Search returns just aren’t what they used to be. In fact, in some situations (explained here) it’s next to impossible to even get your site listed on the first page of search returns anymore. Here are some observations on Google’s current tactics, what it means to your business, and what you can do about it.
If you haven’t noticed the proliferation of Google + Local in the search results well then, you haven’t been paying attention. With apologies to anyone who doesn’t appreciate having a Phil Collins ear worm for the rest of the day let’s dig into this a bit deeper by Going Local Down in Acapulco.
A fairly obvious one to start with – Hotels in Acapulco.
So okay. The results for this particular search make me feel like I’ve stepped into an alternate universe episode of The Twilight Zone. Was it not Google who said:
“Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. “
Why yes! I think it was. In fact here a link to that very article: Page Layout Algorithm Improvement
That pontificating was the forerunner of the “Top Heavy” algo update (described in detail by Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land) which is expected to refresh every so often to catch those pesky web owners who insist on making it “…hard to find the actual original content on the page.”
I would have said that unpaid listings were the equivalent of original content on the page for Google but … I digress. Let’s get back to the search results. You can click on the image for a larger version of it but don’t bother. All you are going to see is ads on top, ads to the side, then seven local listings followed by listings from Tripadviser, Hotels.com and other hotel review or booking sites. There are two skimpy Local Listings above the red dotted line – the only unpaid content above the fold. Ahem.
The fact that it is hard to find a hotel or guesthouse listing anywhere in the world that is NOT served up from an international travel company is something else that gets my goat. As a traveller if I were visiting Acapulco I would much rather lodge in an independant little guesthouse or boutique hotel run by some eccentric individual than stay in a cookie-cutter tourist trap that differs from its sister in Montreal only in as much as the Mexican one has the occasional hacienda table and there are mariachis in the lounge bar.
“If you are a website owner, the proliferation of the ads and Google + Local listings combo means that if you want your ad to appear on the first page of Google in 2013 you may either be paying for it via Google PPC or you will be forced to take advantage of your Google + Local page…”
But where do you think I might find something like that? Not on the first page of Google’s results that’s for sure (unless that is, they have a Google + Local page and are lucky enough to be included in the Local listings).
Moving on, suppose I found a hotel and wanted to check out some restaurants in Acapulco.
The results page shown on the left is better this time, at least in as much as there are not enough ads to choke a mule. In fact there are no ads at all. The first seven listings are local then the rest of the page is made up entirely of directories or travel sites. In other words if you have a website for a restaurant in Acapulco and have not pimped your Google + Local page you are bang out of luck.
Let’s do one more. Sticking with our holiday in Acapulco theme here is a search for car hire in Acapulco.
Okay, so we’re back to ads taking up the majority of screen air with the only unpaid listings above the fold being two Google + Local listings. The rest of them are international travel sites like Kayak and Expedia or international car hire companies.
Why does this remind me of all the little artisan and specialist shops in the UK getting pushed out of the high street by big commerce? In comes Tesco, out goes the local fishmonger.
Sadly at one time, I really believed that Google was a pioneer that enabled the little guy to go head to head with large corporate entities. Now? Not so much.
What Does it All Mean?
So what does this all mean? Well, for the searcher it depends if you like to hover or you like to skim. You see, you get a richer description of each local listing if you hover over it but if you like to skim you get nothing but a bunch of descriptions from commercial directories and one line Local Listings. Meh. I am a skimmer and I don’t find that the push for ads and local listings enhances my search experience at all.
If you are a website owner, the proliferation of the ads and Google + Local listings combo means that if you want your ad to appear on the first page of Google in 2013 you may either be paying for it via Google PPC or you will be forced to take advantage of your Google + Local page – whether you want to or not.
What about home visit services like dog walking, hairdressers, home help and the like? Or professional services that can be done from home like freelance writing, translating, financial and marketing services? The operators of these businesses may have their own website but may not have an official bricks and mortar office. Unless they are confortable using their home address for their business listing on Google + Local then how can they compete for business from potential clients in their local area?
What to do?
Here’s what we recommend at Webdirexion: If you’re a local business — get that Google+ page rocking and rolling (the business page, not the personal one). Make sure you get frequent good ratings so you will appear at top of the maps listings. Strongly consider PPC ads as part of your marketing mix. Use other visibility methods like press releases, social media campaigns, and email newsletters to reach your target audience. Contact us today for a quote on these services.