Location, location, location: How this week's big search changes affect local businesses

Stephen Kenwright, director of search at Branded3, rounds up the big developments in SEO, PPC and display to help you plan your search strategy.

The most substantial changes this week are specific to location-based businesses, not just in Google Maps but in AdWords and Google’s core search results.

Paid ads in the Local Pack

Google is now showing ads inside its Local Finder – and has reinstated tags in the Local Pack itself.

The search engine shows a three pack of local listings within its results for queries with local intent. Prior to 2014’s Pigeon update, Google would frequently display a seven pack of results. Since space has become more limited it has been more difficult for brands to get location pages listed within the Local Pack (increased competition) but users have become more used to clicking through to the Local Finder to see more results.

It doesn’t appear that Google is currently testing ads within the Local 3 Pack but it will probably be a matter of time, particularly since Tags have made a reappearance.

Green ‘Offer’ tags are being pulled into the Local 3 Pack directly from Google Hotel Ads. The tags don’t appear to be utilised in other sectors yet either.

Google Tags (also known as Enhanced Listings) were rolled out in July 2010 but retired nine months later, apparently due to low adoption.

Since 2011 the landscape has changed dramatically, however: clicking on the About pricing link in the Local Pack shows the following answer:

Sometimes our partners offer special lower prices that aren't available to everyone. For example, a price might be available only to people who are signed in to their Google Account or on a mobile device.

If enough searchers use the feature it could prove to be a more cost effective way for hotels to generate bookings than the engines such as Laterooms.com and Lastminute.com.

With the addition of paid listings to the Local Finder, Google has just about managed to monetise every single opportunity within its search results. Local ads could be used to regain impressions lost when Google removed ads from the right hand side of its search results.

Brands with physical locations should continue to claim and optimise their Google My Business pages; there’s no indication whether searchers will react similarly to Local Finder results as they do to the core search results themselves and increasingly click on the top organic listings, plus optimised Business pages would seem to be required for the ads to be activated.

Maps no longer part of Search Partners

Coincidentally Google announced changes to AdWords this week with Maps no longer considered to be part of Search Partners.

This means that advertisers who have opted out of Search Partners will now be able to advertise within Maps which will likely lead to an increase in impressions and clicks (and spend).

Maps will only show ads with location extensions, which means that advertisers who are opted in to Search Partners but do not use location extensions will see a drop in impressions and clicks as the ads no longer show.

It’s no longer possible to opt out of displaying ads on Maps but if advertisers choose to run ads without location extensions they will not show in Maps. Likewise advertisers who are currently running without local extensions should be aware that Google is increasingly reliant on structured data; other verticals such as Shopping are already making heavy use of it and now local businesses need to educate themselves too. The place to start would be Google’s 2013 Webmaster Central blog post (you’ve had long enough!)

If you are running with local extensions the immediate response should be to keep an eye on ad spend. If you find that you’re suddenly spending more, this could be why.

Stephen Kenwright is director of search at Branded3. You can follow him on Twitter at @stekenwright

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