Local SEO is constantly changing with updates to search engine algorithms, advancements in technology and new web development that is making the world of “search” easier and easier everyday. The way we search for a good restaurant, front row concert tickets, or a top rated auto mechanic might soon be totally different then what we are traditionally use to. This got my wheels turning and I thought to myself, “I wonder what local search will be like in 2014?”
I then decided to go on a mission and search out local seo experts from all around the world. They were asked to answer one question:
Where Do You See Local Search in 2014?
1. Google + is getting more and more integrated into Google’s search experience. Pages, maps and local are all “sort of” integrated but it’s still a little clunky. Over the next year we’ll see all of Google’s services become more tightly merged with everything held together by Google authorship. You’d be well advised to start ramping up your G+ presence building followers and engagement.
2. Structured data markup schema will also become more important for websites. Make sure that you’ve got your address, reviews, products and other data marked out clearly for Google. This will make it easier for Google to crawl your site and therefore, make it easier to rank.
3. And finally, and perhaps the biggest trend we’re seeing is the rise in mobile computing. This has already started to effect rankings with Google preferring quick loading, mobile friendly sites but this is just the start. The way people are interacting with the web is changes too. Voice activated search (eg. Google voice and Siri) has impacted the SERPs with Google’s recent Hummingbird Update. The core algorithm has been updated to process searches based on intent, rather than keyword.
So how do you stay ahead of your competition in 2014? Create great, engaging content, format it following Google’s best practise and then share it through social channels. Encourage client engagement and start creating content that answers your clients top questions.
With personalised search getting bigger, and users getting more and more saavy with the way they search, getting found locally is becoming vital for all businesses.
The year ahead will be no different, with increased presence of local results for both geographic and generic terms.
The Australian market hasn’t yet embraced local the way it is in other countries such as the USA, and we expect to see local businesses understanding that they need to be found by local customers, and the only way to do that will be through an increased focus on their local seo.
rel=publisher is going to become more important for businesses that want to represent themselves on Google+ as a business page instead of an individual.
The activity on a Google+ account will have a larger impact on search rankings. Use whichever Google+ account that you’re using to represent your business to review other local businesses, connect with other people in your industry and post helpful industry-relevant content.
Every local business with a physical address that can be displayed online should have it included as schema markup along with markup for business name, phone and email address. MicroDATAgenerator and Snipper Generator will output schema markup and you can test each page of your site for authorship, publisher info and local business markup using Google’s Rich Snippet Testing Tool.
In 2014, I see local SEO maintaining it’s presence as one of the key elements to success for an online business. Many generic keywords over the years have seen a change of trends with people localizing the phrase now to get a more accurate query, so I believe localized searches will continue to see an increase in 2014. If the carousel bar Google was testing is anything to go by, the click through rate of local listings will skyrocket.
I’m no fortune teller, and I’m sure I’ll get much of this wrong, but if I had to guess, I’d say there may be a wider roll-out of the carousel on all local categories, more improvements to the new local dashboard, a bigger focus on social integration, and probably more focus on reviews in 2014.
Local search is where to be at in 2014! It has been ever since the Venice Update. Google has made it clear that searchers want local results for many search queries. I think when you read survey’s like this one, that people want to use search engines for research, but want to buy locally. Both large corporations and SMB’s will want to make sure they are optimizing content, citations, links and offline marketing for better local search result pages in the search engines like Google.
Now with the latest Hummingbird updates (from Google’s search engine), SMB’s will want to start investing in better content to their sites (Andrew Shotland makes offers some good tips on this here that creating better content will be paramount for showing up in more local search result pages in Google).
In addition, SMB’s will want start thinking about all the different SERPs that show up in Google today, because ‘Local’ is not just ‘Local’ anymore. In the past, local was much easier, you really only needed to focus on Google Places (now called Google Local Plus), but now to be “local’ you need to have a local content creation plan, a local video marketing plan, clean citations, clean authority links, social, schema markup, etc.
My advice to most businesses is try to accomplish 3 major things going forward for local:
One – Create evergreen local content. I believe evergreen content (how to’s) will last the test of time and earn natural links (assuming you promote it and network it).
Two – Invest in video marketing (hell, re-purpose your evergreen content into video too!). The reason why you should invest in video is, I honestly believe the web is moving towards a more visual space, where video and images and infographics rule. Just look at Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube and even the way Google+ is designed. Also Google loves to rank ‘video’ (specifically Youtube).
Three – Start building online social communities around our local brand (Get more people ‘circling your Google+ local page, get more ‘engaged’ users on your Facebook local page, have pinned local photos on your Pinterest page, Instagram out local content, publish local content regularly on your LinkedIN page and make sure you participate in local LinkedIN groups, etc.). The reason why building large online digital communities is essential to success with your local online marketing is because the search engines are putting more and more weight on what other people say about your business because it’s tough to fake that. Businesses that have large ‘engaged’ online communities will gain more natural signals that search engines are looking for, thus most likely will have more opportunities to rank in local search more too. The most important reason is to invest in building large social communities, is because it can ‘Google-proof’ your business (Don’t be a one trick pony!). If you have not read ‘The Thank You Economy‘ by Gary Vaynerchuk, then I highly recommend you pick up a copy today. Try to build online communities who are raving fans of your local business, if you do this right, then most everything else will take care of itself, including your local marketing.
The take away for 2014 local marketing is: optimize content for local, have content plan for local, do video for local and build online local social communities.
It will be exponentially more personalized and targeted to a closer proximity. What do I mean by this?
The personalization trend that we’re currently seeing is still in the early stages. Google’s rate of innovation far outweighs the rate of adoption among users and businesses. The rate Google is able to improve local personalized results is mostly hindered by the process of testing, optimization and user adoption. In the near future you’ll be able to receive more personalized local results, exactly when you need them.
For example, your smartphone will know you’re driving (based on route and speed), where you’re driving (based on driving habits/workplace listed on social profiles/etc.), how much gas is remaining (smartcars are awesome!), and tell you when and where to get gas.
Diving into this a step further, let’s say your vehicle is running on empty and there are two gas stations on opposite sides of the intersection. One station is next to a Sports Centre shopping mall and the other a Tim Hortons. Since you’ve been searching online for a new set of hockey skates recently, Google may suggest filling up at the station next to the Sports Centre in case you want to buy those hockey skates.
The Death of Fake Reviews:
This prediction is a little bold, I know, fake reviews will always be there just like fake social media profiles and spammy links will always be there. However, if we’re looking at the trend started recently where SEO companies are being fined for hundreds of thousands of dollars for offering to write fake reviews for customers and where Yelp, CitySearch and other companies are making significant efforts to reduce fake reviews we get a sense that Google must be working on updating their algorithm to better detect these fake reviews. Considering the fact that Google moved away from displaying third party reviews and only showing reviews left by Google users, you know that Google will continue improving their algorithm to provide more accurate and better results for local searches.
Social Influence Will be Felt Algorithmically:
As Google+ continues to grow in popularity and manages to cross the barrier of 10 active users Google will continue to integrate the social signals from Google+ more and more into their algorithm. I believe that in 2014, we’ll start seeing factors such as the number of Circles that include a business, number of interactions on a business page, number of shares of a business page, etc. play a more significant role in local search. Similarly, the social signals of the people reviewing the business will begin to have a greater impact on the rankings of the local business. Here is a great article that illustrates how +1s and especially +1s from authoritative people on Google+ have a great effect on rankings than any other social media signal. This is a clear example that authoritative users on Google+ are able to have a greater influence on rankings than others. I’m assuming that in 2014, we’ll start to see a similar trend with Local results as well.
Mobile Conversions Will Increase:
The biggest change this year will come from mobile conversions however. As the number of mobile searches continues to grow every day, people are becoming more and more comfortable to convert through their mobile phone. Google Wallet continues to grow in popularity, making it easier for people to convert through their phones and allowing more transactions to happen directly on +Local pages. I wouldn’t put it past Google to even add a “booking” feature straight on the business’ +Local pages, which would help increase conversions tremendously especially for restaurants and hotels.
Local SEO in 2014 will still include the important ranking factors that we already know such as proper category placement, consistency of citations across the web, quality of inbound links, quantity of reviews, proximity to city center, etc. Since there is an increasing rate of mobile searches I would expect that mobile-optimization will be more important than ever. With products like Google Glass and new ways of delivering information like infocards or Google Carousel, it’ll be important that your listing has high quality images optimized for conversions and the listing is 100% accurate/complete. The days of getting by with a name, address, phone number, a few citations from YellowPages and other aggregators are long gone and making your local business stand out will be even harder. Lastly, social signals already play a big role when customers and Google look at how many +1’s the page has and how active the business is with the listing, so the business with the highest amount of social interactivity will be ranking fairly well across the board.
I think Google is going to put a lot more emphasis on rich snippets markup / structured data, especially for local search. So, sites freely utilizing them should get a boost in local rankings.
Next, I see Google taking action against sites that actively spam other sites for local citations. Manipulative citation building can be considered as bad as manipulative link building, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Google comes up with a brand new algorithmic penalty that punishes sites leveraging the black-hat type of local SEO.
I often see local businesses wanting to participate in large-scale guest posting campaigns with the hope of killing two birds with one stone – building citations, and building links. With Google’s updated policy about large-scale guest posting for the purpose of gaining links or other SEO benefits, it looks to me as though users of this particular tactic are gonna get hit.
If you are a brick and mortar business with a physical location you need to be in the local search landscape. Twenty years ago it was the Yellow Pages that dominated local search and directories; today it is Google. The Google+ ecosystem and the Androidplatform with supported technologies will systemically dominate and personalise recommendations real time. Personal devices that talk to us is an exciting frontier. Google Glass is a shining example of this, with the Samsung Galaxy Gear being equally impressive. The point is local search will have an ever-increasing platform base to be delivered anywhere, anytime.
So as SEOs or inbound marketers as some may choose to be called, how do we deliver the best exposure for our clients. A massive part of this is building up Google reviews; it makes sense to drive reviewers to this platform so their experience can be shared within a person’s activity stream and historical timeline. Implement a G+ local page and G+ business page whilst different pages now, it is only a matter of time before the two pages merge. Implement call tracking on these listings so you can understand the true value of your local listings. You might be shocked!
For a more strategic approach, you would be mad not to rule out the new City Experts program, recently introduced by Google. Google always looks to experts and influencers for signals towards relevance. The city experts program is an open endorsement of this principle and the individuals within it. I can see these experts being the new local celebrities within the local search/reviewer landscape.
Overall local businesses need to engage and incentives the public. Choose the platform the suit your audience and maximize exposure.
Where do we see local search in 2014? Well, we are only a few months away so I don’t see it being hugely different to where it is now initially and that is right up front when you are searching with a localised intent.
More so than big changes I suspect we will see more subtle changes. More localisation. More localised organic results. More visibility for local businesses. A push towards quality and maybe the integration of more on page quality signals from the main algorithm.
As a final answer to the question, we see it being the biggest opportunity to grab targeted traffic from non commercial search results so make sure you are getting your slice of the pie.
I think local business websites being mobile optimized will move from being a recommendation to more of a requirement if they want to rank highly. Having a site that loads properly and is easy to use on a mobile device is important, but at the moment, lots of sites ranking highly for localised keywords have sites that aren’t optimised for mobile users at all. Many are difficult to read and use on a mobile, and some verge on impossible. I can’t see that this will continue as it is, and I think that even if a site should rank highly based on the traditional local search ranking factors (on-site optimisation, citations, links, etc.), if it offers a poor mobile experience, it will be demoted in the local search results. As soon as Google does this, businesses will rush to change their sites in order to restore their rankings, and the overall experience for searchers will significantly improve.
I also think that as more people create Google+ accounts (which they are being forced to do by virtue of Google’s “One account. All of Google” strategy), more people will leave reviews, which will result in reviews playing a more important role in local search. Even if people don’t fully populate their Google+ accounts with information about themselves, and don’t regularly use it to interact with people, their reviews can still be given credibility based on the age of the Google account and their activity on other, more widely used, Google services, like YouTube and Gmail. At the moment, few businesses in the UK have much in the way of reviews. See the attached screenshot, which is from a search for “Plumbers in Birmingham”. The businesses listed in the top 7 positions have only 7 reviews between them. Such few reviews make it difficult for Google to give much weight to them. If they can get even 3 times as many reviews left, then reviews become a much more reliable source of data for Google to use in the local search ranking algorithm.
Local will play an even greater part of search in 2014. However, there are a lot of ‘Local SEO experts’ coming into this marketplace so for those of us who actually run a Local Search Marketing business and not a ‘fly by night – quick buck operation’ I can see it getting harder for us to maintain our profit margins as we get undercut with poor services.
We will all have a harder job to prove the value of our worth, produce higher quality, unique content and really over deliver on our services and promise to the customer. And of course ensure a great return on investment for our clients. If you are using consultative selling techniques you should know the value of your clients’ customers and your marketing should reflect this.
It will be absolutely crucial to get the basics right first:
1. Website – a strong locally optimized website which includes Schema mark-ups, unique Meta titles and descriptions and NAP’s etc. is the starting point to your success with everything else you are going to do in Local SEO. Get this right first, and everything else you do will be a lot easier.
2. Mobile – websites MUST be reactive and mobile-friendly with a strong emphasis on conversion. We’re seeing over 30% of referrals and growing coming from mobile now. This will continue to grow in 2014!
3. Review Sites – claim and manage all your local and industry related citation pages and optimize them fully. Remember to manage your reviews and respond to each one, both good and bad. Most companies fail to do this, but it can pay big dividends for those that do!
4. Video – make video marketing central to your online marketing to inform, educate and allow customers to get to know, like and trust you. Add NAP’s to your video description and don’t forget a link first and foremost to your site.
5. Keep abreast of algorithm changes like Google’s Hummingbird and produce content regularly and accordingly with a local intention.
6. Be local and social – don’t start social network pages like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and expect the world to love you. Engage, entertain and answer inquiries and messages at least once a day. If you can type, you don’t have an excuse not to do this. And remember… it’s not about collecting 10,000 fans! It’s about the relationships you have with your core following who will walk through your door and pay you for your products or services.
7. Don’t just make blog posts because you are contracted to do so (Hummingbird anyone!). Produce great, unique content on a regular basis. Ask yourself the question “Would I share this post?” Make a difference and make it work for you and your clients. We’re only as good as our last post!
8. Seek out local organizations and build relationships with them and above all, enjoy what you do… and do it well!
Piers Moore Ede
I see two major factors ahead for Local Search in 2014. The first is that social is going to start playing more of a factor in local search results, especially from G+ circles. Hardly surprising that Google should incorporate peer-review in the search for local businesses. Part of local SEO will therefore be building highly targeted fan pages with niche relevant circles to capitalise on this. Secondly, and this is going to be very hard to manipulate, uber-localised geo relevant results will start to filter in on mobile searches: it remains to be seen how that is going to alter traffic levels and whether there are wins to be had. Finally, author rank and domain authority will continue to play in to the results, meaning a purely local campaign may become redundant: the basic factors of creating excellent content and going after the best links you can will become essential.
In 2014, I think many of the same factors such as reviews, citations, links etc. will continue to be highly important. Google+ reviews will also continue to increase in importance. While everyone will of course be focusing on these, make sure you put some effort into a few areas that can separate you from your competitors.
High Quality Photos:
With the introduction of Google’s Local Carousel, high quality visual content will be vital. The highest quality and most relevant images are going to get clicked at a higher rate. Investing now in top-notch images will pay big dividends in the future.
Trust me, Chicago loves pizza and it is a very competitive market but look how badly optimized the visuals are in the Local Carousel. This is an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up, so make sure your photos are setup to entice a click.
Finding companies with poor Carousel images (like the building in the example above instead of a hot slice of pizza) should also be a good way to find new business opportunities for Local SEO companies.
Taking the time to implement Schema.org tags now will make your search listings stand out from the competition.
Whether it is Review Stars or Event listings you are sure to find tags that are relevant to your business.
Similarly, a search for “Black Crowes tickets” shows how Ticketmaster is leveraging Schema event tags to make their listings really stand out.
Just getting on the first page or in the Local Carousel is no longer enough. You need only have seconds to capture a customer’s attention.
In 2014, focus your efforts on ways to make your business visibly stands out from the crowd.
With the current landscape (right now seeing updates nearly daily), local search will evolve in a variety of ways next year and could be one of the most volatile years since becoming a major area of optimization. The term “local search” will also see a new definition in 2014 as it becomes even more focused, making it more “hyper” local than ever before.
How can you not think of mobile and what is to come. In 2014 mobile search will be a major point of emphasis for local search. With the Hummingbird algorithm looking to focus more on semantic and conversational search, this looks to impact local more than any other aspect of search. With over 50% of current search on mobile already having local intent, look for this to increase in 2014.
Between condensing G+ Local and G+ business pages, the local carousel, local pack enhancements and rich snippets Google is putting more emphasis on reviews than ever before. Because of the influence reviews have come to have in rankings, more businesses are placing emphasis on the practice and this will continue in 2014. Also expect more features to be introduced that will be heavily influenced by reviews and that this will become a common thread across Google itself.
New Google Maps:
This, for me, is the most intriguing aspect of local in 2014. The new maps cater to local more than ever before. With the circles features, the importance of local registration regarding enhanced visibility within maps, the new integrations within the SERP, the advertising opportunities now available and the most recent service area updates, it is hard to argue that any local business that wants to be found in 2014 MUST do a good job within Google Maps. The new dashboard for G+ Local improves the UI dramatically, and I expect the reporting to become more reliable and useful in 2014. The maps are going to be very relevant on mobile and also influenced to a great degree by reviews, and this is the feature where that alignment of all things local will be seen in its greatest capacity.
Local search will see major disruption in 2014, and will be an exciting time for anyone working in the space.
Just like every other year, I think we can expect to see some major changes to Google’s local product in 2014. We have seen many major changes recently in regards to the way Google displays the results to the user including the one box and the local carousel (as shown below).
With these major changes, we have also seen other visual changes including the removal of blended results where if you were ranking organically and locally, that these two listings were then blended into one result. When this was removed, the prominence of the five stars started to become more important. All of these changes are really meant for one thing: to provide the best user experience for the searcher. With these changes and the introduction of Hummingbird meant to help people search smarter, I believe we will see a trickle over into local SEO results.
1. Higher Quality Citations will continue to be more important than quantity. As Google gets smarter at determining which sites are hyperlocal it becomes easier to spot which local businesses are actually serving those areas. Local directories with great content and good social mentions will start to provide more weight.
2. Reviews! Reviews have always been important, not only in local SEO, but also for your company reputation. As the search engines get smarter at determining who is real, who is fake, and who is manipulating them, they can then become more trusted. I think in 2014 we will see more emphasis on this because it’s not easy to get legitimate reviews.
3. Social Signals Will Become Stronger. If more people are checking in to your business, reviewing it, and mentioning it in social media, it seems that you would be doing a better job. Links are by no means dead but I believe we are at a point where we might see more social integration and changes into local search.
4. “Check In’s” Might Become More Relevant. With so much competition in the online world, it’s easy to see why Google is constantly looking for better ways to rank businesses in a way that is less manipulative. While people have found out how to exploit link building, the possibility of exploiting check in’s seems more difficult to me. Users who commonly check in at local establishments might be trusted more than others.
With the search engines making updates more often and tackling more spammers every day, it’s important to not think in terms of “How can I rank better?”, but more of “How can I market better?”. If you’re already committed to a strong content strategy using best practices, then you’re on the right track. If you’re also concerned about great marketing, the tips above will help you in local search and outside of it.
I predict local search results will get more compressed, more personalized, and quasi-randomized over the next 12 months.
We’re already seeing plenty of examples of mobile result interfaces making their way into results across all devices, and I think that trend will continue. Google’s fully committed to the Knowledge Graph as a construct, and visually distilling as much information about entities (in this case, local businesses) into the smallest area possible into “cards” viewable on all kinds of mobile technology — most prominently at this point, Google Now and Google Glass.
Given the visual constraints Google’s working with, local search results are going to be presented more serially than they are today (think: swiping results on a phone or tablet), and it’s not at all clear to me that when it comes to local businesses, Google’s all THAT confident that a given business deserves to rank #1 for every single searcher. Given the massive amount of data that Google’s permanent-login-platform-masquerading-as-social-network is now collecting about all kinds of user behavior, it stands to reason that the order in which results are presented is going to start varying much more dramatically based on cohorts’ and circles’ expressed preferences and behaviors.
All three of these predictions manifest themselves in the new Google Maps, where we’ve already seen Google move away from stack-ranked lists into highly-personalized non-hierarchical results that allow users to get a sense of the experience of a business before they even click for more information.
2013 was largely about connecting local and G+; I think that 2014 will continue this trend and Google will test new landing pages to get users invested in G+ via local. Additionally, I think that Google is going to start recommending, what it deems, relevant local places of interest to your search via the carousel that you currently see for queries like “things to do in Seattle”. If you search for “Arts Cyclery”, you might see other bike shops showing up here along with other relevant businesses or places of interest (in this case it could be trails).
Additionally, I think we’re going to see local search invading the real estate of head terms even more. I think Google is going to put a lot more local intent behind big head term queries so if someone searches for personal injury lawyer, they are going to see results relevant to their location rather than the national level results.
2014 is going to be a year of optimizing for vertical-specific search results, in general. For local, that means optimizing for the local carousel result. Tactically, not much has changed, but the intent is entirely different. Before, we’ve been optimizing for the single, prominent website/local listing combination.
Now we’re optimizing for two results; first the carousel result, which is pretty much the same as for the old local pack results.
But now, there’s a second search result triggered after a person clicks on a result in the carousel.
This is a Google search for the “Business Name + City ST”, meaning it’s more important than ever to make sure you dominate your branded search result to keep competitors from showing up in these.
Local search in 2014 is going to evolve immensely as “natural language search” and spoken search queries submitted via mobile devices (like Apple’s Siri and Google Now) rise to prominence. Longtail keywords will be more important than ever, because those are the types of queries that will be spoken by searchers on the go.
Search results displayed on mobile devices will differ from those displayed on desktops, and as such, websites with mobile-optimized themes and responsive design will dominate old websites that display poorly across mobile devices.
Local business owners will need to optimize their websites from a mobile perspective, gather online reviews, and employ a strategic mobile content marketing campaign if they hope to keep up with the competition in 2014.
I think that practitioners of local SEO are living in a dream land, because Google does not seem to really take any negative action against spammy offsite local SEO tactics. What I mean is that you can be spammy as hell with your citation building (dropping citations in sidebars, footers, and article submissions) and link building (you can actually be under a linkbased penalty and still rank locally) and while it may not improve your rankings in the local pack, it certainly won’t hurt you. We’ve had several clients come to us with major linkbased penalties which tanked their organic rankings, yet they are still competing because their local rankings didn’t get touched.
I definitely see this changing in 2014 and beyond. The aggression with which Google is going after artificial link building tactics to keep spammy domains out of their organic results tells me that they are more than capable and eager to clean up local spam as well.
Things to pay lots of attention to in 2014:
- Getting good reviews on your G local page
- Getting links from hyperlocal websites
- Getting unstructured citations from hyperlocal websites
- Making your site readable on any device
- Using extreme attention to detail when placing your business information anywhere online (make it accurate, pretty, and consistent)
- Giving customers a way to complain about you in private (ie. not on G Local or Yelp)
- Creating highly unique hyper local content on your website
Things to stop paying attention to:
- Getting as many citations as possible, even if the site is irrelevant garbage
- Getting lots of crappy links
- Creating tons of duplicate local content where nothing changes but the city name
- Getting fake reviews
Things that shouldn’t work to increase local rankings but do, and may for a long time to come:
- Exact and partial match keyword domains (location specific subdomains seem to work incredibly well)
- Proximity to city center
- Number of links pointing to the website landing page connected with the G local page
1. Mobile and secure search will take away a lot of website data that businesses targeting locations rely on. We are seeing trends that people who are searching for local businesses will just click to call from mobile devices compared to clicking through to the website.
As you can see on this screenshot Google gives businesses 3 options from a mobile device
Other directories will follow and slowly user behavior will change. When you couple that with the massive rise of (not provided) coming from search engines and browsers and we will need to find alternative means of tracking lead information and hopefully some useful call tracking solutions will come to directories that won’t hurt data consistency.
2. Massive crackdown on spammy and fake reviews
We have started to see Yelp and others crack down on companies that are either posting negative fake reviews on competitors or positive fake reviews on their own listings. It’s clear that consumers care deeply about reading reviews of businesses online and that directories and search engines that want to gain the trust of users will do everything in their power through media and other means to show that they take reviews seriously. The conversation in the local space will have reviews move front and center and services like GetFiveStars that assist in the overall gathering of feedback and review acquisition will emerge and gain traction in the market.
3. Social Signals from Google+ becoming more important for rankings
This one is my longshot guess. Circles, shares, and social conversations from brands will begin to play a roll in map rankings. We all know this day is coming but don’t fully understand how it will work. I think light could be shed on this in 2014.
First, let’s note that different elements are being shown in the local carousel along with the prominent image. For hotels we have the prominent image, the first 15 or so characters of the address, the aggregate review rating that Google has and the number of reviews. These hotel results can even be filtered by average user rating.
However, when searching for “upcoming Chicago events” the address and aggregate rating are traded for the name of the event such as “Hot Chocolate Run” and the date of the event “Nov 3”.
When clicking through to an event we can see more information such as the time, venue and address – along with where Google is acquiring the information, such as songkick, seatgeek and eventful. This gives indication that Google is already displaying relevant information for the particular search and likely to continue strategically include information in the local carousel.
Prediction 1: Google Offer included in the local carousel if a business is running one. This would be particularly helpful for increasing the revenue potential of Google Offer, which could make their Google Offers Android app update more profitable – more Offers being purchased and used. So a search for “haircut in Philadelphia” could lead to a carousel of local hair salons and include a link to a Google Offer if one is currently running.
Prediction 2: The local carousel slowly rolls out to more verticals and the traditional local listings has decreased appearance. As Google continues to push users to upload photos and share them on Google + and announces improved image search this could lend itself to a strategy to continue expanding the local carousel into other industries, where there isn’t currently a strong use of photos (say for locksmiths). This might be late 2014 or beyond but would be a trend worth following as research has shown the carousel gets a noticeably higher percent of clicks than the traditional map (SEJ, 2013).
In addition to features included in the local carousel, Google may also consider monetizing the local carousel in the form of paid ad positions. This could operate in much the same way that the new local ads on the Google Maps app works in terms of the cost per click where only actions to “Get location details” result in a charge. This would allow Google to both capitalize on the keyword search and click-throughs that are likely to happen in the carousel as well as brand keyword advertisements as it currently is due to the local carousel resulting in a click through to branded search term.
All in all, Google appears to be striving to keep people engaged on Google and not need to click through to websites, so the updates to take place in local search results are likely to be aligned with this mission.
What we now know as Google+ Local (or is it Google Places?) will be renamed at least once.
The currently embalmed “old” version of the Google Places dashboard will finally be interred, and all businesses’ Google local listings will finally be “fully social.” Hilarity (and misery) will ensue.
More local-business directories will start charging – no longer offering free listings. Over time, they may matter less and less as citations that affect local rankings, because their directories will slowly become less-complete (if they’re only pay-to-play). But in the meantime, they’ll make a few bucks, probably by partnering with Yext.
Speaking of Yext, it will probably continue to grow and be a pretty good service. But for it to go from good to great – or perhaps even to be around 5 years from now – the powers-that-be will need to start a frank and ongoing conversation with the local SEO community about what business owners need.
Apple Maps will surprise us at least once – either by allowing business owners to claim and update their listings directly, or by acquiring some important local-search player, or something.
Yelp will continue to get bigger, more important, and solidify its business model – partly by expanding its Yelp Platform program. Yelp is not going away.
Foursquare gets bought.
More local SEO agencies will realize that link-building is a dead end for most SMB clients. If business owners aren’t personally involved in creating truly useful content or doing what Wil Reynolds calls “RCS,” then any links an agency can simply “build” will be useless at best and probably a liability in the long run.
Google’s young “City Experts” program (its answer to Yelp’s Elite Squad) won’t make it to kindergarten.
More types of businesses will start appearing in Google’s “local carousel” – not just the leisure and tourist-oriented businesses that currently populate those results.
Marketers and business owners of all stripes will realize that Google+ Local reviews aren’t optional. They’ve always been more important than most SEOs realize. But now with “personalized” search and the prominence of “Top” reviews in the new Maps, Google Plus reviews are growing into a mighty important bone in the “social spine” that Google considers and wants Plus to be. They’ll also come to see that rankings in Google without reviews in Google are a wasted opportunity. Some SEOs will try to game the system in order to help their clients with reviews. Google will need to find a middle ground between the draconian review filter of 2012 and the donut-eating filters of 2013, if Mountain View really wants to take down Yelp in the reviews Colosseum.