Google Continues to Evolve Local with a Focus on Relevance and Engagement
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I recently attended a Google event in New York that helped to illuminate the Google local team’s current priorities, and revealed some features and perspectives I hadn’t heard before. I’ll offer a recap in this post.
The event was organized for partners like SOCi and business owners — in particular, owners of restaurants, hotels, and tour and attraction businesses. The reason for this grouping is that Google has combined the three divisions into a single team internally, which makes sense when you think about the popularity of these categories for travelers.
Given the focus, we heard a lot about Google’s approach to surfacing information for consumers about dishes, hotel amenities, and similar features of business profiles, though many of the strategies mentioned were applicable to all businesses.
Google Values Detailed Information
To set the stage, Google’s product team members shared some of the basic priorities that all businesses should keep in mind. They emphasized providing rich, complete profile information to consumers so they can be fully informed about your business and find what they’re looking for.
Google reminded us of the following stats:
- Businesses with photos earn 42% more directions requests
- Businesses with complete profiles earn 7x more clicks
- 96% of customers are more likely to visit a business that displays hours of operation
- Searches for businesses “open now near me” increased 8x between 2021 and 2022 (perhaps one reason why Google has recently boosted openness as a ranking factor)
- 77% of consumers assume they can book an appointment with a business online
- 83% of consumers expect to be able to contact a business online
One point the speakers reiterated several times was that businesses need to provide rich details, not just basic information. Local search is much more granular than it used to be, with highly specific searches like “dog friendly restaurants” supported by attributes in the business profile.
In Google’s words, “Let customers know everything you offer, such as curbside pickup, outdoor dining, or wifi,” so that you’ll be the one to show up for detailed queries.
Searches for “dog friendly restaurants near me” increased by 100% YoY in the period from November 2021 to January 2022, according to Google
The Impact of Photos, Particularly Those Uploaded by Businesses
Another point emphasized by the speakers is the importance of photos and videos. In addition to the stat above about direction requests, Google shared that businesses with photos earn 35% more clicks to their websites and that 90% of consumers are more likely to visit a business with photos in its profile.
In fact, a Google product team member made an assertion that I hadn’t heard before, saying that photos uploaded by a business will outrank those uploaded by customers.
I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly, but the point was repeated more than once, with the helpful explanation that this would happen when Google had more than one option for displaying a particular kind of photo. So, in other words, if a customer uploads a photo of a birria taco dish, and the restaurant uploads a photo of the same dish, when someone searches for “birria tacos near me” the restaurant’s photo should show in preference to the customer’s.
I know that businesses can sometimes be frustrated by the seemingly arbitrary way Google can select photos to display in profiles, so this should come as welcome news, and is a good reminder to businesses that they should be sure to upload photos representing the products or services they want to appear for in search.
Coincidentally, my SOCi colleague Mike Snow has noticed that mobile searches are beginning to surface more prominent photo content in the main listing result, as shown below.
The Rise of Videos
As for the importance of video, this is still a relatively new area for Google, though local SEO commentators have been making the point recently that videos uploaded to profiles will often autoplay in local search results, making profiles with videos really stand out.
A team member mentioned that Google will become even more “visually forward” in the future, and that video content from businesses would begin to surface in more places. I’m guessing this might look something like the recently launched “Find places through photos” search module, but with videos instead.
Other Google Local Search Updates
Menu Extraction and Bulk Menu Editing
The Google team also called out certain features recently added to business profiles, such as menu extraction, a feature whereby Google can crawl a restaurant website and automatically populate menu content in its business profile. Of course, restaurants can also manage menu content directly within their profiles, which may be a preferred method as it offers a greater degree of control.
To make this easier, Google has recently launched a bulk edit feature that lets restaurants quickly update their offerings and prices, especially helpful for places where the menu frequently changes. Photos of menu items, which were temporarily removed when Google My Business became Google Business Profiles, have also been reintroduced.
Nearby Events and Deals Feature
Also called out as a new feature was the “Nearby Events and Deals” search module, which helps to showcase recent Google Posts of the event and deal types to searchers whose queries match the content of the post. The feature is currently only available for restaurants in the U.S.
In all, the event offered a good set of reminders to businesses that people use search as their primary means of accessing business information. The Google team reported that 70% of all digital experiences begin with search — and 15% of all searches represent users typing in keyword variations Google hasn’t seen before.
Businesses must extend themselves to stand out in this complex search landscape, offering engaging content and information to meet a broad range of consumer needs. The emphasis on granular relevance will likely only increase as AI enters the search experience and promises to deliver the precise answer to every searcher’s query.