Google's search algorithms can be high-level and confusing. Check out this rundown of the benefits of Google's approach to local searches.
Three Forces Impacting Local Search
There have been three forces impacting local business online marketing over the last five years. First, businesses have become aware of the need and possibility of being visible in their local area for searchers looking for products and services. Whether they've hired local marketing consultants or taken on the project themselves, they have undertaken various degrees of search engine optimization. Second, consumers have become savvier in their approach to finding products and services in their local area and are leveraging tools that are available mobile and online to them. They have adapted to the new paradigm by expecting accurate results faster and by sharing their evaluation of what they've received using online reviews and social media. Third, intermediaries such as search engine companies and local review based websites have expanded their presence in the market to provide consumers an accurate source of information in exchange for their loyalty. These intermediaries have profited from this presence by keeping visitors on their site and serving advertisements to them.
Not Quite an Intermediary
Although Google would technically fall into the category of one of these 'intermediaries,' it would be disingenuous to compare them to any other sites. In fact, its fair to say that they (Google) are the venue and/or market for local search. By holding two thirds of the local search market , Google clearly sets the context for local businesses wanting to make themselves visible to relevant consumers.
The New Schematic Markup Language
In 2010 and 2011, Google made changes in how local search parameters were being applied to companies looking for visibility. Their search engine algorithms began looking for 'marked-up' language on websites, positioning themselves to be found. This technical language, used primarily by web engineers, designers and marketers is called semantic markup language. What the language does when it is placed on local websites is make certain details readable to search engines. Companies can subsequently highlight information they feel is relevant and increase the possibility of local searchers being able to find this specific data.
What the Markup Language Does
Some websites developers are using the language (outlined by schema.org) to highlight their customer testimonials. Their experience is typically much different than those companies that have not yet implemented the language. When semantic markup language is implemented, searchers using Google get ten listing results as they normally would. However, they also get to see customer testimonials included in their listing. Making these testimonials visible makes the company's listing stand out as more authoritative than the other listings. In this way, a local business can make its most important details more readable by search engines and more visible to consumers.
Google's Data Tools
Google has provided tools to help web designers utilize search engine markup. They have provided businesses with tools to determine whether or not their language is marked properly for this kind of highlighting. Called the structured data markup helper, site owners and consultants can enter their parameters to assist them in making their details more searchable. In addition to this, Google has provided the structured data testing tool. The tool helps the company answer the following questions when a searcher lands on their page: - Will a searcher find the additional details that have been marked up by the business? - Will these details show consistently to searchers?
Why Would Google Do This for Companies?
Providing these details to local consumers is consistent with Google's goal to increase relevancy of its search results. Therefore, companies should analyze their business to determine all of the relevant details to display to consumers and systematically work through processes to mark them up for local search. Companies can market their specific geographical contact details, customer testimonials, videos, special events, coupons and even specific individuals. Local businesses will be particularly interested in the capacity that the markup language gives businesses to highlight specific products in their marketing mix. As you can imagine, this is significant as it would give companies an advantage over those choosing not to use the markup. For example, consider the case of a hardware store that uses this markup language. They could make themselves more visible in their local area to a searcher looking for hammers. This added visibility, could make the difference between a store visit and a quick scroll to another listing.
More Authority for Information Marketers
Those companies that market their business by providing helpful information to searchers will also benefit from this new language structure. Schematic markup language highlights the information of those that use it by displaying image thumbnails next to their search listing results. The thumbnail gives the appearance of information that has been favored due to its authority. This increased visibility, like the hammer example, can be the difference between a searcher's more diligent investigation or their decision to keep scrolling to find something they feel is suitable. While schematic markup language isn't yet mandatory for local businesses, it's quite possible that companies that choose to ignore its impact will eventually become invisible to searchers by default. As tools are still being created to make the process easier, businesses should undertake steps to take the lead in their market or niche. Being the first and/or only company to use this highlighted information within a specific niche can benefit businesses by making them a recognized brand leader until its use becomes more commonplace.