At the beginning of this week, Jennifer Slegg pointed out that Google seems to be testing a new card-style layout for search results. This new format pushes down the local 3-pack under four different AdWords ads and features a reel of the top three news stories before displaying the local 3-pack results and then organic listings. Google has always experimented with the SERPs, but throughout the past year, local has been an increasing focus for the search engine giant, and there are sure to be plenty more changes coming in 2017. Here are some ways we see Google SERPs changing in 2017, and a few tips on how to prepare.
Google SERPs Changes
In 2016, Google has made some major changes to its algorithm, many of them surrounding local-mobile search. From several Google My Business (GMB) API-related updates, to its new mobile-first indexing and Map Maker retirement, Google has been busy molding the SERPs into a local-mobile user’s paradise. With such a large majority of all internet traffic coming from mobile and local “near me” searches dominating mobile, local and mobile are intricately intertwined.
While some have demonstrated concern over the 3-pack’s recent decrease in prevalence, the card-style newsreel does not seem to appear in mobile search results, and certainly do not appear in all search results. This indicates that that Google’s algorithm is methodically sifting through searches where related news content may or may not be relevant to the user’s query. Similarly, “near me” searches for food and branded searches seem to populate the local 3-pack as the first set of results.
Searchers are used to seeing AdWords links at the top of the SERPs, and most will scroll past them until they find something that matches their intentions. When Google shrunk the snack pack, there was much speculation about where AdWords ads would be placed, with only one result at the top of the 3-pack. Now, it looks like Google has finally made a decision (temporary as it may be) to keep ads at the top of the SERP, as has been customary.
With Google’s frequent changes, it can be difficult to keep up and stay optimized for Google’s SERPs. Regardless of the specific changes, there are some key trends that will be leading any of Google’s changes in the New Year, and brands who want to stay relevant will do well to stay informed and optimized accordingly.
What to Expect from Google in 2017
Google’s focus on the local user experience will become even more prominent in 2017. Google will continue to provide instant answers whenever possible, allowing users to complete their intentions without ever leaving the SERP. Directions, reviews, hours of operation and other data relevant to local queries will be accessible as quick answers and critical to brand visibility. Optimizing for user intent, in addition to keywords, will be a crucial aspect of enterprise marketing strategies, which means having access the data necessary for measuring these analytics.
Local SEO authority, Tim Capper, emphasizes Google’s continued experimentation with a focus on local:
|Google conducts hundreds of experiments during any given year. However, local seems to have really increased theirs in 2016 and you can expect more in 2017. The current beta tests, and the ones to keep your eyes on in 2017, are things like Home Service Units, Advanced Verification and the Live Post in Search. ~ Tim Capper, Director of SEO, Online Ownership|
With the need for location data in order for users to quickly access information and complete their queries, data accuracy will be imperative to a successful online presence and for creating online-to-offline attribution. In 2017, Google’s standards for ensuring data accuracy are likely to become more regulated, and brands who create a Google My Business account may need to provide with verified location data from the start. Google will not risk creating a poor user experience by ranking businesses who have questionable or unverified location data.
Digital Marketing expert, Corey Barnett, relates the critical nature of verified business information:
|In 2017, local businesses will need to have a verified license, address, etc to be visible in the local map pack. Algorithm updates will better fight spam. Google will reward ‘credible’ and paying local businesses with more exposure. ~ Corey Barnett, Founder, Cleverly Engaged Marketing|
As the internet continues to gravitate toward mobile devices, mobile-first marketing and mobile-first optimization will spearhead changes in Google’s algorithm and SERP results. Google has already begun experimenting with mobile-first indexing, and changes will certainly expand beyond mobile-friendly results. Mobile users, especially millennials, have consistently demonstrated an interest in other forms of mobile interaction, such as instant messaging and voice search, and Google has already begun adapting to user preference with the likes of Google Home and Allo.
Brandify’s Director of Product, Damian Rollison, predicts that voice search will lead Google SERPs changes:
|Voice search and artificial intelligence will change traditional SEO . Search engines and new services like Amazon Alexa and Google Home will want to offer consumers the best answer to very specific questions, rather than a long list of choices that the user needs to navigate through. ~ Damian Rollison, Director of Product, Brandify|
Consumers will become accustomed to seeing chatbots and interacting with them on a daily basis, more and more brands will begin adopting messaging capabilities as part of their customer service integration, and brands that fail to provide the same immediacy and personalization as the competition will find themselves falling behind.
Moving into 2017, enterprise brands can prepare for upcoming Google algorithm changes or new SERPs experiments by ensuring that location data is accurate and up to date. Claim local pages and syndicate listings across the web for clean, consistent data. Enterprises can leverage an instant update network to push real-time information for hours changes and listing modifications.
Maintaining an active local-social presence will also be important for driving consumer engagement and optimizing your brand’s mobile presence. Consumers consistently look for user-generated content to help them make purchase decisions and find the best local hot spots. Enterprise who claim individual local-social pages and create impactful content have a better chance of driving in-store engagement.
Start preparing your 2017 strategy today by requesting a demo of Brandify 360°, an enhanced listings and syndication network that reflects our direct partner relationships and helps develop hyper-visibility across the local ecosystem.