In the search engine marketing and optimisation sector, it really does seem that change is the only constant.
In June, I wrote about the launch of Google Caffeine and the impact of social search in the marketing mix. Just four months later and Google has added another game-changing feature to their search engine results pages (SERPs), called Place Search.
As its name suggests, Place Search prioritises search results based on proximity of the website to the user’s current location, in an effort to make consumers “feel like a local everywhere [they] go”. It is very similar in concept to Yellow Pages but doesn’t require users to leave the Google homepage.
This is good news for consumers seeking local restaurants, shops, entertainment and the like, but for companies there are new challenges that come with it.
In addition to having its own dedicated category, Place Search also appears in natural results on the main SERP (in the form of business listings with reviews and a map showing result locations) when Google predicts that the user is looking for local information. But it is what that new content is replacing that is of concern.
Companies currently paying for Google AdWords to gain higher visibility on more generic search queries may find that their click-through rates suddenly take a tumble thanks to the new Places map, which is positioned in what was previously a lucrative AdWords position: the top right-hand corner.
Not only does it take a prime position, it maintains that position as the user scrolls down the page, which means significantly less visibility of company-sponsored AdWords.
It would not be far-fetched to expect AdWord costs to increase (due to the increased competition and importance of gaining the top three spots), despite a greater risk of fewer click-throughs and thus a decline in return on investment for those not appearing in the top spots.
In every challenge, there is an opportunity. In Place Search, the opportunity for companies is to raise the visibility of bricks-and-mortar stores to among 60 per cent of Australians who research online with an intent to purchase offline.
To do that, I asked one of our search experts here at Amnesia Razorfish to provide their top five tips on optimising for Place Search:
1. Get listed and be consistent: claim your free listing by providing your company details at www.google.com/places, ensuring that multiple locations each have their own profile containing the location/suburb in the Places title. Choose your categories carefully, and ensure your description is consistent across other directory listings.
2. Enrich the experience: take the opportunity to add additional information such as opening hours and rich media content (photos, YouTube videos, and so on) to your Places page; you want consumers to get a good feel for who you are and what you do.
3. Reviews: customer reviews play an important role in Place Search ranks. Ensure you have the process in place to monitor and respond to user reviews about your business.
4. Sponsored map icons: make your business stand out by investing in a personalised map icon that displays your logo.
5. AdWords ad extensions: link your Google Places listing with AdWords to enable users to see your location from the sponsored ad.
And my recommendation? Make the most of this opportunity while it is still free, as you have to assume Google is not out to destroy its own commercial model.
To that end, I would expect to see related new forms of paid advertising being launched by Google in the weeks and months to come. Given its current focus on location, my guess is that mobile advertising is next on the hit list. Watch this space.