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Is Local Search Moving to a Paid Model?

Paid search has always been the more flexible way to advertise your business on search engines. Organic and local search are important but only paid offers such granular options for how and where your adverts will appear. Google’s main business is ultimately it’s advertising business and the search engine and various related platforms (youtube.com, Google maps etc) are where the search giant sets up stall.

Therefore, it follows that with the shift towards localisation of organic search results in the last few years and Google finally having a solid platform for local businesses in Google My Business that Google is building itself quite the marketplace for a local ad product.

This brings us to wonder just what form such an advert product may take so the following post takes a look at the rumours and small scale tests that have been seen in the wild that gives us some insight into the changes that are all but certainly to come.

Standard Page Layout

 

Google results are a complicated old affair now and the days of just ten blue links are long gone. and now we see lots of different content blended together. For a typical local search the page tends to follow the following format:

  • 3 x standard adverts
  • 7 x local listings
  • 10 x organic listings (usually influenced by location)
  • the map in right column
  • further adverts in the right column

 

Sponsored Local Listings

 

The first and most obvious way this could work is through sponsored local listings. That is a company that has a local business can buy the top spots in the local pack. Whether there would be standard adverts and then a local pack with sponsored adverts there as well or the sponsored local pack would sit at the top of the page displacing the standard adverts when there is local intent – I suspect the later and there have been tests seen in the wild of standard adverts replaced with a sponsored local pack.

The image below shows a search with local intent and instead of the standard layout detailed above we have the following:

  • 3 x sponsored local listings
  • 10 x organic listings
  • further adverts in the right column

 

Sponsored local listings

This listing was spotted in the wild and reported by Barry Schwartz over at Search Engine Land.

 

sponsored local listings

 

 

Local Ad Product

 

Certain categories of search already have tailored advert products so this is not new. Certainly, everyone has seen the product listing adverts (PLA’s) so dominant and effective in product search and hotels and car insurance also have their own adverts. The latest rumour is that there will be a local advert product for home service providers such as plumbers, electricians etc that will allow these types of businesses to more easily and effectively compete in the paid landscape.

The following screenshot shows the hotels advert product blended in with the traditional adverts and organic results.

 

PPC advert product for hotels

 

Traditional Ads

 

We also can’t forget the traditional adverts. We see lots of localisation of organic results that even without a map pack are using location signals to customise the results based on the location the search is targeting or the user’s current location. If location becomes a quality signal beyond keyword or geo-targeting then we may see a strong influence of data from Google My Business applied to traditional adverts.

Who stands to benefit

 

Google of course: more advertisers = more adverts = more clicks = more revenue = more profits.

 

Beyond the search engines profits, this should help smaller and very local businesses compete in some of these areas where national juggernauts dominate the advert slots. Here, factoring location into the paid algorithm small, hyperlocal companies can compete without the mega bucks often needed to play the PPC game.

 

Who stands to lose out?

 

This one is harder to call. One area that springs to mind is national businesses that advertise nationally yet don’t have individual locations in every area they are targeting. If local advert products rely on having a verified local business listing that is connected with your Adwords account then this could make it harder for these large-scale national advertisers. These companies often spend hundreds of thousands of pounds per month so I can’t see Google wanting to throw away that money so I would imagine we would see some form of advert product blended in amongst traditional adverts or outside of areas where hyper-local businesses are dominating the sponsored local listings.

 

Is Local SEO Dead?

 

It won’t be long till the ‘local SEO is dead’ articles start spinning out which of course is complete bunk. Paid, paid local, local, localised organic and organic results are all important and this is just another tool in the local marketer’s toolbox.

 

My thoughts

 

It’s hard to call and given the amount of testing Google does they likely don’t have all the answers themselves yet but what we can predict is that local is coming to paid search in a big way and this has the potential to be at once a massive opportunity for local businesses and hugely disruptive for national advertisers. Google launches the new mobile favouring algorithm on the 21st of April so I would imagine that local advert products will not follow too far behind.

Certainly, though the landscape is continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the new mobile-centric audience and Google is aggressively targeting local results in organic and it can be only a matter of time till what we see develop and evolve in organic is rolled out on the paid platforms.

 

 

Marcus Miller
marcus@bowlerhat.co.uk

Marcus is our Digital Strategist. He’s been working in the industry for nearly 20 years and wears many (bowler) hats as a highly technical developer and SEO, and even has a fancy computer science degree to prove it.

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