Google’s constantly evolving search experience – and how it changes the game for local SEO
The importance of local SEO cannot be understated when you consider the dominance of mobile as a device and the sky-high user expectations of being shown the most relevant results.
Google clearly recognizes this, and is continually investing in improving their search experience.
There are algorithm updates like Possum (rolled out in September 2016) that are focused on improving the quality and relevancy of search results for queries that contain local intent. But it’s not just changes to the 3-pack and Local Finder (i.e. Google Maps results) – Google has been striding out into local search, taking some interesting steps to hook people into its ecosystem and capture more data points.
For example, the search giant has begun moving into sectors such as recruitment, with the launch of Jobs by Google, as well as the beauty sector by allowing users to book spas and beauty salon appointments direct via local listings.
And then you also need to consider the role of personal assistants, or chatbots, and how this will influence the future of the search landscape. So let’s explore these recent local developments in a bit more detail, using examples from the fields of recruitment and the beauty sector.
How has local search changed?
Before we look at local changes in detail, it’s important to understand how Google tracks your location:
- The IP location of your device
- Location specified in your Gmail account
- Your browsing history, e.g. searches for news or weather in your local area
- Use of a geo-modifier in your search query e.g. “car dealers in Watford”
It is important that Google can identify your location accurately so it needs a variety of different sources to calculate this. Accuracy is essential to confidently serve results relevant to your locality. There may also be other sources considered by Google but we can assume that your location can be quite accurately calculated using this information alone.
In fact, if you have an Android device with your location tracking set, you can explore your timeline of where you have visited and when – which can be creepy or interesting, depending on your outlook!
Google My Business and real time chat
Google has experimented a lot with its local product and, after playing with it for more than 10 years, it appears it is finally taking this product to the next level. Let’s recap those key changes now.
2004: Google Local launched
2005: Launch of Google Maps
2010: Google Places Launches
2012: Google+ local replaces Google Places
2014: Google+ local merged into Google My Business
2015: Local packs update – decreased the number of local results in SERPS
August 2016: Analytics for business launched
September 2016: Features to allow multiple users to manage listings
November 2016: Bulk editing enabled for businesses with more than 10 listings
December 2016: Insights for photos and ability to add more information about the facilities such as Wi-Fi and wheelchair access
April 2017: More insights around footfall and popular times
May 2017: Introduced Highlights Icons and price labels
June 2017: Google Posts goes live enabling local businesses to promote their offers directly in search results. Small businesses can also set up a mobile-optimized website through GMB.
July 2017: A pilot program was launched in 2016 to enable customers to message businesses using SMS and Allo. This is now out of beta and being rolled out in a few countries.
Looking at the development timeline, you will notice a flurry of activity in the last few months. This reveals the priority level of local search right now, Google is launching Allo in July 2017, which allows the functionality to chat with customers via Google My Business.
This is an interesting move because, on one hand, it creates opportunities for businesses to answer queries in real-time but, on the other hand, it also hooks people into using Google’s Personal Assistant.
Google has been working on a number of messaging apps including Duo Hangouts, which somewhat highlights the need to streamline and simplify its offering of the messaging apps to avoid fragmenting their user base across many different apps.
But Allo has the potential to be a particularly powerful and valuable feature, as it’s supporting a direct interaction between a searcher and a business. So I’m confident that this Google My Business feature is very likely here to stay, in some form or another.
Jobs by Google
Over the years, Google has introduced a number of widgets in its search results pages for various industries, including Travel and Finance. And, in May 2017, Google I/O conference Sundar Pichai introduced Google for Jobs:
You can read more in this Google webmasters blog post but, in a nutshell, Google for Jobs will pull listings from sites like LinkedIn, Monster, Glassdoor, Facebook, and CareerBuilder and company’s own websites directly into the SERPs.
Clearly, this has potential to disrupt the £35.1 billion industry in the UK, having a serious impact on the likes of Indeed and other job portals. By contrast, networks like LinkedIn may be less likely to see an immediate impact because these platforms offer value beyond just job searches.
Taking a closer look at jobs sector, there is a lot of search volume for queries with geo-modifiers e.g. “jobs in London” has a UK average monthly search volume of 33,100. Even in the absence of geo-modified queries, recruitment related keywords are likely to return local results which is quite similar to food and restaurant industry. See this example below:
Note: Searched from Watford
In fact, whether you add a geo-modifier to your queries or not, Google’s focus is on returning local listings. So I envisage the Google Jobs interface will be quite similar to results in the travel sector but, for now, you can also see how these results are currently being surfaced in Allo:
Aside from serving results local to you, Google Jobs also features valuable filtering based on user needs, such as commute time. Google’s Jobs search API has the ability to measure distance and allow candidates to filter their job search based how long it’ll take you to get to and from work. This is pretty nifty because commute time is such an influential factor when searching for new roles.
To further support Google Jobs, it’s probably no surprise to hear that Google now have specific job posting schema. Obviously, those recruitment sites that adopt this schema effectively should expect to benefit from this move by the search giant into their territory.
However, it appears not many recruiters are prepared yet, with very few recruitment sites having implemented the job schema – and it is these sites that are then most at risk at losing market share due to Google Jobs.
And, flying in the face of all this, it’s interesting that Monster in the USA have created their own job search engine to rival Google. So it’s certainly an interesting time to be in recruitment!
Google Reserve: Spa and beauty salon appointments
Another interesting development in local search is that Google will now allow you to book spa and salon appointments with search and maps, via Google Reserve. This is currently being tested in the US and we are not sure when this might be rolled out in the UK and other markets. But it clearly presents a threat to the likes of booking sites like Treatwell and Groupon.
Google will be able to provide insights on footfall and how many people have engaged with the photos of your store or business. This means Google will be able to have a 360 degree view on a customer journey, creating an ecosystem of touch points which allow Google to predict your actions, negating the need for you to search on your phone at all.
This is akin to having a personal assistant who not only helps you to book an appointment but also finds the best local salon, on your payday every month. This is the ultimate experience Google is trying to create – a seamless experience that reduces the need to search, once you are in the Google ecosystem – and these recent updates are a step into making this a reality.
Move with the times
Considering the high degree of personalization when searching, businesses should act quickly and take advantage of recent developments such as Google Jobs and Google Reserve.
These changes can be capitalized on, but that’s dependent on sites taking active steps such as adopting relevant schema, and so those that fail to act may get left behind.
Ultimately, regardless of how search interface continues to develop over time, search engines will always be looking for an authentic source of information. So it’s even more important for marketers, SEOs, developers and user experience experts to ensure we are creating trustworthy, authentic and accessible sources to fuel search engines and help to deliver the best quality results for humans.