2018 may be the most opportunistic year ever for local search. With Google leading the way and users and vertical markets working aside or within Google, the user experience promises the possibility to be both high in quantity and quality.
I’m putting Voice Search in right away because it involves probably everything below, local or not. This is changing search fast and companies are busy figuring out how to capture the market.
Here’s a real-time example. I would like to see Soul Asylum play tonight at the First Avenue, mostly because a neighbor or mine won an audition an earned a spot to play bass for them tonight. Yes. Really! I don’t want to miss that! A voice search gave me the Google My Business profile. It has the hours correct tonight as it does close publicly at 7:30 in time for the sold-out 8:00 show. When you tap on Directions, you will get an Uber and Lyft option which will be convenient when the temp is supposed to be below 0.
Score “1” for Voice Search. Just one of many ways this changes all types of search, in this case Local just a bit.
Google My Business (GMB)
In 2017, Google was keeping busy pushing to Claim businesses in Google My Business, and then features within like Google Posts, Local Services Ads and Websites.
In 2018 Google will focus more on continuous new features in Google My Business and push both new and current features. Following these alone can keep professionals pretty busy.
Google Posts grows in 2018, but grows slowly. It was released in June, 2017 to be shown in branded searches and quietly used by few. They can be very informative for end-users and cover more valuable search result space for the branded company name. The Posts provide interest to click and learn more about events, newsletters, new offerings or any other thing relevant to the company. However, Search professionals have been weary of this all. Google owns the content provided and doesn’t pass any direct SEO Love to links that pass through.
Local Services Ads
In a simpler word, Ad. Google pushes this hard in 2018. This is how Google makes money. Originally Home Services Ads, they rebranded it to include and imply Local. Companies won’t be looking at it based on their favorite keywords, but by the quality of leads. Local Service Ads do have a prominent, thin listing up top on both desktop and mobile. Google’s currently pushing it hard enough that even companies that don’t have the “Google Guaranteed” badge sometime appear, most likely because not every industry has enough participants yet. Right now, there are a very limited number of industries this is offered to. Look for this to expand, and expand greatly to cover industries like legal, landscaping and other industries to where people compare companies.
Currently, all three of these companies are probably busy right now with the arctic chill Minnesota is having. Plus, maybe Google is banking on being listed next to Google Guaranteed listings will have some automatic trust.
They’re nice, they’re free (unless you get a customized domain – recommended), it’s almost built for you in GMB. They also show maps, custom photos, fill-in-the-blank hours of operation. With that said, don’t look for this go grow in 2018. At least, not in the U.S. This is certainly meant to help Google, and that’s fine. In my view, they can have the data. Google Websites are probably best for businesses who are just looking for a 1-page brochure about their business.
Google will either develop or buy a company who can provide real-time transit in 2018. Both Uber and Lyft obviously have this, and Metro Transit MN just came out with this feature on a mobile app or their website as well. I’ll bring up the arctic chill again. When a bus is late, this feature makes it handy by not having to stand outside quite as long when it’s really cold. The concept fits in perfectly for usability, placing inside the Directions and Bus tab in Google Maps.
Local Guides Grows and Grows
2018 promises to be a big year for Google Local Guides. For Google, they get data. The Local Guides at Connect are passionate and happily contribute photos, reviews and knowledge to Google and GMB. Just look at the 2017 World-Wide Food Crawl Meet-Up. Main incentives for Local Guides aren’t rankings-based. Rather it’s points and levels obtained-based, sometimes meaning perks provided by Google. The other incentives are really satisfaction-based to bring positive awareness to make local communities better. Google knows and appreciates this all, and they even provide a yearly Local Guides Summit.
Ratings and Reviews
Google cleverly builds on reviews in 2018 while Yelp confuses people. While Yelp is telling us to absolutely not solicit reviews but go ahead, Google just goes on and removes paid reviews. And now, it’s also against Google’s guidelines for ex-employees to leave negative reviews. With that said, Google highly encourages honest reviews. Albeit often indirectly, they highly encourage them. Here’s one way they do this and also reach your customers online and in person.
Local Guides now get extra points if their Google reviews are 200 characters or more. Perhaps this increases the level of quality and reduces the number of 5-Star ratings with no reviews below it for the purpose of gaining points only.
Reputation management companies have been around for years to encourage reviews and consulting when negative reviews happen, just to mention a couple services. There are good companies who offer this and have become trusted because of it. Some companies like Get Five Stars go further by developing more of a comprehensive platform. It’s built to acquire customer feedback, encourage online reviews and other features mentioned above. I see services like these all growing in 2018, albeit mostly with companies who already have a head start. It’s a growing and demanding opportunity, but also a comprehensive one.
Local Videos and 360 Photos
DIY or Pay Professionals?
2017 may have been the year of making more videos. 2018 will be the year of making more videos, smarter.
DIY video can certainly be done on the cheap. Have a smartphone, tripod or monopod, lapel mic, iMovie app, and you can make an adequate one… or not. Companies may start with going the DIY route because it is rather inexpensive. Many of them afterwards will go towards independent companies, or agencies who specialize in videos.
2018 will be a really good opportunity for independent videographers. They know everything about video strategy and creation, as well as being search savvy. Some are confident enough to provide you free tips as well. Here’s Erica from Puke Rainbows on 2018 Video Marketing Trends to watch for.
360 Degree and Street View Photography
Street View photography will certainly grow in both supply and demand in 2018. Per Google Street View:
Listings with photos and a virtual tour are twice as likely to generate interest.
To become a Google Trusted photographer for this is a trial and error process. There are a number out there, coming from backgrounds from photography to marketing. Right now 360 photos for businesses are somewhere between the “this is really cool” stage and “this is really useful for our customers” stage.
Only time will tell how accurate my predictions will be. I suppose another post will come at the end of 2018 to see. What do you think? Am I spot on for these or am I out of my tree?
LocalMN Interactive provides Local Marketing services and we are beyond excited and very confident to see what comes in store for 2018. Let’s get together! We look forward to customize a local search strategy customized just for you. Skol!