By Bill Connard / VP of Local Search Solutions
Having specialized in Local SEO for more than 10 years, I have seen a lot of change in the local search space. Google’s new local search Carousel is as exciting (and dynamic) as it gets.
With any new change in the way Google serves up results, both search marketers and SEO directors want to know the factors that will help deliver better local search rankings. With the new Google local carousel the jury is still out around those factors.
On Google’s local carousel, ranking factors vary by both category type and location.
An initial review of the local Carousel search results suggests a pattern of ambiguity between the local categories explored and the locations desired. The factors that have the greatest impact on the position of Carousel results seem most related to the following:
- Search volume to the business name
- Freshness of reviews
- Business images uploaded
- Presence of an “Inside View” of the business
- Local Business Name
- Associated business categories
- External citations from review sites and data aggregators
New local Carousel exposes more organic results above the fold.
Google’s new horizontal design displays about 30 percent more business listings and it covers about 40 percent less vertical space, leaving more room for local organic listings.
By presenting users with an interactive horizontal display, local searchers are able to inspect up to 14 separate local search results without having to scroll up and down through their options. In the past, Google’s local search results were dictated by the position in which brands were displayed in the local map pack.
The map has also become more dynamic delivering interactive results on the Carousel when users click and alter the actual map location.
The Google local carousel shows horizontal rankings which makes position ranking less impactful to click through rates.
In the past, ranking first in local maps and organic results had a huge advantage for higher click-through rates. Some research indicates that being No. 1 in vertical search ranking could easily deliver double the click-through rates of other positions. Google’s new local carousel results are shown horizontally and not vertically suggesting traditional ranking click-through rates may no longer apply.
In a recent study, published on LocalU.org, it was discovered that the No. 1 local ranking position in the Carousel did not always get the highest amount of clicks. In the test, they tracked the actions of 83 people on the new layout. They showed that 48 percent of the total clicks occurred on local Carousel results. Moreover, only 14.5 percent of the total clicks occurred on the map. Additionally, the eighth carousel result had the most clicks and the third Carousel result had the second most clicks.
With more organic real estate above the fold, branded locally optimized landing pages grow in importance.
Local optimized landing pages have moved up in the results pages. Now more than ever, a local SEO focus around local landing pages can yield incremental click throughs. Based on recent case studies, having an optimized local landing page for each of your business locations can expose your site and your business to the organic search area that garners up to 40 percent of local search users click activity.
Local branded search results expose brands to competitive directory sites like Yelp, Zagat, Trip Advisor and more.
Ranking in the local Carousel is a good thing, but also includes some inherent risk. When local search users search a local term they are presented a choice of many local businesses in the Carousel. As you can see from the screen shot below, a click on the Carousel image triggers a new local branded result in the organic area, as well as the knowledge graph about that business on the right.
Brands without locally optimized pages compete more with Internet directory listings.
Clicks on directory listing results instead of branded results can deliver local searchers to uncontrolled environments. This is where incorrect information about the business or even negative reviews could be found.
Having locally optimized landing pages for each business location can deliver more controlled organic results for the brand. It can also drive more clicks to the brand’s site instead of directories. In this example, you can see See’s Candies branded local landing pages garner the top four positions in the local branded search results for the organic area.
Optimizing local business images is key to better click-through rates.
Early studies of the Google local carousel uncovered an increased value in the represented business image compared to its decreased value in the actual ranking positions. Paying attention to the image that represents your local business can have huge impact on your click-through rate. Optimize your images for look and feel as well as the actual naming conventions to match your brand and location.
Local business data fidelity is essential to a consistent local search presence.
Consistent local business listing data displayed and distributed across the local search ecosystem could be the most important piece of your entire local SEO campaign.
Local business listing management across search engines, data aggregators and social networks can have a huge impact on local search results. Successful location data management should always include claiming and submitting consistent local business listings to the following:
- Search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing
- Data aggregators: Express Update (InfoUSA), Acxiom and LocalEze (Neustar)
- Social Engines: Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, Zagat
In the end, both organic local search engine optimization and data consistency are critical. Manually managing all of your local business content and processes can be time consuming, but using local SEO automation software can shorten the learning cycle and deliver faster results for multi location businesses.