So you think that Google owes you something? Local SEO may not see what’s on the way…

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Some operate under the assumption that Google, and all search engines for that matter, owe them something, namely traffic. The prevailing attitude is that it’s Google’s obligation to put the most relevant (or best optimized) content at the top of the result pages. These folks expect to have their information ranked, links posted and traffic sent to them.  In exchange, Google and other search engines get to peel off a portion of the traffic as ad-based clicks.

Talk about naïve.

Let’s look at Facebook. In many ways, it’s not unlike AOL circa 1994 (with the exception that Facebook has been hugely successful). Facebook is a hermetically sealed Internet in a box. Search engines can’t see inside. Facebook controls every door and determines what comes in and what goes out. They offer everything a user would require (email, IM, file storage, chat, video, news and search) with the exception of the dial-up connection.

What is Facebook doing now? Expanding local search to be a strong component of the platform. Facebook is still keeping users inside their walls while bringing relevant local content to billions of new searchers. With a massive surge in mobile activity (51% last quarter), Facebook is positioning itself as a dominant local search solution.

Google sees that Facebook is crossing the chasm from social to search. And Google is going the reverse route. Google+ is the very blatant attempt to convert a massive search base into a social network. Those walls are weak. If Facebook is successful with its leap to local search, Google is going to get a real run for their money.

What we see from Google in the local search race is an effort to amass content.  That’s not a new observation; they’ve been doing it for years.  They’re also not the only search engine to do so.  Yahoo! has already become a destination for content.

Google is demonstrating an increase in preference for maintained content over organic results. Tutorblog presents great illustrations and examples of how Google is reducing the organic real estate on the page. This way, Google is keeping eyeballs for a little longer. Could this be a simple effort to expand the inventory and the ad revenue?

Check out Google Maps. Here is a sample of the old Maps results page for a non-branded search for “home improvement 80238”:

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Here is a sample of the same non-branded, geo-local search on the new Maps:

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The new Google Maps is only just beginning to show its potential. First, notice the single, relevant ad on the page. Next, notice the various listings appearing as identified locations on the map – the pins vary in size. Mouse over different locations and a variety of information is displayed including street view, directions, links and reviews. The Wall Street Journal presented a strong set of examples of how Google is aiming to give users more content on Maps.

Greg Sterling cited a study last fall reporting that 43% of total Google search queries are local. Local search is a combination of organic and Map results. The new Maps integrate local search results right into the map. You can search for products or services, branded or non-branded, and the map provides a broad range of results ranging in relevance. The advertisements do as well.

While you may not yet be able to upload content to Google Maps, this feature can’t be far away. The usability of Maps as a form of search will enhance dramatically as marketers acquire the ability to push content directly to it.

Remember how I said that it is naïve to think that Google owes you something? It’s the expectation of traffic. It is naïve to think that Google will send 43% (and growing) of its local traffic your way indefinitely. As the search experience on Maps continues to improve, the content will expand and the capabilities will increase. Organic results are losing footing as mapped results are gaining more of the real estate. Other features such as shopping and the carousel are also taking over space on the page. The lion share of local search results can be most successfully serviced on the map.

Why not send all local queries directly to Maps and just skip the organic results altogether? Have local organic search results become largely just noise to the user? When was the last time a local search result revealed anything more than a host of directory listings?

What if 43% of all traffic on Google stopped leaving Google but rather went to a Map result page? What if placement on the map – or prominence on the map – was pay-to-play? What if you could provide enhanced content and build out your company and location-specific profiles for the Map? You could then tie together Google Shopping for product promotion. Google Wallet could assist with transactional capabilities. The user may not have to leave Google when their needs are met directly on the map.

Facebook has been very successful at keeping users within their walls. Google may simply not have revealed their fortified walls to us yet!

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