Google Looks to Keep Local Users at Google.com With Two Interface Updates

Google has had a busy week on the local front. The most significant of these updates are two new local interface conventions in the main search results. Clearly Google wants increase the visibility of their reviews and it is going to do so by keeping users on their front page.

Yesterday Andrew Shotland started seeing the local pop-up that provides review content directly in the main search results rather than requiring a user to head over to the G+ Page. According to Google this interface change is being rolled out universally. It is currently not seen by all users but will soon be visible by all and is a permanent change. Here are screenshots from Scott Rowley on G+.

The other major change is in the new Local Carousel. First written about yesterday by Dan Leibson, Google has added a faceted search facility to the carousel that allows users to discover and recover listings by ratings directly from the carousel and in the case of restaurants by pricing and cuisine as well. This feature was first seen in some of the early tests of the Local Carousel but seemed to have been dropped in the initial rollout.

Once a search is modified by rating (and in the case of restuarants, price and cuisine) a branded search results. One assumes that even on those the reviews will then be visible from the front page in a pop up.

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 5.58.29 PM

When viewed in conjunction with the new City Expert program, one has to conclude that Google is looking to not just increase the visibility of reviews but to increase their quantity as well. With the bulk of a business information appearing in the side panel and the ease with which one can now view reviews on the front page, visitors will have fewer reasons to visit a businesses Plus local page from the main search results.

Small businesses will likely feel the sting and as Darren Shaw asked will also ask: “Why is Google abandoning their Plus Local pages?” I think that Google is looking to capture readers for a longer period of time at their main search results rather than “abandon” Plus Local pages. The reality is that many, many more readers are on the front page of Google than ever make it into a Plus local page. If Google can increase engagement on the home page by 2% that would far exceed even a 50% increase of engagement on a Plus local page in terms of “time at Google”. Perhaps Google thinks that the lost traffic to Plus Local page will be made up by increasing social content. Most small businesses will need to think long and hard about how much time they put into making the Plus page more engaging.

With the rollout of the knowledge panel the Plus local pages became largely irrelevant to searchers with the exception of reviews. Now that reason is gone as well. With these two more interface changes users will be more trapped “engaged” in Google’s world and will be less tempted to visits other sites.

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32 thoughts on “Google Looks to Keep Local Users at Google.com With Two Interface Updates”

  1. With google change is the norm, isn’t it? Had to work to notice the smallish opportunities to search by type, ratings and dollars.

    but it is there and it is functional. I’m wondering if they want to provide all this detail then work there way into the reservation business via OpenTable, on their own, or with a competitor to OT. The OT User Interface provides for all of those variations on searches as do hotel booking sites.

    There is a lot of money being spent. I looked at OT’s financial results for the first qtr, 2013. I had read that a typical reservation on OT results in a $42 spend per person. Per my calculations there was over $1.3 billion spent via OT in first qtr, 2013 in the US alone.

    Why should google let that money be eaten up by other businesses….they seem to want to get a piece of EVERYTHING. :D

    As to that “city expert” thing. Oh cripes. A couple of years ago when yelp first pushed their elite yelpers one of the phenomena that resulted from that was how mass yelpers would hit a restaurant and essentially threaten the operators vis a vis their power to plant good or bad results. What chutzpah and still one more way in which reviews can be abused and end up twisting the customer/operator experience.

    I hope that last referenced experience doesn’t reoccur with elite google reviewers. Maybe Matt Cutts will personally give out t shirts to elite reviewers for good behavior!!!!! :D

    Meanwhile on a totally different level Bill Slawski wrote yesterday about a recent patent, that I believe went into effect earlier this year: http://www.seobythesea.com/2013/07/how-google-may-diversify-search-results-by-merging-local-and-web-search-results/

    One consequence is a possible merging of an authoritative organic result with a PAC/local result.

    Still more change.

    (ya gotta get up early in the morning to keep up with Goo-Ogle….the big search engine.

    :D

  2. Wow, they added in the cuisine filter yesterday too? Yesterday morning it was rating then in the afternoon we saw price and now cuisine.

    Not only that but they aren’t including Los Angeles in the initial list of cities for City Experts. Oh the humanity!

  3. Yes when we heard from Google the review change was an update not a test I started seeing a big picture of where this is all heading.

    In a way the reviews right in the SERPs strikes me as somewhat similar to the info cards on the new Google maps with no obvious link to the G+ L page.

    People have been asking if Google is abondoning Google Local listings. I don’t think it is, per se. I think the pages will still be out there. It’s just that there will be no reason for consumers and potential customers to ever go there if she’s serving up everything they need to see, right on the main search results pages (or on maps).

    So it looks to me like local is still important. Managing and optimizing your data in the Places for business dashboard is still important. Getting reviews is still important.

    What is changing is just the ways that Google is going to display that data to searchers. Is that sort of what you are seeing Mike?

  4. Linda, I believe getting reviews is going to be even more important for local listings. The average user doing a local search query will skip over bad reviews and local businesses with NO reviews. It’s easy social proof. Even facebook has implemented a 5-star review system…

  5. @Dave
    I think that patent technology was likely implemented last year in the Venice update timeframe.

  6. @Dan
    I wonder why they haven’t added the hotel classification that they use in their Hotel finder product… too confusing?

  7. @Kyl
    While the Apple Maps product is not a great discovery tool, it has been a great recovery tool and has worked very well for me for driving directions. I have never found the mobile Google Maps product to be any better at that.

    I recently resurveyed folks on their navigation preferences and Apple’s mapping product was in a dead heat with G maps.

  8. @Linda
    Google isn’t abandoning local listings. If anything they are doubling down on them and making sure that the content is read and that folks give more reviews. They are just using their (very powerful) home page to do it.

    This trend has been going on for quite a while with the rollout the local knowledge panel, the carousel, the debranding of local.

    The increase of local data with the main data set is elevating local to the most visible of all google platforms.

  9. @Tim
    Those who have been watching Google’s behaviors would say that their emphasis on reviews has been strong right along. In a branded search the word review has appeared 6 times for quite some time now.

    This certainly will increase both searchers and businesses awareness of reviews another notch but they have always been important.

  10. Was there ever a good reason for a small local business to have a strong plus page? This makes much more sense to me, in support of inbound marketing.

  11. Mike: My comment on Bill Slawski’s article, while off topic on the carousel, on possible merging of organic and local results might in fact put more depth into the Venice update. I went back and looked at Mike Ramsey’s terrific review of Venice as it applied to Local: http://moz.com/blog/understand-and-rock-the-google-venice-update

    Relevant language at the start of his article from google:

    “Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.

    “Improved local results. We launched a new system to find results from a user’s city more reliably. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.”

    Bill’s article seems to put more light into the how’s and why’s of the first paragraph….and frankly Mike Ramsey’s article gave some insights into possibly how to get there.

    The second paragraph on the venice update though reflects on broad phrases: pizza as opposed to chicago pizza and divorce lawyer versus Pittsburgh divorce lawyer.

    After reading Bill’s article I tracked back to some long term strong local websites that above all else have link profiles that are better than their competitors.

    I searched on local phrases like the aforementioned pittsburgh divorce lawyer or chicago pizza (not the real search phrases) but with specific city names.

    In 3 cases I found for a couple of businesses:

    A local site above the pac
    The same local site at #1 in the pac for a variation on the service phrase
    A local site with a #1 in organic and then a #1 in the pac.

    If you can get those types of rankings you can get “beaucoup” traffic.

    But back to the carousel:

    I keep wondering where google is going and when and how its going to start additionally monetizing on the restaurant side as it already does in the hotel side as beautifully described here: http://www.buuteeq.com/blog/a-hotels-guide-to-google-hotel-finder/

  12. Could some of the “let’s keep them in the SERPs” shifts be tied to the fact that Google+ still doesn’t have any ads on it & Google.com search results do?

    I wonder if those interactive pop overs will eventually work there way over the ad units for loads of accidental ad clicks. ;)

  13. Great observations, Mike and everybody.

    Something weird seems to be going on with how TripAdvisor’s rich-snippet review stars appear in the SERPs. They’re black-and-white stars, not golden.

    Type in “restaurants Boston” and you should see what I mean. I’ve also posted a pic at http://bit.ly/17kp3hV

    Could just be a fluke, but I’ve seen it repeatedly for TripAdvisor rankings tonight.

    Not even going to try to speculate on this one.

  14. Oops Mike’s site turned the ascii stars into ? question marks. View source on a listing and you’ll see the fake stars in the description.

  15. Nice catch, Linda. Thanks. With all these changes, I just assumed that was one of them, and didn’t even bother looking at the code.

    Now I’ve seen it all. That’s ridiculous on the part of TripAdvisor. Why not just use hReview aggregate markup. It’s not like the review stars even “pop” in the SERPs…

  16. @Aaron
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Could some of the “let’s keep them in the SERPs” shifts be tied to the fact that Google+ still doesn’t have any ads on it & Google.com search results do?

    Like you, I figure that Google does things to maximize income. I also think that they are on a toot to maximize “engagement” and user interaction or as they say “improve the user experience”.

    When a project accomplishes both, it is likely a “go” for Google.

    These changes keep searchers at Google longer, make life easier by making more content immediately available (like Google has been doing with various other changes), allow them to see more content with fewer page changes AND allow them to see more ads.

    Although they will show more ads, it also makes it more likely that small businesses will get noticed. So from where the SMB sits, it isn’t bad UNLESS they have bad reviews.

  17. I saw the pop ups for the first time today. I tried them via businesses showing in the carousel and businesses in the traditional PAC.

    Its all pop ups now. If you want to write a review it “pops up”. In other words google is closing down access to the google + pages via search.

    In fact I searched on a number of types of smb’s w/out carousel’s and noticed missing references to the google + page where I would have expected to see them. Maybe they were never there before, maybe not…but now that I was looking for them, there were cases where they simply weren’t appearing.

    I’m with you in suspecting ultimate monetization. We’ll see when that occurs. Of interest we have a local site that was hit late this past January when google changed presentations on images.

    The site had an image ranked #1 for a keyword phrase. It was a fluke and irrelevant to the smb site…but it generated a lot of visits.

    6 months later and the page gets 20% of the visits it got before the change. I only reference this in the context that even as google made that enormous change in presentation, moved image searches from the page w/ the image to a google page: that google page has yet to be monetized.

    Who knows if and when google might monetize a change connected to reviews, if at all.

    I’m sure you are correct, Mike in referencing how little traffic went to the google+ pages for smb’s. On the other hand I was grabbed by this little piece of research that looked at the ranking impact of social signals independent of other influences…and found that getting google + followers provides the strongest ranking influence among social signals:

    http://www.ppcforhire.com/blog/2012/05/google-facebook-twitter-seo-infographic/

    If smb’s are looking to get google + local followers for all sorts of reasons including ranking assistance…the businesses are going to have to ask customers to follow them…not unlike asking for reviews.

    Folks aren’t going to find those google+ pages on their own.

  18. If smb’s are looking to get google + local followers for all sorts of reasons including ranking assistance…the businesses are going to have to ask customers to follow them…not unlike asking for reviews.

    That is the other side of the equation and that is getting the SMB to generate the traffic for Google to the + Page by providing some carrots for the effort.

  19. Folks have been reporting that owner responses are missing in this new display. Greg Gifford was 1st to catch it. If reviews are so front and center now, owner replies should be too I would think.

    Oh dear, just discovered another update or new element of this one. Off to take screenshots and alert at my forum then will come back here to explain.

  20. Ok this is not good. Or maybe it will turn out OK, but it’s more of a major change.

    The links to the G+ Local pages are disappearing with this update too I think. I mean possibly it’s a glitch, BUT I think it’s part of update.

    Lots of things have changed making it almost impossible for consumers to get to the G+ L page at all on the great majority of pack listings. No link to G+ page. Can’t get there from the new review windows, can no longer get there from image in the sidebar.

    Screenshots and more info here: http://localsearchforum.catalystemarketing.com/google-local-important/9397-major-update-missing-links-google-local-pages.html

    Just discovered. Still investigating.

    Anyone else seeing what I’m seeing?

  21. @ Linda, the owner responses have come and gone for a few of my listings over the past 3 months. Strange that some days I see them then others there gone, today: gone.

  22. No Greg Gifford just posted the answer to what’s happening I think.

    The only G+ links in SERPS are if you have a merged or verified social page.

    If only have a G+ Local page (no social) then NO link.

    Except in the cases of the 2 Chicago listings I showed. No reviews. No social, still a link to G+ L.

  23. @Dennis

    “Linda, the owner responses have come and gone for a few of my listings over the past 3 months. Strange that some days I see them then others there gone, today: gone.”

    Think you are talking the old owner responses right on the listing itself? If those come and go that’s usually due to a hidden merged dupe problem. Someone has that listing claimed in another account and power is shifting between one account and the other. That usually accounts for why they come and go.

    Here we are talking the new review window overlay that shows in the SERPs. The observation Greg made (which I have not double checked) is that even if responses on the G+ L page they are not showing in the new review window that overlays the SERPs.

  24. @Linda
    That is only partially correct.

    On this search if you have have reviews AND a local social Plus page you get a link.

    If you have NO reviews you get a link.

    Problem is if you have reviews AND no local social Plus page.

    see this search

    I think a business might get more web visits if the G+ link is absence. Might be a benefit.

  25. Another possible interface update (this time not my eyes playing tricks on me): it looks like the map pins in AdWords Express ads are smaller and more muted now. I’m also not seeing them on the map any more.

  26. I think explained it better in my post, rushed and cut corners here.

    G+ Link if you have a merged or upgraded to social G+ page. (Regardless if you have reviews or not.)

    No G+ link if you only have a G+ L page with no social. (Regardless if you have reviews or not.)

    But if you have no reviews and no social page, then you do get a link that still goes to G+ L page.

    Is that right and is that what you are seeing?

  27. @ Mike “I think a business might get more web visits if the G+ link is absence. Might be a benefit.”

    Great point! Back when local started I’m sure some businesses complained that Google was intercepting a click that could lead to their website and took visitors off to another Google page instead. This does cut out that extra click to that extra page.

  28. Hello everyone,

    This is my first comment since I just started reading the blog, great discussion here!

    I’m curious if any of you have heard of rankings tools that are incorporating the carousel into rankings reports. I don’t think any of the tools I’m using have that capability yet but I’d like to get a head start on it if possible.

    Thanks for any insight you have there.

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