30 December, 2014

Local Search Gets a Present from Google

Google Local PackJust a few days before Christmas, Google confirmed it had delivered a “present” to local search in Australia, UK and Canada. While our attention was fixed on getting the last minute shopping done or getting the last premium sales for the year, Google quietly slipped in something which impacts how easy it is to find your business online.

Whether you think your local page is useful or useless, your business listing is likely to have changed in a big way. If it’s been the main source of leads for a location, you need to check it now. If it hasn’t been helpful for new customers, you may find that changing.

Since July the US has been reeling under an “update” in the local space, dubbed Pigeon. This update has a few quirks that have set local search both backwards and forwards at the same time.

The Backwards of Pigeon

Spam listings and fake addresses rise from the grave

poolsupplySadly this is consistent with other updates Google has done with Universal search. It’s simply a wave you’ll need to ride until it gets fixed. If your business is pushed out of the pack by a fake or spam listing, please report it. Don’t try to copy what spam listings do in order to rise above them.

You may also see utterly irrelevant listings showing up in maps or the local pack…

Overall decrease in local packs

You might see your local pack disappearing altogether or going from a 7 pack to a 3 pack. We may also soon be seeing a 3-pack that has the address and phone stripped out, as has been seen trialled in the US. Either way, it emphasises the point of needing to be in the top 3 of the local pack to have a better chance of long-term survival in local listings.

The Forwards

In a word, it’s all about mobile. There seems to be a bias towards sites that provide a good experience for mobile users who could click thru to your site.

Searches are much, much more local. Searches on mobile devices are generally now hyper-local. If you’re in an area where you’ve been crowded out of the maps by aggressive competitors, this might serve you well. On the other hand, if you have been hanging in on the edge of the map, your listing has probably dropped off.

Directories are rising

They’ve always been strong in Australia, so they’re going to be stronger.

Ranking reports should really die now

sample of a ranking reportThe place your business shows in the local pack can vary based on the time of day, your business hours, the searcher, and whatever’s happening with the algo (algorithm > programs that prioritise search results) at the time.

This heralds a new era in local search where the algo will constantly get updates. This is consistent with Google’s approach to Universal search and in time, will reward businesses following best practice.

If your current SEO firm is providing you with little more than a ranking report, it’s time for a heart-to-heart.

The Weirdness

Whichever Google Data Centre receives and runs your query may have an influence on the “version” of the algo update you’re seeing. In the US, there are six data centres, and industry experts have estimated at least three different versions of the algo are being tested.

Australia has no data centres – our nearest one is in Singapore. It’s not clear yet whether that centre will serve just one or multiple variations like what is seen in America.

Tips for Working with Pigeon

Do better than survive the algo update. Understand what Google are wanting and benefit from it!

Follow best practice with your Google Local page:

  • Claim it and fill out all the info
  • Hide your address if you don’t have a storefront staffed during business hours
  • Make sure you remove the descriptor behind your business name – this is a recent reversal in Google’s quality guidelines
  • Narrow down your categories to only the most specific and as few as possible
  • Use the same business name across all locations
  • No virtual offices

Also, a well optimised website is no longer important – it’s critical.

Get directories working for you

Make sure your business listings are claimed and completed in the key directories for your industry and location. Key directories for all industries include:

  • TrueLocal
  • Yelp (for iOS maps)
  • YellowPages®
  • City directories

Consider, more than ever before, paying for prominence in those local directories.

Don’t over-optimise your website

In the same way Google discourages spam for standard SEO, it doesn’t like spam in Local SEO. There’s no need to say your city name ten times in one page.  It is smart however, to have it in your title tag, an image tag, in the header (H1) and once in the text on the page (if it reads naturally).

Diversify your marketing

Don’t make the mistake of having all your eggs in one basket. Make your Google My Business page part of your marketing strategy, not the sum of it.

If Google Local has been a primary source of business for you, it’s time for a new plan.

Google wants you to market your business similar to how you would if Google didn’t exist. Ridiculous, yes, because Google does exist. The point is Google wants you to be proactive, “out there”, promoting your business – not sitting back relying on Google to do it all for you.

So how do you know if your local page is working

Check your Google my Business Insights

The values are approximate, but gives you an idea of how your local page is performing. Views is generally the best section to monitor for trends.   I have seen occasional anomalies in here (4000 visits in one day to a dentist in rural NSW?), so take it as an indicator rather than gospel.

GMB Insights visits

Google Analytics Give a Bigger Picture

And very importantly, you need to have installed Google Analytics (free) or some other form of tracking which measures traffic, sources and conversions.

Track your calls and look at your organic traffic. You can add tags to the link on your website to identify any visitors that come to your website from your local page in your Analytics.


Analytics works incredibly well to show who’s clicking, but doesn’t help for who’s calling (remember the local packs show address and phone – for now). A portion of your tracking will need to be manual.

Have a clipboard by the phone and simply ask people how they found your number.  Chances are they’ll say “on the web” and you could follow that up with a “Oh great! So did you Google it or did you find us somewhere else?  I’m asking because it helps us know how we’re doing in making it easier for people like you to call us”.  Their answers won’t be exact but will give you an indication of what you’re doing on the web is working.

This is no different to the days when you advertised in the big yellow book and then asked people how they found you to help you know if the ad size you tried this year was worthwhile.

Have any questions about what I’ve covered?  Please ask!