It’s what we’ve come to expect from Google, the king of change: More change.
Google changes search engine optimization (SEO) algorithms more often than most of us change undershorts. This time, Google has pulled the rug out from under business Google+, and this affects every business, including yours.
Gone! » Try a Google search. In the search box, type in “auto body,” then your city and state. If you’ve ever done this before, you’ll notice that the search results page looks quite different than before. You used to see “the seven-pack” of shops in your town at the top with map pointers that coincided with a map at the top right. Gone! In its place is the new three-pack, or “local pack,” and there are several things missing that you would think ought to be there but aren’t. Missing are a full address, a phone number and a link to the business Google+ page. Only the street name is listed; you have to click through to the listing or the website to find the full address.
What is there are links to reviews (which are now more important than ever), links to the website and hours of operation, and a link for directions. You used to be able to mouse over a seven-pack listing and the Google+ page would open up on the right side of the screen. No longer. If you click on one of the businesses listed, it brings up a Google local view, a branded window known as a “Card” superimposed over a map of the town. In this view, you’ll see the full address and phone number, hours of operation and, once again, links to the shop’s website and directions. There are up to 20 other shop listings down a column on the left. Nowhere will you find a link to Google+ like you used to. New mobile versions are similar and have a link to “call” the shop.
The Search Experience » Here’s what a Google spokesman had to say about all this: “We are constantly exploring the best way to bring a better search experience to our users. This update provides people with more relevant information, including photos, reviews and prices, for searches that have multiple results for a given location.”
The competition to be in the local three-pack will be fierce. It was fierce enough when there were seven. Of course, Google isn’t saying what it takes to be included in the three-pack. That’s something SEO experts will have to experiment with and try to figure out. Google adwords may be the only way for some companies to show up on the first page of a search, even more so than before. And by the time people think they may have finally figured it all out, Google will almost certainly change things again.
Is Google+ Dead? » Does this mean that Google+ is dead? No, not entirely, but its importance for business is nothing like it used to be at all. It appears the local card view is pulling information from a verified Google+ page or from the new Google My Business. Since Google still owns and offers Google+, it’s Optima Automotive’s recommendation to continue to have a Google+ account for now. It will allow you to manage your Google reviews from there. However, we no longer recommend posting as often as Google used to suggest. Once a month is plenty for now, as it will likely be phased out entirely before long.
IMPORTANT NOTE: What is dead are the “shell” pages on Google+, which were the auto-created listings for non-verified businesses. If you haven’t gone through the verification process yet, you’re going to be even more invisible online than you already are. Google is making this verification and reputation management process possible beyond Google+ now through Google My Business (www.google.com/business/). Only a Gmail address is required to use this.
In spite of Google’s hopes and early claims, Google+ was never much of a social media platform, and business benefits came from the visibility it gave you through Google, not from engagement by followers of your business Google+ page. That’s all changed now. From a social media perspective, Optima Automotive is focusing on more frequent posting and promoting/ boosting on Facebook than ever before with our clients, and pushing the ongoing creation of video content to enhance engagement of their target audience. Video driving tips, car care tips, etc. – things that aren’t commercial all the time. That’s the biggest mistake we see shops make with social media. Remember, your audience does not want to be marketed to, they want some kind of value out of the businesses they follow on Facebook.
Video creation has many more benefits than just on social media, too. As I covered in my workshop at NACE | CARS, content development through video has great residual benefits for search engine optimization of your website. Not just one video will get the job done, either; an ongoing series is recommended. For example, Optima is offering its clients monthly, branded 15- to 30-second videos for $95 a month to maximize engagement and website optimization, a good model to follow.