Update: It appears that Google is rolling out the new integrated local that I started writing about in July. They have been reported in Europe and are being reported as widely visible in the US. This was first written in August but it is essentially still valid today.
Since the beginning of July I have been writing about Google’s test to radically change the display of local search results on the main search results page. Miriam Ellis of Solas Design decided she really wanted my opinion not just my screen shots:
I’d like to ask the million dollar question, though: what do YOU think of this? In your mind, would this represent an improvement for users/business owners, a step backwards, something else? I know you like to report all this fascinating news with the measured voice of reason, but I wouldn’t mind some editorial opinion on this subject from you.
Ok, Miriam, I’ll bite.
While I personally find floating objects annoying, I don’t see many down sides to the local business. I think Google is making an effort to bring forth the most relevant local results and that is good for all.
- Local Results are highlighted on the page and are now more visually obvious than general search results
- Generic directories are pushed down in the SERPS leaving more local results above the fold
- The map floats down the page, not always adding context but always reminding folks to think local
- Ranking, which is always the most interesting to folks, appears to favor local businesses
Negatives (nothing too surprising here):
- Businesses that had two mentions on the front page will now have one
- If a business doesn’t yet have a website they will likely loose out on local search all together
- If they have a poorly designed website with flash or a welcome page that masks the site they will loose standing
- More opportunities for a searcher to visit something other than the business website
Local is all about customer acquisition and not click throughs. While there very well could be fewer website visits I think for the most part, customer acquisition one way or the other will not be altered for most businesses.
But this isn’t just about ranking, whether a business has a website, whether the directories are less visible or that the searcher might go to TripAdvisor instead of the business website. The point that most folks seemed to have missed is that Google is pushing their sentiment analysis to the front and center of the main search results. Is this a benefit or a drawback for local businesses?
Google is attempting to summarize ALL user sentiment about a given business in one sentence and hanging it out there for the world to see on the front page. This can be great for those businesses that have exemplary customer care histories reflected in their reviews. But for those on the margins? Watch out!
Here is a sample search of the test results that demonstrates the potential implication of showing sentiment analysis on the front page (click to view larger):
(To see the full screen shot click here.)
(click here to view full screen shot)
My sense is that a very large percentage of activity around the 7-pack comes from calls. That may or may not still be the case if this new display goes into affect. But at least in this search result, the businesses being called could very well be a different one.
Super 8 has obviously invested in SEO for both organic and local and made all the changes that were necessary to succeed. They have done so because, by complying with Google’s rules, it was worth their while.
But imagine a Google defined marketing world where, to do well, a business not only needs to invest in SEO but in customer service upgrades as well.