Another Google Search Update: Are Your Local Results Changing?

It seems like every time we blink, Google has another search algorithm update for us to chew on. The latest was a pretty major update to their local search results that Search Engine Land has nicknamed “Pigeon.” This update affects both browser searches and Google Map searches and may cause local businesses to experience either an increase or decrease in their organic search traffic. Here’s what’s in the latest update and what you need to know so your business can continue to get discovered in Google search.

What’s in the Update?

Previously, when a user searched for a business type and location, Google returned a pretty long list of local map results, known as the “local pack” or “7 pack” due to the number of map results being shown. But for many local business types, Google is now moving these lower on the results page, showing fewer Google Maps results,  or removing them altogether, replacing those Google listings with other local directories instead. A search for an optometrist and an apartment in my local area show that local directories – not just Google business listings – are being featured prominently in the search results.

The Google update is also impacting results for searches made within Google Maps as well. For instance, some sources are reporting that Google listings that are improperly formatted are being penalized in the search results, with some of them being removed altogether. This means that now more than ever, it’s critical to make sure ALL your local listings are up to date, accurate, and consistent.

Your Presence on Local Directories Is Critical

No matter what industry you’re in, there are online directories that you need to be listed on so searchers can find you. And now, Google is featuring those sites much more prominently in local search results – often higher than its own Google+ Local listings. Which means if you were relying on your Google listing alone to get found by local searchers, you need to broaden your approach.

With this Google search update, general listing sites like Yelp, Yellow Pages, and Superpages.com, are just a few that have seen higher visibility on Google search results. In addition, many industry-specific directory sites like Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, Realtor.com, Apartments.com, Healthgrades, and more have also seen heightened prominence for local searches for their respective verticals. That means you need to make sure your business is listed on all the sites that are relevant to your business type and that your information is accurate and consistent across them all.

Smart Tip: Conduct a few private or incognito searches for your business type and location to see which directory sites are showing up, and claim or update those business listings first. But, even if there are sites that aren’t surfacing on the first page or two of Google results, make sure you claim and optimize them anyway. Google still looks at consistency between all your local “citations” as an SEO signal when determining your business’ search results.

Accurate Google Listings Are Still Incredibly Important

Just because Google appears to be de-emphasizing its own listings in the on-page search results doesn’t mean they are going away altogether. For example, for many business types, such as auto, the organic results for browser searches have largely remained the same, prominently featuring Google local results. And the information in your Google+ Local profile is still critically important to Google, as it serves as an anchor point for your local business information – and it shows up in many other places, such as Google Maps native mobile and browser searches.

One of the reported outcomes of this local search update is that Google may be penalizing local listings that are formatted incorrectly – specifically those that don’t list a physical address. This primarily applies to local services businesses that don’t have a central physical location, such as cleaning services, landscapers, or plumbers. Often, these types of businesses will leave the address field blank when setting up their listing on Google rather than using the recommended approach of adding a primary physical address such as the proprietor’s home address and then adding service areas. For service businesses on Google My Business, Google recommends adding your address information, then selecting the option for “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location”. Google will then show the correct address setting based on your selection and type of business.

Now, if you don’t list a physical address at all, Google may not even show your business in the results, so make sure this field is populated no matter what kind of business you are to avoid penalties or a missing Google Maps listing.

Smart Tip: If you don’t have a physical location, you can add a residential address to your Google listing as long as you identify your business as a service business so Google will know what information to populate to local searchers. Regardless of your business type, it’s always a good idea to review your Google listing regularly to make sure it’s up to date. And if you don’t already have a Google listing, you can easily set one up using Google My Business.

Your Turn

Has your business seen an impact from Google’s newest local search update? Let us know in the comments how your organic results are being affected by this change.

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Tamara Weintraub

Tamara is a content marketing manager at ReachLocal with over 7 years experience in B2B marketing and has a nerd-level affinity for software and technology. She specializes in helping local businesses succeed online, writing and learning about Google, search advertising, SEO, and social media marketing. When she's not writing about online marketing, you can find her watching cult TV and hanging out with her Doberman.

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