Per my previous post, Are You Doing Local Answers SEO?, we have noticed these types of results are becoming more common for queries that have local intent:
Click to enlarge these sorry screenshots
This is in line with the increasing presence of Knowledge Graph results over the past year. We believe that Google is starting to view many local queries as “questions” (as opposed to “searches”) and it is trying to provide answers whenever possible. Over time, we see SERPs for local category queries moving towards becoming comprehensive landing pages for everything one would want to know to find and hire a local service pro, find something to buy at a retail location, etc. Mike Blumenthal recently asked Is The Future of Local Search Packless? We would go a step further and posit that the future of local search may in fact be “resultless”. In other words, Google will be able to aggregate all of the data from various relevant web pages and display it on a single SERP in a coherent manner that quickly helps the searcher find what they need.
In the “replace furnace” example, imagine a SERP that contained the following:
- A list of top-rated furnaces and prices aggregated from multiple sites that rate and review furnaces
- A list of top-rated local HVAC providers with their average ratings & reviews from multiple sites and their average price for replacing a furnace. A “Contact Now”, “Get a Quote” or “Book Appointment” button would appear next to each.
- Popular videos about how to replace a furnace
- Articles about how to choose a HVAC contractor, replacing furnaces, etc.
- Information about permits required by your city to do HVAC work
In many ways Google’s SERPs already provide this data, but it’s typically displayed as the standard list of links. These Knowledge Graph results show that Google is moving rapidly towards displaying much more customized SERPs. As Googlers often say, they are trying to get searchers the best answers to their queries as fast as possible.
In this new SERP=Answers paradigm, we believe publishers will need to focus on:
- Insuring Google understands its content. Using schema mark-up and standard SEO best practices will likely help.
- Baking structure into everything you publish. Schema may not be enough. For example, the content on the HomeAdvisor URL that ranks for “replace furnace” is highly structured – the content is broken down into “chunks” that target various queries, the data on the furnaces is displayed in a well-organized table, anchor links help differentiate the different sections, etc. At some point Google will be smart enough to understand this stuff without structure, but at the moment it appears it needs a lot of structure to get it right.
- Improving user engagement with its content. Google will likely constantly test new content from competitors to see how it performs v. yours.
- Prioritizing content that best answers the question is critical. As you can see from the “University of Illinois apartments” query screenshot above, Google is showing irrelevant calendar data in the Answer Box. We believe this is because on the ranking URL the closest structured data to the text that matches the query is a calendar in the “Contact” pop up from the first listing – See my post on SEL for more on this. This MyApartmentMap.com URL also generates a similar result with listings content in the grid because they display a basic table with relevant content near the text that matches the query. We think this is a signal that the standard Local Directory SERP list of business listings (e.g. DUI Attorneys in Pleasanton, CA) needs to be rethought. It needs to become a highly structured collection of the most important information a consumer needs to make a decision.
In other words, your typical Local Directory SERP is going to have to be better than what Google can cobble together by looking at you and all of your competitors’ sites. We have long wondered why Google ever shows links to undifferentiated Local Directory SERPs in its results. Once it nails the formula for creating a great Local Answers SERP, it’s hard to see how any Local Directory site without a great set of answers itself is going to get ranked.