect organic listings, this is good news for you.
What’s also interesting is that Google has stopped showing full addresses for businesses, instead showing just the street names. In the picture below, notice how the results show “W 47th St,” “Westport Rd,” and “Ward Pkwy.” This layout prompts the user to click through to the full page of listings (in this example, by clicking “More restaurants”).
When they click to the next page, users will usually see 20 results. So even if you aren’t in the 3-Pack, there’s a potential to gain traffic from the full listings page — especially if your facility has great reviews.
A word of caution to those listed in the 3-Pack
Once you get to the top three, you mustn’t forget that competition is strong. Watch your competitors as they start to strengthen their self storage SEO efforts. Those who have done very little for their local SEO may jump very quickly in search as soon as they start trying since they have nowhere to go but up. One thing most experts agree on is this: If you sit back and do nothing to improve your local SEO, someone will knock your business out of the top three in the Local Pack. According to Moz.com, the businesses who will be most successful are those who can see the larger SEO picture, changing their strategies when needed and adopting a comprehensive approach to search, including both local and organic.
Changes to Google+
The update: In the past, Google required everyone to create a Google+ page when using their products. On July 27, 2015, they announced that it’s no longer required. People (and businesses) only need a Google account (like Gmail) to utilize Google’s features.
What it means: SEOs are saying that “Google+ is dead,” but don’t let that mislead you. The social network side of it may see a decrease since it’s no longer a requirement, but it’s still extremely important for you as a local business. Having a Google+ page is just as important as ever and may become more important over time. This page will help your business be more visible in local search. Google also pulls reviews from your Google+ page.
So, while customer interaction on your Google+ page may decrease, pushing for reviews on your G+ page can still greatly impact your site’s rankings.
Chances are there is no longer a link to your Google+ page when your business is listed in the Local Pack. Google is making it harder to access this page, but they do typically rank you higher when your business profile is set up correctly. Plus, this step makes it easier for customers to call you, get directions to your business, and visit your website.
From there, you’ll be able to verify your business website, check customer reviews, add photos, and connect your account to your Google Analytics, Google Adwords, and YouTube accounts. Ultimately, though Google+ is less used than some other social media outlets, it’s certainly still important and should be a big component of your local SEO efforts.
Changes to reviews
The update: Because 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, it’s always been important to encourage your customers to leave reviews. Google knows the value of online reviews and has made them an integral part of their strategy, which is why reviews are still prominently displayed in local search results. But part of making Google+ pages less integrated with search means that it’s now more difficult for customers to leave reviews for a company who doesn't have any existing reviews.
What it means: Some SEO experts think this move was an error on Google’s part and that it will be altered in the future, but in the meantime it can have some major implications for your business. If you happen to have reviews and your competition doesn’t, this could very likely mean you’ll snag more of the market. If you’re in the unfortunate position where you’re the one who doesn’t have reviews, you’ll have to take extra steps to make sure your business is seen and entices users to visit your website. At least for the time being, any businesses who don’t have reviews are facing a severe disadvantage.
Another change Google has been experimenting with is allowing users to filter their searches by ratings. Currently being tested in the restaurant industry, Google has added an option for searchers to select only businesses that are above a certain rating level. This particular update is huge. With these filtering options, users are, of course, going to select business with a 4-star rating or higher. When they do, that will completely eliminate listings for any businesses with fewer than 4 stars (including those businesses with no reviews at all).
In light of this feature, SEO experts are cautioning businesses in competitive markets, which includes the self storage industry, to approach reviews with a very proactive strategy so that you can make the cut once this change rolls out to all local searches. Updates to searches for restaurants will eventually become updates to searches for self storage, and you don’t want your business to be filtered out just because it doesn’t have great reviews.
Determining your review strategy
A simple way to determine where your business needs reviews is to do a search for your business name and for keywords you think your target market is using (like “self storage” and “storage units”). What review sites appear? Those are the sites your business should be listed on, complete with accurate business information, website links, and social media links.
Changes to Google Map Maker
The update: This change is much smaller compared to the others ones, but it’s still worth noting. Google has a Map Maker tool that allows users to make changes to Google Maps. The idea is to let locals improve the accuracy of their communities. But, as with any crowd-sourced idea, a few bad apples made their way in and uploaded inaccurate (and sometimes downright racist) content.
Google took the feature down for several months to address these issues. Now Google Map Maker is good as new, functioning in 45 countries — including the U.S. — as of August 25, 2015.
Changes to Sponsored Listings
The update: Google has also started experimenting with a new format for sponsored listings. If you search for plumbers or locksmiths in San Francisco, what you’ll see looks very similar to the Local Pack. What looks like standard listings is actually sponsored content, purchased in a similar way to pay-per-click and AdWords.
What it means: Google tends to do isolated testing before pushing an update across its entire search engine. So that means that this format could extend to other locations and industries — including self storage. If that becomes the case, you’ll have yet another avenue where you can spend your money, which could be a good or bad thing. This kind of search would likely generate more revenue for Google, so the chances of it becoming a reality in the storage industry may be high. And that means it may be something your business considers someday.
Takeaways for Your Business
There’s a lot of debate about what effects these updates will have on small businesses. Some believe that users will love all these changes, while other people think users won’t. Some experts think that users will need to make more clicks to find what they’re looking for, which may cause users to navigate to the expanded Local Pack with 20 listings.
Because of the decreased number of results in the Local Pack and the increased competition between businesses, it’s more important than ever that your site be professionally designed, includ content geared toward the users, and have sound site structure that Google’s bots will love. Factors like click through rate, bounce rate, time on site, and content will directly impact how long a user stays on your site. If these elements aren’t addressed or the user experience is poor, they’ll be quicker to back out of your site and look at the 19 other listings on the previous page.
Rather than focus on the negative, let’s talk about what you can do to have a better chance of earning and maintaining good rankings in local and organic search. The following factors are ones that many SEO experts agree are smart to focus on right now:
#1. Focus on organic search
Local search will probably continue to change as Google tweaks its methods and determines the best approach. If you don’t want to be at the mercy of their changes, make sure your regular SEO efforts are still strong. Even these factors can impact your local SEO and, even if they didn’t, there’s still plenty of space on the first page for your business to snag. Continuing to improve your good, old-fashioned SEO in ethical ways can still reap rewards for your business.
#2. Focus on earning links
Part of self storage SEO includes earning links to your site. They’ve been important for a long time, and many experts expect them to become bigger factors in the local search equation. Many storage operators don’t spend enough time trying to get these links, so if you step up your link building efforts now, you can earn the valuable links that your competitors will be chasing in the future.
#3. Focus on accurate citations
By now, your business is probably listed in many different places around the web: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Google Maps, Google+, and, of course, your website. For a long time, Google has placed a strong emphasis on providing consistent information across all your listings, and this fact will only become truer as time goes by. Make sure your profiles are all complete and that your address, website, name, and phone number, are the same across all channels.
#4. Focus on storage marketing
As search gets more competitive, one major thing you can do to stand out from the competition is nail down your self storage marketing and PR strategies. Experts recommend the standard press release, but encourage you to think beyond that as well: reaching out to industry experts, creating local promotions, and partnering with related businesses in your area.
Don’t miss next week’s post
Still feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry! Anytime you analyze Google’s changes, there’s bound to be some question marks. Even the most experienced SEOs debate and disagree about certain topics. This fact is partially due to Google not revealing the method to their madness.
Take some time to process these changes. Next week I’ll be posting an article inspired from an interview with our local search expert, Lydia Fuqua, where she explains common mistakes businesses make, what aspects of local search are most important for your business, and what she predicts the future of search will look like. As always, if you see something in this article that you’d like to see explained further, leave your question in a comment below and I’ll address it. Stay tuned and see you next week!