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15 October, 2014

Google local search results – Google getting it so wrong

When it comes to Google Local, Australia often lags behind with new features and upgrades.  I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really glad right now. I’m glad because a large number of my customers, both here and other parts of the world, have not yet been hit with the latest update from Google.

On July 24, Google released an update to the way that local business search results get listed on the home page results. The new algorithm(s) are still being tested and tweaked, and appear to only still be in the US. Quickly named “pigeon” by the early reporters, it seems the bird is giving local businesses search results “the bird”. The last 3 months have been a roller coaster ride full of stomach churning results for local businesses. Businesses that had built their local presence online using best-practice strategies (tips below) seem to have weathered the storm the best.

The potential ramifications for businesses here and in other parts of the world are huge. If and when it rolls out of the US, we’re lucky enough to have a “heads up”, a chance to get prepared and hopefully minimise the impact.

Three months later, here are key action steps you can do to get prepared.

Local SEO elementsGet your website up to speed

While strictly not necessary to have a website in order for your business to show in the local pack, if you have one make it a good one.

  • Your own website is one of the four key factors I’ve always taught as a key element to Google Local, and it’s importance is growing.  If your website is just a brochure site, its time to get your head around reinvesting in your website and making its a site you can continue to add pages to.  Doing that will help build a sense of authority in your space, and allow you to build a difference between you and your competitors.
    If you don’t have a website, then have a strong presence on Google+, Facebook or other key site, and set it up well.  Fill out the info. Interact with others.
  • Treat your location page(s) as landing pages.  Put more than just your business name, address, phone and business hours on the page.  Instead, imagine it’s the way people will come to your suite.  Imagine you have 3 seconds to get their attention and explain why you are the business they should choose.  What makes you different?  Who are you?  What’s important about this particular location?  In the past you could get by with just a few sentences.  Now you’ll need paragraphs.
  • Get mobile friendly.  Smartphones are everywhere in Australia and a surprising number of searches come from mobile phones for even the most unlikely types of businesses.

And as you’re working with your website pages, you don’t need to tell the search engines or reader that you’re in Prahran or Melbourne or any variation, 300 times in six sentences.  Okay I exaggerate, but I’ve seen too many websites where this sort of thing is all over the place.  Not only is it over-doing it, it’s genuinely hard for a real person to read.  Consider the impact that will have on people wanting to call you or do business with you.

Spread the word around the web at large

  • Spread your digital footprint out to relevant and authoritative directories (also referred to as citations) and review sites.  Make sure your listings are recognised directories such as TrueLocal, YellowPages, Yelp, HealthEngine, Urbanspoon and the like.  Fill these out completely – add photos, great product images and compelling product and service descriptions.
  • If any of these sites allow you to post articles to them, do it periodically. If you can, put a link back to your website as part of the article (notice I said “a” link – more is not better).
  • Respond to reviews.  Let people know you appreciate their feedback and take it seriously.  If you do this online, people have confidence you’re the kind of business that takes their customer’s experience seriously.

Manage your Google My Business page

  • Claim, update and fill out your Google My Business page.
  • Post content to it regularly.  One post a week or fortnight will probably be more than your competitors and very likely be enough.
  • Treat this seriously as an emerging social media channel, because it is.

Don’t rely solely on Google My Business

This might sound strange coming from a Google My Business specialist, but it’s the reality.  Below is a screenshot of how horrible the search results can be in the USA.  Each search is for a hairdresser in a local neighbourhood.  In the example of this US listing, Google’s local results are waaay below local business directories, below where most people would scroll especially if they’re using a mobile phone.

So spread the risk.  Google local business listings are still an good source of new customers, and for the time being in Australia, a great source.  Just make sure it’s not your only source.

Google My Business displayGoogle local results post pigeon update San Francisco