Local Search: What you need to be thinking about in 2023
When looking at local search you could be forgiven for thinking that pretty much nothing ever changes. When researching for this piece, I was reading around a number of the published guides and generally it seems that many of the top-ranking guides are simply the same ones that I read last year, and the year before that! Yes, there may be some small additions, but you would be forgiven for just thinking that just the year has been updated in the guide!
With this in mind, I will be focusing predominately on changes that we know are coming and changes we can predict will be coming in 2023.
Search On Conference
Despite the feeling that not much changes in local search, at Google’s big annual search conference ‘Search On’ (think Comicon for Google), three out of the top seven announcements will impact local search. Some of the changes could have some pretty big ramifications – if you are not set up for them.
Here are the local highlights from Search On and what they mean for local businesses:
1.“Get a vibe check before you visit”
Essentially, Google is going to start determining the vibe of a local area, including local gems. The implications for local businesses could be massive. For example, if your local area gets branded as ‘artsy’ it might suddenly get an influx of tourists looking for that type of thing, so if your brand fits the vibe it could do well. However, it could also work the other way if the Google allocated vibe doesn’t fit with your brand image. Google will highlight what’s new, what the local gems are, and what’s worth exploring. How much users pay attention to this type of thing is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain, it will mean that good reviews (which will presumably be used to get “local gem” status) will continue to play a huge role in local search.
2. Live View Updates
Google Live View has been updated to now have overlaying data in Augmented Reality (AR). This means making sure your data is accurate and up to date will be even more important. Imagine customers who are walking past, assuming you are closed, simply due to your hours being wrong. Equally, people will just outright ignore businesses with low star reviews – if they have seen them in live view. Again, these are old principals, but these changes reinforce how important they are.
3. Big Changes for Restaurants
There were quite a few big changes announced for the way people will be served results for restaurants. The three changes incoming :
1. Searching for specific food dishes – people will now be able to search for a particular dish and Google will show results for which restaurants provide this. This has two big things that local businesses will need to think about:
i) Are your menus crawlable and indexable by Google? If not, then you essentially have no way of showing up in these searches. It is also likely to become more important that you have your menus marked up with the right schema too. Previously, it would go on if people had mentioned the dish in a review, but by Google’s estimate 40% of people are searching for a specific dish – so you could be missing out on a lot of customers if your menus aren’t properly optimised.
ii) Will search volume start to influence menus? If people start to search by dish, this could mean that restaurants will have to cater to the most-searched-for dishes on their menu, could we even start to see keyword research influencing menus in the future?
2. Use multisearch to identify and find food near you – Ever been scrolling through Instagram (or any platform where images are shared widely) and seen one of your friends (or an influencer) has posted something that looks delicious, but you have no idea what it is? The concept here would be that you could just take the image and Google will figure out what it is and then allow you to search for the item it has identified near you. It is an interesting use case but the practical advice behind this for business owners is limited. Perhaps keeping an eye on “Instagram” food trends and making sure you are keeping up with the latest fad – if applicable to your niche. At the moment I am skeptical about how may people will utilise this tool, but it is still one to keep an eye on in 2023.
3. Preview and evaluate restaurants to better understand what makes them special – The other major change that is coming is that Google will start to outline “what makes a restaurant special”. Again, this could be quite a scary thought for many restaurateurs, if Google is going to determine what makes them special. Within this though, there may also be an opportunity, if Google gives new sections of ‘Google My Business’ to fill out which gives some input to the restaurant about what they believe makes them special. So, everyone should be keeping their eyes peeled to how this feature in particular is rolled out.
Then, finally, one item not released at Search On, but that has been reported as a beta rollout on twitter, is that Google is asking people to answer questions when leaving reviews in GMB. This is very similar to what you can see on TripAdvisor, when you leave a review there. Some sample questions that were outlined by users are:
Did you dine in, take out, or get delivery?
A) Dine in. B) Take out. C) Delivery.
What did you get?
A) Breakfast. B) Brunch. C) Lunch. D) Dinner. E) Other.
Interestingly, considering Google’s last point about determining ‘what makes a place special’, it could be that they are intending to use reviews. Also, if they are following a similar route to TripAdvisor with these questions then enough reviews saying you do ‘Take Out’ will mean Google will list you as being able to do so. Again, ensuring a positive experience for customers and managing reviews continue to be a massive part of the hospitality industry.
4. Video Reviews for Map Listings
Another item we have seen on twitter, that Google appears to be rolling out, is video reviews for map listings. As you can imagine, this could either have a hugely positive impact or a massively negative one depending on the content of reviews uploaded. If, for example, someone does a video review from their infinity pool, with an amazing view from your hotel on the last day of their stay, you can imagine that would possibly really help conversions. However, the negative impact of this could be equally devastating. If someone was to film a review of bad conditions/ issues of any kind, then this could seriously impact conversions to your business. With a video review, there will potentially be hard evidence of the good/bad experience. Critically, it will be hugely important to make sure that any problems/issues are resolved satisfactorily to ensure critical review videos are not uploaded.
5. Google Local Predictions
Whilst everything above has been confirmed by Google, we can safely assume there will be other changes, that for one reason or another, will happen, but won’t get the “Search On” treatment. Here are some of our predictions regarding key items you need to be considering:
More Local Ads
This is always a pretty safe bet with Google whatever part of search you are looking at. However, in a number of areas, Google is pushing their PMAX in areas of local – like hotels in the travel industry: https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/12200336 . In competitive ads, areas like hotels, you can already expect to see no organic results, without scrolling, showing the prominence ads are already being given. Hence, the paid route will have to become part of most local businesses marketing efforts.
More Local AI Content
Often, a lot of local content is templated and will include a lot of, either thin or duplicate content. This occurs because many businesses, with multiple addresses, offer the exact same things at one property to the next, so creating unique content, per location, is hard. Also, depending on the number of local properties profiled, this can become totally unmanageable. Enter ChatGPT and easily accessible public AI content. There will be no doubt several people who will try to game the local rankings by creating a lot of AI content for every location they serve (regardless of whether they have premises there or not). Likely to become the new “gateway” pages – it will be interesting to see the success of this in the local sector and how well Google does clamp down on it. Our belief is that Google is already ahead of the game on this, with the helpful content update, and would suggest being very cautious in thinking AI content is going to be your quick win in local search this year.
Apple Maps in 2023
Often in the SEO world, you can get caught up in the idea that Google is the only part of search that matters. This makes sense when you look at global numbers, Google (even though it doesn’t operate in certain parts of the world) is still totally dominant in traditional search. However, the numbers online in regards to Google Maps users vs Apple Maps is one that isn’t clear, but what we do know is, that as recently as December 2020, Apple said “Maps helps hundreds of millions of people”. To ignore that amount of users could be ignoring a good portion of your customer base. With that in mind, here are some of the things to look out for in 2023:
Apple Maps to Start Showing Ads
Certainly an opportunity for all local businesses, from an advertising point of view in 2023, it is believed Apple Maps will roll out ads. It is likely that they will follow the model of Google Maps and the way they advertise (with some slight tweaks no doubt). This could be a real opportunity for businesses to extend their local presence in local advertising on iPhones. With that being said, if you currently have a big organic presence on Apple Maps this could mean you see a drop off with some traffic being siphoned by ads.
Catch up on Features
It is safe to assume that Apple maps will continue to play catch up on features to Google in 2023. They recently added multistop, which has been a feature for quite some time now in Google Maps. Apple will continue to add helpful Google features. With the user base they have, it is always worth keeping on top of these and making sure your business is using as many features, as possible, in Apple Maps as you would in Google.
Exciting Changes Ahead
As we mentioned at the top, many articles about local search are recycled every year with the title simply changed to “Ultimate guide to local search 2023” or something similar. This, in many cases, is understandable, as the things that people need to focus on in local search will be broadly the same as last year:
- Google My Business Profiles
- Local on-page content
- Local links
Hopefully, in this article, we have outlined some ways that things will be different next year, and things to keep an eye on. One of the real opportunities for local businesses is to be an early adopter of new features, which can often lead to a boost over your competitors. There are upcoming changes in both Google Maps and Apple Maps that will influence the direction of users, so making the most of these changes in 2023 could give local businesses an advantage in the year ahead.