This Google Change is BIG!

Benjmin Franklin may have said there are two things certain in life – death and taxes.  But I’m going to have to add Google changes to that short list!

We’ve heard some hints surfacing in the past few months about things to come but this month, Google made some big changes that dramatically affect local businesses and local search results.  And while most changes that Google incorporates into their algorithm or display may take a while to drip into the search results, these changes were reflected fairly widespread very quickly.

Jennifer Slegg’s article provides a comprehensive overview of the changes and their implications.  However, a few things she reported have already been updated since her publish date.  Here’s my assessment of the most important elements that relate to local search.

Now There’s Only A Snack Pack

Remember the old 7-pack?  Where up to 7 local businesses were featured on the search results page and keyed to the map in the right sidebar?  Now there are only three listings and the information available is much different.  (Below is the desktop view.)

Old Google 7 pack search results

New Google Snack PackTakeaways in General:

  • Mobile search usage is rapidly increasing so it’s not surprising that the new Snack Pack is in a very mobile-friendly format.
  • Snack Pack listings do not include the specific address of the business – only the street name.  PLUS, there is no phone number in the Snack Pack listings.  So, viewers looking for that information must click on the “Directions” icon or the name of the business.  More clicks means longer engagement time for viewers (we users don’t like a lot of extra clicks!).  If the business has chosen to hide their address (for example, a home-based business), there is no Directions icon showing with their listing.
  • Congratulations if your business is in the Snack Pack!  Better not get complacent.  This has now become very valuable online real estate and the SEO  competition is going to get even tougher than before.
  • The map now occupies valuable space in the left “primarily organic” column.  Everything listed in the right sidebar is now advertising.
  • Probably even more important for businesses paying attention to SEO practices, to focus on backlinks and citations to maintain your spot or win a spot in the Snack Pack.

Key Points About Customer Reviews:

  • Reviews and stars are still very visible in the business listing.  There has been speculation that businesses with no reviews have no chance to be in the Snack Pack but I have seen some exceptions to this thought.
  • Some restaurant and hospitality search results are showing an option for viewers to select only businesses that are above a certain rating.  Since I’m not anticipating anyone would want to visit a restaurant with less than a 3-STAR rating, this option increases the importance of building your 5-STAR reputation online.
  • Since Google usually tests a concept before rolling it out everywhere, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them expand this “select the ratings you want to see” option to search results in other industries.  Therefore, those in competitive industries better start preparing for that possibility before a widespread, unannounced change occurs.

Where Are The Google+ Listings?

  • We’ve heard for awhile that Google was moving away from their Google+ focus and this most recent change certainly proves it.  It’s very, very difficult to find any Google+ listings unless you know secret online tunnels to navigate!
  • However, this doesn’t mean local businesses should forget their Google+ listings – there are a few still showing up in organic searches.  Businesses should continue to claim their listings and direct reviews to those listings since that’s the only thing available at this time.  Plus, since Google started showing only their own reviews a while back (not Yelp, YP.com, etc.), it’s more critical than ever to build those positive reviews on Google.  The most successful businesses in this area will be those with a good system that makes it easy for your satisfied customers to post their own reviews on Google.

Again, Google changes are certain.  So who knows how long the Snack Pack will be around and whether this format will remain or not.  Maybe the magic number is five listings instead of three, or maybe just two listings.

The key is flexibility and adaptability.  Be ready to assess, aim, and target another direction.  Until they change the next time – usually without warning.

 

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