The big change that just hit Google which every local business needs to be prepared for

By Josh Satler Google Maps

Google announced a big change yesterday to how they will feature local results moving forward on desktop. The move had already been made on mobile and tablets for some local searches, and will have have major ramifications for local businesses from this point on.

The carousel design at the top is the most noticeable change. But what is the most important? Reviews and ratings.

Reputation is massive and no longer something businesses can afford to overlook. Previously, if you optimized your website to be found for relevant local searches, you were able to benefit tremendously from searches on Google.

Then Maps came along which began to push organic listings down on page 1 and below the fold, minimizing its value to some extent.

Today’s changes are bigger. For most local searches, it’s Maps and directory sites on page 1, and the shift has rendered organic rankings for a local business’s website virtually valueless. The top row of images is taking away more real estate on page 1 and pushing organic listings for websites onto page 2, where fewer than 20% of searches look.

If you take a closer look at the top row, one thing stands out above all else: ratings score. Google acquired Zagat in 2012 and from that point on reviews have been a major initiative for the company.

Why?

Because people make buying decisions based on social approval. Studies have shown that 72% of people will buy something based on 3rd party reviews, which is 2nd only to word of mouth.

Google wants to be the dominant facilitator of local, offline commerce, and at some point will figure out how to profit from it. It could be following a similar path to the move Yelp made today, which allows businesses to promote offers on their Yelp page. Although it’s too early to tell, Yelp could become an affiliate and make a percentage of the revenue for facilitating the transaction.

So businesses need to treat their reputation online with great care because the lower the score, the  lower the chances of earning the customer’s business. There is no two ways about it. People do not overlook a low score. I know I don’t.

The 2nd big change is that having updated information on Google + Local, Maps and other directory sites is no longer a choice. People used to look for local businesses in the Yellow Pages; now they look in local directories (ey Yelp, CitySearch, etc).

Not having a presence on these sites is comparable to not being in the phone book in the 1980s. If you’re not there, with accurate and updated information, your competitor is winning the business which may have gone to you. People are no longer seeking out actual websites because they can find everything they need on a directory site or in Maps.

Address? Check. Hours? Check. Phone number? Check. Menu? Check. Average rating and what people are saying about the local business? Check.

It’s all there, which is why neglecting these platforms is business suicide as the world continues to use digital devices to find the local products and services that solve their problems.

The writing is on the wall, or better yet, the search engine page. Have you gotten the message?

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