Google Posts: More Real Estate For Your Brand in Search Results

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.

A Choice Placement for Local Businesses

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”).

(Source: Search Engine Land)

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:

  • The Knowledge Graph panel offers information on popular search terms, generally pulled from well-known sources such as Wikipedia, IMDB, etc. In contrast, the podium for local businesses pulls its information directly from the businesses.
  • The Google carousel generally displays photos of objects, places and people who are popular and well-known. These photos are chosen in part by Google’s traditional algorithm, as opposed to the new podium, which lets businesses choose and select for themselves the photos or videos that they would like to display in the dedicated space.
  • Google AMP pages (Accelerated Mobile Pages) are integrated into the mobile search results in the form of scrolling cards. These cards are no more than a simple, rapidly-charging visual representation of the links and content that are already published on the business’ website. The local carousel, on the other hand, will show content that is not necessarily present on any other website. One can create personalized content on demand, specifically in the new podium format.
  • The local three snack-pack shows popular businesses for local search queries. The content shown is taken from the data submitted to Google My Business. It is Google’s local algorithm that decides how businesses are ranked, according to more than a hundred factors. For the local podium, the data displayed does not pass through any existing Google algorithm, and is not “indexed” in the proper sense of the word.
Exclusive Content that Bypasses the Rules of Indexation

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.

Google Posts: A New Concept in the Testing Phase

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.”

What Impact Will This Have on Businesses?

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: 

  • Small and medium-sized local businesses that do not have many resources to allocate to content creation risk greatly losing visibility on Google, to the benefit of businesses that have begun putting in the necessary efforts to adapt to the new model. It is very likely that the business which will occupy half the search engine results page with rich content via the new carousel and the Google Knowledge Graph panel will experience a click-through rate higher than the other “normal” results. Once again, there is a risk that large brands that are already recognized and established will be the main beneficiaries of this module, given that they typically have more resources to invest.
  • Directory sites (all the Yelps, TripAdvisors and YellowPages of this world) will also see their visibility decrease, to the benefit of business sites listed on this platform. Google will no doubt prefer to present personalized information, and, ideally, information that comes directly from the business, rather than a directory which similarly lists thousands of businesses, without ever going really into detail about the products and services offered.
  • E-commerce sites and virtual stores may also lose visibility, to the benefit of local businesses. The same applies to businesses serving a specific area.
  • Content sites like eHow, WikiHow and Ask may also lose out, because Google will prioritize the display of the carousel for local businesses that have created content answering the questions that users often ask.

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:

  • Local businesses that are already capable of creating and producing attractive and interesting content will be able to easily obtain a choice position on the first page by using their expertise.
  • Spammers or “black hat SEOs”, who know how to use Google’s functionalities to their advantage and guarantee their clients a presence on the first page of the search results, will doubtless find a way to get around the rules and exploit the system, at least at the beginning.
  • Digital agencies will probably be the greatest beneficiaries in the whole story, because they have the capacity and experience to create quality content on a mass scale. They will be capable of identifying the type of search queries that will show the carousel, and will create content for their clients in order to position them in the module, and therefore on the first page. In addition, local businesses often do not have the means or resources to manage the data that is used by search engines (Google My Business, for example), and call on agencies that specialize in local search. Imagine if an agency could guarantee a choice placement on the first page of the search results to their clients, as well as performing traditional optimization on their site? A winning argument.
  • Finally, of course Google will also profit from the situation. They are now offering businesses an opportunity to have their content displayed directly on the first search engine results page, and therefore will encourage businesses to rival one another to obtain this position. This means that SEO and content professionals will now spend more time optimizing for Google, creating high-quality content to satisfy the algorithm, all while continuing to optimize their site, make it “mobile-friendly”, etc. The more time and money they devote to Google, the less likely they will be to devote that time to Google’s rivals (not specifically to mention Facebook),

An Early Sign of a Link-Less Future?

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.