Local SEOs are accustomed to continuous change in the SERPs, but if S.2992, the American Innovation Online Choice Act, becomes law and prevents monopolies like Google from preferencing their own assets, we need to prepare for what could be the largest search overhaul we’ve ever seen.
This could be bigger than the day we saw 7-packs become 3-packs. It could be bigger than any of the major updates like Possum or Vicinity. We’re talking about major potential change and new opportunity for local businesses. Just how big might it be? That’s exactly what we’ll be looking at today!
Stats and tests
Per Moz’s most recent study by Dr. Peter J. Meyers, when we ran 1,000 search phrases through MozCast, half or which were localized to particular cities, 33% percent of our queries returned a local pack like this one in the SERPs:
If S.2992 should become law, industry experts observe that local packs would likely be one of the widgets Google would be obliged to stop preferencing in their results. And, in April of this year, marketers began spotting a test of a very different layout that could signal what local SERPs might look like, post-S.2992.
Instead of three local results grouped into a pack, this test shows a new widget we’re currently terming a “local card”, interleaved within the organic results. As Mike explains, when you click on the card, you’re taken straight to the Google Business Profile instead of to the long-established local finder. But perhaps of even more importance, the organic link to the website is now fully prominent, instead of totally absent as in some packs, or grey and easily-overlooked, as in the Google Business Profile.
Rand Fishkin predicts that billions of clicks that were absorbed by Google’s widgets would become up-for-grabs by organic and paid advertisers. It’s this possible reality that’s really gotten me thinking about how local businesses could respond to what could be a tremendous opportunity.
Taking website inspiration from Google’s local playbook
Google takes a lot from businesses. They take business data and make money from aggregating and displaying it in their local packs, finders, and maps. They take publishers’ content — which is the result of innumerable hours of paid work by human beings — and republish it in zero-click SERPs. Most SEOs learn to work within this system, this “partnership” in which we try not to be overly stressed so long as Google’s operations don’t hinder conversions. In other words, we resolve not to worry whether a sale results from a click on a Google Business Profile or the Contact Us page of a website, so long as transactions keep rolling in.
However, at the same time, there has been an ongoing saga of industry complaints that Google throws its weight around too much without any consultation with the business owners and publishers on whose livelihoods its profits are based. Of late, there has been particular distaste over Google using search as a political tool to protect itself from anti-trust actions like S.2992, threatening SMBs with negative outcomes if Google’s monopoly is regulated. Depending on your perspective, it might feel like Google takes it upon themselves to build a business model on your identity and content, doesn’t offer adequate support when things invariably go wrong with how they represent you, and then insults your intelligence with see-through scare tactics. It’s really no wonder when business owners and marketers grumble.
However you feel about this scenario, though, there is one thing that every local SEO knows by heart: local SERPs exist in a state of constant experimental change geared to maximize public engagement with them for Google’s benefit. They have the data and the engineers to discover exactly what works and what doesn’t. Think of this as a gift to us that we might take in return for all we’ve given, because Google’s SERPs are actually telling us what we should be doing with our websites if local packs go away, local cards take their place, and tons of clicks end up back on our websites instead of the Google Business Profile.
Check out this quick mockup I did of a GBP-inspired website homepage and see how many of the elements you can spot that correspond directly with fields you’ve come to know so well on your Google listing:
Most important elements
Did you notice how my mockup emphasizes location and contact data, photos, and reviews? I believe that the ongoing iterations of Google’s packs and profiles indicate that these are the three listing elements that matter most to the public when choosing a local business. If more clicks should start going to the website, companies should organize the homepage so that visitors can instantly find the NAP, hours of operation (including whether the business is open right now plus its most and least popular time slots), see tons of relevant photos, and both read and leave reviews. You’ll notice I’ve also included some basic sentiment analysis of the reviews à la Google Place Topics.
This mockup emphasizes all of the actions a visitor might be used to taking via Google Business Profiles. In addition to things like getting directions and interacting with reviews, the homepage should quickly facilitate whichever activities are most relevant to the model and customers, such as calling or texting the company, booking an appointment, asking questions, and, of course, shopping. If there is any actionable field on your GBP that you believe is connecting customers to the business, feature it or link to it on the homepage. This is basic website design of course, but think again about how Google organizes such features in their profiles to test what you should be emphasizing on sites.
Your website’s textual image and video-based content take the place of Google posts, business descriptions, categories, Q&A, and other informational media. Meanwhile, you can boost trust signals for Google’s quality raters and the public by displaying awards, accreditations, and associations. It’s great to think that, with a website, you have all the space you need to showcase a local brand’s community involvement, B2B relationships, customer-centric guarantees, environmental initiatives, and human rights policies. So, while you’re taking cues from GBPs on how to provide a ton of info at a glance for quick decision making, the joy of websites is that they support the architecture for telling a deeper story about why a business is truly the best bet in town for specific needs.
Your choice on UGC
Since the advent of Google Maps, Google has taken an open-source approach to local business data. Anyone, including bad actors, can suggest edits to your core business data, upload photos, leave reviews, and write questions and answers on your GBP. With your own website, the choice is yours on how much space you want to give to user generated content.
I’ve long been an advocate for featuring customers’ words and stories as central to business identity, and I would recommend that marketers and owners carefully plan how to present content like reviews, photos, and videos. There could be a temptation to show only flattering UGC, but be advised that activities like review gating can lead to litigation, and that businesses will already be facing something of a struggle in getting the public to trust website-based review content as much as they might trust the same content on a third-party platform. In seeking to emulate the successful layout of GBPs, do take your community into account, but also, take a breather knowing that S.2992 would return to local business owners some of the reputation and marketing control that they’ve lost to Google over the past 20 years.
Summing up, should the American Innovation Online Choice Act become law, sending more traffic directly to websites, owners and marketers should have a plan in place to revamp website homepages so that they are as informative and actionable as Google Business Profiles. In the case of multi-location brands, you may need to bring a GBP mindset to landing pages rather than homepages. Why not spend some time this week making a more beautiful and useful mockup than mine for some of the businesses you market? Maybe yours will feature bulleted list attributes, or key product and service menus, or direct message/live chat capabilities.
Would local cards and a less dominant Google be good for local businesses and marketers?
To be honest, you’ll have to come up with your own answer to this question based on your philosophy and hands-on experience, should Google become the subject of increased regulation. For my part as a big supporter of localism, I observe that monopolies have an unsustainable negative effect on human happiness and the planet, on innovation and diversification, on commerce and culture. I am personally in favor of very strong antitrust measures and believe they will deliver amazing benefits to independently-owned businesses, the communities they serve, and the environment on which we depend for life.
But as to how something like the local cards might impact us, I think it’s important to note that the test that’s been spotted is unlikely to be the ultimate format we’d see in the SERPs. I’ve seen several peers asserting that they feel the layout is a bit messy, and it would certainly cause some temporary confusion for Internet searchers who have gotten used to former displays. But, time and again, we’ve all adjusted to SERP modifications, and we would simply do so once more. For local search marketers, regulation would signal that it’s time to double down on your organic SEO skills if what emerges is an increased emphasis on organic SERPs.
For owners, customers will still find you, and the great thing would be that more of them would likely be spending more of their time at your house instead of at Google’s. The role of host, then, will be more on your shoulders. It will be your patio, your deck chairs, your BBQ pit, and ramada that welcome and shelter people. And, after all, that’s what you went into business to do: to take care of your own customers. You’ve spent years learning to do that, so don’t worry – with some fine tuning of your website to make it as good as and better than a Google Business Profile, you’ve got some good times ahead!
Having worked at several organizations and dealt with many more vendors, I’ve seen my share of client-vendor relationships and their associated “gotchas.”
Contracts are complex for a reason. That’s why martech practitioners are wise to lean on lawyers and buyers during the procurement process. They typically notice terms that could undoubtedly catch business stakeholders off guard.
Remember, all relationships end. It is important to look for thorny issues that can wreak havoc on future plans.
I’ve seen and heard of my share of contract gotchas. Here are some generalizations to look out for.
So, you have a great data vendor. You use them to buy contacts and information as well as to enrich what data you’ve already got.
When you decide to churn from the vendor, does your contract allow you to keep and use the data you’ve pulled into your CRM or other systems after the relationship ends?
You had better check.
There are many reasons why you would want to give funds in advance to a vendor. Perhaps it pays for search ads or allows your representatives to send gifts to prospective and current customers.
When you change vendors, will they return unused funds? That may not be a big deal for small sums of money.
Further, while annoying, processing fees aren’t unheard of. But what happens when a lot of cash is left in the system?
You had better make sure that you can get that back.
3. Service-level agreements (SLAs)
Your business is important, and your projects are a big deal. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a prompt response to a question or action when something wrong happens.
That’s where SLAs come in.
It’s how your vendor tells you they will respond to questions and issues. A higher price point typically will get a client a better SLA that requires the vendor to respond and act more quickly — and more of the time to boot (i.e., 24/7 service vs. standard business hours).
Make sure that an SLA meets your expectations.
Further, remember that most of the time, you get what you pay for. So, if you want a better SLA, you may have to pay for it.
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Clients and vendors alike are always looking for quality people to employ. Sometimes they find them on the other side of the client-vendor relationship.
Are you OK with them poaching one of your team members?
If not, this should be discussed and put into writing during the contract negotiation phase, a renewal, or at any time if it is that important.
I have dealt with organizations that are against anti-poaching clauses to the point that a requirement to have one is a dealbreaker. Sometimes senior leadership or board members are adamant about an individual’s freedom to work where they please — even if one of their organization’s employees departs to work for a customer or vendor.
It is not unheard of for vendors to offer their customers freebies. Perhaps they offer a smaller line item to help justify a price increase during a renewal.
Maybe the company is developing a new product and offers it in its nascent/immature/young stage to customers as a deal sweetener or a way to collect feedback and develop champions for it.
Will that freemium offer carry over during the next renewal? Your account executive or customer success manager may say it will and even spell that out in an email.
Then, time goes by. People on both sides of the relationship change or forget details. Company policies change. That said, the wording in a contract or master service agreement won’t change.
Make sure the terms of freebies or other good deals are put into legally sound writing.
There are many ways vendors can price out their offerings. For instance, a data broker could charge by the contact engaged by a customer. But what exactly does that mean?
If a customer buys a contact’s information, that makes sense as counting as one contact.
What happens if the customer, later on, wants to enrich that contact with updated information? Does that count as a second contact credit used?
Reasonable minds could justify the affirmative and negative to this question. So, evaluating a pricing factor or how it is measured upfront is vital to determine if that makes sense to your organization.
Don’t let contract gotchas catch you off-guard
The above are just a few examples of martech contract gotchas martech practitioners encounter. There is no universal way to address them. Each organization will want to address them differently. The key is to watch for them and work with your colleagues to determine what’s best in that specific situation. Just don’t get caught off-guard.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Steve Petersen is a marketing technology manager at Zuora. He spent nearly 8.5 years at Western Governors University, holding many martech related roles with the last being marketing technology manager. Prior to WGU, he worked as a strategist at the Washington, DC digital shop The Brick Factory, where he worked closely with trade associations, non-profits, major brands, and advocacy campaigns. Petersen holds a Master of Information Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Brigham Young University. He’s also a Certified ScrumMaster. Petersen lives in the Salt Lake City, UT area.
Petersen represents his own views, not those of his current or former employers.