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We awoke today to an updated local listings layout from Google Upon first reaching a local page, the layout looks pretty similar, with the exception of a new panel at the top of the page featuring an image and business NAP (name, address, phone number) info.
But if you scroll up, you’ll get a large map. That map exists currently for locations who don’t have a full suite of images uploaded, but this maneuver allows the map and photos to coexist by taking a more creative approach to using page real estate.
The move is cosmetic in nature, and the way to manage listings doesn’t change, nor do the fundamental components being displayed (NAP, URL, etc.).
What are your action items as a marketer in response to this change? I see two items to address right away:
- Claim your location listings if you have not done so already – and remember, effective local search doesn’t just stop with submitting to Google . Ensuring accurate distribution of information across all local search platforms is critical to your success. Not sure how to claim Google+ Local pages or launch distribution with data partners? Contact us today to get started.
- Upload a full suite of photos to your Google+ Local listings. This move really puts an emphasis on the visual dimensions of the platform, and locations that aren’t optimized with photos need to make this an immediate priority.
With Google being Google, it will be interesting to see what other changes this might foreshadow. For now, making certain you have an aggressive strategy for claiming and optimizing is the top priority.
Google has once again made a change to the search landscape, this time shifting search filter options from the left rail of results to the top of the page just below the search field. They’ve already announced this is a permanent change as opposed to a beta test, and they are positioning the inspiration behind it being to provide a more consistent user experience across devices. But you’re probably like me – too cynical to accept that answer at face value.
One change by Google almost always sets up a second or third change by Google, so if there’s motive beyond the “consistency” explanation, what might be coming next?
- Ads on the left rail? It sure looks odd to see the left rail completely bare, especially if you search a high volume term that has many ads taking up the right rail. Google’s made lots of moves this year to maximize monetization opportunities, and with disappointing earnings recently, they may be eager to tap into the real estate that section of the page offers. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some form of advertising on that side, but maybe something different from their standard pay-per-click text-based unit. Perhaps more image ads (when searches are conducive to them) or some sort of premium local unit?
- More geo-targeted searches? One of the most interesting things to me about this change is that it takes the location selection field that has occupied the left side fairly prominently for a while now, and hidden it in the “search tools” area of this new top bar. I have a feeling more people are going to have trouble finding that, and this will lead to more geo-modified searches. Not anything of 2007 levels, but I think we could see an increase, which could create an opportunity to buy these terms at lower costs.
- Google+ content? Google still wants to increase Google+ adoption, and past attempts to push it front and center, like “Search Plus Your World” and converting Google Places pages to Google+ Local pages don’t seem to have done the trick. So what if the left rail contained a sort of newsfeed of G+L content? Perhaps this is a longshot, but it’s certainly a possibility considering the help the platform needs.
Perhaps Google really is just trying to deliver a cleaner, more platform-consistent experience. But I know that when I look at that empty left rail, I can’t see it staying that way for long – not when there’s money to be made…
A few months back, Google decided to use its acquisition of Zagat data to incorporate a 30 point rating system into its Google+ Local listings. The problem, as a wise man pointed out, was that a 30 point scale isn’t really all that meaningful to most consumers. After all, what’s the real difference between a rating of a 24 and a 27?
Thankfully, Google has taken a step toward user-friendliness by shifting away from the numerical scale and embracing something we all understand and identify with, good old-fashioned words.
There’s still a cumulative score available, but when perusing individual reviews, or leaving a review yourself, you will see more accessible ratings like “excellent” or “poor to fair.” This should deliver a better overall user experience for customers leaving reviews and consuming reviews, and for businesses trying to get a handle on their public perception.
With that conquered, maybe they could look into not overwriting location data based on outdated and inaccurate sources next…
Finally got your arms wrapped around stabilizing rankings in a post-Panda/Penguin/Venice world? Great, because Google has rolled out another major change that will impact your search strategy.
Within the last month or so, Google has been shifting certain keywords to deliver only 7 organic search results instead of the traditional 10. This seems to be impacting primarily branded terms, though there are some non-branded phrases being cited in blog posts as well.
There are some obvious takeaways here, including:
- If you’re concerned about results for your own brand, this means less first page real estate for your competitors & negative results to appear on
- At the same time, if you’re trying to rank on someone else’s brand name, or on a term that can be construed as both a brand name & a category term, your opportunity to do was just cut by 3
- With less overall real estate to be had, having a strong paid presence becomes more important (cynics might say this is the reason for this change – brand terms have always been cheaper buys in the paid search world, so increasing competition by cutting total number of listings could yield increased bids and more revenue for Google. Dastardly.).
But in doing some searching, it seems to me that there’s more to this change that just reducing the number of listings from 10 to 7. You’d think this change would have simply taken whatever term was ranking in slot 8 and push it to the next page. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. It appears the results themselves have been reshuffled, so on some critical terms for clients I work (and as not to reveal their targets or strategy I won’t identify the terms here) with frequently, I’m seeing that what was showing in position 4 before might be on the second page now, and second page terms may be surging to the first page now. Additionally, it seems these results are changing daily (likely a byproduct of the return of the Google Dance).
This isn’t just a revision to the search results page itself; there’s an algorithm change behind it. So not only should you be aware of the obvious takeaways referenced above, you also need to know that what helped you rank for a term before may not do the trick anymore.
In a great (albeit research-dense) post, the folks at SEOMOZ identified what looks to be an important difference between search results that are currently returning 7 listings vs. those currently returning 10 listings: the 7 listing pages appear to be scoring based off domain strength, while the 10 listing pages are scoring off of page strength.
What does that mean? Conventional wisdom for SEO has always been “find target terms, choose the best page for those terms, optimize the hell out of that page, move on to the next one.” And the reason for that is Google will typically only list one page per search term. That concept still works for the 10 listing pages, or more easily put, category terms, but for branded terms, your whole site is going to need strong overall authority, and to radiate brand relevance throughout the site in order to rank, because one strong page alone can’t deliver your ranking.
Is the domain vs. page-based scoring the only element in play here? It’s not clear yet, but we’ll continue testing & monitoring to see. And I’m sure that, as soon as that code is cracked, Google will have 2-3 new major changes for marketers to adjust to.
There’s something ironic about a company who seeks to unify the world under its digital ecosphere embracing offline activity, but Facebook is doing it, and they’re quite wise to. The question is, will you follow their lead (if you aren’t doing so already)?
We’re all wrestling with the idea of proper channel attribution these days. But all too often the discussion stops with “should I credit my paid ad, organic listing, display ad, mobile site, or social interaction for my sale,” and doesn’t carry off the screen and onto the phone. Many brands that I’ve worked with over the years see significantly more offline conversions than online.
If you’re not tying offline activity to online activity, you’re making a big mistake – one that could severely skew your budget allocation practices. After all, those folks calling your local or toll free line had to hear about you somewhere. For many companies, simply correctly attributing a few more sales to a paid search program per week could paint a much stronger ROI picture. The same goes for other mediums as well. There’s a wealth of great data to be extracted by tying offline to online. What are some things you can do to make that connection?
- Call Tracking Lines: This is the most obvious solution, and one of the most effective. Call tracking options vary in levels of sophistication of implementation. On the higher end, you can configure your site’s landing pages so that call tracking lines are dynamically inserted, and then through your internal call center tracking, tie the call to future revenue produced. Or you may opt for a lower tech implementation with call tracking lines placed on static landing pages or simply in ads.
- Click-to-Call: Google has introduced click to call technology for AdWords, featured not only on mobile but on PC-targeted ads as well. These are managed through a bidding/relevancy process just as any other AdWords ad, and the great benefit here is that in addition to simply seeing how many total calls came from your paid search ads, you can tie a call back to a specific keyword, and then make future optimizations based on the most successful terms.
- Offer Codes: Another old standby, offer codes can range from low-tech implementations such as having channel-specific codes that customers can recite to the call center or mention in person, to more sophisticated offerings like Google Offers for local businesses. The mobile arena is one that’s especially fertile for this sort of activity, and an area where measurement is especially important.
These are just a few of the more popular and accurate ways to improve attribution of online activity. Are you testing out other methods as well and finding success? Just think of how many calls your call center receives every day, and then ask yourself what you are doing to maximize the information that lies in all that activity. Take it from Facebook, sometimes to truly understand the value of online efforts, you need to go offline.
Think that just because your site is optimized for previous generation iPhones that it will render perfectly in the new iPhone 5? Think again. As described here, the display upgrades in the iPhone 5 will leave some sites rendering at a less-than-optimal level in landscape view. That’s because rather than adopting a truly responsive design, designers and developers have planned only for the existing iPhone sizes.
For the uninitiated, responsive design is a design that adapts seamlessly to any screen size thanks to style sheet functionality. While in the past you could develop one version of your site for the desktop/laptop experience and one for mobile, that’s no longer the best option. As more fragmentation occurs in the mobile market thanks to the introduction and adoption of new tablets, smartphones, and hybrids of the two, the concept of a “standard” screen size is antiquated. To deliver the best possible user experience, your site needs to leverage the larger amounts of real estate offered by tablets, phablets, and to a lesser degree the iPhone 5.
With every data point indicating that the importance of mobile and tablet activity to your business will only continue to explode, it’s imperative that you develop a responsive design strategy immediately.
At this point you’re certainly aware of the increased importance location listings play in your marketing mix. Their increased visibility in search results (which is based on consumers’ ever-increasing appetite for local content), their importance to mobile searches, the high trust factor consumers ascribe to them, and the high user intent behind local search (72% and 86% of searchers on mobile and tablet devices respectively go on to make a purchase after conducting a local business search) make them a valuable asset in holiday season marketing strategy.
But what you may not realize is this is effectively the last chance to get your listings claimed and optimized in time for the holidays. The timing involved in getting listings approved and published online is such that you need to act now or else risk missing out on significant online and offline traffic. Google takes 4-6 weeks at its fastest to validate & publish listings, while data aggregators (which are key in correcting information found on traditionally spotty portals like Yahoo Local and Internet Yellow Pages sites) can take a bit longer than that. So if you get a program in place now, you can still get accurate, optimized data pushed out to many key platforms in time to capitalize on the huge spike in searches that will be occurring in November & December.
Where to begin? Contact 15miles today and we can help you establish your local listings program at an affordable rate, including implementing tracking & reporting to gauge the impact on your business. Don’t miss out on the chance to leverage local to reach your holiday sales goals!