in Business & Marketing, Digital & Tech

The only thing you can count on with Google is change

Was just reading a great post and commentary by local search guru Mike Blumenthal and notable figures in the SEO and local search industry such as Marcus Miller. Google is changing so much so quickly of recent, that local businesses need to ensure they get abdicate visibility with a diversified organic, paid and local strategy and also focus on customer retention.

From Google’s recent update in the way they present local businesses through their local 3-pack to them testing hotel and other industry ads as well as Home Service Ads (HSA), page 1 of Google is becoming a land mine for small business, making it increasingly difficult to devote budget and effort to the many channels available in search.

Google also recently upped their mobile ads display strategy on mobile devices (especially for local search), now always displaying 3 ads and completely occupying fold 1. This means that the first fold of results on desktop, table and mobile has essentially become a paid or Google service product page. A Googler now needs to scroll to fold 2 (desktop) or 3 (mobile) to find organic listings with a local search phrase.

Clicking on this Google search link will show you both HSA and the new local 3-pack (GMB). Here is what my first fold looks like:

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Notice the home service ads at the top, followed by GMB local 3-pack and on the right Adwords sponsored links. Google is rolling this layout out into different areas in the US, which could become a global one in the near future (weeks/months). Note the complete absence of organic web listings which are now on fold 2 (and fold 3 or even 4 for mobile devices).

This just demonstrates the importance of a diversified search strategy for businesses wanting to gain traffic from Google. The important search channels for local businesses now are:

  • Paid/Sponsored listings – Pay Google for traffic
  • Home Service Ads (need to qualify) – New Google product in testing
  • Google my business – which would place you in the local 3-pack if you are in top 3 and Google Maps/Places which are also important for mobile and desktop map searchers.
  • Organic web which is attained by good search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Local listing platforms like Yelp (see below).

Many small businesses do not understand the importance of these different channels. Not only are the organic web listings being pushed down the page and require more scrolling then before, local listing platforms such as Yelp have highly optimized pages that often outrank business website pages. In the example above, the 3 organic web listing following the local-3 pack are in fact Yelp results:

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In ranking placement measurements, this would mean that for the search term “Plumber emerald hills” the best a small local plumber could hope for is a #10 ranking if he/she was not present in HSA, GMB, Adwords or Yelp. This really stresses the importance (at least for small local business) to be present in these other 4 (or more) channels.

But the discussion goes further then just traffic and new customer acquisition. It is a known fact that customer retention is a whole lot easier than new customer acquisition. Businesses need to place an increasing effort (and budget) into making sure they are taking care of existing customers, followers, fans, local networks …etc. Businesses need to provide value to their customer base, whether it be an informative email, reminder for a tune-up, discount offer, free consultation, need to know information….or whatever will add value to that customer/follower base. This will keep them engaged with your brand and allow them to contact you for business the next time they need it.

There are many ways to take care of your customer base and a leading cost-effective way is to leverage email. Email is the one unique identifier a customer has that does not change! People love their emails and will hang on to them often for life. This is especially relevant to personal email. It’s a pain to change them. So use a software solution such as Aweber which will get the job done for $19 a month. Import your customer emails, setup a few settings and templates and your done.

Another very important consideration for taking care of customers and followers/fans is through social media. Make sure you always offer your customers the chance to connect with you in social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (the 3 most important ones). This will allow you to casually share information, promotions, deals and updates with them and also allow your customers to easily like/share your updates with their networks and friends, exponentially expanding your potential for customer reach.

You need to use tools like Think With Google in order to understand your audience’s intent in these different channels. Check out the customer intent for small business in the home & garden industry in the US:

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  • Organic (web & local) and generic paid search attract new prospecting clients.
  • Email, referral and brand paid search help to move customers through the conversion funnel.
  • Display (eg. retargeting) and Direct to brand navigation are where customers convert.

Although Google offers numerous and effective channels to reach your audience and customer base today, the competition and costs are growing which are shaving margins for small business. There are a number of other channels today that a business can use to acquire and engage with customers that in some industries, may offer a higher converting and higher ROI for small business.

The only thing you can count on with Google is change. So make sure you are optimised for Today. Tomorrow, they will have changed another dozen factors in the way they rank, display and influence your customers. It’s important you are diversified and present in Google, but take note of alternative channels in reaching your audience and focus on customer retention as it’s a lot easier and cheaper than customer acquisition. A well cared for customer can bring you 10x the business Google could ever do…for free.

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