Guest post by Chad Crowe.
The ubiquity of smartphones means that most consumers now begin their searches for local service providers online. They conduct research, look for the most convenient location, and read reviews from other customers before making a decision on which provider to use. This makes visibility in search engines like Google critical for local service businesses like doctors, lawyers, accountants, and marketing agencies.
Appearing at the top of the first page of Google’s search results drives a considerable amount of business for local service providers. This includes the highly-prized Map Pack – the list of three local results that appears above organic search listings. With a top “Map Pack” placement, consumers can easily see the business closest to them and begin to gather more information about their options. The Map Pack, along with a Google My Business listing, has been a boon for local businesses.
That was until Google updated its algorithm in 2016 and 2017. Google’s Possum update filtered Google My Business listings out of the Map Pack in order to diversify the results (Possum is the nickname given to this update by search engine optimization leaders).
Possum wreaked havoc on businesses that had the same address or the same ownership but different addresses. Among those impacted were medical groups, financial services providers, insurance agents, and law firms. Companies in these industries tend to have offices in the same building even if they are competitors. Possum resulted in many of these businesses losing visibility in Map Pack results because their physical location was the same or near another business providing the same service.
How Google’s Algorithm Updates Have Impacted Local Businesses
Google’s intention wasn’t to penalize local service providers. Their goal was to give their users the most relevant results possible by preventing any one business from taking up all the spaces on the Map Pack. Google’s search engine algorithm gives a great deal of weight to showing the result closest to the user.
However, before Possum, one medical group with many doctors located in the same office building or an insurance agency franchise with three locations in the same area could take up all three Map Pack spots. Possum was also intended to reduce the chances of businesses gaming the system by using multiple Google My Business profiles to dominate Map Pack results.
To address the collateral damage made by the Possum update, Google implemented the Hawk update in 2017. Hawk made things a little better for local businesses by ensuring that they won’t be bumped off the Map Pack results by a nearby competitor. However, local businesses that share a physical address with other companies in the same industry can still be filtered out of the Map Pack.
What Local Businesses Can Do to Roll with Google’s Algorithm Changes
Google updates its algorithm regularly so local service providers need to stay on top of their marketing efforts throughout the year. If you operate a local service business there are steps you can take to soften the impact of the various changes to Google’s algorithm.
First, make sure your business’ NAP (name, address, phone number) information is accurate. Also, claim your Google My Business listing and make sure it is kept current with weekly posts. Encourage your customers to leave reviews on Google My Business (and if you receive a negative review be sure to respond with an offer to follow up and improve the customer experience).
Additionally, create content that speaks to local communities. This includes blog posts and social media posts that answer questions that are important to your service area. Finally, try to obtain citations from high-quality local directories and other authoritative sites. This gives your business a mark of credibility that can help distinguish it from competitors.
Each of these steps will help your local service business stay ahead of algorithm changes and stay in front of current and potential customers.
Chad Crowe joined Techwood Consulting in 2016 as part of a merger. Currently, he manages Techwood’s implementation and account management operations. He holds a bachelor degree from Reinhardt University and a Master’s Degree from Troy University in Communications. Over the years, Chad has managed over $25 million dollars in paid search advertising.
Techwood Consulting was founded in 2008 and is an elite digital consultancy that has core competencies in organic and paid search. An Inc5000 member for 2017, headquartered in Atlanta, GA, with a team of 17 supporting 60 clients, Techwood has a reputation for quality execution within the B2C SEO and PPC subject matter areas.