What’s Google’s new local business tool?
Google’s new product doesn’t have an official title – it goes by many nicknames such as Google Local Business Cards, Google Post Business Cards, Business Cards and more. For this blog, we’ll call it Local Business Cards. The service, which is now in an early testing phase with a few select businesses, is a platform – or as Google refers to it, a podium – that allows a brand’s content to bypass Google’s traditional ranking, and feature directly on the first page of search results.
Local Business Cards are powered by “Google Posts” (also not an official name, but Google’s information on them is at google.com/posts, so we’ll be refering to them as Posts). You might have seen them for the first time in January 2016, when they were introduced for presidential candidates to use. They appear as scrollable cards at the top of result pages, and allow verified users to directly and instantly publish text, video and pictures.
Not your average listing
These candidate Posts, as well as Local Business Cards, differ from other more familiar display formats. The following are formats that currently display on Google SERPs:
- The Knowledge Graph offers information on popular search terms, usually aggregated from common sources like Wikipedia or IMDb, while Local Business Cards source directly from a brand.
- Google Carousel shows pictures of popular items, which are chosen in part by Google’s algorithm, rather than the direct source as with Cards.
- The Local 3-pack shows popular local business related to a search term. Unlike Posts, the content is displayed in the form of excerpts from the business’s website, instead of being published specifically for SERP visibility. Additionally, Google’s algorithms assist in ranking the results, as opposed to Local Business Cards.
- Google AMP provides scrollable cards on the SERP, which are simply graphical, quick-loading, mobile links to already-published content on a company’s website.
A different way of indexing
While Google’s algorithms play a part in all of the above display formats, the landscape of SERP content display might be changing. Some SEO experts claim that the emergence of Local Business Cards could be an early sign of Google’s attempt to lessen (or remove) the importance of links when ranking sites. Since Google’s Local Business Cards don’t rely on traditional indexing, this could be one of the first instances of Google ranking based solely on popularity – real popularity based on dynamic user opinions and patterns – without the influence of links.
Who will lose out?
There will be many winners and losers of Google’s new SERP display formats. Here are some of the entities who might not fare so well once Local Business Cards are released in full:
- Non-local businesses might lose out on display real estate and clicks. Google rewards the content of local businesses, especially in mobile searches. Non-local businesses will be less likely to qualify for cards.
- Service area businesses (those who don’t have brick-and-mortar storefronts, but operate at the customer’s location, like house painters or electricians) could hurt from the release of Local Business Cards.
- Similarly to service area businesses, e-commerce sites may lose SERP real estate, as local will take priority.
- Local directory sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor could take a backseat to the actual companies that they list. Google would rather host custom, timely information directly from a business than link to a directory that includes those businesses.
- For similar reasons, content sites like eHow, wikiHow and About could see declining hits.
- Local businesses that are too small to have a dedicated content marketing department and can’t keep up with content creation are be at risk of losing representation on Google’s results.
Who will benefit?
Mobile-optimized sites will be among those who are likely to succeed with Local Business Cards. Google makes strong associations between mobile and local behavior, and they display results designed to satisfy local intent more often on mobile than on desktop.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries are companies or their digital marketing agencies with the ability and scale to create high-quality content. Content builds a brand’s web presence. Regularly updated, high-quality content designed to satisfy specific, local user intent builds that presence more fully. Publishing multimedia content frequently to a business’s website, as well as to Google+, is one of the most important factors for Google to weigh when deciding who gets the coveted Local Card real estate on a results page.
Agencies will be the biggest beneficiaries. As we have seen with Google My Business, adoption of a service that pumps your data directly into Google’s SERPs is actually easy for a huge number of businesses to ignore and is driving huge growth in the Local SEO services industry. But now, imagine an agency can guarantee presence in the SERPs, and that presence benefits from regular updating and optimization. I see nothing but green field for local marketers big and small alike. – Andrew Shotland, Search Engine Land
Companies that are able to build real, strong relationships with their communities – customers, employees and industry – will benefit from Google’s new podium.
The final group to benefit will be Google itself. They are offering companies an opportunity to have their content shown directly on the first page of the results, and encouraging brands to compete with each other to get the spot.
SEO and content managers will spend more time and resources within Google. The more effort brands put into making high-quality content to satisfy the algorithms, posting on Google+, uploading to YouTube, and optimizing for the search engine’s mobile standards, the less time they are likely to spend on rival networks.
Furthermore, since the content on the cards is not indexed in the traditional way, other search engines can’t crawl it. Google is cementing itself as the only host for your Card’s content, though it is shareable to social networks.
Problems with people exploiting the system
Some businesses might find ways to exploit the system, at least in the beginning of the new service, by spamming and hijacking listings. However, like most search algorithms and SEO opportunities, Google will likely eventually bring balance by punishing abusers and exploiters of the system, and rewarding honest SEO practices. This is already happening as Google is allowing a feedback option for users to weigh in on the Cards.