2020 Local SEO Success: How to Feed, Fight, and Flip Google



MiriamEllis

Image credit: Migaspinto

If you own or market a business location that makes a real-world community more serviceable, diverse, and strong, I’m on your side.

I love interesting towns and cities, with a wide array of useful goods and services. Nothing in my career satisfies me more than advising any brand that’s determined to improve life quality in some spot on the map. It does my heart good to see it, but here’s my completely unsentimental take on the challenges you face:

The Internet, and Google’s local platforms in particular, are a complete mess.

Google is the biggest house on the local block; you can’t ignore it. Yet, the entries into the platform are poorly lit, the open-source concept is cluttered with spam, and growing litigation makes one wonder if there are bats in the belfry.

Google comprises both risk and tremendous opportunity for local businesses and their marketers. Succeeding in 2020 means becoming a clear-eyed surveyor of any structural issues as well as seeing the “good bones” potential, so that you can flip dilapidation into dollars. And something beyond dollar, too: civic satisfaction.

Grab your tools and get your teammates and clients together to build local success in the new year by sharing my 3-level plan and 4-quarter strategy.

Level 1: Feed Google

Image credit: Mcapdevila

Information about your business is going to exist on the Internet whether you put it there or not.

Google’s house may be structurally unsound, but it’s also huge, with a 90% search engine market share globally and over 2 trillion searches per year, 46% of which are for something local.

Residents, new neighbors, and travelers seeking what you offer will almost certainly find something about your company online, whether it’s a stray mention on social media, an unclaimed local business listing generated by a platform or the public, or a full set of website pages and claimed listings you’ve actively published.

Right now, running the most successful local business possible means acquiring the largest share you can of those estimated 1 trillion annual local searches. How do you do this? 

By feeding Google:

  • Website content about your business location, products, services, and attributes
  • Corroborating info about your company on other websites
  • Local business listing content
  • Image content
  • Video content
  • Social media content

Remember, without your content and the content of others, Google does not exist. Local business owners can often feel uncomfortably dependent on Google, but it’s really Google who is dependent on them.

Whether the business you’re marketing is small or large, declare 2020 the year you go to the drafting board to render a clear blueprint for a content architecture that spans your entire neighborhood of the Internet, including your website and relevant third-party sites, platforms, and apps. Your plans might look something like this:

Image detailing the architecture of local SEO, including what you should put on GMB, website, and via 3rd parties (all detailed in text below)

I recommend organizing your plan like this, making use of the links I’m including:

  1. Begin with a rock-solid foundation of business information on your website. Tell customers everything they could want to know to choose and transact with your business. Cover every location, service, product, and desirable attribute of your company. There’s no chance you won’t have enough to write about when you take into account everything your customers ask you on a daily basis + everything you believe makes your company the best choice in the local market. Be sure the site loads fast, is mobile-friendly, and as technically error-free as possible.
  2. Create a fully complete, accurate, guideline-abiding Google My Business listing for each location of your business.
  3. Build out your listings (aka structured citations) on the major platforms. Automate the work of both developing and monitoring them for sentiment and change via a product like Moz Local.
  4. Monitor and respond to all reviews as quickly as possible on all platforms. These equal your online reputation and are, perhaps, the most important content about your business on the Internet. Know that reviews are a two-way conversation and learn to inspire customers to edit negative reviews. Moz Local automates review monitoring and facilitates easy responses. If you need help earning reviews, check out Alpine Software Group’s two good products: GatherUp and Grade.Us.
  5. Audit your competition. In competitive markets, come check out our beta of Local Market Analytics for a multi-sampled understanding of who your competitors actually are for each location of your business, depending on searcher locale.
  6. Once you’ve found your competitors, audit them to understand the:
    1. quality, authority and rate of ongoing publication you need to surpass
    2. strength and number of linked unstructured citations you need to build
    3. number and quality of Google posts, videos, products, and other content you need to publish
    4. social engagement you need to create.
  7. As to the substance of your content, focus directly on your customers’ needs. Local Market Analytics is breaking ground in delivering actual local keyword volumes, and the end point of all of your research, whether via keyword tools, consumer surveys, or years of business experience, should be content that acts as customer service, turning seekers into shoppers.
  8. Use any leftover time to sketch in the finer details. For example, I’m less excited about schema for 2020 than I was in 2019 because of Google removing some of the benefits of review schema. Local business schema is still a good idea, though, if you have time for it. Meanwhile, pursuing relevant featured snippets could certainly be smart in the new year. I’d go strong on video this year, particularly YouTube, if there’s applicability and demand in your market.

The customer is the focus of everything you publish. Google is simply the conduit. Your content efforts may need to be modest or major to win the greatest possible share of the searches that matter to you. It depends entirely on the level of competition in your markets. Find that level, know your customers, and commit to feeding Google a steady, balanced diet of what they say they want so that it can be conveyed to the people you want to serve.

Level 2: Fight Google

Image credit: Scott Lewis

Let’s keep it real: ethical local companies which pride themselves on playing fair have good reason to be dubious about doing business with Google. Once you’ve put in the effort to feed Google all the right info to begin competing for rankings, you may well find yourself having to do online battle on an ongoing basis.

There are two fronts on which many people end up grappling with Google:

  • Problematic aspects within products
  • Litigation and protests against the brand.

Let’s break these down to prepare you:

Product issues

Google has taken on the scale of a public utility — one that’s replaced most of North America’s former reliance on telephone directories and directory assistance numbers.

Google has 5 main local interfaces: local packs, local finders, desktop maps, mobile maps and the Google Maps app. It’s been the company’s decision to allow these utilities to become polluted with misinformation in the form of listing and review spam, and irrelevant or harmful user-generated content. Google does remove spam, but not at the scale of the issue, which is so large that global networks of spammers are have sprung up to profit from the lack of quality control and failure to enforce product guidelines.

When you are marketing a local business, there’s a strong chance you will face one or more of the following issues while attempting to compete in Google’s local products:

  • Being outranked by businesses violating Google’s own guidelines with practices such as keyword-stuffed business titles and creating listings to represent non-existent locations or lead-gen companies. (Example)
  • Being the target of listing hijacking in which another company overtakes some aspect of your listing to populate it with their own details. (Example)
  • Being the target of a reputation attack by competitors or members of the public posting fake negative reviews of your business. (Example)
  • Being the target of negative images uploaded to your listing by competitors or the public. (Example)
  • Having Google display third-party lead-gen information on your listings, driving business away from you to others. (Example)
  • Having Google randomly experiment with local features with direct negative impacts on you, such as booking functions that reserve tables for your patrons without informing your business. (Example)
  • Being unable to access adequately trained Google staff or achieve timely resolution when things go wrong (Example)

These issues have real-world impacts. I’ve seen them misdirect and scam countless consumers including those having medical and mental health emergency needs, kill profits during holiday shopping seasons for companies, cause owners so much loss that they’ve had to lay off staff, and even drive small brands out of business.

Honest local business owners don’t operate this way. They don’t make money off of fooling the public, or maliciously attack neighboring shops, or give the cold shoulder to people in trouble. Only Google’s underregulated monopoly status has allowed them to stay in business while conducting their affairs this way.

Outlook issues

Brilliant people work for Google and some of their innovations are truly visionary. But the Google brand, as a whole, can be troubling to anyone firmly tied to the idea of ethical business practices. I would best describe the future of Google, in its present underregulated state of monopoly, as uncertain.

In their very short history, Google has been:

I can’t predict where all this is headed. What I do know is that nearly every local business I’ve ever consulted with has been overwhelmingly reliant on Google for profits. Whether you personally favor strong regulation or not, I recommend that every local business owner and marketer keep apprised of the increasing calls by governing bodies, organizations, and even the company’s own staff to break Google up, tax it, end contracts on the basis of human rights, and prosecute it over privacy, antitrust, and a host of other concerns.

Pick your battles

With Google so deeply embedded in your company’s online visibility, traffic, reputation and transactions, concerns with the brand and products don’t exist in some far-off place; they are right on your own doorstep. Here’s how to fight well:

1. Fight the spam

To face off with Google’s local spam, earn/defend the rankings your business needs, and help clean polluted SERPs up for the communities you serve, here are my best links for you:

2. Stay informed

If you’re ready to move beyond your local premises to the larger, ongoing ethical debate surrounding Google, here are my best links for you:

Whether your degree of engagement goes no further than local business listings or extends to your community, state, nation, or the world, I recommend increased awareness of the whole picture of Google in 2020. Education is power.

Level 3: Flip Google

Image credit: Province of British Columbia

You’ve fed Google. You’ve fought Google. Now, I want you to flip this whole scenario to your advantage.

My 2020 local SEO blueprint has you working hard for every customer you win from the Internet. So far, the ball has been almost entirely in Google’s court, but when all of this effort culminates in a face-to-face meeting with another human being, we are finally at your party under your roof, where you have all the control. This is where you turn Internet-driven customers into in-store keepers.

I encourage you to make 2020 the year you draft a strategy for making a larger portion of your sales as Google-independent as possible, flipping their risky edifice into su casa, built of sturdy bricks like community, pride, service, and loyalty.

How can you do this? Here’s a four-quarter plan you can customize to fit your exact business scenario:

Q1: Listen & learn

Image credit: Chris Kiernan, Small Business Saturday

The foundation of all business success is giving the customer exactly what they want. Hoping and guessing are no substitute for a survey of your actual customers.

If you already have an email database, great. If not, you could start collecting one in Q1 and run your survey at the end of the quarter when you have enough addresses. Alternatively, you could ask each customer if they would kindly take a very short printed survey while you ring up their purchase.

Imagine you’re marketing an independent bookstore. Such a survey might look like this, whittled down to just the data points you most want to gather from customers to make business decisions:

Have pens ready and a drop box for each customer to deposit their card. Make it as convenient and anonymous as possible, for the customer’s comfort.

In this survey and listening phase of the new year, I also recommend that you:

  1. Spend more time as the business owner speaking directly to your customers, really listening to their needs and complaints and then logging them in a spreadsheet. Speak with determination to discover how your business could help each customer more.
  2. Have all phone staff log the questions/requests/complaints they receive.
  3. Have all floor/field staff log the questions/requests/complaints they receive.
  4. Audit your entire online review corpus to identify dominant sentiment, both positive and negative
  5. If the business you’re marketing is large and competitive, now is the time to go in for a full-fledged consumer analysis project with mobile surveys, customer personae, etc.

End of Q1 Goal: Know exactly what customers want so that they’ll come to us for repeat business without any reliance on Google.

Q2: Implement your ready welcome

Image credit: Small Business Week in BC

In this quarter, you’ll implement as many of the requests you’ve gleaned from Q1 as feasible. You’ll have put solutions in place to rectify any complaint themes, and will have upped your game wherever customers have called for it.

In addition to the fine details of your business, large or small, life as a local SEO has taught me that these six elements are basic requirements for local business longevity:

  1. A crystal-clear USP
  2. Consumer-centric policies
  3. Adequate, well-trained, personable staff
  4. An in-demand inventory of products/services
  5. Accessibility for complaint resolution
  6. Cleanliness/orderliness of premises/services

The lack of any of these six essentials results in negative experiences that can either cause the business to shed silent customers in person or erode online reputation to the point that the brand begins to fail.

With the bare minimums of customers’ requirements met, Q2 is where we get to the fun part. This is where you take your basic USP and add your special flourish to it that makes your brand unique, memorable, and desirable within the community you serve.

A short tale of two yarn shops in my neck of the woods: At shop A, the premises are dark and dusty. Customer projects are on display, but aren’t very inspiring. Staff sits at a table knitting, and doesn’t get up when customers enter. At shop B, the lighting and organization are inviting, displayed projects are mouthwatering, and though the staff here also sits at a table knitting, they leap up to meet, guide, and serve. Guess which shop now knows me by name? Guess which shop has staff so friendly that they have lent me their own knitting needles for a tough project? Guess which shop I gave a five-star review to? Guess where I’ve spent more money than I really should?

This quarter, seek vision for what going above-and-beyond would look like to your customers. What would bring them in again and again for years to come? Keep it in mind that computers are machines, but you and your staff are people serving people. Harness human connection.

End of Q2 Goal: Have implemented customers’ basic requests and gone beyond them to provide delightful human experiences Google cannot replicate.

Q3: Participate, educate, appreciate

Now you know your customers, are meeting their specified needs, and doing your best to become one of their favorite businesses. It’s time to walk out your front door into the greater community to see where you can make common cause with a neighborhood, town, or city, as a whole.

2020 is the year you become a joiner. Analyze all of the following sources at a local level:

  • Print and TV news
  • School newsletters and papers
  • Place of worship newsletters and bulletins
  • Local business organization newsletters
  • Any form of publication surrounding charity, non-profits, activism, and government

Create a list of the things your community worries about, cares about, and aspires to. For example, a city near me became deeply involved in a battle over putting an industrial plant in a wetland. Another town is fundraising for a no-kill animal shelter and a walk for Alzheimer’s. Another is hosting interfaith dinners between Christians and Muslims.

Pick the efforts that feel best to you and show up, donate, host, speak, sponsor, and support in any way you can. Build real relationships so that the customers coming through your door aren’t just the ones you sell to, but the ones you’ve manned a booth with on the 4th of July, attended a workshop with, or cheered with at their children’s soccer match. This is how community is made.

Once you’re participating in community life, it’s time to educate your customers about how supporting your business makes life better in the place they live (get a bunch of good stats on this here). Take the very best things that you do and promote awareness of them face-to-face with every person you transact with.

For my fictitious bookseller client, just 10 minutes spent on Canva (you have to try Canva!) helped me whip together this free flyer I could give to every customer, highlighting stats about how supporting independent businesses improve communities:

Example of a flyer to give to customers thanking them for shopping local

If you’re marketing a larger enterprise, a flyer like this could focus on green practices you’re implementing at scale, philanthropic endeavors, and positive community involvement.

Finally, with the holiday season fast approaching in the coming quarter, this is the time to let customers know how much you appreciate their business. Recently, I wrote about businesses turning kindness into a form of local currency. Brands are out there delivering surprise flowers and birthday cakes to customers, picking them up when they’re stranded on roadsides, washing town signage, and replacing “you will be towed” plaques with ones that read “you’re welcome to park here.” Loyalty programs, coupons, discounts, sales, free events, parties, freebies, and fun are all at your disposal to say “Thank you, please come again!” to your customers.

End of Q3 Goal: Have integrated more deeply into community life, motivated customers to choose our business for aspirational reasons beyond sales, and have offered memorable acts of gratitude for their business, completely independent of Google.

Q4: Share customers and sell

Screenshot of local business allies spreadsheet

Every year, local consumer surveys indicate that 80–90% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust recommendations from friends and family. But I’ve yet to see a survey poll how much people trust recommendations they receive from trustworthy business owners.

You spent all of Q3 becoming a true ally to your community, getting personally involved in the struggles and dreams of the people you serve. At this point, if you’ve done a good job, the people who make up your brand have come closer to deserving the word “friend” from customers. As we move into Q4, it’s time to deepen alliances — this time with related local businesses.

In the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street, the owners of Macy’s and Gimbel’s begin sending shoppers to one another when either business lacks what the customer wants. They even create catalogues of their competitors’ inventory to assist with these referrals. In Q3, I’m hoping you joined a local business alliance that’s begun to acquaint you with other brands that feature goods/service that relate to yours so that you can begin dedicated outreach.

Q4, with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, is traditionally the quarter in which local businesses expect to get out of the red, but how many more wedding cakes would you sell if all the caterers in town were referring to you, how many more tires would you vend if the muffler shops sent all their customers your way, how many more therapeutic massages might you book if every holistic medical center in your city confidently gave out your name?

Formalize B2B customer referrals in this quarter in seven easy steps:

  1. Create a spreadsheet headed with your contact information and an itemized list of the main goods, services, and brands you sell. Include specialties of your business. Create additional rows to be filled out with the information of other businesses.
  2. Create a list of every local business that could tie in with yours in any way for a customer’s needs.
  3. Invite the owners or qualified reps of each business on your list to a meeting at a neutral location, like a community center or restaurant.
  4. Bring your spreadsheet to the meeting.
  5. Discuss with your guests how a commitment to sharing customers will benefit all of you
  6. If others commit, have them fill out their column of the spreadsheet. Share print and digital copies with all participants.
  7. Whenever a customer asks for something you don’t offer, refer to the spreadsheet to make a recommendation. Encourage your colleagues to do likewise, and to train staff to use the spreadsheet to increase customer sharing and satisfaction.

Make a copy of my free Local Business Allies spreadsheet!

Q4 Goal: Make this the best final quarter yet by sharing customers with local business allies, decreasing dependence on Google for referrals.

Embrace truth and dare to draw the line

Image credit: TCDavis

House flipping is a runaway phenomenon in the US that has remodeled communities and sparked dozens of hit TV shows. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to the activity, as it can create negative gentrification, making life less good for residents.

You need have no fear of this when you flip Google, because turning their house into yours actually strengthens your real-world neighborhood, town, or city. It gives the residents who already live there more stable resources, more positive human contact, and a more closely knit community.

Truth: Google will remain dominant in the discovery-related phases of your consumers’ journeys for the foreseeable future. For new neighbors and travelers, Google will remain a valuable source of your business being found in the first place. Even if governing bodies break the company up at some point, the truth is that most local businesses need to utilize Google a search utility for discovery.

Dare: Draw a line on the pavement outside your front door this year, with transactional experiences on your side of the line. Google wants to own the transaction phase of your customers’ journey. Bookings, lead gen, local ads, and related features show where they are headed with this. If Google could, I’m sure they’d be glad to take a cut of every sale you make, and you’ll likely have to participate in their transactional aspirations to some degree. But…

In 2020, dare yourself to turn every customer you serve into a keeper, cutting out Google as the middleman wherever you can and building a truly local, regenerative base of loyalty, referrals, and community.

Wishing you a local 2020 of daring vision and self-made success!





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A wishlist of improvements for Google My Business in 2020



Joy Hawkins

There was a LOT of changes in the Local SEO world in 2019 – 94 that I’ve tracked (most are listed here). I have to first give Google credit for working so hard to improve the Google My Business product so much. That being said, there are definitely still some items that I think are in drastic need of change.

Here are the top 5 things I’d like Google My Business to update or change in 2020.

1. Customization inside GMB Insights. When you log in to the Google My Business dashboard, the options for Insights are pretty limited. You can see a week, a month, or a quarter on the graph. I would love it if Google would allow you to customize the date range. They already have this option in the GMB API but it has yet to make its way into the dashboard. I’d also love to be able to visualize the data by month or by week instead of daily. With so many businesses having high or low peaks on weekends, it can be very difficult to analyze the graphs when the option is always set by default to show daily.

2. Add Questions and Answers to the GMB dashboard. This is long overdue. Many businesses still don’t monitor the Questions and Answers section on their listing because it simply doesn’t exist inside the Google My Business dashboard.

3. Make event posts show chronologically. Currently, when you add an event post inside the Google My Business dashboard, it shows the events in order based on when you posted them, not based on the date of the actual event. This has been confusing for users and I’d love it if Google could change it.

4. Make service areas in Google My Business actually impact ranking. Currently, the ranking of a service area business listing is based on the address the listing used for verification – not the service areas they enter onto the listing. This is really troubling for tons of contractors who work from home and don’t live in the city they service.

5. I’d love Google My Business to devote more resources to stopping known spammers.  Spam is something that has always plagued Google Maps for as long as I’ve been in this industry. The frustrating thing is watching the same spammers continue to game Google over and over again. I would love it if Google could actually put in place some actual penalties for repeat offenders of the guidelines. Unlike organic search, there isn’t really any concept in the local search world that is similar to a manual penalty.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Joy Hawkins is a Local SEO expert who is a Google My Business Top Contributor. She regularly contributes to many online communities in the Local SEO world, including the Google My Business forum (Top Contributor), the Local Search Forum (Top Contributor), and the Local University Forum (Moderator). She is also a contributor to the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors survey. Joy is the owner of Sterling Sky in Canada and is the author of the Expert’s Guide to Local SEO, which is an advanced training manual for people wanting a detailed look at what it takes to succeed in the Local SEO space.





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How verticalization and zero-click will impact local search in 2020



Damian Rollison

In a recent post on the SparkToro blog, Moz founder and search guru Rand Fishkin predicted that 2020 will be the year Google is transformed “from everyone’s search engine to everyone’s competitor.” Fishkin cites Google’s monopoly on web search and the trend toward zero-click searches, then outlines a dizzying range of examples to prove his case, from dictionaries like Merriam-Webster to lyrics sites like Genius, from news sites like USNews and FiveThirtyEight to travel sites like Expedia and Kayak … and the list goes on. Restaurant recommendations, weather, celebrity net worth, video games: just about every vertical you can think of has been impacted by a few related threads in Google’s recent development:

  • Featured answers
  • Knowledge cards
  • Verticalized search experiences
  • Zero-click transactions (Reserve with Google)
  • Transactions further down the funnel (Google Shopping, Google Travel)
  • Carousels
  • Local packs

All of these trends are related both technologically and strategically. From a technological perspective, they speak to the building out of the Knowledge Graph and the ubiquity of machine learning in just about everything Google touches in search. From a strategic point of view, along the lines of Fishkin’s argument, Google is pushing every potentially minable source of information, including those that hope to generate commercial transactions, further into the margins, and occupying more and more of the center of the experience.

I want to share some thoughts about how all of this impacts local search, in ways that are very likely to expand in the coming year. My sense is that Google has looked very hard at the way consumers search within different types of verticals, from travel to shopping to restaurants to services and beyond, and has been tweaking the local search feature set subtly, in particular over the last year, but in some cases for much longer than that, to create ever more verticalized search experiences and own an ever-greater share of the funnel.

Google wants to do this in part because of the never-ending quest towards stickiness and protection against competition. In other words, Google wants to be the best local search engine in the world, and having more or less conquered the generic use cases, verticalization is an obvious next place to go. But of course, it’s about more than that. In a scenario where the search engine succeeds beyond its wildest dreams, niche sites and directories that still serve significant margins of the population will simply be removed from the equation, leaving only Google to connect consumers with businesses.

Here are a few examples of the trend.

Retail shopping

This is a case where many subtle changes over time have coalesced into what is now a vastly different product search experience than Google has presented in years past. Google is much more likely now to indicate local availability of products, even when the search has no obvious local intent:

Further down the page for the same search, Google is essentially using the local listing as a conduit for customized presentation of content that meets the searcher’s needs. Note that the primary category of Target has been switched to “toy store” to help satisfy the searcher’s intent, and all three listings show that Google has mined data from the business website to determine relevance, making it unnecessary for the business to explicitly broadcast via Google My Business the availability of individual products:

Particularly with product searches, Google has also focused heavily in recent months on drilling into photo content and modifying the display of listings in order to feature photos that match specific search queries. As Mike Blumenthal has demonstrated, this seems to work especially well when searching for jewelry. In my example below, Google pulls photos of earrings from among the available photos in each listing and displays them prominently in the local pack. In the third listing, Google can even tell earrings are present in a photo that also contains other items.

Hotels

Fishkin talks about this as well, but I still think it’s worth discussing hotels specifically in the context of local, because of how dramatically hotel search has changed in comparison with other local categories. This year, the local pack became the “hotel pack.”

Though it looks similar to the local pack, the hotel pack is in reality a portal to a completely different search experience. You may recall that in late 2018, Google introduced a new version of the Local Finder for hotels, with a greater number of filters and a nine-by-nine grid of hotel listings; that’s already gone and replaced by the hotels section of Google Travel, which has hugely expanded the profile information available for each hotel:

Tabs in the hotel profile now include Prices, Reviews, Location, About, and Photos, with data including a much-expanded list of amenities compared to what was previously available in Google My Business, as well as recommendations of things to do in the area near the hotel and photos from the business, Google users, and third-party sources.

Restaurants

Here’s a vertical with a long history of specialization. A very long history, if you remember back to the days of Hotpot and a range of other Google experiments designed to raise the profile of restaurants in search and capture traffic that might otherwise turn to Yelp or elsewhere for restaurant recommendations. That’s not surprising given the popularity of restaurant search, which must have made it seem like low-hanging fruit to Google from the beginning. In fact, in a recent survey we conducted at Brandify (written about in Search Engine Land by Greg Sterling), we found that 84% of consumers have looked up a restaurant online in the last 30 days, far more than any other category of business.

Today, search for restaurants doesn’t look dramatically different from generic search, but there are several subtle differences, including prominent photos of dishes. Restaurant local packs also include special filters for ratings, cuisine type, price, hours (planning ahead to see if they’re open for brunch on Sunday), and “your past visits,” where you can ask Google to reference your location history to only show you restaurants you’ve been to before — or those you’ve never visited.

In addition, editorial descriptions, such as the line “Relaxed spot for traditional meals” in the listing for Divine Thai, are far more common for restaurants than any other non-chain listing, due to the dedicated efforts of Google’s editorial team to build out that content and make restaurant search appear much more recommendation-oriented than other verticals.

Service-oriented businesses

Though Google has been steadily rolling out new features over the last couple of years for its Local Service Ads, such as the Google Guaranteed money-back program and the Google Screened license verification service, the initiative feels only half realized. Perhaps this is because so many verticals are still excluded from buying Local Service Ads — real estate agents, attorneys, and financial planners were added in 2019, augmenting a list that currently includes about 30 other business types such as locksmiths, plumbers, pet groomers, photographers, house cleaners, and pest control. Local Service Ads are also not available in all regions of the U.S., though coverage has been growing.

The user experience for Local Service Ads is somewhat anemic when compared with Google Shopping or Google Travel. When I search for “house cleaners anaheim ca” I see an ad carousel at the top of the screen, with a local pack right underneath competing for traffic. Compared to Google Hotels, I have much less of a clear incentive to choose the sponsored path:

Once I enter the Local Service Ads interface proper and select a business, I’m presented with a profile much simpler than that of the hotel example I shared above. If this is supposed to stand in for a business website, it’s not particularly impressive.

Still, the very existence of Local Service Ads speaks to Google’s interest in becoming the HomeAdvisor of the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a leap forward at some point where Google provides a more robust recommendation service, perhaps with a basic level that is free to businesses.

Today, service-oriented businesses are caught between having to pay for ads (if they qualify) or trying to rank alongside brick-and-mortar businesses in Google Maps and the local pack, which has traditionally been a huge challenge for them — no doubt one of the reasons service-oriented categories like locksmiths, garage door installers, and even attorneys have become notorious for listing spam.

Where is Google headed next?

Given the momentum Google is building around verticalized experiences, there’s every likelihood that the company will continue to add more verticals to its roster in the coming year and beyond. In fact, a recent Think with Google report may provide a hint to the company’s direction in this regard, given that it specifically calls out grocery, automotive and finance in a section called “Traditional industries are transforming with digital.” Google notes that in the past two years, mobile searches for “grocery app” have increased 900%, mobile searches for “electric car(s)” have grown by 85%, and mobile searches for financial planning and management have grown by 70%. These are the kinds of demand signals a data-driven company like Google surely looks to when determining where to build out new feature sets.

Speaking of mobile searches, verticalization is a curious case where desktop is actually out in front of mobile as a locus of innovation. Though, for instance, the mobile browser version of Google hotel search is more or less the same as desktop, all those extra tabs feel crowded in, and the search experience isn’t as strong. And Google Maps — where much of the growth in local search is currently happening — still hasn’t switched over to the new interface for hotels, constrained no doubt by the need to present a unified in-app experience. It will be especially interesting to see how Google balances the priority of verticalization against the growing popularity of Google Maps as the first choice among searchers.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Damian Rollison is VP of Product at Brandify, a leading local search solution provider specializing in multilocation brands. Damian has more than ten years of experience in SEO, reputation management, and listings management, having previously served as product lead at UBL and Moon Valley Software. Damian writes a regular column at Street Fight covering various topics in local.





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The Top 5 Most Common Sales Problems



Your Imprint

We focus on quality rather than quantity of leads by using content, SEO, and social media to communicate with customers where they are in their journey and make sure you stay top of mind.

Getting a response/Getting in the door

We’ll establish your business as an authority by showing and demonstrating your value. This will drive leads to your site who see you as the expert and are ready to talk or buy.

Standing out from the competition

We’ll help you offer expert knowledge and providing value to your customer during every stage of his or her journey. Your story and service will stand out by the strong relationships we can help you build with your customers, making them into promoters and advocates.

Too much time spent on administrative tasks

Inputting data and generating reports can take up a lot of time. By automating some of those tasks like setting up email templates, automating messages, call recaps, and followups – we can eliminate some of the admin time.

Maintaining customer relationships after the sale

We can create drip email campaigns that are personalized, informative, and entertaining, keeping their favorite sales rep or brand at the top of their mind.



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