When Google+ launched many moons ago, the implied deal (regardless of Google’s protestations to the contrary) was that if you were active and added a ton of content to the service, you were going to show up better in Google’s main search results. Things didn’t really play out that way, particularly for local businesses, most of which didn’t have a clue as to what Google+ was or why their SEO guy was always asking them for stuff to post on it.
Now we have Local Business Cards, powered by Google Posts (the same platform that brought us Candidate Cards). This new, experimental SERP feature is explicit about allowing businesses to post content directly into Google’s search results as scrollable cards. Google is presenting this as “an experimental new podium on Google,” but if this one sticks around, it is really going to kill local SEO for some businesses — and kill at local SEO for others.
How different query types handle Local Business Card results
There are two primary types of local search queries: business name queries (e.g., “Bob’s Giant Burgers”) and business category queries (e.g., “Burgers in Pleasanton”).
While the majority of these queries on either desktop or mobile bring up Google My Business results at the top of the SERPs, there still is a lot of “local organic” traffic to be had from both sets of queries. In general, the main types of sites competing for these queries are local businesses, service area businesses (regional or national players) and local directories of all shapes, sizes and spam tactics.
Let’s look at what these new SERPs look like for both types of local search queries:
Business name query with Local Business Cards
In the image below, you can see a SERP containing a Local Business Card (highlighted in red) for the query “escape pod comics.”
This SERP is almost 100 percent content presented by the business or Google. And in cases where the business is active on Facebook, Twitter or other social media (like this one appears to be), there is almost no other content from traditional players in the local organic space (e.g., Yelp, Yellow Pages sites). On a mobile device, these Posts will be extremely engaging/distracting from the other results.
Business category query with Local Business Cards
The screenshot below shows what happens when you search the more general, non-branded query of “comic book store huntington ny”:
This SERP is even more radical. Local business category queries are some of the most valuable queries out there. They represent local buyer intent — but unlike a branded query, the buyer does yet not know which business it is going to hire.
Now, this might be a special case, as there are probably not a ton of comic book stores in Huntington, New York. But just ask the hundreds of jewelers in the Buffalo area, including the advertisers at the top of the page, how they feel about this SERP:
The Post-Post Kill List
So who’s going to get killed and who’s going to kill at this new development in local search?
Pretty much any non-local business website is at the mercy of these sexy little Local Business Cards, including:
- local directory sites,
- e-commerce sites,
- service area businesses,
- content sites (Why would Google show eHow or some similar site for “how to choose a diamond ring” queries, which have a high degree of local intent, if a business in the searcher’s city has that content on one of its Posts? Especially if the user is searching on mobile, which Google thinks always may have local intent.), and
- local businesses that don’t know how to produce content like this.
The Post-Post “Gonna Kill It” List
On the other hand, I see these things, and I think they are going to be a bonanza for a number of players, such as:
- local businesses who know how to create engaging content,
- spammers who know how to hijack listings and create engaging content,
- agencies who know how to produce and optimize content at scale, and
- Google (A direct pipeline into the SERPs is pretty hard to ignore. The more time/money businesses spend on this stuff, the less they spend on Facebook.).
Agencies will be the biggest beneficiaries. As we have seen with Google My Business, adoption of a service that pumps your data directly into Google’s SERPs is actually easy for a huge number of businesses to ignore and is driving huge growth in the Local SEO services industry. But now, imagine an agency can guarantee presence in the SERPs, and that presence benefits from regular updating and optimization. I see nothing but green field for local marketers big and small alike.
Now, if we could only get Google to not kill this thing, we might all just be able to kill it.