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The Subtle Changes Happening in Local Search

The Subtle Changes Happening in Local Search

Amongst all of the speculation surrounding the Autumn’s algorithm update, a potential change to Google’s local listings seemed to go under the radar. All of the ruckus regarding a possible Panda update or the appearance of the long awaited Penguin 4.0 diverted many search specialists’ attention away from changes to local listings.

Local search forums proposed that the real shake up towards the end of August was in fact contained to the local listings. There were multiple fluctuations in universal rankings reported by local specialists from a variety of industry verticals. Since then myself and other members of our team have been watching competitors move in and out of map packs. These were the largest local fluctuations we’ve witness since Google updated the “local pack” to three results, in order to coincide with its mobile framework back in August 2015 (could this be a yearly algo change?).

What we’ve seen so far

We’ve seen local competitors enter the map pack who haven’t paid homage to the local listings since Google allowed up to seven places in the map pack. The more consistent competitors once observed within local listings were fluctuating in and out of the map pack on a daily basis. When delving further into the nature of these fluctuations, there were no clear signs of local penalties being issued, nor were the competitors finding themselves removed for any clear violation of local search best practice.

In addition we’ve seen the map pack move around the search results more frequently, occupying positions in the organic search results outside of its usual behaviour. These in turn were affecting universal ranking positions, as despite maintaining your positing in the local listings, your reported universal rank is determined by the location of the map pack in the search results.

Finally another interesting addition to the local fluctuations is the appearance of a ‘check-in’ and ‘check-out’ interface within the map pack. We first witnessed these changes when reporting universal rankings for generic accommodation search terms to one of our clients. We tested this across a range of search terms, specifying ‘location + accommodation’ or ‘accommodation in location’. The results weren’t completely consistent, but when compared to local listings reported back in August, there was clear evidence of changes to Google’s local algorithm.

This particular development in local search is a prime example of how Google is pushing towards serving more information to users in the search results. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the introduction of ‘answer boxes’, ‘knowledge graphs’, ‘twitter posts’ and ‘news’ in the SERPs. Resulting in users finding an answer to their query without having to click on any paid, organic or local listing.

The rise of micro-moments

Over the last year Google has released a variety of articles stipulating the rise of ‘micro-moments’ labelling them as “the new battlefield for brands”.  Driven by the increase in mobile search, micro-moments have altered the consumer journey contributing to intent-driven “micro-moments” resulting in real-time purchases.

Local search offers the opportunity for businesses to capture users in the latter stages of the consumer funnel – where they have an intent to purchase. In 2015, 76% of mobile-local search lead to a store visit within the same day – 28% resulted in a purchase. ‘Near me’ search queries have also doubled in the last year, climbing substantially since 2013.

The increase in local search queries and the opportunities businesses have to capture this traffic is serendipitous. It’s baffling why only 1% of websites have claimed their Google My Business (GMB) listing. 

What to do next?

As always with search, it is important to remain agile when it comes to changes with search engine updates and consumer search behaviour. With local search, as with other areas of SEO it is imperative not to lose sight of the best practice guidelines laid out to improve your rankings.

Keep your website optimised with engaging geographically targeted content, providing a smooth user experience through technical optimisation. Utilise all external listings containing consistent citations of your business’s name, address and postcode (NAP). Finally, continue to build high quality deep local links back to your website, sending valuable signals to Google. citations of your business’s name, address and postcode (NAP). 

Finally, continue to build high quality deep local links back to your website, sending valuable signals to Google.

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James Kenna

James Kenna

James is a Senior SEO Account Executive at Steak responsible for strategy creation, technical and content audits, link profile analysis, penalty removal, managing outreach activities and competitor analysis.  

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