If you run a business with a specific brick-and-mortar location, or that targets audiences of a designated region, then you might have heard the term local SEO brandied about.
As its name suggests, local SEO is a strategy you can implement to target and convert your local audiences – and it’s an approach Google is pushing 100%. This is why Google Reviews have become such an integral part of your ranking.
Why? A few statistics might give us some insight:
- 72% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business.
- 88% of consumers have read reviews to determine the quality of a local business.
In its eternal quest to give its users the best possible experience, Google has determined that it should shift much of its attention toward local results, as is evident by the fact that the Google 3-pack appears in the top spot in 93% of searches with local intent. It has, as seoClarity states in a 2015 report, reshaped the organic landscape.
Getting listed in that 3-Pack is pure results-page gold (and requires a specific SEO strategy of its own). As you can see from the image above, our Search Engine Optimization agency is getting amazing results from this. Aside from showing up atop the results page more often than not, this 3-Pack makes it easier for web surfers to check out your location, your reviews, your hours, directions to your physical location, and if they so choose, the ability to click on to your website.
Google has come up with a host of loser ideas in the past (Google Glass, anyone?), but its overall shift toward local, and the implementation of the Local 3-Pack to drive local traffic, is spot on. The growth of “near me” searches on Google has exploded over the last few years. The search engine’s very own Matt Lawson talks about it in an article he titled I-Want-to-Go Moments: From Search to Store.
Mobile devices are at the center of this seismic shift, meaning, not only are consumers searching for local information on smartphones – but they’re conducting these searches while out and about. And while the static information that’s found within the 3-Pack (which is taken from your Google My Business page) is extremely useful to local searchers, it doesn’t offer the type of real-time information today’s consumer demands.
What, exactly, do I mean?
Simply put, social media. Even more simply put: Facebook.
Facebook vs. Google (King Kong and Godzilla have nothing on them)
In the world of digital marketing for franchises and other types of businesses, two names matter most: Facebook and Google. There really isn’t any comparison.
As far as search engines go, sure, there’s Bing, Yahoo, as well as AOL and ASK (yes, those two are still putting around). But this pie chart from NetMarketShare gives you a clear idea of just how dominant Google is (on a global level):
And while the pie chart below (from TechCrunch) is from 2015, it still demonstrates just how dominant Facebook is when it comes to social media:
It’s this pie chart that’s worth looking at closer. As you notice, Facebook has 61% of the market share, with Google+ coming in a far second with 22%. But that percentage is misleading. How many people do you know that spend time on Google+? The reality is, very few indeed.
In fact, Google+’s inability to make an impact in social media has led to a flurry of articles and social posts begging that Google let their platform rest in peace:
Imagine that? Even back in 2012, insiders questioned the staying power of Google+. And despite Google’s inability to compete with Facebook in social media, they have refused to kill off Google+. Rather, they’ve made changes, like Communities, and Collections, all to little or no fanfare. They just can’t crack the Facebook hold on social audiences.
Or can they?
This past June, Google announced that it was rolling out Posts for its Google My Business offering. It hasn’t killed off Google+ Pages, or your ability to post on those pages. It’s simply added more “social” functionality to an offering it deems as being integral toward delivering the best possible experience for local users – its Google My Business pages.
These same Business pages that help you show up on Google Maps, and get featured in the 3-Pack, are now capable of showcasing in-real-time posts that Google surely hopes will attract local users.
Make no mistake; this is a direct attack on Facebook. In recent years, Facebook has become a de facto source for up-to-date information on local businesses. Want to know if a store is open? Visit its Facebook page. Want to know the menu of a restaurant? Chances are they have it up on Facebook. Want to make a reservation? Heck, Facebook does that too:
Heck, somewhere along the line, Facebook stole away a good chunk of Google’s audience. But what’s worse is, they took away local audiences, the very same people Google knows will make up a large chuck of search traffic in the future.
The rollout of Posts for Google My Business is their way of taking back control.
Understanding Posts for Google My Business
First, a little backstory. Google Posts is nothing new. It was a pilot program Google launched in January 2016 to allow people and businesses to create content directly on Google, which appears highly ranked in search results associated with their names.
Over time, Google shifted this service to within the Google My Business area and, now, has rolled it out to all small businesses with a verified listing. If you log into your Google My Business page, you should see something similar to this:
When writing a post, you’re given a few different options, including:
- Upload an image
- Write text (up to 300 words)
- Add a title
You can also add a call-to-action button (including “Learn more”, “Reserve”, “Sign up”, “Buy” or “Get offer.”
Here’s what it looks like if you make your post an event and add a button (the image is partially cut off):
So, what does this all look like to the user?
Let’s conduct a google search for a specific restaurant: Izanami Restaurant. Our initial search comes up with this response:
You’ll see our restaurant shows up in the featured pack with SEO, which, of course, makes complete sense. Because of the pack’s location atop the results page, and because of all the information loaded within it (hours, reviews, etc.), there’s a very good chance our imaginary user will click on the Izanami entry. If he does, he’ll be taken here:
Take a look at that circled area. That, right there, is Google’s approach at taking the wind out of Facebook’s sails. Let’s open it up even further:
In this example, Izanami used their Google Posts feature to inform potential guests about an upcoming event. Sounds a lot like social media, right? In fact, Izanami posted a similar piece of content on their Facebook page:
Google’s hope here is that searchers won’t feel the need to hop from one platform to another to get all the information they need in their buyer’s journey. There is no question that Google owns the search market, but they fall short in the real-time information world.
With Google Posts, they hope to eliminate the impact Facebook has had in giving users relevant updates and conversations that are provided by brand pages.
Breaking down the Izanami Google Post
Take a look at that Google Post again:
Again, the image is partly cut off just due to restrictions in screen size, but you get the idea. Do you see anything that Izanami could have done differently?
For starters, the title itself, sake vs wine, could use both editing and optimization. They should be capitalized to look more professional, but, at the same time, there’s not much there that captivates the audience. Then, there’s an interesting choice to use two dashes to space out words.
You’re only given 300 words to begin with. You want to make that entire space count. Speaking of which, why repeat the date of the event? When you create a Google Post as an event, the date will automatically appear, and not count against your 300-word count.
Lastly, there’s no call-to-action. Sure, Izanami’s post says “call us for more information,” but how many people are going to go out of their way to call the restaurant, particularly with a promise of nothing more than more information? I took a few minutes to dress up their post, to demonstrate what you could do with your own Google Posts:
You’ll see I optimized the title for attention, removed the strange dashes and duplicate date entry, and added a description that encouraged folks to click on to the site.
This “Visit our site for an exclusive offer” is key (assuming the restaurant is OK providing some type of offer, such as $10 off appetizers if patrons place a reservation for the event). Remember, you don’t have control over the language of your call-to-action. Much like on Facebook pages, Google offers only a few standard options.
As a result, you have to get creative in the body of your post to make that stagnant “Learn More” button seem more alluring.
So, Why and How Would Your Business Use Google Posts?
In order to develop the most effective SEO strategy for your Google Posts, you have to remember that these posts appear on your Google business listing. This is important because it helps to paint the picture of the mindset of your audience. Your customers will be able to tap your post to read the full entry, and can also share that post with their friends directly from Google.
With that in mind, Google doesn’t intend for its Posts functionality to be a space for businesses to, necessarily, “show their culture” or “flex their influential status.”
Take, for example, this tweet from the Palomino Restaurant & Bar (@PalominoSanFran):
It’s cute, but it isn’t the type of content you should try to use for Google Posts.
Instead, use Google Posts for the following scenarios:
- Share daily specials or current promotions that encourage new and existing customers to take advantage of your offers.
- Promote events and tell customers about upcoming happenings at your location.
- Showcase your top products and highlight new arrivals.
- Give your customers a one-click path to make a reservation, sign up for a newsletter, learn more about your latest offers, or buy a specific product from your website.
You read through those bullets and you might think that Google Posts is only viable for businesses like restaurants or retail stores. Not necessarily so. Here’s how Just Mind (a counseling center) uses Google Posts:
With their Google Posts, Just Mind still finds a way to integrate its preferred tone and look but, again, with a purpose (set up a free consult). Then there’s Barbara Oliver Jewelry:
I particularly like this post because it emphasizes the timeliness of the messaging (September), and includes an image from a specific product the client offers. The content, itself, does a great job of funneling visitors to action (“Just pick out what you like.”).
It’s fair to say that while Google is trying to take back some traffic from Facebook, they are not looking to directly compete with the social network as its own social platform. Google+ has shown Google time and time again that trying to duplicate the Facebook experience in a different packaging just doesn’t work. And that’s a good thing. Brands are struggling to figure out how to use social media effectively to stand out in the crowd. Organic reach is down, forcing companies to invest heavily in paid search in order to make an impact. And, what kind of content should these brands post on sites like Facebook? There are so many conflicting resources out there.
Some sites say you should only promote your services. Others say you should share curated content to show yourself as an influencer and to increase your page’s reach. Others say you need to use gifs and video, while some sites suggest you must include emojis! Honestly, it can be incredibly frustrating knowing where to start.
That’s where Google Posts might actually come out on top. As it stands now, Google has limited your posting options and, as a result, has freed you from social media freeze.
Ideas on How Different Industries Can Use Google Posts
I think it’s pretty clear how restaurants could use Posts to showcase specials, events, and more. But looking at Barbara Oliver Jewelry’s post reminds me that this new Google feature can be effective for most – if not all – industries. Medical professionals, for example, could create posts that tie into health observances. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. A medical practice could use that to promote its screening services. Accountants could use certain milestones (Tax Day, the times of the year when quarterly taxes are due) to bring attention to their services.
Then, there’s the “save now” approach, as used by Cut & Grind, a barbershop in London:
This one is pretty useful because it helps Cut & Grind gauge the impact of their Google Posts. If they get a lot of people coming in quoting ‘Google Maps’, then they know that it’s worth their effort to step up their Posts strategy.
Google Posts at a Glance
What’s interesting about Google Posts is that, despite it being a Google product, it’s pretty lacking in analytics. All you can see is the total times your post was seen, as well as the number of actions taken.
At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a way to view your data from posts over time or in aggregate view to assess what strategies and post-types are working or not. Google has indicated that over time business owners should be able to see data in their Insights dashboard.
When creating a post you can add a photo (gifs and video are not supported). A pixel size of 750 x 750 is recommended, with a minimum of 250 x 250 required. Google will auto-crop your image into a square but allows you to pick which part of the image will show.
Only the first 100 characters of your message will show up in the Knowledge Panel …
so really make those first 100 characters count.
Cut & Grind’s 20% Discount message does exactly that.
You are limited with your call-to-action options. Your choices include: Learn More, Reserve, Sign up and Buy. That’s why it’s worth taking special care to craft compelling copy leading up to your button.
Google has stated it’s open to adding additional CTAs in the future.
Will Google Posts Take Off? Or Will It Suffer the Same Fate of Google+?
I see Google Posts as being incredibly welcoming to small-to-medium business owners for a couple of reasons.
For starters, making an impact with Local SEO is tricky. Posts helps to sidestep the complexities tied into local search in a neat and easy-to-use product. Also, it provides some amount of organic reach for free, which addresses a pain point faced by any business using Facebook – Facebook’s organic reach is in a freefall. But one of the problems here is that a Google Post is only visible after a consumer has chosen your business from the search results page. This doesn’t do much to attract top-of-the-funnel searchers.
For example, a simple desktop search for “barbershops in London, UK” came up with a listing that looks like this:
I hovered over the Cut & Grind Soho entry so you can see what shows up in the map. As you see, there is no reference to Cut & Grind’s Google Post. Only after we click on the entry itself do we see this:
So, what’s this mean?
Simply put, you can’t rely on Google Posts to bring in complete strangers to your business. What you can do is use Posts to convince folks on the fence that they should do business with you. That’s why, at least for now, promoting discounts and limited offers will likely be the most effective approach you can take. Sure, you can use Posts for a number of different reasons, but don’t use it as a way to build your audience.
That’s not its purpose.
It comes back to the mindset of your audience. Folks go to Facebook to connect with friends, get news, and be entertained. They go to Google to search for things and to shop. Adapt your Posts strategy to speak to the active searcher, and you should see some pretty good (and free) results.
Read our article “How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing” if you’re interested in more tips to attract leads through GMB. Or, feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to discuss your local SEO strategy.
Founder and CEO
Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, Atlanta SEO digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal also recently earned him the honor of being selected as a 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year (Rising Star), and the 2015 Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).