Local Search: What A Difference A Year Makes

Last July, I wrote about how Google+ played a key role in local search. Guess what? Google has since completely removed Google+ references from local search results. What else has changed? As part of Google’s mobile push, the 7-Pack is now a 3-Pack. Also, Apple Maps now dominates Google Maps for iPhone users. Anything else?  Oh yeah, Google has created a Map Maker community to help make Google Maps work even better.

Let’s dive more deeply into each of these issues:

1. Google+ used to be a relatively safe haven for local search optimization. It was run by Google, seemed to have some standards and rules — and behold, when marketers made improvements, their local search performance would improve. At the very least, the optimized Google+ listing would show up in local search results.

But everyone wasn’t thrilled. Yelp openly accused Google of giving Google+ preferential treatment. And it did seem a little coincidental that while Google+ wasn’t a wild commercial success, it morphed into a critical part of search results. So when Google announced that Google+ was going in a different direction, this element of local search optimization got dropped from the to-do list.



2. Google has been playing with the local search layout quite a bit. Local listings used to feature seven results, commonly called the “7-Pack.” With the massive increase in mobile search usage, Google has been working hard to unify the experience. So goodbye 7-Pack, hello  3-Pack.  

With more mobile search come more paid search ads. This one-two punch means that businesses formerly listed in the top seven might likely find themselves nowhere in local listings. Even businesses that make the cut might now be below the fold. In other words, marketers will need to synch up their local and paid mobile strategies and determine what previously organic keywords make sense to buy in this new environment.

3. When Apple decided to sever ties with Google and create its own Maps app, it was rewarded with much derision. Users were rewarded with many new experiences. Very few thought that users would continue to put up with less-than-stellar views like these.

So how is it that three years later, at least 50% more iPhone users prefer Apple Maps over Google Maps?  First, many users don’t know the difference and simply choose the app titled Maps on their phone. Second, Apple has a lot of cash and has purchased a lot of companies that are very good at mapping. Finally, it really seems committed to making a high-quality product, one that could be objectively considered as good as or better than Google Maps.

4. What’s better for marketers than solely relying on their own developers to improve their product? Have dedicated users do it for them. Super user-based support systems are all around us (Wikipedia, SAP, Oracle, etc.). Add Google Maps to the list. Now there are more than 200 regional leads as part of the Map Maker community, fully endorsed and supported by Google to make Maps a better product.

And this is great for those optimizing for local search. Not only does this mean that a lot more people are working to make local search better, there are accessible human beings to help marketers solve their specific problems. This presentation, written by a regional lead, reveals solutions to problems such as closed listings, duplicate sites, and filtered pages.

Local search isn’t getting any easier but as things change, it’s great to know that there are tools like Apple Maps Connect, Google Map Maker and Bing Maps Connect to help with the problems. And it’s nice that Google is being more transparent about Google+. Oh, and if by some chance marketers are worried the local search universe has become boring, they can rest easy knowing that a new version of Bing Maps is on the way!

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