Google As the New Home Page – One Big Tactical Guide
August 21, 2017
Increasingly, consumers are getting in touch with your business directly from the Google search results and not clicking any of the links and local resources. A recent study by MOZ on Google searches revealed that 34% of searches result in no click at all.
They are visiting your website less. Yet more “low funnel” consumers actions to reach out to your business are occurring directly on Google than ever before.
In a recent case study of local key performance indicators, 70% of calls and driving directions were coming directly from Google while 25% were coming from the business website. Many of the website conversions originated at Google as well but most people were stopping at Google and making the call or requesting the driving directions right there.
Google Is Your New Home Page
I like to say that Google is your new home page. For many businesses, it has become the single most important internet presence in terms of attracting new customers.
The page where Google summarizes all it knows about you, and one that is crucial in terms of informing your customers and potential customers, is your branded search result with the Knowledge Panel.
It is not just pictures and data that Google is showing there but social proof as well. Word of mouth (WOM), a key sales driver, also appears to be rapidly moving online in the form of reviews. Your digital word of mouth (eWom) has become a key element in your sales funnel. And now much of that takes place directly on Google and in your branded search result as well.
It’s time for you to take control of this critical piece of digital real estate.
How Much Control Do You Have?
It’s Google’s page, not yours. Often a business’s first thought is “how much control do I really have?”.
My answer is: much more than you think. With some thought, planning, time and a well run business, the story that is told there can be very compelling. And you can broadly influence it.
Branded Search Results – Your Story At Google
It’s time to start treating your branded search result just like you do the home page on your site; it needs to look as good as it can, it needs to contain compelling social proof, and, within the constraints that Google imposes, it needs to tell the story of your business.
Google understands that user generated content is compelling for readers, more compelling than any content that a business owner might add. And the results that Google will show for your business include an ever increasing amount of reviews, photos and other information.
There are a number of ways that you can maximize your presence there, you just need to know what they are and how to do it. While you can’t completely control what Google shows you can do a number of things to optimize the story you tell there. Given the fragmenting nature of local search queries due to mobility and the increasing use of voice search, you will get your share of search results. Your job is to increase conversions when you do.
What Users Do
How users interact with the branded search results and Google results in general has been studied over the years. Although we will never know what Google knows, the most recent work in this arena was an eye tracking study done on hotel brand searches that showed that users spent significant time in the upper left quadrant of the page.
They then moved over to the Knowledge Panel and down it until finally coming back down to the mid page organic search results. The researchers referred to this behavior as a reverse C behavior and it’s shown in the example eye tracking map below.
Obviously the users, while focusing on the important top of the page, eventually scan much of the page content. The presence of rich snippet stars mid way through the page is likely to increase mid and bottom page viewing even more.
As businesses, we need to worry about the whole page as even results at the bottom of page one with a low rich snippet star rating can disrupt the story you are telling and make a conversion that much more difficult. One of the goals is to create a consistent and compelling brand results that avoids pre-purchase cognitive dissonance (conflicting beliefs) amongst those that are ready to make a decision.
Deconstructing the Page Elements
Being in local search, I, like others, tend to focus on the locally generated Knowledge Panel that shows but the reality is, as noted in the eye tracking study, that the whole page including ads and the organic links are part and parcel of what a consumer looks at. And what they act on.
Google, being Google, often will show many variations of your branded result as you modify the search. Slight search variations could very well return different results. For example including the state or not can vary the results.
That is most definitely the case with Barbara Oliver Jewelry. If you search Barbara Oliver Jewelry Williamsville NY you might see one result and with a slightly different search, Barbara Oliver Jewelry, you might see something else. Its important when going down this path that you consider your appearance in all search variants.
On the desktop page components that you can effectively influence or control can be broken up into the following segments:
- Your Website Organic Results
- Knowledge Panel Images
- Google Reviews
- GMB information
- Google Posts
- Sites that also show in the Reviews from the Web
- Organic Review sites
- Other Google properties and directory sites
- The Wild Card – Future Knowledge Panel Features
While this analysis focuses on a desktop view of your branded search, it is also important that you do the same analysis on mobile.
Given that Google is showing ads more and more frequently in local and that the top result is often an ad, it makes sense that you protect your branded space with your own ad. While it won’t completely protect you against brand poaching, it’s a start and a way to increase control over critical, first viewed, screen real estate. Where ever the customers are, is where you want to be.
Your Website Story
This is an area of the page where you can personally control both the message and the social proof. On the desktop, it is high on the page and if there are no ads, will be the first thing a searcher sees when investigating or recovering your brand. It creates the critical first impression that a searcher forms. It is the basis of your story.
Obviously you need thoughtfully constructed title and meta tags. But perhaps more importantly you need social proof from your clients showing on the critical product and service pages.
As a note, Google seems to rarely, if ever show, rich snippets for your home page. So don’t press your luck. Also we would suggest that you target your 3-5 top performing product and service pages and not use rich snippets on every page.
Knowledge Panel Images
Once the user moves off of your web content on the branded result, their first stop is the Google My Business profile image. This image is arguably your single most important image on the internet and may be the single image that is most frequently seen.
The profile image should be a great image, closely cropped and compelling. In local, consumers don’t buy from a logo. They are buying a product, are attracted to a person or like the ambiance. Your profile image should reinforce this behavior.
Realize that every image, not just your profile image, should be equally compelling. Perhaps the user will dig into your gallery or perhaps Google will decide to pick another to highlight on your behalf. And the image needs to look good on the desktop, in mobile, in search and any place else that Google chooses to show it.
If you have any questions take a few minutes to read this guide to your images at Google.
Google Review Totals
High and very obvious and just under the photos is your Google review summary. Google reviews are a long term play. A sustained effort that generates one or two reviews a month, over time, reflects the heart beat of your business and is usually enough to help you stand out against your competitors.
Barbara Oliver has been asking clients for reviews since the fall of 2009, almost eight years now. For her, and most businesses, slow and steady wins this race when it comes to Google reviews.
Google review snippet summaries, which algorithmically pick statements that reflect the overall sentiment of the users, are powerful. This content needs to be watched closely as a negative comment can carry an undue amount of weight. However, with the addition of Posts and Popular times, these comments are being pushed lower and lower on the page.
Google My Business Data
Even simple oversights in data provided can have profound impacts. Google estimates that just being sure to show your hours increases your requests for driving directions by 13% and the clicks to your website by 42%.
Google provides restaurants and many bricks and mortar businesses the opportunity to add a link to your service pages or your menu. Recently Google added the ability for professionals to add an appointment link as well. This is one more opportunity for the client to click through to your site if they have any doubt.
And don’t forget attributes. Google has become one of the best repositories for business related accessibility information and you, if you are accessible to those differently abled, certainly want Google to know. If someone is searching for a business that has wheelchair access, the Google result should have you as the answer.
Google Posts – Another Call to Action
Next to be seen in the hot spot of the searcher’s eye is either Reviews from the web or the newly rolled out Google posts. If you have this in your dashboard and want to use it, there are three things that will make it more compelling; a great photo, a compelling 100 character intro and a call to action.
Google allows a post to be 300 words long but only the first 100 characters show in the Knowledge Panel. Be sure that these first 100 characters are compelling. This product is new and we don’t really know how users are going to respond to it. I do recommend that you use a campaign tracking code on the call to action (as well as on your main URL and Product/Service URL as well) to get a sense of the impact over the next few months.
Reviews From Around The Web
If you are not using the new Google Posts then “Reviews from the web” will be right below your address information. There can be up to three review sites shown in that space. Make the most of it and work, over time, to get three review sites to show.
Google will show your own site as well as Facebook so they are both obvious choices to add to your review plan. Your own site can be included by creating a consumer facing feedback program and posting the content in rich snippets on your site.
Interestingly neither Yelp nor TripAdvisor reviews will show in the “Reviews from the web” space. However Yp.com and 4Square do often show there as do many vertical industry sites. In Barbara’s case that would be a wedding site like The Knot but it will vary by industry. And it varies widely by the specific branded search term.
Since this feature rolled out last year, Google has consistently boosted sites with review snippets higher in the rankings. Most sites with review snippets that show in the top 10 organic results will also show in your Knowledge Panel.
Take the time to see which sites do well on your brand search and which review sites are doing well in your industry and then occasionally switch them into your review plan so as to fill out what is visible in the Knowledge Panel. Because different directories do better on different variations of your brand search, you might need to identify two or three of these sites to work on. Remember, there is no rush.
A good review strategy should be viewed over a 3 or 4 year (or even longer) timeframe.
Organic Brand Results & Rich Snippets
As you saw earlier in the eye tracking image, from the Knowledge Panel, the user’s eye weakly wander back to the organic results for your business. The sites at the very top of this list are likely to be seen in the first, intense pass by the user but as you move further down the page they are likely to be seen less.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Well known branded local sites like Yelp & BBB always attract user’s attention. And with the exception of Yelp, Tripadvisor & the BBB, these sites inform the Reviews from the web that show so prominently in the Knowledge Panel. We know from previous Google comments that any site with rich snippets is likely to get a 20% boost in traffic over what would be normal for its given position in the results.
Not only will you see the reviews from Facebook, Yelp but from many other sites as well. Google seems to have elevated sites like YP.com, Foursquare and vertical sites with reviews to front page prominence on brand searches .
Something funny happened on the way to “Reviews from the web”. Yelp is getting ever less visibility on branded searches. Facebook has been doing well on branded searches often out ranking them and Google seems to be highlighting lesser known sites in an increasing way.
Google can never get enough of itself and you will frequently find other Google sites in these results if you are active at them. While a site like YouTube isn’t going to show stars, it does have a strong visual impact on the page and is worth pursuing.
Don’t stop your research with page one of your branded results. Occasionally the first few results from the top of page two can inform Reviews from the web. Also if you only have one or two Reviews from the web sites showing, page two might include some prospects where it would be worth considering getting reviews.
Coming Soon To A Google Knowledge Panel Near You
Or leaving. Google is in a constant state of flux. It’s how they roll. The new Posts feature could be gone in a few months and the beta “Chat with customer” feature might be ascendant. The search results are constantly changing and as Google tests things they will both continue to change.
This project is not a set it and forget it process. You should check your branded results regularly to see, not if it has changed, but how it has changed. It surely will.
In fact one of the struggles I had writing this article was the fact that these results were changing so rapidly and new features were being rolled out so often that the tactics kept evolving. Thus you need to be on the look out for features like the new Questions & Answers and get out in front of them to maintain the integrity and compelling story of your branded results.
Many of the same elements and attributes affect your mobile local branded search result as they do the desktop. That being said the layout is different as are the priorities of what Google has chosen to display.
Google highlights their Knowledge Panel information and reviews from the web before your web information. As you can see the profile photo is top left and there is an obvious review tab that shows reviews from the web as well as Google reviews. Photos auto enlarge and become more obvious as does Posts, with the call to action being very visible.
Reviews and particularly “Reviews from the web” though are everywhere; at the top, in a tab and at the bottom of the panel. “Reviews from the web” also display near the bottom of the screen. Making use of review rich snippets on your website and leveraging other review sites that do show in the reviews around the web that much more important. If Google is your home page, then reviews from the web is your word of mouth and tell your story more convincingly than you could.
Be sure to do all of the same analysis and research of your Google mobile branded results. If your business is now one of those that is getting more than 50% of its traffic from mobile, then It very well might change the priority in which you execute these tactics.
Think About It: Google Is Your New Home Page
If Google is your new home page and if it is where consumers take action then your Google branded search results with the Knowledge Panel are your About Us, Contact Us, Testimonial, 3rd Party Review snippets, micro blog and Gallery pages all rolled into one. And if some of the features that Google is testing go live then it might become your make a reservations CTA and SMS/client Chat interaction as well.
It is time to take control of your new home page. Doing so takes time and a regular commitment to setting up an on-going review program, continually assessing your branded search result, updating your website, taking great photographs and generating feedback and reviews at a broad range of sites beyond the typical top three.
Impacting every part of the page won’t happen tomorrow but with a focus on running a great business that exceeds your client’s expectations and a plan to share that news with Google, the world is more likely to hear your story and be convinced by it.