By Kelly Marcus
Now that Google has dropped Google+ links from local pack listing in local search, it’s time for marketers to take a fresh look at their Google My Business listings and Google reviews. And it pays to keep in mind that Google+ is still very much a work in progress, with continued volatility that keeps SEOs guessing as to what might come next and how best to respond to it.
Previously, local pack results included the business name, address, website, a Google+ link, and a link to Google reviews. Following this update, the local 3-pack listings are returning without a link to both the Google+ page and Google reviews for both branded and non-branded searches.
Google had been testing the removal of Google+ links when it re-formatted local results from the 7-pack to the 3-pack, but it appears as if this test has been made permanent. Over the past few months, Google has slowly been diminishing the visibility of Google+ across its services. One example of this was the separation of Photos from Google+ a few months ago and the separation of Google+ and YouTube in July. These steps are yet another attempt by Google to deemphasize its social platform that it once aggressively promoted. This may signal to businesses that Google+ should be viewed as less of a priority when it comes to their social media initiatives. The partnership between Google & Twitter could have been an influential factor in Google’s decision to drop Google+ from results. Brands may want to reevaluate their social media marketing tactics to see if they are successfully engaging consumers and seeing a ROI on their Google+ efforts. If not, they may want to refocus their time and money into other social media platforms that offer more engagement opportunities.
Following the separation of Photos and YouTube, it seems that Google is making serious movements to reposition Google+. Moving forward into the upcoming months, even more features will most likely be spun out into separate offerings. The VP of Google+, Bradley Horowitz, has even stated that there are future plans to remove further services including location sharing. Businesses may want to take these elements into account when solidifying their marketing plans for the upcoming months, as few aspects of Google+ can be set in stone in terms of what it will offer marketers.
This also may be another instance of Google attempting to keep users within the SERPs. Most of the information found on a business’s Google+ page can either be found directly in the 3-pack listings or within Google Maps/Google Local Finder. Google would prefer the keep these users within the services they deem more useful, rather than directing them to a social platform that places limitations on the other Google services it links to.
The removal of Google+ links and reviews from local results also causes the desktop search results to more closely mirror local results within mobile search. Many SEOs have speculated that Google is placing more of an emphasis on mobile search over desktop. The change to a 3-pack format was one of the first signals of this and the drop of Google+ links is a continued step in this process.
An aspect of this update that is surprising to many SEOs is the removal of links to each business’s Google reviews. While reviews can still be accessed through Google Local Finder, it seems strange that Google would remove a straight line of access for users to read business reviews. Google may be looking to add more paid ads to Google Local Finder as a way to monetize the strong desire for many users to read reviews before visiting a local business.
Recommendations Going Forward
Maintain Your Google My Business Listings: Although Google is attempting to decrease visibility for Google+ pages, it does not diminish the significance of having a verified Google My Business page. Without one, it is less likely that a business will show up in the local pack and will have a negative impact on its organic search traffic. We strongly recommend that every business ensure that it has an up-to-date and verified Google My Business listing. Information that should be included in every verified Google My Business page includes a name, address, phone number, website, business description, cover photo, and profile photo.
Continue to Monitor Business Reviews: Although Google has removed a direct line of access from the search results to a brand’s Google reviews, it does not diminish the importance of monitoring and responding to Google reviews. We will continue to recommend that brands respond to all reviews, both positive and negative, and include review management in their marketing tactics.
Put A Hold On Your Google+ Marketing Efforts: Because Google+ has experienced so much volatility in the past few months, we recommend brands wait to see how Google+ evolves and what services it will offer in the near future before pursuing any further Google+ marketing initiatives. If more and more services separate from Google+, brands may find those individualized services more essential to their business and choose to re-focus their efforts towards them. If Google+ also continues to experience decreased visibility within SERPs, businesses investing a significant amount of time and money into Google+ may experience a decreased ROI. Until Google+ has solidified its services and positioning within Google, we would recommend businesses place less emphasis on Google+. We recommend brands pause or decrease the energy spent on new Google+ initiatives and place their focus on other social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Although we suggest brands place less of an emphasis on Google+ this is in specific reference to the social posting aspect of Google+ and not toward having a Google My Business listing with accurate brand information.
Monitor Local Search Results Configuration Very Closely: Although this update may seem minor, it could be a signal that Google is looking to make further changes to the local pack. Between updating the format of the local pack and removing items from the local listings, new SERP updates may be just around the corner. We strongly encourage that businesses monitor industry local packs as well as Google Local Finder to see if any updates occur that could significantly impact organic traffic.
Monitor Website Traffic: Because there are fewer linking options with the 3-pack, more users may click on the “Website” link, leading to a small increase in website traffic. We suggest that businesses monitor their traffic following this update to see if there has been an increase in website traffic due to the removal of the Google+ link.
Kelly is an SEO Analyst on the Travel Team at Acronym Media. Kelly supports the team in executing a variety of efforts including on-page, off-page, and technical optimizations with special focus on local search optimization. She has enhanced the SEO strategy for high-profile clients such as Four Seasons, Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, and Denihan Hotel Group.
Prior to Acronym, Kelly graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with degrees in Public Relations and Psychology. She has past experience in public relations, marketing, paid search, and social media.