Once again, Google has upended things in the very complex world of local search. The web giant recently began testing a completely new format for search results, allowing local businesses to promote and share specific content via a rotating carousel displayed at the very top of the organic search results. This will not be a new kind of paid ad, but rather a new module integrated into the SERPs allowing the addition of content in real-time via a choice placement. Currently named “Podium”, it has currently only been tested by a select group of local businesses. Nevertheless, a future deployment on a larger scale has been planned, for businesses as well as celebrities and public personas.
What does this new function imply for local businesses? First of all, it is important to understand the workings of the new product, which is still without an official name, as Google has been particularly discreet on the subject (Search Engine Land has baptized it “Local Business Cards”).
Two types of search queries can make the carousel appear: brand-related queries (e.g. “Pharmaprix”) and queries related to the business category (E.g. “pharmacy in Montreal”).
Traditionally, these two types of queries caused local results to appear, meaning the famous local “snack-pack” associated with the map which shows the data registered in the Google My Business platform. This local snack-pack no longer appears when the carousel is present: the visibility will therefore go to just one business, rather than three.
When the carousel appears, users can use scroll right or left within it in order to find more content, and click on the things that interest them the most. This content can be presented in text form, images, videos or even animated GIFs. It is interesting to note that this is the first time Google has allowed the display of this type of dynamic content directly in the search results.
Finally, by clicking on one of these publications, the user will arrive on a page dedicated to the article and the business in question, with an integrated profile photo and cover image, where they will also have the opportunity to see the other content published by the editor within the carousel.
(Source: Blumenthal Blog)
This new podium presents several exclusive features which differentiate it from the other display formats currently offered by Google:
This functionality seems to be a revolutionary new service: organizations will now have an additional way to communicate with users directly in the search engine results pages. The visibility this grants to businesses is huge, and should bring a much higher click-through rate than the other classic result types.
Nevertheless, the most important thing to highlight about this new carousel for local businesses is that it will permit those using it to subvert Google’s traditional indexation rules: the content will be automatically displayed in a prominent way at the very top of the first results page for the associated queries.
Therefore, a small local jeweller who has not had a particularly strong search engine presence can now occupy the #1 spot for “engagement ring Montreal” by using the carousel to publish an article, for example, “How to Choose an Engagement Ring”. The jeweller does not have to wait for Google to explore and index the article in question for it to appear, and will not have to make any particular effort to acquire links towards the publication with the hopes of ranking on the first page, as is usually the case for a normal web page.
Google is also equipping itself with a sizeable advantage, because publications shown in the carousel will be exclusive to their search engine: because the content is not indexed in the traditional way (and is not hosted on a site or a URL in the traditional sense), other search engines will not be able to explore and index it on their own platforms.
One can easily determine the amount of user engagement with the publications via click-through rates and sharing, because it is also possible to share the podium content on other popular social networks.
Although the test principally targets local businesses for the moment, the display format of the rotating carousel is not entirely new: this is a rehashing of the “Candidates Cards” concept initially tested for the American elections.
Let’s go a few months back in time. Last January, Google, in partnership with Fox News, introduced a new experimental functionality to be used by candidates in the upcoming American elections, allowing them to publish rich content via a leading placement in a new horizontal carousel integrated into the search results. Candidates could use this platform to publish images, videos or text in order to communicate their position and political opinions on certain social issues to the electorate.
They could also use it to share more details on their point of view during televised debates.
Like the podium for local businesses, this new product was part of the Google Posts initiative. On the official page, one can read the following announcement:
“Verified individuals and organizations can now communicate with text, images and videos directly on Google. Creating content is fast and simple, and once published, posts will appear instantly in search results related to the publisher. Each post can also be shared on popular social networks.”
Get read for a major upheaval in the search results once this functionality has been launched on a larger scale! Non-local businesses, e-commerce sites, service businesses serving a precise area, content sites… here are all the potential targets that risk being affected by the change:
Nevertheless, despite all the groups which will potentially lose out, this new functionality may also strongly contribute to the success of other types of businesses:
This new model of content integrated into the search results allows us to see a bit more clearly what the future intentions of the search engine are. As the service does not depend on the traditional principles of indexation, we can see the arrival of this function as an early sign of a future without links, or at least, a future in which this signal will be less important. Rather, content popularity (click-through rate and measures of engagement, such as bounce rate and time on site) will take on much more importance, given that these signals are more representative of a site’s popularity and relevance than links, which are often built artificially for search gains.
That being said, this demonstrates a real effort on the part of Google to create a little novelty in its results pages and make them more dynamic, as well as establishing a strong social presence via a new advertising product which can compete with Facebook and its Instant Articles.
For the moment, whether you work for a huge international company, a digital agency or a small local business, start thinking now about the use of this new product, and join the waiting list!
This article was originally written by Laurence Soucy.