While Google’s two big search algorithm updates – Penguin and Panda – captured a lot of headlines in 2012, there have been some other, lesser-known changes to the way the search giant tabulates and displays search results this year, that may have an even bigger impact on your business’ search traffic and Internet marketing.
In particular, Google has made a bunch of gradual changes to the way they display local search results that, taken together, are starting to have a big impact for online marketers.
What is a “local search result” and why does it matter to my online marketing?
When someone searches Google, a normal organic result looks something like this:
On the other hand, a local search result looks like this:
You can see the main differences:
- The local listing uses your business name rather than the descriptive title you may have chosen for your site
- The local listing doesn’t include the description of your business or Web page
- The local listing does include your address information and shows your location on a map
These small differences can make a big difference in terms of how people interact with your search listing.
We’ve seen some cases where local listings get only a fraction of the click-throughs that a normal organic result would get on the same page.
But we’ve also seen cases where local listings can drive a huge response in terms of click-throughs as well as calls and foot traffic.
Really, it comes down to how much proximity matters in terms of the buying process. For instance, if I’m searching for “toronto restaurants” a lot of the time the proximity of the restaurant to where I am or where I’m planning to be is super important – I’ll chose the best resto, with the kind of cuisine I’m in the mood for, from within the 4 or 5 blocks around my location.
But if I’m searching for “lawyer toronto” there are a bunch of factors that are way more important to me – like, are they any good? – than how close they are to my home or office.
How Google is changing the rules for search results
Up until recently, if you had a high-ranking Google Local listing and a high-ranking organic search result both results would appear on page one of Google for the given search.
Now, for an increasing number of searches, Google is changing the rules. Now, chances are increasing that Google will only display either your normal organic result or your Google Local result – not both.
And at the same time as they’ve introduced that change, they’re also reducing the number of results per page for many searches. So instead of showing 10 organic results plus local results, they’re showing 7 or 8 organic results plus the local results.
For many companies, this change means they’re suddenly less visible on Google than they used to be for important search terms – either because they have lost a double listing or because they were ranked 9th or 10th for a search and got bumped from page one altogether.
How do I optimize for these new search rules?
That was the bad news. Here’s the worse news.
There’s no real way to influence whether Google displays both your organic and local results or just one or the other for a given search term. That’s just a volume knob that Google controls one way or the other.
I’d actually go out on a limb and expect that all search results pages with blended local and organic results will be controlled by similar rules in the not-too-distant future.
So what can you do? There is some good news. Google has rolled these changes out in other markets – Japan, and to a lesser extent, the US – before hitting Canada. And we can learn from the experience of businesses there.
1. Make sure your Google Local listing is as optimized as possible.
If you’re only getting one link on page one of Google, make sure it’s a good one. Make sure it’s as high-ranking as possible and that it conveys as much positive information about your business as possible.
Get reviews from your best customers. Make sure your profile is complete. Add photos and videos. Make sure you include relevant keywords in your Google Local profile.
2. Beef up your AdWords buy
If you’re losing traffic as a result of changes to the Google search results pages, you may need to bite the bullet and buy ads – or allocate more budget for ads – on affected keywords.
Make sure this you do this in a way that is in line with your overall AdWords strategy, though, to get the most bang for your buck. For instance, if you’ve got a maximum cost per lead that you can spend to profitably acquire a new customer, keep an eye on that cost as you add keywords or budget to your campaign.