I’ve been looking at Google Now a lot over the last few months and in the slight chance it does catch on, it could have devastating affects on local business as well as local search agencies.
In it’s basic form, Google Now is connecting your browser to your mobile device while making recommendations, sometimes before you use Google search, and can potentially replace SERP results. It can be anything from avoiding traffic before you reach it, to recommending a great restaurant based on your tastes and around the time you normally get hungry.
How can Google do this and what does it mean for you as a local business or local search agency?
First lets look at what data Google has been collecting, then see how this can be applied to show you things before you want them, while also NOT needing to display regular mobile SERPs so that you can find what you are looking for (sometimes without even knowing you need it).
- Where you frequent most – Google maps has been tracking where you go and what time of day it is. It can predict when you want a nice restaurant for lunch, when you may be looking for a happy hour or even need to pee if you are traveling and it picks up on your stops at XYZ intervals in time.
- How much you’re willing to spend for XYZ – Because Google can display price ratings like $ – $$ or even $$$$$, combining that with the places you frequent helps them to know what you’ll spend and at what time of day, as well as what you’ll spend on what types of items, goods or services.
- Ratings and stars – If you prefer only 4 and 5 star hotels but 1 and 2 star dive bars and restaurants, Google has ratings and tracks where you stay (and now starts booking hotels) and the quality you tend to prefer.
- Shopping behavior (both products and store size) – If you allow Google to track you, i.e. they are showing you relevant ads across the web, they know when you click, what draws your attention and what you like. If they can follow through to ecommerce checkouts via adwords, analytics, Google express, Google trusted stores, etc… then they know what you like, what you buy and from what types of stores (mom and pop stores vs. big retailers).
- Type of XYZ and in Insert Place/Time of Day – Google knows when you are probably getting hungry, the basic types of foods and prices that you are more inclined to purchase. This can let them deliver new results or specific restaurants within XYZ of your normal ordering or traveling range.
- Life events – Google can see keywords and content via gmail and shopping to base their ads. Now they have ideas when you get married, engaged, have a baby, etc… With this they can target you for anniversaries, life events and show you things based on what is happening based on behaviors and life events. They can also gather this data based on the ads you’ve clicked and been retargeted by from their advertisers.
These are only a few of the things Google has been collecting and using. Now here is where it gets fun.
How can Google Now use this and why can/will it (if it takes off which is probably unlikely) devastate local search and local search agencies?
Google Now and Local SEO Results
Although Google Now is a product from Google and not an algorithm, it’s going to need to be able to be powered by something like an algorithm that doesn’t exist in perfection yet. With the data Google is collecting above, and other sources, it can more easily start to predict when and where you will want/use products. With the Google Now landing pages saying that it can show you recommendations instead of normal SERPs before you search or once you start a search, this is where local SEO changes completely.
Example 1 – Restaurants
If you used to rank for Mexican restaurants and attract a $$$ to $$$$ crowd, but you have a price range of $ or $$ in Google ratings, you can miss out on the actual buyer base because your price ranges aren’t accurate. It could be because you’re in a less or more affluent city, numbers are being pulled from apps with different customer bases, etc… These price ratings can cause you to miss out on travelers and even locals or people who just moved to the area.
Where you once got a new loyal customer, the ratings or cost could end up with Google making a bad recommendation and showing another restaurant that doesn’t rank in the SERPs based on the end users previous preferences. The end user now misses out on a delicious meal and you end up having the SERP, but not getting the sale because Google Now recommended a store which isn’t search based, but based on past buyer behavior.
Example 2 – Local Events and Entertainment
If you love Karaoke and Asian food, instead of recommending a fun karaoke bar that you would have loved, Google could now tempt you into an Asian restaurant or Korean styled karaoke lounge with room and table service. Now the local karaoke bars that would have gotten the recommendations from SERPs no longer get the traffic since your past buying behavior could lead to a recommendation based on shopping, likes and interests.
Although you would have enjoyed either option, the recommendation from Now could stop you from finding the new bar causing them to lose business and the Asian restaurant to gain twice as many customers since they offer food and karaoke.
Example 3 – Local Stores and Traveling
Since Google maps creates directions for you to help you avoid traffic, it could take away from local businesses.
In DC we travel to Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City and other Maryland and Delaware cities during the summer. Regular directions and street maps take us through small towns with great local businesses. Google maps however takes us down country roads that avoid these local towns. Although it’s faster for us so we like it, it also means we no longer support these local communities and they lose out on tourism traffic and dollars. That’s not the only issue though.
Even though we can get to our destination faster, if Google starts to show us that our normal favorite large chains are close by, we may not stop at the local hole in the wall bbq place or deli. Instead we will probably drive the extra mile or two to the store we are familiar with and that we wouldn’t have known was there if Google didn’t recommend it. This can be very damaging for the small local businesses that thrive on the tourist traffic coming through their towns.
Example 4 – Restaurants Part Two
Suppose you’re traveling on business and staying at a hotel. Google knows what time you normally eat, what quality of food you prefer, and what your price and food preferences are. If you booked through Google’s booking engine, or even if you didn’t but are at a hotel, Google can now recommend restaurants to you based on it’s data. Instead of delivering a normal SERP when you are searching for Pizza in XYZ neighborhood, you may get a recommended store which means local rankings may no longer apply. This could be very bad for restaurants and local SEO agencies.
Much like other Google products, Google Now will probable not catch on. However, If it does gain a following, it could create a ton of issues for local search agencies as well as local businesses. I highly recommend you download it now and see how your company or website appears if you rely on local search traffic and results from Google.
All images were purchased from DepositPhotos.