Google reaches billions of people around the world each and every day, but with its emphasis on local search its easy to feel like the company is never far away. From live street views to relentless changes to local Knowledge Panels, updates to local search have been fast and furious over the past year. Unless you check the latest Google headlines on a regular basis, you may have missed a few things along the way.
Let us help you get caught up. In this article we will recap the most significant updates and news stories related to Google local search, dating back to last year. In the end you can feel confident knowing your local search expertise is up-to-date. Ready? Let’s dive in.
Google Begins Experimenting With ‘Google Posts’ for Local Businesses
In March 2016, Google began experimenting with a new feature for local businesses called Google Posts. Google Posts allows businesses to publish short messages directly to search results. Messages published in the Google Posts format rank near the top when the name of the business is searched for. Over a year later the feature is still in an experimental stage and has yet to be rolled out to all businesses. It’s currently available on an invite-only basis.
Google Introduces New Local Search Ads
In May 2016, Google introduced new local search ads for Google.com and Google Maps. With the new ad types, AdWords advertisers using location extensions are given more real estate when nearby searchers are looking for their products and services. After clicking through on the ad, searchers are able to see special offers or browse available inventory.
Google Starts Including Ads in the Local 3-Pack
What has become known as Google’s local 3-pack, the box of three local businesses at the top of search results, used to be reserved for organic listings. In June 2016, Google started including paid ads in the local 3-pack. That meant advertisers could begin paying their way into a spot that is coveted by local SEOs. It was a questionable move at the time, but now it’s just become something we’re used to seeing.
New Schema Guidelines for Local Business Reviews
One of the many ways you can make your website stand out in local search is through the use of Schema markup. In August 2016, Google updated its Schema guidelines on how businesses can markup the reviews they receive. In addition to adding new guidelines, Google also disallowed previously acceptable practices.
The new guidelines state Schema markup can only be used on reviews “that have been directly produced by your site.” Reviews from third-party sites, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, can no longer be marked up with Schema. Google still allows the inclusion of third-party reviews on a business’s website, just so long as no Schema markup is applied to them.
Other additions to Google’s Schema guidelines for local reviews include:
- Snippets must include genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews.
- Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments.
- Reviews for multiple-location businesses cannot be syndicated or applied to all business locations of the same company.
Live Feeds of Local Businesses on Google Maps
In November 2016, Google began showing live feeds of local businesses in Google Maps. Live feeds are only shown during what Google has determined to be the business’s peak hours. The feature was designed to help customers determine how busy a location actually is at the current time. Perhaps Google has determined that between 5pm and 8pm are the store’s busiest hours, but what if it’s having an off day? You can jump into the live feed and then make the decision of whether or not you want to brave the crowd (or lack thereof).
Google Cracks Down on Fake Local Listings
Fake listings in Google Maps and local search have run rampant over the past few years. There’s bad actors out there who set up fake listings with the intention of either defrauding customers, or defrauding other businesses. In April 2017, Google revealed it was aware of the problem and measures had been put in place to crack down on the fake listings.
The search giant announced it was able to reduce the number of fake listings by 70% from an all-time high in June 2015. Google is now able to detect and disable 85% of fake listings before they appear to the public. Now, less than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings.
2017’s Local Search Ranking Factors Revealed
In April 2017, Moz released a study that all local SEOs should be paying attention to. After taking a year off in 2016, Moz released an updated study of the top local search ranking factors. Since Google never explicitly states what all of its ranking factors are, or how much weight it gives to each one, the study is based on survey data from dozens of local search experts.
Participants in the survey are asked to give their opinions, based on anecdotal evidence, on what’s currently working in local search. Moz then aggregates the data to create its list of top local search ranking factors. This year, proximity to searcher was deemed to be the number one ranking factor. That means the closer the searcher is to your business, the higher it will rank in their individual set of search results.
Other than adding location Schema to your website, proximity to searcher is relatively difficult to optimize for. So let’s take a look at what else is in the list.
Top Local Search Ranking Factors for 2017
- Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
- Domain Authority of Website
- Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain
- Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content
- Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain
- Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains
- Click-Through Rate from Search Results
- Geographic (City/Neighborhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content
- Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain
- Mobile-Friendly/Responsive Website
There’s no stronger note to end on than the top local search ranking factors of 2017. If there’s only one takeaway you leave with after reading this article, it’s to have those top ranking factors etched in your brain as you move forward with your local SEO efforts throughout the rest of the year.