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Planning for a Post-Local-Pack Possibility

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Planning for a Post-Local-Pack Possibility

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:

A Google search for

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. 

I haven’t been able to replicate the test myself, but Mike Blumenthal of Near Media kindly granted permission for me to share this screenshot from his excellent piece, A Look at Google’s Local Results without ‘Self-Preferencing’:

An example SERP for the query

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

Local SERP result for Sloat Garden Center

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:

Native Plant Nursery webpage

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.

Action-oriented elements

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.

Informational elements

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?

Photo of a beige
Image credit: Jo Zimny

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!



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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

How long has it been since your marketing team got restructured? 

Wearing our magic mind-reading hat, we’d guess it was within the last two years. 

Impressed by the guess? Don’t be.  

Research from Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds that almost half of marketing teams restructured in the last 12 months. (And the other half probably did it the previous year.) 

Why do marketing teams restructure so often? Is this a new thing? Is it just something that comes with marketing? What does it all mean for now and the future? 

CMI chief strategy advisor Robert Rose offers his take in this video and the summary below. 

Marketing means frequent change 

Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds 46.5% of marketing teams restructured in the last year — a 5-percentage point increase over 2023 when 41.4% of teams changed their structure. 

But that’s markedly less than the 56.5% of marketing teams that restructured in 2022, which most likely reflected the impact of remote work, the fallout of the pandemic, and other digital marketing trends. 

Maybe the real story isn’t, “Holy smokes, 46% of businesses restructured their marketing last year.” The real story may be, “Holy smokes, only 46% of businesses restructured their marketing.” 

Put simply, marketing teams are now in the business of changing frequently. 

It raises two questions.  

First, why does marketing experience this change? You don’t see this happening in other parts of the business. Accounting teams rarely get restructured (usually only if something dramatic happens in the organization). The same goes for legal or operations. Does marketing change too frequently? Or do other functions in business not change enough? 

Second, you may ask, “Wait a minute, we haven’t reorganized our marketing teams in some time. Are we behind? Are we missing out? What are they organizing into? Or you may fall at the other end of the spectrum and ask, “Are we changing too fast? Do companies that don’t change so often do better? 

OK, that’s more than one question, but the second question boils down to this: Should you restructure your marketing organization? 

Reorganizing marketing 

Centralization emerged as the theme coming out of the pandemic. Gartner reports (registration required) a distinct move to a fully centralized model for marketing over the last few years: “(R)esponsibilities across the marketing organization have shifted. Marketing’s sole responsibilities for marketing operations, marketing strategy, and marketing-led innovation have increased.”  

According to a Gartner study, marketing assuming sole responsibility for marketing operations, marketing innovation, brand management, and digital rose by double-digit percentage points in 2022 compared to the previous year.  

What does all that mean for today in plainer language? 

Because teams are siloed, it’s increasingly tougher to create a collaborative environment. And marketing and content creation processes are complex (there are lots of people doing more small parts to creative, content, channel management, and measurement). So it’s a lot harder these days to get stuff done if you’re not working as one big, joined-up team. 

Honestly, it comes down to this question: How do you better communicate and coordinate your content? That’s innovation in modern marketing — an idea and content factory operating in a coordinated, consistent, and collaborative way. 

Let me give you an example. All 25 companies we worked with last year experienced restructuring fatigue. They were not eager creative, operations, analytics, media, and digital tech teams champing at the bit for more new roles, responsibilities, and operational changes. They were still trying to settle into the last restructuring.  

What worked was fine-tuning a mostly centralized model into a fully centralized operational model. It wasn’t a full restructuring, just a nudge to keep going. 

In most of those situations, the Gartner data rang true. Marketing has shifted to get a tighter and closer set of disparate teams working together to collaborate, produce, and measure more efficiently and effectively.  

As Gartner said in true Gartner-speak fashion: “Marginal losses of sole responsibility (in favor of shared and collaborative) were also reported across capabilities essential for digitally oriented growth, including digital media, digital commerce, and CX.” 

Companies gave up the idea of marketing owning one part of the customer experience, content type, or channel. Instead, they moved into more collaborative sharing of the customer experience, content type, or channel.  

Rethinking the marketing reorg 

This evolution can be productive. 

Almost 10 years ago, Carla Johnson and I wrote about this in our book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. We talked about the idea of building to change: 

“Tomorrow’s marketing and communications teams succeed by learning to adapt — and by deploying systems of engagement that facilitate adaptation. By constantly building to change, the marketing department builds to succeed.” 

We surmised the marketing team of the future wouldn’t be asking what it was changing into but why it was changing. Marketing today is at the tipping point of that. 

The fact that half of all marketing teams restructure and change every two years might not be a reaction to shifting markets. It may just be how you should think of marketingas something fluid that you build and change into whatever it needs to be tomorrow, not something you must tear down and restructure every few years.  

The strength in that view comes not in knowing you need to change or what you will change into. The strength comes from the ability and capacity to do whatever marketing should. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:  

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

2. Understand topical authority: Keywords vs. entities

Google has been talking about topical authority for a long time, and in Discover, it is completely relevant. Traditional SEO includes the use of keywords to position your web pages for a specific search, but the content strategy in Discover should be based on entities, i.e., concepts, characters, places, topics… everything that a Knowledge Panel can have. It is necessary to know in which topics Google considers we have more authority and relevance in order to talk about them.

3. Avoid clickbait in titles

“Use page titles that capture the essence of the content, but in a non-clickbait fashion.” This is the opening sentence that describes how headlines should be in Google’s documentation. I always say that it is not about using clickbait but a bit of creativity from the journalist. Generating a good H1 is also part of the job of content creation.

Google also adds:

“Avoid tactics to artificially inflate engagement by using misleading or exaggerated details in preview content (title, snippets, or images) to increase appeal, or by withholding crucial information required to understand what the content is about.”

“Avoid tactics that manipulate appeal by catering to morbid curiosity, titillation, or outrage.

Provide content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights.”

Do you think this information fits with what you see every day on Google Discover? I would reckon there were many sites that did not comply with this and received a lot of traffic from Discover.

With the last core updates in 2023, Google was extremely hard on news sites and some niches with content focused on Discover, directly affecting E-E-A-T. The impact was so severe that many publishers shared drastic drops in Search Console with expert Lily Ray, who wrote an article with data from more than 150 publishers.

4. Images are important

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at your Discover feed, you’ll see most of the images catch your attention. They are detailed shots of delicious food, close-ups of a person’s face showing emotions, or even images where the character in question does not appear, such as “the new manicure that will be a trend in 2024,” persuading you to click.

Google’s documentation recommends adding “high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover” and notes important technical requirements such as images needing to be “at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting.” You may also have found that media outlets create their own collages in order to have images that stand out from competitors.

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

One of the most important parts of having a website is making sure your audience can find your site (and find what they’re looking for).

The good news is that Google Search Essentials, formerly called Google Webmaster Guidelines, simplifies the process of optimizing your site for search performance.

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