Where is Google heading with mobile local search?

For better or worse, Google My Business (GMB) and Knowledge Graph (KG) are transforming mobile local search. It pays to watch the areas of innovation, such as hotels, restaurants and movies as these signal Google’s intentions.

 The last column asked: Has Google killed mobile organic search? In this column we consider what Google’s plans are for those owned properties that get the prime real estate atop mobile search results, such as Google My Business (GMB) and Knowledge Graph (KG).

There are five areas/initiatives that should be observed closely, as these could be prototypes for the future of mobile local search. These are:

  • Restaurants in [US city] – Google My Business (GMB) results.
  • Hotels in [US city] – GMB results.
  • [US city] –Knowledge Graph (KG) results.
  • Movies in [US city] – KG results.
  • Tradesmen (or similar) in [San Francisco area] – Home Services results. Some or all (unclear) of the tradesmen pay to be included in this scheme. This will be covered in detail in a subsequent column.

While these are likely to come to a Google near you, most are not yet seen, or not seen in their entirety outside the US (or parts of the US). So for the sake of this column we will pretend we are in sunny Venice Beach (Los Angeles).


The distinction between Google My Business (GMB) and Knowledge Graph (KG) panels is a little fluffy (and the terms are often used interchangeably).

The GMB panel is found in the results of a local business search. So if you search on Restaurants in Venice Beach.  The results deliver a three-pack (as is called in the trade) of local restaurants, for three local restaurants (at the time of search): James’ Beach, Gjelina and 26 Beach; with the option to expand for more.

KG results from an information search which is not local business specific. An example is Venice Beach or Harry Potter. This delivers an information panel or card with data from various sources, most commonly, Wikipedia or from Google partners (see below).

With place searches, such as Venice Beach, there is commonly a carousel of restaurants and/or hotels at the end of the panel. These tend to be similar to the GMB listings, but the priority of results differs slightly from GMB results for Hotels in Venice Beach or “Restaurants in Venice Beach” (as shown below).

Tapping through on a restaurant or hotel in either GMB three-pack or KG carousel – does not take you to the business’s website. This brings up a new in-search panel, which Google calls a “Knowledge Graph card”, dedicated to your business, which is similar to the Venice Beach KG panel above, but with contact information; tap to call; tap for directions; and a link to website.

Today Google does not charge businesses a fee for calls generated, or people who click on a map to find the location, but it is keeping count of how many clicks it is generating for your business.



Note the presence of the paid listing prioritized at the front of the restaurant and hotel carousel. The example pictured below is from Google.co.uk – the same search in Google.com delivered the same results, but did not mark them as paid. The reason for this is not clear.

The new face of local search

Whether or not we like it, this is the future of Google mobile search, looks like this. Traditional organic website listings are being pushed further and further below the fold on mobile devices, as Google’s owned properties (ads – GMB – KG) take the prime real estate. Businesses have to face it and address it.

David Mihm, local digital marketing consultant:

There is no question that web results are in decline for high-volume local searches like ‘pizza.’

Organic place listings, though, (and hybrid/paid place listings like the HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) tests going on in San Francisco at the moment) are here for the long haul as Google shifts more and more results to its Knowledge Graph. Knowledge Graph results will continue to provide significant impressions through the coming voice tsunami.

It’s time to start thinking about your website as an API of structured information about your business, its products, and services that will help Google display Knowledge Panels instead of webpages. Google is increasingly shooting for conversions to happen directly on the SERP, within Knowledge Panels, for example through their OpenTable integration in restaurants.

In many cases, conversion rates may actually be higher from place results, but they won’t show up in your Google Analytics. And of course a huge percentage of local searches result in offline conversions in-store, which (so far) aren’t easily trackable.

See restaurants below for more on the OpenTable integration, the HVAC listing, we will discuss in a subsequent post on Google Home Services.

Hotels in [Venice beach]

First we need somewhere to stay in Venice Beach. Whether you access a hotel via the GMB results in Hotels in Venice Beach search or via the carousel in the KG results for Venice Beach Google delivers the same GMB/KG card for the hotel.

Similar to other business panels, e.g. restaurants (see below), there is a tap to call, directions, web link with a description and reviews. But unique to hotels is the option to book a room through a booking agent e.g. Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com and others.

As demonstrated by the Ad badge, all of these brokerages are paying for their listings, presumably on a pay-per-click basis. In turn they will be taking a commission from the hotel for any booking.

Of particular interest, is that within these lists of paid-for results, when expanded, there is sometimes an option to book direct with the hotel, e.g. for Inn at Venice Beach. Which suggests that in order for a hotel to offer bookings direct via its so-called “my business” listing, the hotel has to bid against other advertisers (the travel brokerages) on Google.

Russell JonesPrincipal Search Scientist at Moz, was able to shed a little light on how it might work:

I am not sure about this, although it appears that synxis.com the system which seems to power their booking engine, might be connected. However, from Google’s developer documentation it looks like you don’t need a third party for this – and that pricing uses the standard bid model


How to get on the three-pack GMB listing

Today the GMB three-pack – see the restaurant and hotels examples in the images above – are not paid-for listings. Though reports suggest that Google is certainly considering replacing one of the three pack with a paid listing.

So, with organic listing being pushed further and further below the fold on mobile devices, and the potential for GMB listings to drive calls, reservations (for restaurants and hotels), it is increasingly important to ensure that your business appears and appears correctly on the GMB three-pack.

But when your “My Business” panel is actually owned by Google, how do you do this? Start by updating the basic details on the listing. Also see these tips from Google.

But there does not appear to be an option to alter reservations or deliveries (for restaurants), so your listing shows your reservation or delivery service, rather than those of a third party. If this is possible, which isn’t entirely clear from Google’s developer pages then this is a job for your web developer.

As with all things Google, there’s a bit of mystery how the local search algorithms work, but it seems that old fashioned SEO rules still apply.

Dan Leibson, VP of Local at LocalSEOGuide.com

As far as general tips for getting in the 3-pack… we did a huge regression study on the rankings of 30,000 businesses and looked at over 100 factors. The biggest takeaway is that links are a dominant ranking factor. Also, citation consistency is incredibly foundational for getting in the pack. 

Buying ads in competitors GMB / KG panels

It appears that businesses can buy ads competitors’ GMB/KG card. These appear in the prime spot in the carousel of other restaurants (or hotels) displayed below the reviews in the competitors’ panels.

Interestingly these ads lead to the advertiser’s own KG card, not the advertiser’s own website.

The screenshots below were taken of the Domino’s Pizza and James’ Beach KG card on Google.co.uk (in Google.com the same restaurants were shown without the ad badge).


Restaurants in [Venice Beach]

So next we need to find somewhere to eat.

Whether you tap on the restaurant via the GMB results in Restaurants in Venice Beach search, via the carousel in the KG results for Venice Beach, or via the carousel in a rival’s KG card, Google delivers the same GMB/KG card for the restaurant.

These are similar to the hotel panels, in respect of details, click to call, directions. In addition there are several options to view menu, find a table and place an order, which may or may not be present.

  • The menu may be provided by the restaurant or via a third party, most commonly, SinglePlatform. This is the provider of the menu for Domino in Venice Beach (though this is not clear from Google’s listing).
  • Find a table appears to be exclusively provided by OpenTable, even where the restaurant takes reservations on its website, either directly or through a preferred third party.
  • Place an order, where available, is only provided via third parties, such as GrubHub/Seamless, Eat24 (Yelp), DoorDash, Delivery.com, BeyondMenu and Slice/MyPizza.com. This is the case even when the restaurant has its own delivery service via its website. As seen below, both neither the GMB listing for Domino’s or James’ Beach offers place an order, but both outlets do offer delivery from their websites.

Unlike hotels these are not marked with an Ad sign, which suggests these third parties are not paying for their privileged Google partnerships. Certainly SinglePlatform does not receive compensation from Google.

Russell Jones, Moz:

Unlike the food delivery space, OpenTable seems to be by far the leader in nation-wide reservations. Given the cost of integration and the stability of partners required by Google, it is not surprising that OpenTable is the only partner at this point. I would suspect this to remain the same for quite some time.

The food delivery space is more crowded, so integrating with only one provider might leave a Google user with fewer options. Google seems to have chosen partners that have large, nationwide coverage. I am doubtful that this relationship is paid at the moment. 

Google’s developer pages give details on how web developers can adapt business websites to allow integration with their KG card. But it does not look likely that integration will happen automatically.

For certain, businesses (restaurants, hotels, events etc. along with any third party services) should register their interest in becoming Google partners and hope for the best.

Dan Leibson, LocalSEOGuide:

To your question on if you can remove competitors, you cannot. Lots of the special functionality in the right hand Knowledge Graph panel are through partnerships with Google.

So, to your example, a big brand like Domino’s could likely try to work out some form of partnership with Google where their Knowledge Graph entry would have some kind of special functionality. Though to my understanding Google only does it with services that will function cross brand.



Movies in [Venice Beach]

Next we need something to do, so let’s go to the movies. Ok, this is the last thing we would do in Venice, but let’s pretend.

The KG for movies is a different format with a carousel of movies along the atop the mobile search results. Tapping The Accountant film, reveals blurb, ratings, reviews and the option to select show times at one of the two movie theatres (both AMC).

Tapping on a show time delivers the option to purchase tickets from one of three Google partners Fandango, AMC Theatres and MovieTickets.com.

Unlike hotels these are not marked with an Ad sign, which suggests the booking agents are not paying (currently) for their partnership.

The option to book direct with AMC Theatres suggests that Google is not restricting partnerships to third parties, as appears to be the case with restaurants (see above). However this may just be for the largest national chains.



Where next?

It is easy to see any of these models – restaurants, hotels and/or cinemas being expanded into other areas, which makes it important to keep a close eye on them – particularly in the US, which is where most of the local mobile search innovation tends to start.

Another very interesting and, perhaps, concerning area of innovation are the on-going trials with local handymen, house cleaners, locksmiths, plumbers, and (as mentioned by David Mihm) HVAC engineers – where local tradesmen pay a fee to be listed as “pre-screened” in Google’s Home Services search.

This is Part 34 of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

Here are the recent ones:

Read the reports:


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