Last week the online search world experienced an earthquake. The earth didn’t actually move, but our search results experienced a significant “shake” when Google released what has been dubbed the “Pigeon” update. For local businesses, this update has been extremely positive, displaying business listings in a huge percentage of its queries. We have discovered that small businesses, locally searched, may actually see a big gain as a result of the Pigeon update. Let me explain some of our findings. Initially, many who reviewed results after the update concluded that local Map Packs were significantly reduced in Google search results. The initial data that MOZ released suggested a grim picture with a huge reduction in Map Packs. However, upon further inspection, the queries performed lacked user location. For years Google has detected user’s physical location and used that information to deliver unique search results. Now it appears that setting location is necessary to return the most relevant local results. Continue reading
In the local search ecosystem graphic published by David Mihm, Google+ Local is at the center of an enormous web of local search resources. This is significant and should not to be taken lightly. With core data providers and countless types of directories to leverage local efforts, the strength of Google+ Local is vital to the outcome of a successful online marketing strategy. However, due to the confusing and problematic product that is Google+ Local, most of us are grasping in the dark on how to leverage Google+ Local to serve us best. Honestly, we are in the dark about some of the listing set-up basics. This is frightening.
How can we leverage a product that has uncertain value, while grappling with vague guidelines and an inscrutable profile creation process?
Let’s look at Google’s Guidelines about Places/+ Local together.
Who is allowed to be an “authorized representative”? Google makes it increasingly difficult for non-owners to fully manage the ins and outs of Google Places listings. For example, SEO agencies have limited access to manage a customer’s GPlaces listing. Let’s say there is an issue with PIN verification for a listing or some other problem that requires phone communication with a Google rep—the phone agent always wants to talk directly to the customer. If the agency wants to field this inquiry on behalf of a customer the process is a lengthy and involved one that usually requires direct communication with a customer anyway. Point being: “authorized representatives” are at a major disadvantage when it comes to local listings.
Citations across the web, including address formatting is important. Consistency in the online world is important, too. You don’t want to write your business name multiple different ways. An example of this is: Mindy’s Flowers vs. Mindy’s Flowers Inc.
All local listings should have a physical address. At one time, post office (P.O.) boxes were accepted, then they were not—so many businesses tried using private mailboxes (PMB) to circumvent this requirement. Then Google banned the use of private mail boxes, too. Point: Google is increasingly smarter and their policies are stricter, thus eliminating the workarounds and grey hat tricks that once worked for businesses without a physical address to be listed on Google Places.
Regardless of which address line used, a listing is often flagged, and usually rejected for any usage of a P.O. box. Google has been flip-flopping on P.O.box use for quite some time:
Doesn’t Google have Lawyers on Staff?
Interestingly, businesses that are not illegal or fraudulent may still be banned from Google. Medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal in 18 states, are not supported. These legitimate businesses get rejected if any mention of marijuana is found on the listing. Locksmiths also encounter difficulties being listed, because of the negative history that industry has with spam and fraudulent online activities.
What Google doesn’t tell you is that sometimes there is no clear reason why a listing is suspended. Sometimes all guidelines are observed and a listing will still be flagged. The only option is to recreate the listing. Although this is not a common occurrence, their vague guidelines strike a chord also with their vague time frames surrounding updates to the product . It has been almost a year since Google announced the shift from Google Places to Google+ Local. Anyone remember this article by Greg Sterling? After a year you’d think Google would have migrated everything to one user interface, but we still must contend with a messy “Train Wreck Junction” of both products.
This screenshot of the form I submitted as feedback, at the end of the Google Guidelines. What they really need is a text field box, so I can properly rate their guidelines, and not have to choose from six predefined answers.
Any evaluation of the Google+ Local product in terms of usability, clear guidelines, or functionality would end the same way: with a failing grade. Unfortunately the fact remains; this product plays a critical role in the local search ecosystem. As such, we have little option but to do our best to keep up with the changes and do our best with the little information we are given. We must continue adapting and hope that with time this product improves, it is made easier to use, and its functionality is seamless. In addition to the product improvements we hope to see clearly defined guidelines. After all, a girl can dream!
An early piece of this research shows that there is a difference between a search performed on a mobile device and a desktop computer even in the exact same location, signed into the exact same Google account and searching the exact same query. Here is the desktop version:
This is a fairly standard SERP with 3 organic results displaying before location results and surprisingly no AdWords paid search results at the top. Now look at the difference between this page and the mobile page:
There are several interesting differences between the results:
1. There are less organic search results before the location results on the mobile search. This is probably the least surprising difference. Google has been saying, for several months now, that 50% of searches have local intent so it comes as no surprise that mobile SERP’s cater to this switch in the way people search.
2. There is a significant difference in locations showing up between the two results. Both letter “A” results in mobile and desktop are Taco Bell, however they are different locations (the addresses are different). Not only that, but other than the first two, the entire pack of location result is different, which means that 6 out of 7 physical addresses are different between desktop and mobile search.
3. There is significant local mobile advertising, as shown in the lack of AdWords ads on the desktop search compared to the two ads displayed in the mobile SERP. I think this may be the most fascinating thing in the search comparison. Even though the deceleration of desktop search and increase in mobile search and mobile ad revenues is one of Google’s worst kept secrets there is nothing like actually viewing it in the wild.
These factors seem to point to a localization of the results for mobile devices that takes us one step beyond desktop results.
Whether it’s mobile or desktop results, one thing is clear: local results are dominating the results page, which means it’s more important now than ever for businesses to focus on their local SEO strategies.
What local search queries are you noticing dramatic differences in for mobile and desktop?