Yup, Google’s changed their local map results again. Surprise, surprise. But this latest change might be their most drastic. For years we’ve been accustomed to what marketers affectionately refer to as the “7-Pack”, which listed 7 businesses ordered A through G next to a map on Google’s main search results page. Well, let me introduce you to the brand new “3-Pack”, a new format which shows just 3 businesses ordered A through C on the main search results page. That’s right, if you’re not ranking in the top 3 spots, then say goodbye to your first page local rankings.
(Image credit: Go Local Interactive)
There’s a couple big reasons why Google made this major change. First, there’s mobile. More and more people are searching Google using their mobile device. And that’s not slowing down anytime soon. When a user searches from their smartphone, the GPS tells Google exactly where that user is, which now allows them to order their results more accurately around their location (“proximity to searcher”) rather than the traditional way of ordering results around the center of a city (“proximity to centroid”).
Another major factor in the new local results is Google’s 2014 algorithm update called Pigeon. This update basically helped Google better interpret the local intent behind a user’s search query, pinpoint a user’s specific location, understand the localization of web entities, and subsequently include more precise location-specific results on the page. This has resulted in Google showing the map results in a much more frequent and diverse set of queries than they were ever able to before.
(Image Credit: Nifty Marketing)
Now, design changes of this magnitude don’t happen with making a big impact on user behavior. Just check out these two click studies that came out just after the new Local 3-Pack rolled out. It’s not surprising that the change is more significant on mobile devices than on desktop just due to the sheer amount of visible real estate based on screen size. On mobile devices, the regular organic web results were pushed even further down the page, naturally decreasing activity on this section of the page. You’d think this would negatively affect website traffic, however if you click on one of the Local 3-Pack map listings, Google is now sending you straight to the business website instead of to the Google+ page that they were sending to previously. We’re also seeing click-through rates on mobile ads going up considerably due to their increased prominence in the new design, while costs-per-click are decreasing because of the extra inventory Google introduced with an additional ad unit.
Ok, so what does this mean for you? Well, we were just getting to that…
Here are 7 action items for your apartment SEO strategy going forward
- Ensure the business info listed on your website matches with the info listed in your Google My Business dashboard. And as we mentioned a few months ago, office hours are now more important than ever.
- Start tracking the clicks on your Local 3-Pack listing by tagging your website link in your Google My Business dashboard with UTM parameters so you can pull that data back into Google Analytics.
- Review solicitation is more important than ever before. Not only are review stars prominent in the main 3-Pack results, they are now front and center in the new Google Maps results interface, making reviews an even more critical data point that prospective renters will use when deciding to contact you to set up a tour.
- Before, you could rank really well in Google’s Local results just by maintaining a solid consistent presence across the main local data aggregators and local directories. Nowadays, those are just table stakes to be eligible to start ranking in most markets. Localized content, inbound links, and online reviews are no longer things you can just ignore.
- Speaking of localized content, this is something that apartment website have neglected for too long. The days of ranking well in competitive markets with a static 5 page website are coming to an end. Now, you need to focus on creating unique pages of website content related to what you want to be found for. This not only includes your immediate neighborhood, but also all the other neighborhoods surrounding your property, in-demand amenities, and local points of interest.
- Paid search is a huge opportunity that you’re probably missing out on. Google is devoting more and more of their search results real estate to their paid ads, and if you’re trying to maximize your visibility, you need to be there. Especially on mobile.
- If you’re in a competitive market, there’s one factor that’s going to set you apart from your comps: localized link building. Make an effort to earn inbound links to your property website through activities like media coverage and public relations, as well as participation in community events, organizations, schools, and meetup groups.