First it was ten, then it was seven, and as of today, it’s now three. Google has taken a scythe to the Local results pack in its SERPS and appears to now only show three results.
Anyone who operates in the local space will be concerned by this change as it marks a major change in the space available on SERPs. The screenshot below shows a local result from Scotland for [glasgow distillery] in which the three-pack is clearly visible:
Why are Google doing this? Simply, we don’t know for sure, but we do know extensive testing has been taking place on the layout of these results, and the new layout does (to a certain degree) resemble that on tablet and mobile devices, so perhaps it is all being done in the name of a more unified user experience that encourages more users to click (or tap) through to extended listings.
There’s also an argument that limiting the available places increases competitiveness and will encourage local businesses who are pushed out of the three-pack to place Ads to recovered lost visibility and traffic.
Alongside this, there is of course the ongoing confusion around Google Local listings, how they are organised and ranked, how exactly organisations can improve their positioning and gain more traffic. Looking at the three results in the map above tells us little about how results are selected other than by geography – two lack reviews entirely and aren’t even distilleries, unless of course Blythswood Square has changed considerably since I was there last week.
Time will tell.
As anyone who has worked in an agency environment will know, constant deadlines and constant busy-ness can mean that by the time you’ve caught your breath, as I have done this week, you realise it’s April, spring has sprung and before you know it, the UK General Election will have passed and we’ll be well into summer.
So without further ado, it’s time for a brief update on some of the work team Mackerel has been up to over the last few months!
Regulatory requirements mandated that the investment and financial advice arm of the Dundee law firm Thorntons be spun off into a new company and as such, October 2014 saw the birth of Thorntons Investments as a separate entity.
Headed up by Steven Webster, the team comprises a number of highly experienced investment and mortgage advice professionals and as a measure of their considerable success at launch, the firm had over £315m in client assets under management.
Our role was varied and detailed, ranging from searcher demand analysis, through market analysis, to site structure planning, an on-site SEO plan and advice on content.
Back in late summer 2014, we were challenged by leading global payroll firm activpayroll to deliver a comprehensive SEO strategy and campaign, which naturally we were more than happy to accept. Work started straight away, and continues on a daily basis.
The company’s success story is incredible, and it’s in no small part thanks to founder Allison Sellar’s incredible passion and dedication. She and her team have taken an accountancy firm in Aberdeen and transformed it into a truly global organisation that is taking on some of the world’s largest payroll providers and beating them hands down – long may that continue!
The end of 2014 saw us delighted to win a contract to provide digital marketing strategy, planning and delivery support to infrared heating company Redwell GB, which is working hard to bring the benefits of modern IR heating to the UK. We’re working with the team to roll out our comprehensive marketing strategy that will see us target a number of key markets in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer over the coming weeks, months and year. It’s a hugely interesting project, with a hugely motivated and committed team behind it – we’re very pleased to be involved.
Glengoyne & Ian Macleod Distillers
Our work with Glengoyne Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky and its parent company Ian Macleod Distillers continues apace, and indeed our services have expanded to cover national and international social media advertising campaigns that have delivered truly staggering audience and engagement levels. A number of exciting projects are underway and under wraps, so watch this space for more.
A little closer to home, we were delighted to be appointed to support Scotland’s leading independent courier firm Eagle Couriers in the planning and development of a new web site. Working closely with partners Holyrood PR and Digijuice, we delivered searcher demand analysis, structural planning, an on-site SEO plan and content optimisation advice. Very happily, the new site enjoys very strong organic search rankings for key search terms!
Over the last few years, Google’s focus on Local Search and Local Business has undergone a huge number of changes, with perhaps the most significant being the shift to Google My Business, which took on the mantle of Google Places, Google+ Local and the other myriad personalities their Local product had adopted. What has remained constant throughout these changes is that the service is ‘free’ to the business owner. However, if some recent tests are anything to go by, that might be about to change, and Google might be looking to take a major slice out of the small business web site market.
For many years Google has featured some sort of map-based listings in its organic search results, and over the years the format of the product, its name and its positioning has changed. Starting out as Google Places, the product has evolved and morphed to become in the most recent iteration Google My Business, which offers the business owner an ostensibly easier way to manage the profile for their business. The product is now tightly integrated with Google+, and from our experience is certainly easier to manage than it has been. Complaints abounded for previous iterations – business owners often found their details out of date, despite having updated them; claiming profiles for business was often a tortuous process; from time to time business profiles were hijacked and owners had to fight to get them back and there seemed little rhyme or reason to when, how and where these listings would show up in search results.
Sitting against these changes are two broad market developments: firstly the decline of print-based local advertising and the growth of mobile. Looking at the first of those, for many years the Yellow Pages, or the Thomson Directory was the first port of call for anyone looking for a local service. Google’s growth and huge market dominance has – for want of a better description – utterly destroyed the Yellow Pages, leaving the old book format completely redundant. Whereas previously business owners could rely on the Yellow Pages to find customers and services respectively, nowadays Google is where people go, and Google AdWords has become the de facto source of business for many of these companies. As an example, I spoke to a locksmith in Edinburgh who happily (I’ll emphasise that: happily) pays Google around £600-£900 a month as it’s such a strong source of business.
In a slightly ironic twist of fate, the Yellow Pages morphed to become Yell.com, and from there became Hibu, which offered to manage Google AdWords campaigns and build up web sites on behalf of small businesses – thereby feeding the very company that had destroyed it.
The growth of mobile also plays an important role – users on mobile devices often use them to locate local services such as cafés, restaurants, service providers and others, and Google has worked hard to react to this. Search results are mobile-oriented, Ads are more suited to mobile devices and after Apple developed its own Maps product for iOS and Mac OS X, Google released an excellent Google Maps app which has a huge user base. The fight for eyeballs is clearly on, but what about the fight for revenue?
The Puzzle, and a possible solution
As I’ve mentioned, barring AdWords, all Google’s Local products are free, and to me it has been something of a conundrum that Google has never really tried to monetise the product as – let’s face it – they are very good at driving revenue from practically every single other product they put out. There’s clearly a market out there, as hibu’s existence attests, and other players such as Johnston Press are getting in on the act in the UK, so why not Google?
An eagle-eyed observer in the USA may have the answer: they recently noticed Google testing a completely paid-for set of Local Listing Ads, effectively turning a 100%-free product into a 100%-paid-for product. Cast your eye over the screenshot here and you’ll see three maps-based ads for ‘Stores for gas grills near you’, which features Lowe’s, hhgregg and Walmart. All three are ads, all three will cost the retailer if someone clicks.
Of course, Google tests product variations all the time, so this on its own isn’t definitive, but if you consider some other recent developments and the language Google is using, we might be able to pick a path to a future where Google’s local business products become a substantial source of revenue, and the likes of hibu are squeezed even further.
Yesterday, Google published an article on their Webmasters blog titled “Bring your local business online — no website required!”. The advice goes on to tell small business owners that they don’t need to set up their own web site, rather they can simply use Google’s products and others to gain a place on the web, market themselves, engage customers and grow. This of course is entirely true – it’s entirely possible to build a profile for your business using Google My Business, TripAdvisor, Laterooms.com, LinkedIn, Yelp or whatever web site or directory is suitable for your business and do well from it.
However, and it’s a BIG however, if all these local businesses are using Google products to market themselves, and if a Google My Business or Google+ page becomes the central hub for a small business’s marketing, in my view it’s almost inconceivable Google will not want to monetise that activity, or in other words take a cut of the transactions and relationships that ensue. Google has already been enormously successful in its monetisation of web search traffic, and the huge recent developments in Google Shopping show both that there is plenty more to come in terms of innovation and there is also plenty more to come in terms of what will be free and what will be paid-for traffic.
The search engine is superb at understanding what is and is not a commercial search query, so whilst I’m wary of making sweeping predictions, I don’t think it will be long before we see the same intelligence being applied to local business’ Google+ and Google My Business Presences, and business owners being given the choice of paying Google for leads, enquiries and business, or staying free and finding themselves relatively invisible on Google properties.
Local SEO – End of the Road?
An elephant in the room with all of this is the impact on Local SEO and those who make their living providing such services to local businesses. Clearly, if Google ’s Local Listings move to a 100%-paid model, the landscape will shift dramatically, and the ability of Local search experts to promote their clients may diminish, which in turn would reduce their income. This is a larger subject area, and worthy of a deeper exploration, so watch out for a longer blog post on that in due course.
In the meantime, interesting times for all concerned!
I’m delighted to announce the recent launch of a project we’ve been involved in for some months – a new web site for The Chippendale International School of Furniture, based in the beautiful Haddington countryside, not far from Edinburgh.
My first encounter with the school was on a dark, wet night in November last year when I ventured out to meet Anselm Fraser, the Founder and Principal, and Christopher Lamotte of Real Marketing, who led the project. Not knowing quite what to expect, I was completely amazed when I walked through the small round doorway into the warm, bustling workshop, where a full score of students were hard at work on their woodwork projects.
Since then we’ve worked closely with Christopher and the team at Inigo Media to plan, design and develop the site. Built using WordPress, the site consolidates three previous sites into one, presenting a single international voice to the School’s highly varied international audience.
Our role was plan a new structure, content and optimisation strategy for the site, working with the extensive data available. This also involved creating a plan for the merger of the aforementioned three sites (one for each of the US, the UK and Spain) into a single domain.
Christoper had this to say of the launch:
The Chippendale International School of Furniture’s new website is much more international in outlook, combining our UK, US and Spanish websites all together in one larger international site. We have always attracted some international students, particularly from the US, however we want to significantly increase the proportion of our 22 students from overseas. The new website, built by Inigo Media, should appeal to students from all around the world, as well as from across the UK.
The School has been a Scottish success story for over 25 years and is increasingly regarded as the UK’s leading furniture design, making and restoration college, especially for intense one year courses – with the support of the team at Mackerel Media we aim to build on this considerable pedigree, and ensure we have a stronger presence globally.
Have a look at the site in all its brand-new glory at www.chippendaleschool.com.
As the year was drawing to a close, so we were busy on the development of our new web site, which launched today, Friday 3rd January. What better way for a digital marketing agency to celebrate the start of the year?
2013 was an important year for the company, with new members of staff joining the team and with new clients coming on board from across the country.
The coming year promises to be just as interesting – the ceaseless change in the industry will guarantee that in any case, but we have major plans to develop the company further, develop the services we offer, grow our client base and deliver even more fantastic results.
All the best for 2014 from the Mackerel Media Team!
Nick, John, Josef & Dan.
We’re delighted to announce the launch of a new client project we’ve been working on in conjunction with Elastic Creative for the past few months – a brand new web site for Sustainable Energy Scotland based in Dundee.
Working closely with the SES and Elastic team, our role has been to plan out and optimise the site structure, advise on content development and optimisation, and in the coming weeks and months will be to deliver a nationwide online marketing campaign.
With all that’s going on in the energy efficiency sector including the Government’s Green Deal Initiative, technological advances, new products being released on to the market, the ever-present spectre of rising fuel bills and the company’s clutch of excellent industry accreditations such as the Trustmark Scheme and the BBA Certification Scheme, it looks like Callum, David and the rest of the SES team have the perfect business at the perfect time.